Hannibal Barca (247 B.C.-183 B.C.), also known only as Hannibal, was a Carthaginian general and statesman. He is considered one of the greatest military strategists in history.
Hannibal”s life took place during the conflictive period when Rome was establishing its supremacy in the Mediterranean basin, overcoming other powers (the Carthaginian Republic itself, Macedonia, Syracuse, and the Seleucid Empire). He was the most active general in the Second Punic War, in which he performed one of the most daring military feats of antiquity: Hannibal and his army, which included thirty-eight war elephants, left Hispania and crossed the Pyrenees and the Alps in order to conquer northern Italy. There he defeated the Romans in great battles such as the battle of the Trebia River, the battle of Lake Trasimene, and the battle of Cannae, which are still studied in military academies today. Despite his brilliant campaign, Hannibal did not actually invade Rome. The reasons for this are divided among historians, ranging from lack of materials for the siege to political considerations that Hannibal”s intention was not to take Rome, but to force it to surrender. Nevertheless, Hannibal managed to keep his army in Italy for more than a decade, receiving only scant reinforcements. After Scipio”s invasion of Africa, the Carthaginian senate called him back to Carthage, where he was finally defeated by Scipio at the Battle of Zama.
After the war against Rome, he entered Carthaginian public life. He confronted the ruling oligarchy which accused him of being in cahoots with the Seleucid Antiochus III, for which he had to go into exile in 190 B.C. He went into the service of the latter monarch, whose orders brought him once again into confrontation with the Roman Republic at the Battle of Eurymedon, where he was defeated. Once again exiled, he took refuge in the court of Prussias I, king of Bithynia. The Romans demanded that the Bithynians hand over Carthaginian, to which the king agreed. However, before being captured, Hannibal chose suicide.
Military historian Theodore Ayrault Dodge called him the “father of strategy. He was admired even by his enemies – Cornelius Nepos called him “the greatest of generals. Even his greatest enemy, Rome, adapted certain elements of his military tactics to his own strategic acquis. His military legacy gave him a solid reputation in the modern world and he was regarded as a great military strategist by military greats such as Napoleon or Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. His life has been the subject of many books, films and documentaries.
The Portuguese form of the name is derived from Latin. Greek historians spelled the name as Anníbas Bárkas (Ἀννίβας Βάρκας).
Hannibal was his given name. Hannibal”s name was recorded in Carthaginian sources as ḤNBʻL (in Punic: 𐤇𐤍𐤁𐤏𐤋). Its exact vocalization remains under discussion. Suggested readings include Ḥannibaʻl or Ḥannibaʻal, “Ba”al is gracious,” or “Ba”al has been gracious”; or Ḥannobaʻal, with the same meaning.
Barca (𐤁𐤓𐤒, brq) was the surname of his aristocratic family, meaning “bright” or “lightning.”
It is then equivalent to the Arabic name Barq or the Hebrew name Barak or to the Ancient Greek epithet keraunos, which was commonly attributed to military commanders in the Hellenistic period.
Historians designate Amilcar”s family with the name Bárcidas, in order to avoid confusion with other Carthaginian families with the same names (Hannibal, Asdrubal, Amilcar, Magan, etc.) As with Greek names and Roman custom, patronymics were common in Carthaginian nomenclature, so Hannibal would also have been known as “Hannibal son of Amilcar.”
In the mid-third century B.C., the city of Carthage, where Hannibal was born, was strongly influenced by the Hellenistic culture coming from the remnants of Alexander the Great”s empire. Cartago occupied then an important place in the commercial exchanges of the Mediterranean basin and in particular in the emporiums of Sicily, Sardinia and the coasts of Iberia and North Africa. The city also had an important war fleet to protect its maritime routes and to transport gold from the Gulf of Guinea and tin from the British coasts.
The other Mediterranean power of the time was Rome, with which Carthage went to war for twenty years in a conflict known as the First Punic War, the first major war in which Rome was victorious. This confrontation between the Roman Republic and Carthage was provoked by a secondary conflict in Syracuse, and took place over land and sea in three phases: fighting in Sicily (264-256 BC), fighting in Africa (256-250 BC), and again in Sicily (250-241 BC). During this last phase, the fame of Amilcar Barca was born, who led the war against Rome from 247 BC. With the great naval defeat at the Aegadas islands northwest of Sicily, the Carthaginians were forced to sign the Treaty of Lutatius in the spring of 241 BC with the consul Gaius Lutatius Cátulo. Among the terms imposed on Carthage by this treaty were the cession of the territories of Sicily and the smaller islands between it and the African coast, as well as costly war reparations.
At the end of the First Punic War, despite the precautions taken by Amilcar Barca, Carthage encountered problems when it came to dispersing its armed regiments of mercenaries, who soon stormed the city and provoked a conflict on the scale of a civil war. This historical episode is known as the War of the Mercenaries. Amilcar managed to put down the rebellion after three years, after defeating the rebels at the Bagradas River and again, with great bloodshed, at the Battle of the Sierra Pass in 237 BC. For its part, Rome had taken advantage of the lack of resistance to take Sardinia, previously in Carthaginian hands. After Carthage protested this maneuver, which it considered a violation of the recently signed peace treaty, Rome declared war, but proposed to cancel it if they surrendered not only Sardinia but also Corsica and more economic compensation. Powerless, the Carthaginians had to give in and in 238 B.C. both islands became Roman possessions. To compensate for this setback, Amilcar marched to Iberia, where he seized vast territories in the southeast of the country. For a decade, Amilcar led the conquest of southern Iberia, supported militarily and logistically by his son-in-law Asdrubal. This conquest restored Carthage”s economic situation, thanks to the exploitation of the silver and tin mines.
Hannibal Barca was probably born in Carthage in the year 247 BC. He was the eldest son of the general Amilcar Barca and his Iberian wife. The Greco-Roman authors have recorded little about Hannibal”s education. It is known that he learned Greek letters, the history of Alexander the Great, and the art of war from a Spartan preceptor named Sosilos. In this way he acquired the mode of reasoning and action that the Greeks called Métis, founded on intelligence and cunning.
After having expanded his territory, Amilcar enriched his family and, by extension, Carthage. To achieve this goal, Amilcar based himself in the city of Gadir (present-day Cadiz, Spain), near the Strait of Gibraltar, and began to subjugate the Iberian tribes. At that time, Carthage was in such an impoverished state that its navy was unable to transport the army to Hispania. Soon, Amilcar was forced to have his army march to the Pillars of Hercules, to cross there by boat the Strait of Gibraltar, between what would now be Morocco and Spain.
The Roman historian Titus Livius mentions that when Hannibal went to see his father and begged him to allow him to accompany him, his father accepted on the condition that he swore that during his entire existence he would never be a friend of Rome. Other historians mention that Hannibal declared to his father:
His tactical training began under the aegis of his father, and continued learning from his brother-in-law, Asdrubal the Beautiful. Asdrubal succeeded Amilcar, who died on the battlefield against Iberian rebels. Named head of the cavalry by Asdrubal, Hannibal immediately reveals his endurance, his cold blood, and his capacity to be appreciated and admired by his soldiers. Asdrubal conducted a policy of consolidating the Iberian interests in Carthage. To this end, he married Hannibal to an Iberian princess with whom he had a son. However, this matrimonial alliance is considered unlikely and is not attested by all. In 227 BC, Asdrubal founded the new Carthaginian capital in Hispania, Qart Hadasht, today Cartagena. In 226 BC. Asdrubal signed a treaty with Rome by which the Iberian Peninsula was divided into two zones of influence. The Ebro River constituted the border: Carthage was not to expand further north of this river, to the same extent that Rome was not to extend south of the river course.
After the death of Asdrubal, Hannibal was chosen by the Carthaginian army quartered on the Iberian Peninsula to succeed him as commander in chief. Hannibal would later be confirmed in office by the Carthaginian government despite opposition led by Hanon (a wealthy aristocrat). At the time, Hannibal was 25 years old. Titus Livius gives a brief description of the young general:
Having assumed command, Hannibal spent two years consolidating power over Carthaginian Hispanic lands and finishing the conquest of the territories south of the Ebro. In 221 BC, in his first campaign as head of the Carthaginian forces in Hispania, he headed for the Central Plateau and attacked the Olcades, taking its main city, Althia. This conquest expanded the Punic dominions to the vicinity of the Tagus River. In the following year”s campaign, 220 BC, he advanced westward and engaged the Voceans, attacking the cities of Helmantica and Arbocala. On the expedition”s return with a large booty to Qart Hadasht, a coalition led by Carpetanos, with contingents from Váceos and Olcades, launched an attack near the Tagus River, but was defeated by the military skill of the young Carthaginian general.
Fearing the growing presence of the Carthaginians in Hispania, Rome concluded an alliance with the city of Sagunto, declaring the city a protectorate. Sagunto was located a considerable distance from the Ebro River in the southern part, in territory that the Romans had recognized as within the area of Carthaginian influence. This political maneuver created tension between the two powers: while the Romans argued that according to the treaty signed in 241 BC, the Carthaginians could not attack an ally of Rome, the Punic relied on the clause of the document that recognized Carthaginian Hispanic sovereignty over territories south of the Ebro.
Hannibal decided to march against Sagunto. Recent excavations (2008) in the city of Valencia found, among other remains, a palisade near the left bank of the river Curia, which was probably part of a military camp, Hannibal”s barracks in his advance towards Sagunto. and surrendered in 219 BC, after eight months of siege. Rome reacted to what it considered a flagrant violation of the treaty and demanded justice from the Carthaginian government. Because of Hannibal”s great popularity and the risk of losing prestige in Hispania, the oligarchic government rejected the Roman petitions and declared the war the general had dreamed of, the Second Punic War, later that year. Hannibal was determined to take the war into the heart of Italy with a rapid march through Hispania and southern Gaul.
After the siege and destruction of Sagunto by the Carthaginians, Rome decided to attack on two fronts: North Africa and Hispania. They set off from Sicily, an island that served as their base of operations. However, Hannibal subverted the Romans” plans with an unexpected strategy: take the war to the heart of the Italian peninsula, marching quickly through Hispania and southern Gaul.
Aware that his maritime fleet was far inferior to that of the Romans, Hannibal decided not to attack by sea, choosing a much tougher and longer land route but more interesting tactically, since it allowed him to recruit many mercenary soldiers or allies from the Celtic peoples willing to fight the Romans. Before his departure, Hannibal skillfully distributed his forces and sent several Iberian contingents to North Africa, while he ordered Libyan-Phoenician soldiers to secure Carthage”s possessions in Hispania.
Hannibal did not leave Cartagena until late spring of 218 BC.
The general set his army in motion and sent representatives to negotiate his passage through the Pyrenees and to sew alliances with the peoples present off his route. According to Titus Livius, Hannibal crossed the Ebro River with 90,000 soldiers and 12,000 horsemen, and left a detachment of 10,000 soldiers and 1,000 horsemen to defend Hispania, to which were added 11,000 Iberians who were reluctant to abandon their territory. After his passage through the Pyrenees, he had 70,000 soldiers and 10,000 horsemen. According to other sources, Hannibal arrived in Gaul with 40,000 soldiers and 12,000 horsemen. It is difficult to establish an approximate figure for his actual numbers. Some estimates believe that he led a force of 80,000 men. At the time of his arrival in Italy, he apparently led, according to sources, between 20,000 soldiers and 6,000 horsemen. On the other hand, on several occasions (or at least at the beginning of the war), Carthage sent reinforcements to Hannibal. His army was also joined by many fighters from other tribes. About 40,000 Welsh joined the Carthaginian army during the war.
In his army, Hannibal had a powerful contingent of war elephants, animals that played an important role in the armies of the time and the Romans knew them well for having faced them when they formed part of the troops of the king of Epirus, Pyrrhus. In reality, the 38 elephants in Hannibal”s army are an insignificant number compared to those in the armies of Hellenistic times. Most of them died during the journey through the Alps victims of humidity and Etruscan marism. The only surviving beast was used as a mount by the general himself. Hannibal lost his right eye and used this means of transportation to avoid contact with water. According to other historians, Hannibal suffered an ophthalmia
Trip to Italy
Hannibal advanced through Gaul carefully avoiding attacking the Greek cities located where today is Catalonia. It is thought that after crossing the Pyrenean mountain range through present-day Cerdania and establishing his camp near the town of Illibéris (present-day Elne, near Perpignan), he proceeded to advance smoothly until he reached the Rhône River, where he arrived in September before the Romans could prevent the passage of 38,000 soldiers, 8,000 horsemen, and 37 war elephants.
After avoiding the local populations, who tried to impede his advance, Hannibal was forced to flee from a Roman company coming from the Mediterranean coast up the valley of the Rhône River. The fact that the Romans came from conquering Cisalpine Gaul gave Hannibal hope that it would be possible to find allies among the Gauls of northern Italy.
Crossing the Alps
The route Hannibal took is controversial. The Alps could have been flanked by the Little Saint Bernard pass, the Mont Cenis pass or also the Montgenèvre pass. Some authors argue that Hannibal crossed the Clapier pass or, further south, the Larche pass.
Polybius” records are very inaccurate. Furthermore, there is no archaeological evidence that provides any irrefutable proof of Hannibal”s route. All the hypotheses formulated by experts are based on the texts of Polybius and Titus Livius (almost a thousand books have been written on the subject).
One of the most accepted hypotheses is that which indicates the mountain pass flanked by Hannibal near the Padana plain. No doubt Hannibal was encouraging his hungry and demoralized soldiers with the prospect of soon finding the Po River. In the Northern Alps, Montgenèvre and Great St. Bernard, only the Savine-Coche pass and the Larche pass support this opinion. However, those who believe in the passage through the Little Saint Bernard pass question the meaning of this passage by Polybius:
It should be recorded that it was common among ancient historians to imagine verisimilar speeches attributed to historical personages, for which there is no reason to believe in the absolute authenticity of this scene, and the attitude of the speaker accompanying it. Comparison of the various possible paths does not allow for a definitive conclusion. According to the sources, Hannibal lost between 3,000 and 20,000 men in this crossing. The survivors who reached Italy were hungry and cold.
This passage has been depicted in many paintings and drawings, one of them being by Francisco de Goya. Those who defend the passage through Little Saint Bernard say that the fogs that often rise on the Po plain prevent it from being seen. However, this plain has been seen and photographed many times. There is an example on the website of Patrick Hunt, professor of archaeology at Stanford University, dedicated to the search for the passage through which Hannibal would have arrived in Italy. It is noted that Clapier”s passage is the only one that perfectly matches the ancient texts. Polybius recorded another very important piece of information:
In the Northern Alps, only Clapier”s pass would satisfy these two conditions: a view over the Po plain and the Turinese population. Since Colonel Perrin made this statement in 1883, many authors have adopted this hypothesis. The only relevant exception is Sir Gavin de Beer”s hypothesis (published in 1955), which proposes the Traversette pass in the southern Alps, near Mount Viso (Cossian Alps). The route did not cross the territory of the Alóbroges and this hypothesis has been vehemently contested, but it is accepted in England and counts in its favor the discovery in 2016 of ancient dung remains with a large amount of Clostridia bacteria (associated with horse dung), signs of equine parasitic worms, and evidence that the ground had been intensely trampled by what could have been large numbers of horses around a natural water well.
Whatever the route chosen, the crossing of the Alps has been the most important tactical choice of antiquity. Hannibal managed to cross the mountains despite the obstacles posed by the climate, the terrain, attacks from local populations, and the difficulty of leading an army composed of soldiers of different ethnicities and speaking different languages.
Another reason that makes the crossing important is strategic. Rome was a continental power and Carthage a maritime power. It seemed obvious that the Carthaginian fleet could attack and land men anywhere south of the Italian peninsula or in Sicily, having enough resources to avoid seeking a crossing through the Alps. However, Hannibal attacked overland in open defiance and by surprise to the Roman troops. His sudden appearance in the Po valley after crossing Gaul and passing through the Alps, allowed him to break the enforced peace of some local tribes before Rome could react against the rebellions. Hannibal”s difficult march led him into Roman territory and thwarted attempts by his enemy to settle the conflict in foreign territory.
Battle of Ticino
Publius Cornelius Scipio, the consul who led the Roman forces destined to intercept Hannibal, did not expect the Carthaginian general to try to cross the Alps. The Romans were preparing to confront him on the Iberian Peninsula. After Scipio failed in his attempt to intercept Hannibal at the Rhône River, he dispatched his brother Cneo to Hispania with most of his consular army while he, with a reduced detachment, moved to Pisa (Etruria) and joined the army of praetors in Gaul commanded by Lucius Magnius Vulsion Longo and Gaius Attilius Serranus. Such decisions and quick movements allowed him to reach Placencia in time to catch up with Hannibal.
After crossing the Alpine mountain range with his decimated troops and having successfully subdued the Taurine tribe, Hannibal and his army advanced eastward and met the Roman army in Gaul beside the Ticino River. The Battle of Ticino, a simple clash between Roman cavalry liberated by the consul Publius Cornelius Scipio and Carthaginian cavalry, showcased Hannibal”s military qualities for the first time on Italian soil. The Punic general employed his light cavalry, the Numidians, to flank the Roman forces, while his heavy Hispanic cavalry clashed head-on against the Gaulish cavalry (allied to the Romans), the Vellites and the rest of the Italo-Roman cavalry. The consul was wounded and saved by a slave of Ligurian origin, but other sources say that his savior was his seventeen-year-old son Scipio, who would later receive the surname African because of his decisive victory over Hannibal at Zama.
After retreating to camp, the Romans left the Ticino area and camped near the Po River in Emilia-Romagna. Thanks to the superiority of his cavalry, Hannibal had forced the Romans to evacuate the plain of Lombardy.
Battle of Trebia
Before news of Ticino”s defeat reached Rome, the Roman senate ordered its consul Tiberius Sempronio Longo to bring his troops from Sicily, to join Scipio and confront Hannibal.
Although it was only a small victory, the result of the encounter at Ticino incited the Gauls and the Ligurians to join the Carthaginians, which increased the size of the Punic army to 40,000 men, of whom 14,000 were Gauls.
Scipio, seriously wounded and faced with the desertion of some of the Gauls enlisted in the Roman army, retreated to the highlands near the Trebia River to set up a new camp and thus protect his men. There he awaited the arrival of Tiberius” forces.
Hannibal, thanks to his skillful maneuvering, was in a position to resist Tiberius Sempronio, since he controlled the road from Placencia to Rimini, which the consul had to follow if he wanted to join Scipio. Taking advantage of the situation, Hannibal forced his way to Clastidium, now Casteggio, in Lombardy, where he found large amounts of supplies for his men. However, this success was not complete, for taking advantage of the Carthaginian”s distraction, Tiberius advanced and managed to unite with Scipio. As soon as Tiberius arrived in the region, his cavalry had a favorable clash with the Punic scouts, which gave him confidence.
On the day of the winter solstice in 218 B.C., after besieging the Roman camp with his Numidian cavalry, Hannibal got his enemies to go into battle. The day before, he had hidden his brother Magnon with infantry and cavalry in a bushy region near the battlefield. The Battle of Trebia had its beginning when the Roman army crossed the river and clashed with the Carthaginian soldiers. The Punic cavalry with the elephants concentrated on encircling the Roman wards, putting the enemy cavalry on the run. Strongly pressed on the flanks, they were also attacked in the rear by Magon”s forces that were in hiding. Surrounded on all sides, the center of the Roman infantry managed to open up a passage through the Gauls and Hispanians that made up the center of the Carthaginian line. In this way, part of the Roman force was able to escape. Once again, Hannibal had achieved an important victory, this time after facing two Roman armies commanded by the two consuls.
Battle of Lake Trasimeno
After the victories of Ticino and Trebia, the Carthaginians retreated to Bologna, and then continued their march to Rome. After having consolidated his position in Northern Italy thanks to his victories, Hannibal moved his winter quarters into the territory of the Gauls, whose support seemed to be waning. In the spring of 217 BC, the Carthaginian general decided to establish a more secure base of operations, situated to the south. Figuring that Hannibal was determined to continue his advance towards Rome, Cneu Servilius Geminus and Gaius Flaminus, the new consuls, moved their armies to block the eastern and western routes that could be taken by Hannibal. The other route through central Italy lay at the mouth of the Arno River. This route passed through a large swamp that was submerged more than usual at that time of year. Although Hannibal knew that this route was the most complicated, he also knew that it was the safest and fastest route to central Italy. As the historian Polybius indicates, Hannibal”s men marched four days and three nights on “a route that was under water” and suffered terrible fatigue caused mainly by lack of sleep.
Supposedly impassable, the general crossed the Apennines and the Arno unopposed. However, in the swamps in the plains, Hannibal lost most of his forces, including his last elephants. Upon reaching Etruria (now Tuscany), Hannibal decided to draw the main Roman army (commanded by Flaminius) into a pitched battle, devastating the territories the consul was supposed to protect. Polybius wrote:
At the same time, Hannibal tried to break Rome”s ties with its allies, showing them that Flaminio was unable to protect them. Despite this, Flaminio remained in Arezzo without moving a finger. Unable to drag Flaminio into battle, Hannibal decided to march hard against his opponent”s left flank, blocking his retreat to Rome. This maneuver is recognized as the first encircling movement in history.
Hannibal subsequently undertook the pursuit of Flaminio, through the hills of Etruria. On June 21, he surprised him in a gorge on the shores of Lake Trasimeno. In the ensuing battle, Hannibal completely destroyed his army between the hills and the lake shore. 15,000 Romans died and 10,000 more were taken prisoner. A group of 5,000 who managed to break through the Carthaginian lines was finally surrounded on a nearby hill by Punic cavalry commanded by Maárbal and agreed to surrender in exchange for their freedom. Hannibal did not recognize his subordinate”s authority to make such a decision and also left the latter surrendered as prisoners.
Battle of the Plestia Marshes
Two days later, he continued eastward across Umbria. Near the marshy area of Plestia, there was a Roman contingent of 8,000 men coming from Rome, as recorded by Apiano, sent by Praetor Gaius Centenius. Hannibal ordered his cavalry, under the command of Maárbal, to go around the blockade position occupied by the Roman troops and attacked them head-on with his infantry and cavalry from behind, eliminating this land force that prevented their advance to Rome and killing their commander. They claimed that this Roman force was composed only of 4,000 horsemen and was in fact the cavalry of the consular army of Servilius Geminus who, unaware of the outcome in Trasimeno, had ordered them to advance to assist Flaminio. This number of 4,000 does not match the cavalry of a consular army. Therefore, the hypothesis that it was a contingent sent from Rome (as in 207 B.C. two urban legions were sent to block the passage of the Nar River around Narni when Asdrubal Barca had laid siege to the Adriatic coast), seems credible.
After this clash, Hannibal marched against Spoleto, his objective being repulsed by the side of one of the city gates, which currently retains the name “Escape Gate” in memory of these deeds, and its adjacent tower “Oleum Tower”, because presumably from it they fired boiling oil at the attackers. He then continued on to Narnia where the bridge over the Nar River was blocked, and after devastating the region, he headed for Piceno across Umbria. Despite his victory, Hannibal was aware that without siege weapons he could not take the capital and having blocked the bridge across the Nar River and presumably the rest of the canals he would find all the way to Rome, it was preferable to exploit his victory by moving to the Adriatic coast of Italy, devastating territories and fields and encouraging a general rebellion against the power of the eternal city. Not in vain, after Trasimeno, Hannibal announced to his Italic prisoners:
After these two defeats at Trasimeno and Plestia, the Romans decided to appoint Fabius Maximus as dictator. Ignoring Roman military tradition, Fabius chose to use a new strategy, which would come to be known as the Fabian Strategy, which consisted of avoiding a frontal battle against his adversary while distributing several armies around him in order to surround his attackers and limit their movements.
Battle of Camp Falerno
After crossing the Picentine, Marrucine and Frontan territories, the Carthaginian army reached northern Apulia, devastating everything in its path. In this last area arrived the Roman army under Fabius after being rebuilt with the army of Servilio”s consul Geninus and with those newly enlisted to replace the men lost at Trasimeno. Unable to get Fabius to fall to provocation, Hannibal crossed the Samnio, taking over Telesia and reaching Campania, one of the richest and most fertile regions of Italy, with the hope that the devastation of the territory might pressure the dictator into battle. Fabius, however, decided to continue following Hannibal but without engaging in combat with the Carthaginian. Despite its success, the Fabian strategy was very unpopular among the Romans, who considered it cowardly. Hannibal entered the district of Campo Falerno (Ager Falernus), situated between Cales, between Tarracina and the Volturno River. There he began his devastation, but Fabius managed to stop him by blocking all the exits from the area. In order to respond to Fabius” move, Hannibal tricked the Romans with a ruse that consisted of placing burning torches on the horns of oxen and throwing them in the middle of the night in a melee over the area where he intended the Romans to believe he was trying to break the siege. The Romans advanced to reinforce that point while Hannibal escaped through one of the passes that the Romans abandoned to attack the decoy. Hannibal and his army crossed the pass unopposed. These events constitute the so-called Battle of Campo Falerno. From there he headed north to Puglia crossing the Apennines through the Samnio. The contested dictator decided to continue his strategy and pursued him. That winter, Hannibal set up headquarters in the Larino region on the border between the Samnio and northern Apulia. The splendid way in which Hannibal deployed his army in such an adverse situation earned Adrian Goldsworthy the fame of “a classic move in ancient military history that finds its place in every war narrative that has been used in later military manuals.
Battle of Geronium
Hannibal took the city of Geronius and established his base of operations there. Fabius camped with his army thirty kilometers to the south, in the city of Larinum, although he was called back to Rome soon after to attend some religious services.
In Fabius” absence, the cavalry master Marcus Minutius Rufus, took command of the troops and decided to advance his position toward the Carthaginians. In turn, the Carthaginians established a second advance camp near that of the Romans, while also holding Geronius” camp. In a bold move, Rufo launched his cavalry and light infantry against the Punic scout troops protecting that area, while using heavy infantry surrounded the Carthaginian forward camp. Since most of his troops were on collecting duties, Hannibal could barely contain the legionnaires who were close to the camp and were already reaching the palisades. With the scouts quickly returning to Geronius” Carthaginian camp, Asdrubal, a subordinate of Hannibal, assembled a reinforcement contingent of 4,000 men and managed to arrive in time to assist Hannibal at the forward camp, forcing the Romans to regroup. Since he had left his camp at Geronius ungarrisoned, where his logistical support was, Hannibal decided to abandon the advance camp and return to Geronius. The cavalry master had managed to inflict numerous casualties on the Carthaginian scouts, forcing them to abandon one of their camps. This feat had great repercussions in Rome. The Roman Senate, impatient with Fabius Maximus, whose prestige had suffered a severe blow after Hannibal”s maneuver at Campo Falerno, passed a law that equaled the rank of Minucio Rufus to that of Cunctator, thus coexisting two dictators for the first time in Roman history. As a result of this law, the Roman army was divided in two, one under the command of Fabius and the other under the command of Rufus.
Knowing this, Hannibal prepared a trap for Rufus in front of the city of Geronius. As Plutarch recorded, “the ground in front of the city was flat, yet it had some canals and caves,” which he filled the night before with 5,000 soldiers and horsemen. The next morning he sent a scouting party to Rufo”s camp, which immediately attacked with light troops. Hannibal sent support to the scouts and then dispatched cavalry, which Rufo needed to counterattack with his own. When the Roman cavalry was defeated, Rufus positioned all his legions in fighting order and descended into the valley. The Punic general waited for him to cross the valley and then gave the order to his ambushed troops, who attacked the flanks and rear of the Roman army. Rufus” forces beat a retreat, pursued by Numidian horsemen, and was almost completely annihilated were it not for the intervention of Fabius Maximus, who appeared with his army and drove the Punic retreaters back. After the Battle of Geronius, Rufus resigned from his post and placed his legions under the command of the “shield of Rome. When the six months of Fabius” dictatorship were over, the Roman army passed again into the hands of the consul Servilius Genminus and the de facto consul Marcus Attilius Regulus, appointed to the position of the late Flaminius. These continued the Fabian strategy for the few remaining months of their terms and already as pro-consuls during the first months of the consulship of 216 BC. The new consuls elected by the Roman citizens, Lucius Emilius Paulus and Gaius Terentius Varro, recruited troops and dispatched matters in Rome.
Battle of Canes
Hannibal, who had no intention of attacking Rome at first, intended to plunder the territories of Apulia. In the spring of 216 B.C., the general undertook an attack on the important supply depot of Canas. With this initiative, he would stand between the Roman armies and their main food sources. Confident of victory, the new consuls increased the army to a total of approximately 100,000 men, the largest in their history. The consuls thus renounced the slow but effective tactic of avoiding conflict, opting instead for a frontal assault.
The battle, considered Hannibal”s main tactical achievement, was finally fought on August 2, B.C., on the left bank of the river Ofanto (southern Italy). Since taking command, the two consuls decided to alternate daily command of the army. Varro, commander of the forces that day, was determined to defeat Hannibal. the Carthaginian general took advantage of the Roman”s momentum and led him into a trap in which he annihilated his army. Hannibal enveloped them, reducing the area of the battlefield and thus eliminating their numerical advantage. His Hispanic and Gallic infantry were arranged in a convex semicircle, with African infantry on the flanks. On the side of the river Ofanto, he distributed 6,000 Hispano-Gaulan horsemen on the left flank under the command of Asdrubal and about 4,000 Numidian horsemen commanded by Maárbal on the right flank. On the Roman right wing were placed the 2 000 horsemen of the Roman cavalry under the command of Emilio Paulo and on the left the 4 500 under the command of Varro. The fighting began with the defeat on the river side of Emilio Paulo”s Roman cavalry. Meanwhile, the Roman legions, which extended for about a kilometer and a half, advanced against the Punic army, which was retreating in a controlled manner, changing its convex shape to a concave “U” shape, trapping the legions. Asdrubal”s cavalry (not to be confused with Asdrubal Barca) after eliminating its Roman opponents on the left flank, went around the Roman troops and attacked Varro”s cavalry, which until then had remained in an even fight against the Numidian cavalry. This maneuver put the Italic cavalry on the run, which was immediately pursued by the Numidians, thus leaving the Roman infantry unguarded. Also taking advantage of a dusty gale that erupted against the Roman front, which prevented them from seeing the situation at that time, Hannibal ordered his wings of African infantry to turn 90 degrees to surround the Roman flanks. From behind, the heavy Hispanic-Gaulan cavalry completed the siege. The Roman army was surrounded, then began a massacre of the legionnaires, which would mean their almost total annihilation.
When the battle was over, Hannibal recovered the rings from the corpses of the Roman equites who died in battle. With them, he was able to provide the government of Carthage with irrefutable proof of his victory at Cannae.
Hannibal”s victory is explained not only by the tactics used during the battle, but also by the psychological ability of the Carthaginian, who took advantage of his opponents” mistakes. Hannibal provoked the consuls, who repeatedly fell into his traps, as in the case of Lake Trasimene, out of his desire to achieve a victory before the end of his term. To devise his strategies, Hannibal should have a detailed knowledge of Roman institutions and the ambition of the republican politicians. For this, the help of Punic spies was invaluable, often camouflaged under the guise of simple merchants.
After Cannae, the Romans were no longer so determined to confront Hannibal directly, preferring to return to the strategy of Fabius Maximus: to seek their opponent”s defeat through a war of exhaustion based on their numerical advantage and their quick access to supplies. It is not true that, as some authors think, Hannibal and Rome did not meet again in a pitched battle on Italian territory until the end of the war. There were Roman generals who dared to fight, with unequal fortunes, in a pitched battle against the Carthaginians. Rome refused to surrender or negotiate an armistice and returned to recruiting new troops to continue the war.
The great Carthaginian victory caused numerous cities in southern Italy to decide to join Hannibal”s cause. As Titus Livius wrote, “the disaster of Canas was the most serious of those that preceded, and made the allegiance of the allies, which had hitherto stood firm, begin to waver, for no sure reason, other than that they lost confidence in the republic.” Two years later, the Greek cities of Sicily rebelled against Roman political control and the king of Macedonia, Philip V, signed an alliance with Hannibal in 215 BC, causing the outbreak of the First Macedonian War. In addition, Hannibal forged an alliance with the new king of Syracuse, Jerome.
It has often been claimed that if Hannibal had received the necessary equipment from Carthage, he would have led a direct attack on Rome. However, he was content to lay siege to the fortresses that fiercely resisted him and, despite everything, only managed the defection of a few Italian territories such as Capua, the second city of Italy, which the Carthaginians converted into their new base. Of the Italian cities Hannibal hoped to subvert, only a small number agreed to do so. According to J. F. Lazenby, Hannibal”s failure to attack the city was not due to a lack of equipment, but to the precariousness of its supply capacity and the instability of its own political situation.
Hannibal”s intentions, besides retaking Sicily, were to destroy Rome not so much as a city, but as a political entity, hence his refusal to take the city after the battle of Cannae and the famous phrase attributed to his Numidian cavalry chief Maárbal:
Hannibal used his victories to try to attract his cause to the cities subjected to Rome. The prisoners, for example, were divided into two groups. Roman citizens – who were reduced to slaves or used in the prisoner exchange – and Latin citizens or allies, who were allowed to return to their homes.
Many cities in central and southern Italy rushed to join Carthage. In 216 BCE, Brutia, present-day Calabria, changed sides, as did Locros Epizephyrios (present-day Locros) and Crotona in 215 BCE. In 212 B.C. there were the rebellions of Metaponto in the Gulf of Tarentum, Turius near Sybaris, and Tarentum in Apulia. These cities were joined by the Gauls of Cisalpina and Capua. Latins, Etruscans, Picentines, Marsians, Sabines, Peligians, Marquises, Frentines, and Umbrians remained loyal to Rome throughout the war, although some of them remained under surveillance for some periods.
It should be noted that Hannibal had the ability to propose a less binding alliance system than the Roman model, which allowed different peoples to maintain a set of rights. The Roman model became overly oppressive in economic matters and reduced the participation of the natives in public administration.
Unlike the Romans, Hannibal was inspired by the Greek model, that is, the thought of a homogeneous city that guaranteed the safety of its allies, to whom it granted a kind of freedom. Seeking acceptance of his system, Hannibal wrote a speech praising the freedom of the Greeks. This idea, defended in his time by Antigonus Monophthalmus, was supposed to come from Philip V of Macedon. Thanks to this, the Carthaginian conqueror caused the Romans to be seen as barbarians to certain Greeks in Sicily and southern Italy (Magna Grecia).
Beginning in 215 BC, the Romans again used the strategy of Fabius Maximus and tried to avoid confronting Hannibal in pitched battle. They increased their strength through a policy of recruiting slaves and young men under the age of 17. The Romans understood to what extent it was necessary to conduct an offensive on the political and ideological terrain. Under the command of a senator specialized in Greek letters, Quintus Fabius Pictor, an antipunic history of Rome was written. In Pictor”s work, Hannibal and the Carthaginians are described as untrustworthy, wicked and cruel men. In contrast, the Romans are presented as men faithful to their agreements, pious and tolerant. Thus, the definition of the “custom of the ancestors,” the mos maiorum, which became the moral norm of reference at the end of the Roman Republic, was set in motion.
Shortly after the Battle of Lake Trasimene in 217 BC, Hannibal freed three knights of Capua who shortly thereafter proposed to take possession of the city. Hannibal spent much time trying to gain the confidence of the city”s notables, which he managed to gain after the Battle of Canas was over. The city (now known as Santa Maria Capua Vetere) “offered the Carthaginian soldiers countless pleasures that would soften their strength.” However, the meaning of the famous expression “Delights of Capua” may not correspond to reality. A detailed reconstruction of the events narrated by Titus Livius from the Battle of Canas to the fall of Casilino shows that there was not enough time for the army to settle down. In the three months from the battle to the beginning of operations at Casilino, Hannibal took over the northern cities of Apulia, which went over to his side leaving garrisons; he attacked with his cavalry Canusio; he marched to Compsa (he divided his army with a contingent under Magon, who went south; he advanced into Campania, attacking Neapolis, without succeeding in subverting the city to his side. From there, he went to Capua, where he signed the alliance with its leaders, thus consummating the change of side of the city. After that, he again approached Neapolis without success, then marched to Nola, where he could not get them to change sides when Marcellus arrived with troops. For the third time, Hannibal returned to Neapolis, without getting his defection. He then besieged and took the nearby town of Nuceria, from where he returned to Nola. Unsuccessfully, he fought the First Battle of Nola against Marcellus, retreating to Acerra, which was abandoned by its population and destroyed by the Punic. He then proceeded to Casilino, located on the Volturno River, where the army of the dictator Marcus Junius Pera had arrived.
Once in Casilino, he attacked the Roman camp at night and got them to flee. By removing them from the area, he was able to begin the siege of the city. After several failed attacks, he surrounded the city and began the siege. Casilino”s surrender coincided with the dictator”s march to Rome to hold the consular elections, something that used to happen in late January, which means that the siege lasted around two months. During this period, it is known that most of the Carthaginian army marched to spend the winter at the camp on Mount Tifata. This camp was located about three kilometers from the city of Capua.
It is very difficult that the small margin of time he had to rest (not much more than two weeks) would cause his army to establish itself at least until the fall of Casilino. After this, Hannibal himself went to Brutius to join the army under Hannam”s command to begin the siege of the city of Petellia. The next mention of military operations by Hannibal”s army occurred already during 215 B.C. when he leaves Capua for the nearby city of Cumas in pursuit of the army of the consul Tiberius Sempronius Graco. The latter began his operations when he arrived from Rome at Sinuessa with 25,000 allied soldiers, joining Junius Pera”s army of 25,000 men.
This union made it possible to form two consular armies, one for Graco himself and one for the de facto consul Fabius Maximus. It is important to note that Fabius stationed his men at Cales, while Graco”s army remained at Sinuessa, one blocking the Appian Way and the other the Latin Way. These routes were a possible route for Hannibal to Latium via the now known Campo Falerno (Ager Falernus), since Casilino was in Carthaginian hands and had therefore secured a crossing point of the Volturno River for an eventual retreat to Campania. The sequence of events of the inauguration of the new consuls in late March (with consul-elect Marcellus participating in the rotation of troops that took the veterans from Canas in Sicily), the arrival of the allied troops in Rome, the travel time from Rome to Sinuessa (where Junius Pera”s army spent the winter), the crossing of the Volturno River along the coast to enter Campania, and the operation against the Campanians in Hamas, would hardly have made Hannibal in Cumas before the end of April. This assumes that he remained in the vicinity of Capua from the fall of Casilino in late January until that time. About three months inactive, of which the first month and a half corresponds to the end of winter. And it is probably this period, at some key moments of the war, what the Romans called “the delights of Capua”. But it is also true that the two Roman armies already present in the area, of Junius Pera and Marcellus, were not known operations at that time, so the parade cannot be seen as something exceptional. These “delights of Capua” seem like a Roman propaganda attempt to discredit both Hannibal and the traitorous city of Capua, a city that with this idea seemed like a nest of frivolity and perversion, so that defection to Rome meant something vile and loyalty to Rome as synonymous with virtue.
Battle of Cumas
In 215 BC, an allied army of Hannibal was surprised at his camp in Hamas (Campania). The night attack by Tiberius Graecus” consular army caused heavy casualties. Quartered on Mount Tifata, Hannibal went out in pursuit of the Romans who had taken refuge in the nearby coastal town of Cumas. Due to the lack of equipment for the siege, he ordered his commanders to go to Capua to bring the necessary resources. When he received them, he armed an assault tower with the intention of attacking and taking the city. In turn, the Romans began the construction of a tower on the walls to help defend against the Punic threat. Upon approaching the city walls, the defenders managed to set the Carthaginian tower on fire. During the escape of its occupants, they made an escape, causing the Punic casualties. The next day, Hannibal organized his men to try to confront the consular army, but Graco remained within the city walls. Finally, the Carthaginian general abandoned the siege by returning to his camp on Mount Tifata.
The treaty signed in 215 B.C. by Hannibal and King Philip V of Macedonia was discovered by the Romans when they captured in the waters of the Adriatic Sea one of the ambassadors destined to formalize it. This would force a new battle front for the weakened Roman army. Rome sent a fleet of 25 ships and a legion to Salentino to fortify the position in anticipation of what might happen.
2nd Battle of Nola
The Carthaginian forces in Italy received a shipment of 4,000 horsemen and 40 elephants from Carthage, brought by Bomilcar. Shortly thereafter, Hannibal received complaints from the Samnite and Hyrpine allies that Marcus Claudius Marcellus, operating from Nola, was constantly looting their territories. The allies asked for help in their defense. These events caused him to try again to capture Nola, defended a few months earlier by the now proconsul Marcellus. To do so, he ordered his subordinate Hanon to bring the newly arrived elephants from Brutus. With his troops in the vicinity of the city, a first battle took place, interrupted by rain. On the third day of his arrival, and taking advantage of the fact that most of the Carthaginian troops were patrolling, Marcellus commanded his men to battle the Punic camp. Hannibal ordered the available men to enter the battle and summoned those who were absent. Both armies clashed in the 2nd Battle of Nola, which again resulted in heavy casualties to the Carthaginian army. Forced to retreat to his camp, he lost several men and elephants. The next day, a group of Numidian and Hispanic horsemen from the Carthaginian cavalry deserted. Hannibal eventually left the area and went to Puglia.
During the summer, the Punic sent an expedition to the island of Sardinia to support the rebellion that local tribes had started against the Romans, but before landing, thanks to the arrival of reinforcements from Rome, they are defeated in two consecutive battles at Cagliari and Corno.
3rd Battle of Nola
In the campaign of 214 BC, the Carthaginian general plundered the camp near Cumas and unsuccessfully attacked the port city of Pozzuoli, also in Campania. After that, he tried again to take Nola and fought against Marcellus the 3rd Battle of Nola, again driven back to his camp. The next day, he refused to face the Romans next to the city. After this failure, he decided to change the area of operations and went to the Salentine. Both consuls took advantage that Hannibal was no longer in Campania and managed to recover Casilino.
War in Sicily
In parallel, the Carthaginians turned their attention to Sicily, an island that had been a priority objective since their defeat in the first Punic war. The young tyrant of Syracuse, Jerome, newly promoted to power after the death of King Hieron II, abandoned the Roman alliance in 214 BC.
In the middle of that year, Jerome and several of his relatives were murdered after the political unrest of the successions. Then two Carthaginian agents, Hippocrates and Epicides, took power. The kingdom of Syracuse openly allied itself with Carthage, forcing Rome to divert resources from the main fight in the Italian peninsula.
The Romans, under the command of the consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus, transferred a consular army from Campania to the island in order to deal with the situation. They were joined by the exiled army of Canas, already present on the island since the spring of 215 B.C. Marcellus began the siege of Syracuse after failing in his attempt to take it by assault.
For their part, the Carthaginians sent troops to the island under the command of Himilcon Phameas, landing 20,000 infantrymen, 3,000 horsemen and 12 elephants. The cities of Eraclea Minoa and Agrigento, located next to the Punic landing area, accepted the alliance with the Carthaginians who with their army went to Syracuse to try, unsuccessfully, to free it from siege.
In the middle of that same year 214 BC, Philip V began his operations against Illyria, occupying the town of Orico, where he left a garrison. After this he invested against Apollonia, where he set up his camp and began the siege of the city. The Romans sent praetor Marcus Valerius Levino there with the fleet and the legion he had in the Salentine to counterattack. Once they landed, they were able to recapture Orico quickly, going to help besieged Apollonia where they were able to enter undetected. After a surprising night attack, at the Battle of Apollonia, they took the enemy camp destroying the siege machinery, and forced the Macedonians to retreat to their territory, leaving their fleet of birremes on the riverbank.
Campaign of the year 213 B.C.
In 213 BC, the consuls Tiberius Sempronius Gracius and Quintus Fabius, son of Fabius Maximus, were appointed. The latter took control of the consular army that his father had the previous year and went to the city of Arpos in Apulia. Taking advantage of a rainy night, the Roman troops managed to scale the walls and penetrate the city, where they resisted a large group of inhabitants and a strong Carthaginian garrison. The Arpinian defenders and a group of Hispanians deserted the Punic contingent. It was agreed to allow the Carthaginian garrison to evacuate to the nearby city of Salapia, where they rejoined Hannibal”s army.
In Gaul, the new praetor Publius Sempronio Tuditanus managed to take the city of Atrino. The Carthaginian general concentrated his summer operations in the Salentine region, managing to conquer much of this territory. In Lucania, Consul Graco managed to take some small towns, having some minor fighting. Meanwhile, in Brutus, the cities of Cosence and Turius under Punic command, turned to the Roman side again to prevent the sacking of Graco”s army from Lucania. In one such sacking, Hannibal”s commander Hannam surprised the Italic attack of Graco”s army, killing or capturing about 15,000 men, including the imprisonment of the magistrate commanding those troops, Titus Pomponius.
In Sicily, some localities like Murgancia went over to the Carthaginian side, which instigated the Romans to massacre the population of Ena as a warning to prevent further defections. In Rome, there were hostages from the cities of Taranto and Turius under a regime of probation. They tried to escape the city and were captured before they could reach Campania. Upon their return to Rome they were executed, which caused anti-Roman sentiment in their respective cities. This caused a Tarantino noble couple to offer Hannibal a betrayal to move the city aside. It was already the end of the campaign of that year and the Carthaginian general aided by the attack made by the traitors against the sentries of two city gates, managed to take Taranto in a night attack (except for its citadel) in the 1st Battle of Taranto.
Campaign of 212 B.C.
During 212 B.C. the Carthaginians began their operations in Lucania, where, after several populations rebelled in their favor, they managed to ambush the retinue of the Roman proconsul Tiberius Sempronius Graco, killing him. Meanwhile, the Roman consuls Apius Claudius Pulcro and Quintus Fulvio Flaco captured a Punic camp near Benevento. After this, they made a first attempt to besiege the rebel city of Capua, which was thwarted by Hannibal”s arrival at the 1st Battle of Capua.
Graco”s death caused the desertion of some of the freed slave soldiers in his army, forcing the consul Appius Claudius to garrison the area to maintain the Roman presence. There he was relieved of his post by Marcus Centenius Penula who with new reinforcements commanded the Roman army in that area, while the consul returned to Campania. After success in Capua, the Carthaginian general moved his operations to Lucania, where he managed to take several cities north of it, defeating Praetor Marcus Centenius Penula at the Battle of Silaro and destroying his army. Hannibal continued his offensive north to Apulia, where he surprised and destroyed the army of the praetor Fulvio Flaco at the 1st Battle of Herdonia. Before the end of the year his army marched south but failed to take the citadel of Taranto and the city of Brindisi in an attempt to completely dominate Salentino. This region was critical in facilitating the arrival of a Macedonian army from Illyria.
At the end of the year, and while the Punic army was busy in earlier operations, with the help of the praetor in Suessula Gaius Claudius Nero, the two Roman consuls finally managed to complete the siege of Capua, beginning a long siege. This coincides with the fall of Syracuse in Sicily after two years of siege. Marcellus managed to take a part of the city by assault, managing to complete the taking thanks to a betrayal.
At that time, taking advantage that the Carthaginians sent part of their contingent in Hispania to fight in North Africa against the Numidian king Siphax, the Romans tried to counterattack in the Iberian Peninsula commanded by Publius Cornelius Scipio and his brother Cneu Cornelius Scipio Calvo (proconsuls of the Roman army in Hispania from 217 to 211 BC). They had succeeded in conquering the peninsular east by taking Sagunto in 212 BC. Their troops were operating in Oretania when Asdrubal Barca returned from Africa. The two proconsuls were killed in two consecutive battles that occurred at Castulus and Ilorcos in early 211 BC. This marked the Roman withdrawal from the Ebro River and strengthened the possibility that Asdrubal, Hannibal”s brother, might undertake another expedition to Italy. This forced Rome to urgently send reinforcements to Hispania to try to prevent this possibility.
Campaign of 211 BC (Hannibal ad portas)
The campaign of 211 BC had a scenario favorable to the Punic: Lucania almost entirely under their rule; almost the entire territory of Hispania south of the Ebro dominated, with the few Roman survivors of that area isolated; possession of the city of Tarentum (and the kingdom of Syracuse under Roman rule. After the election of new consuls of Rome and the extension of their command as pro-consuls in command of the armies of the former consuls besieging the capital of Campania the previous year, came Hannibal”s failed attempt to assist Capua in the early spring of 211 BC in the 2nd Battle of Capua. In it, the Roman pro-consul Appius Claudius was severely wounded. Immediately after this combat, Hannibal made a raid with his army on Rome itself. His intention was to draw in the Roman armies besieging Capua, to go and defend their capital, Rome. But of the total that surrounded Capua, Rome only dispatched 15,000 men under the command of the pro-consul Quintus Fulvio Flaco, maintaining the siege of Capua under the command of Appius Claudius. In the course of invading Rome, Hannibal ravaged the countryside and towns he passed through, as well as the Temple of Luco of Feronia. Once near Rome, he came with his cavalry to the city walls and even had a clash with Roman cavalry. The presence of the Carthaginian army camped beside the River Anion a few kilometers from the walls, sowed panic among the population, coining the famous phrase Hannibal ad portas. The Roman infantry even formed for battle, but the fight did not take place and Hannibal chose to retreat. During his return to Campania, he was pursued by the supporting Roman army that successfully attacked during the crossing of the Anion River, recovering some of the spoils gained in the attacks. On the fifth day after leaving Rome, he made a surprise night attack on the camp of his pursuers, without succeeding in leading them into the ambush he had planned. Having failed to destroy this contingent, he gave up returning to Capua and headed north into Apulia. These events that occurred near the enemy capital coincided with the sending of the first Roman reinforcement contingent to Hispania after the Scipio disaster. In the summer of 211 BC the city of Capua finally surrendered to the pro-consul Quintus Fulvio Flaco, as did the nearby cities of Atella and Calatia. The Roman victory in Campania allowed them to significantly reduce the troops mobilized from the three armies there, although parts of them were immediately sent to Hispania (mid 211 BC) under the command of the new praetor Gaius Claudius Nero.
For the remainder of the campaign, Hannibal continued north into Apulia which was protected by two consular armies of the two new consuls, Cneu Fulvio Centummalus Maximus and Publius Sulpicius Galba Maximus. He spent the winter in Lucania, after which he reconquered the city of Thysia, along with Rhegium-Calabria, who had gone over to the Roman side.
Meanwhile in Sicily, a contingent of Punic cavalry arrived, sent by Hannibal, whose command was a subordinate of Numidian origin named Mutines. The effectiveness of this leader aroused the fears of the Carthaginian general Hanon, head of the Punic forces on the island, who decided to leave the Numids in the background. Marcus Claudius Marcellus tried to force a decisive encounter to destroy the remnants of the enemy forces on the island. The confrontation took place near the Himera River in central Sicily. Thanks to internal disputes in the Carthaginian camp, the Numidians withdrew and did not participate in the fighting. This facilitated the destruction of the Carthaginian army and its allies in Syracuse, forcing the few survivors to take refuge in the last stronghold in Agrigento. After this, and it being summer, Marcellus returned to Italy with the praetor Marco Cornelio Dolabela as his replacement. The latter encountered a mutiny from the troops of Marcellus” army, who wished to return to Italy together with their commander. Taking advantage of these circumstances, Carthage sent a contingent of 8,000 men, thus keeping the war alive in Sicily.
Before Philip V”s advances into Greece, the Romans decided to ally themselves in 211 BC with the Aetolian League to confront the Macedonian king. The latter was trying to take advantage of the situation in Italy to conquer Illyria. Attacked on several fronts, the young king was quickly neutralized by Rome and its Greek allies. The agreement with the Aetolian League also made it possible to recover the Roman legion operating there early the following year.
In late 211 BC or early 210 BC, Scipio Africano arrived in Hispania with reinforcements and taking over as the new commander of the Roman contingent. He was the son and nephew of the former proconsuls who died in early 211 BC. With him also arrived Praetor Marcus Junius Silanus, who surrendered Nero at his post.
Hannibal had some clearly favorable circumstances at the beginning of the campaign of 211 BC. In Hispania, the Roman army had been almost annihilated and the pro-consuls who commanded it were killed. In the previous year (212 BC), it had managed to take control of almost all of Magna Grecia with the capture of Turius, Metaponto and Heracleia and much of Lucania, destroying two complete Roman armies. Rome was economically drowned and had serious recruitment difficulties after its latest setbacks, which delayed the previous year”s enlistment. In counterpoint, in Sicily things hung to the Roman side with the fall of Syracuse. Capua had been besieged while trying to finish the conquest of the Salentine. His great challenge for this campaign was to break the siege of the Campanian capital and he failed both in his direct and indirect attempt to get closer to Rome. These events constitute the turning point of the war and the ultimate Punic territorial control over southern Italy. From this moment on, a slow retreat of the Carthaginian forces began.
Carthaginian withdrawals and the end of the war in Sicily
In 210 B.C., consul Marcellus completed the reconquest of Samnio by forcing the betrayal of the cities of Salapia, Meles and Maroneia in northern Apulia, bringing them back into Roman hands. Shortly thereafter, Hannibal again demonstrated his tactical superiority, and inflicted a severe defeat on the proconsular army of Cneu Fulvio Centummalus at Herdonia (present-day Ordona). Despite his success, being the only Punic allied site in northern Apulia, Hannibal decided for strategic reasons to evacuate and destroy it, transferring its population to Metaponto. Before the end of the year he began to be followed by Marcellus” army, facing him at Numistro (Lucania) in a battle of uncertain outcome. After that he was followed to Apulia by Marcellus, holding small confrontations.
In early 210 BC the new consul Marcus Valerius Levino had arrived in Sicily. After surrendering Marcellus” army and replacing it with a new arrival from Cisalpine Gaul, Levino finally succeeded in taking Agrigento, thus ending the Punic forces in Sicily. This allowed one of the two Roman armies present on the island to be freed to be sent the following year to Salentino and continue the fight against Hannibal. In addition, Levino recruited a contingent of mercenaries which he sent in 209 BCE to Regius in the southwestern Italian peninsula.
Just beginning in 209 BC, Hannibal fought against Marcellus” army in Apulia in two consecutive battles around Canusius. He won the first and lost the second, then went to Caulonia (Brutus) to successfully help an allied city besieged by the Roman mercenary contingent coming from Sicily. But he could not prevent it in a magnificently planned plan by which his enemies reconquered Salentino with the taking of Manduria and Tarentum in 209 BC. Both were recovered by the consul Fabius Maximus with the consular army sent from Sicily by Levinus. The other consul of that year, Quintus Fulvio Flaco managed to recapture the city of Volces and other cities in northern Lucania (present-day Basilicata). Meanwhile, in Hispania, Scipio conquered Carthage Nova (now Cartagena, called Qart Hadasht by the Carthaginians) in a lightning offensive.
Hannibal progressively lost ground and could barely handle the simultaneous offensives of the various Roman armies operating in southern Italy. He managed to force the withdrawal of the consular army of Titus Quintius Capitolinus in 208 BC from the siege of Locros (Lokroi Epizephyrioi). In aid of Crispino”s army in this city came a Roman force from Sicily and another from Salentino. The latter was intercepted by Hannibal in Petellia, decimating it and putting it to flight. Hannibal”s most relevant action this year was the ambush near Venusia of one of his greatest enemies so far, the consul Marcellus, conqueror of Syracuse, adding the ring of Marcel to his collection. In this action he also manages to seriously wound the consul Crispino. Previously, he had killed consuls Flaminius and Emilio Paulus at Trasimeno and Canas, respectively, and pro-consuls Servilius Geminus, Tiberius Graco, and Cneu Fulvio Centummalus. The success of the surprise attack against the two consuls paralyzed the decisions of the Roman command and led it to attempt a maneuver to regain control of Salapia by taking advantage of the fact that it possessed the consular ring of Marcellus. The messengers sent by the dying Crispino alerted Rome and caused the operation to fail causing casualties in Hannibal”s army.
Meanwhile, the Roman forces in Hispania managed to enter Betica, defeating the army commanded by Asdrubal (Hannibal”s brother) at the Battle of Becula. However, this event convinced Asdrubal of the need to leave Hispania as soon as possible with the local troops, whose loyalty was increasingly doubtful. Before the end of the year, he managed to rebuild the troops by joining the other two Carthaginian armies in the Iberian Peninsula, those of his brother Magão Barca and Asdrúbal Giscão, whom he met along the Tagus River. With his army operational and with abundant resources, he prepared to begin his journey to Italy by land, imitating what his brother Hannibal had done eleven years earlier. He managed to cross the Pyrenees by defeating the Roman troops north of the Ebro, and after recruiting new troops in Transalpine Gaul, he waited until winter to cross the Alps with his army. Once again, an opportunity presented itself for Hannibal. Another Punic army north of the Italian peninsula would mean a new war front for Rome, which would divide the troops, and give more freedom of action in the south. And if he could join forces with his brother, it would be a major increase in numbers.
Asdrubal”s death and retreat to Brutius
The following year (207 B.C.), Hannibal”s army was punished at Grumento by the newly elected consul Gaius Claudius Nero being pursued as far as Venusia (Apulia). There they clashed again and the Roman took the upper hand. After receiving reinforcements in Metaponto, Hannibal headed again to Apulia, where he awaited the arrival of his brother Asdrubal Barca to march against Rome. But before he could unite his forces with Hannibal”s, Asdrubal was killed in Umbria, on the coast of the Metaurus. The army of Asdrubal was defeated and annihilated by the joint action of the army of the praetor in Gaul, Lucius Porcius Licinius, the consul Livius Livius Salinator, and a small reinforcement commanded by the consul Gaius Claudius Nero, who watched over Hannibal and joined his colleague in confronting Asdrubal. When Hannibal heard of his brother”s defeat and death (the Romans threw the severed head of Asdrubal into the Carthaginian camp), he retreated to Brutius where he quartered his army for the next few years.
The combination of these events marked the end of Hannibal”s successes in Italy. In 206 B.C. hostilities in Hispania ended in favor of the Romans, who took the territory after a decisive victory at the Battle of Ilipa. In the meantime, Hannibal ambushed at Brutius, beside a forest, the consular armies of Lucius Vetruvius Philon and Quintus Cecilius Metellus who were ravaging the Cosencia region, but was unable to recover the booty.
The following year, 205 B.C., Hannibal”s younger brother, Magno, having been defeated in Hispania, managed to land troops in Liguria, opening up a war front again in northern Italy. This contingent could be reinforced by sea by Carthage with several thousand men and elephants. That same year, the Romans, under the command of the newly elected consul Publius Cornelius Scipio, recaptured the port of Locri in Brutus, without Hannibal being able to prevent it. At the end of the year a plague affected Hannibal”s army and the Roman consul Publius Licinius Crasso Dives, who had to ask the Senate for leave for his troops, which were surrendered by new troops at the beginning of the new consulate.
In 204 BC, the new consul Publius Sempronius Tuditanus faced Hannibal”s army at the Battle of Crotona and was defeated. The next day, when the army of the proconsul Publius Licinius Crasso arrived, he again faced Hannibal and this time achieved victory, forcing the Punic to take refuge in Crotona. The cities of Clampetia, Cosentia and Pandosia, all in Brutia, fell into Roman hands.
Magion was defeated in late 203 B.C. by the armies of proconsul Marcus Cornelius Cetego and praetor Publius Quintilius Varo. Seriously wounded in the battle, after being summoned by Carthage, he tried to join his brother in Africa by boarding the remaining troops, but perished during the journey.
In the same year, 203 B.C., Titus Livius recorded, albeit dubiously, a possible confrontation near Crotona between the consul Servilius Caspian and Hannibal, in which the latter would have suffered heavy casualties.
Battle of Zama
The Romans, led by Scipio, achieved an important diplomatic success in 206 BC, securing the services of the Numidian prince Massinissa. A former ally of Carthage in Hispania, he had come into personal conflict with Syphax, a Numidian ally of Carthage. In 204 BC, the Romans landed in North Africa with the aim of forcing Hannibal to flee Italy and transfer the fighting to their own lands.In 203 BC, after nearly 15 years of fighting in Italy, Scipio made progress on African soil and the Carthaginians favored peace led by Hanon the Great. He was trying to negotiate an armistice with the Romans while making it difficult for Hannibal to send reinforcements. The latter was summoned by the government, which decided to leave command of the war in the hands of himself and his brother Magon, who died on the return trip. After leaving evidence of his military expedition in an engraving written in Punic and ancient Greek in the temple of Juno in Crotona, Hannibal left for African lands. The ships landed at Lepcis Minor (present-day Lamta) and Hannibal established, after two days of travel, his winter quarters at Hadrumeto. His return boosted the morale of the Carthaginian army, which Hannibal put at the head of a force composed of the mercenaries he had enlisted in Italy and local recruits. In 202 BC, Hannibal met with Scipio to try to negotiate a peace with the Republic. Despite their mutual admiration, the negotiations failed because the Romans accused the Carthaginians of breaking the treaty signed after the first Punic War with their attack on Sagunto and plundering of a Roman fleet stationed in the Gulf of Tunis. However, the Romans proposed a peace treaty that stipulated that Carthage would hold no more than territories in North Africa, that the kingdom of Massinissa would be independent, that Carthage should reduce its fleet and pay compensation. The Carthaginians, strengthened by Hannibal”s return and the arrival of supplies, rejected the conditions.
The decisive battle of the conflict took place at Zama, a place in Numidia that lies between Constantine and Tunisia, on October 19, 202 BC. Unlike most battles fought during the Second Punic War, the Romans had better cavalry than the Carthaginians, who possessed superior infantry. The Roman superiority was due to the schism of the Numidian cavalry by Massinissa. Hannibal, whose health had seriously deteriorated due to years of campaigning in Italy, still had the advantage of 80 war elephants and 15,000 veteran fighters from Italy, although the rest of his army was made up of Celtic mercenaries or less than stalwart Carthaginian citizens. Hannibal tried to use the same strategy he had used at Cannae. However, Roman tactics evolved after 14 years and the attempt at confinement failed. The Carthaginians were finally defeated.
Hannibal lost at Zama about 40,000 men (in contrast to the Romans” 1,500) and the respect of his people, who saw their best general defeated in the last and most important battle of the conflict. The Punic city was forced to sign peace with Rome and Scipio, who after the war adopted the nickname African. The treaty stipulated that the once greatest power in the Mediterranean should renounce its war fleet and army, and that it should pay a tribute for 50 years.
In 201 BC, Hannibal was forced to sign a peace treaty with Rome, which deprived Carthage of its former empire. Hannibal was 46 years old and decided to enter Carthaginian political life by leading the democratic party.
The city was divided into two important ideological currents. The first, led by the democratic party led by the Barbidas and committed to continuing the conquests in Africa at the expense of the Numids. The second ideological political current was based on the conservative oligarchy, seeking economic prosperity based on trade, port taxes, and taxes from the cities subordinate to Carthage. This current was grouped around Hanan the Great. Elected Suffete in 196 B.C., Hannibal restored the authority and power of the state, thus posing a threat to the oligarchs, who accused him of having betrayed his country by not taking Rome when he had the opportunity.
Hannibal took a measure that irreparably damaged the oligarchs. The old general determined that the compensation imposed on Carthage by Rome after the war should not come from the treasury, but from the oligarchs by means of extraordinary taxes. The oligarchs did not intervene directly against the suffete but seven years after Zama”s defeat, they made an appeal to the Romans, alarmed at Carthage”s new prosperity. Rome demanded the surrender of Hannibal, under the pretext of the latter”s epistolary relationship with Antiochus III. Hannibal voluntarily decided to go into exile
Exile in Asia
Hannibal began his journey through Tyre (a city in present-day Lebanon), the founding city of Carthage. He later went to Ephesus, where he was received with military honors by King Antiochus III Magnus of Syria, who was preparing for war against Rome. Hannibal quickly realized that the Syrian army could not rival the Roman army. So the old Carthaginian general advised the king to equip a fleet and a body of ground troops in southern Italy and offered to command this contingent. But he could not get the sovereign to give him this post, because, according to Apiano, there was jealousy and envy of the courtiers and generals who feared that the Punic would get all the glory of the victory.
In 190 BC, Hannibal commanded a Phoenician fleet, but not very comfortable in naval combat, was defeated at the Eurimedonus River by the Romans and their Rhodesian allies. Fearing being surrendered at the end of the peace agreement signed by Antiochus III, Hannibal fled the court and the journey that followed is quite uncertain.
It is believed however that he visited Crete, while Plutarch and Strabo suggest that he made his way to the Kingdom of Armenia and stood before King Artaxias I, who assigned him the supervision of planning and building the capital city of Artaxata. Soon after returning to Asia Minor, Hannibal sought refuge with Prussias I of Bithynia, who was at war with an ally of Rome, King Eumenes II of Pergamos.
Hannibal placed himself in the service of Prussias I during this war. One of his victories was at the expense of Eumenes II at sea. It was said that he was one of the first to use biological warfare: he threw cauldrons full of snakes at the enemy ships.
Another of his military talents was the probable founding of the city of Prusa (present-day Bursa in Turkey) at the request of King Prussias I. This foundation, along with Artaxata in Armenia, elevated Hannibal to the rank of “Hellenistic ruler.” A prophecy that spread in the Greek world between 185 and 180 B.C. advocated a king arriving from Asia to make the Romans pay for the submission they had imposed on the Greeks and Macedonians. Many insisted on thinking that this text referred to Hannibal. For this reason, the Carthaginian, a barbarian in Greek eyes, was perfectly integrated into the Hellenistic world. The Romans could not ignore this threat and, shortly after, sent a diplomatic entourage to meet Prussias.
Hannibal had become an uncomfortable guest and the Bithynian king decided to betray his guest who resided in Libisa, on the east coast of the Sea of Marmara. Under the threat of being handed over to the Roman ambassador Titus Quintius Flaminus, Hannibal decided to commit suicide in the winter of 183 BC which is said to have been in his ring for a long time. Nevertheless, it is not completely clear what the exact year of his death was. If, as Titus Livius suggests, (in the same year as his great enemy African Scipio), the old Carthaginian general would have been 63 years old.
Sixtus Aurelius Victor wrote that his body lies in a stone coffin, on which is visible the inscription: “Here Hannibal hides.
Among the sites considered to be a shelter for Hannibal”s tomb is a small hill covered with numerous cypress trees and located in some ruins near Diliskelesi, which today is an industrial area near the Turkish city of Libisa (now Gebze) in Kocaeli. Considered the tomb of the general, it was restored in the year 200 by Emperor Septimius Severus, originally from Leptis Magna (now Libya), who ordered the tomb to be covered with a white marble slab. The place is in ruins today. Excavations conducted in 1906 by experienced archaeologists, including Theodor Wiegand, revealed evidence that made them skeptical about the actual location of the tomb.
With the Carthaginians, the greatest enemy the Roman Republic faced disappeared. Therefore, Hannibal”s personal equilibrium translates into failure. The western Mediterranean became a “Roman lake” from which Carthage was cut off, while Rome extended its dominions throughout the Greek world and Asia.
But at the same time (and herein lies the paradox of his balance), Hannibal tried to break (with his speeches on the freedom of cities) Rome”s alliances with the Greek cities. In this way, the general forced the republic to legitimize its actions and behave like a great imperialist power. For this reason, Hannibal remained at the heart of Greek and Roman history.
Long after his death, Hannibal”s name continued to represent a phantom of a perpetual threat to the Roman Republic. It was written that he taught the Romans the meaning of fear to those who proclaimed themselves descendants of Mars.
For generations, Roman matrons continued to tell terrible stories about the general to children when they misbehaved. Hannibal symbolized so much fear that, whatever disaster they confronted, it was common to see Roman senators shouting Hannibal ad portas (“Hannibal is at our gates!”) to express their anxiety. Such expressions come from the psychological impact of Hannibal”s presence on Roman culture in Italy.
In this context, a (forced) admiration appears in the writings of Roman historians Titus Livius and Juvenal. On the other hand, the Romans even erected statues of the Carthaginian general in the streets of Rome to represent the face of the imposing adversary whom their armies had defeated.
However, during the Second Punic War, the Romans refused to surrender and rejected all peace initiatives; nor were they willing to pay the ransom for the release of prisoners captured at the Battle of Cannae.
Moreover, the historical texts recorded that there was no group within the Roman senate that wanted peace, nor did any Roman treachery happen that would give advantage to the Carthaginians, nor any coup d”état that would lead to the establishment of a dictatorship. On the contrary, the Roman patricians competed among themselves for the best command posts in order to fight the most dangerous enemy Rome had ever faced. However, Hannibal”s military genius was not enough to disrupt the republican political and military organization. As Lazenby writes:
According to Titus Livius, the Romans were never afraid to face Hannibal, even when he began his march on Rome in 211 BC:
For the senate, this news made an impact “according to the character of each senator.” The senate decided to maintain the siege of Capua, although it assigned 15,000 soldiers and 1,000 horsemen to protect the capital. According to Titus Livius, the lands occupied by Hannibal”s army in the vicinity of the city were resold by the Romans at a fair price. This may or may not be true, as Lazenby stated, “it could have been, because it shows not only the supreme confidence of the Romans in final victory, but also the manner in which they sought a semblance of normal life.” After the Battle of Cannae, the Romans showed considerable strength in the face of adversity. An undeniable sign of Rome”s confidence is the fact that after the disaster at Canas, the republican capital was practically without troops to defend it; yet the senate decided not to remove a single garrison from its provinces to defend the city. In fact, provincial troops were reinforced and campaigns in foreign lands remained until the final victories occurred in Sicily, under Marcus Claudius Marcellus, and in Hispania, under Scipio Africano. While the long-term consequences of Hannibal”s war are undeniable, this was undeniably the most “beautiful hour” in Rome”s history.
Most of the available sources from historians on the figure of Hannibal are of Roman origin. He was considered the greatest enemy that Rome ever faced. In his work, the historian Titus Livius states that the Carthaginian was extremely cruel. The same opinion was held by Cicero, a historian who, in speaking of Rome”s two greatest enemies, writes of the “honorable” Pyrrhus and the cruel Hannibal. However, other sources have come to us which paint another picture. When his successes led to the death of several Roman consuls, Hannibal searched in vain for the body of Gaius Flaminius on the banks of Lake Trasimene, organized ritual ceremonies in honor of Lucio Emilio Paulus, and sent the ashes of Marcus Claudius Marcellus to his family in Rome. The historian Polybius seemed to feel sympathy for Hannibal. It should be noted that Polybius was held hostage in Italy for a long period, and relied mainly on Roman sources. There is a possibility that Polybius reproduced elements of Roman propaganda.
“Hannibal” is a fairly common name today, and references to the general are also abundant in popular culture. As in the case of other great generals in history, Hannibal”s victories over a superior enemy and his constant fight for a lost cause give him a reputation that survives beyond the borders of his home country.
His journey through the Alps remains one of the most amazing military feats of antiquity, and stirs people”s imagination through multiple artistic productions, such as novels, series or movies.
Since antiquity, Hannibal was imbued with certain attributes: audacity, courage, and a fighting spirit. These are applied during an adventure sport that sets off from Lyon to Turin, which commemorates this crossing of the Alps, and which bears his name: the Hannibal Way.
Another legacy of Hannibal consists of olive groves that covered most of North Africa, thanks to the work of his soldiers, which was considered by the Carthaginian state and its generals a damaging “break.”
Several years after the Second Punic War, while Hannibal was a political advisor to the Seleucid Empire, Scipio the African was sent on a diplomatic mission from Rome to Ephesus. Plutarch and Apiano recorded such a meeting, but the exact date is unknown:
Hannibal”s deeds, and particularly his victory at Canas, were studied and analyzed by military academies around the world. In the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica, the author of the article dedicated to Hannibal praises the general in these terms:
Even the Roman chroniclers considered him a supreme military master and wrote that he “never demanded from others anything that he himself had not done. According to Polybius, “as a wise ruler, he knew how to content and subdue his people, giving them what they needed, and they never rebelled against him or attempted any sedition. Although his army was composed of soldiers from different countries (Africans, Hispanics, Ligurians, Gauls, Carthaginians, Italians, and Greeks) who had neither laws, customs, nor language in common, Hannibal succeeded through his ability to bring all these different nations together and submit them to his leadership by imposing his views on them.”
Alfred von Schlieffen”s document (titled the Schlieffen Plan), developed from his military studies, relies heavily on military techniques employed by the Carthaginians to successfully surround and destroy the Roman army at the Battle of Cannae. George Patton thought he was himself the reincarnation of Hannibal (among other reincarnations, Patton thought he was a Roman legionnaire and a soldier of Napoleon Bonaparte). However, the principles of warfare that were applied in Hannibal”s time are still applied today.”
Finally, according to military historian Theodore Ayrault Dodge: