Make your own free website on
Hannibal: One Fat War General



    Hannibal was the son of the great Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca. Hannibal was taken to Spain by his father and at an early age was made to swear eternal hostility to Rome.

    Hasdrubal, son-in-law and successor of Hamilcar was assasinated in 221 BC, and, at the age of 26, the carthaginian army regonized Hannibal as its commander in chief.

    Hannibal immediately turned himself to the consolidation of the Punic hold on Spain. He married a Spanish princess, Imilce, then began to conquer various Spanish tribes. He fought against the Olcades and captured their capital, Althaea; quelled the Vaccaei in the northwest; and in 221, making the seaport Cartagena his base, won a resounding victory over the Carpetani in the region of the Tagus River.

    In 219 BC Hannibal made an attack on Saguntum, an independent Iberian city south of the Ebro River. In the treaty between Rome and Carthage subsequent to the First Punic War (264-241), the Ebro had been set as the northern limit of Carthaginian influence in the Iberian Peninsula.

    Although Saguntum was south of the Ebro, The Romans had some kind of fat friendship with the city and regarded the Carthaginian attack on it as an act of war. The siege of Saguntum lasted eight months, and in it Hannibal was severely wounded. Thus began the Second Punic War, declared by Rome and conducted, on the Carthaginian side, almost entirely by Hannibal.

    The march into Gaul

    Hannibal spent the winter of 219-218 at Cartagena in active preparations for carrying the war into Italy.Hannibal crossed the Ebro in April or May of 218 and marched into the Pyrenees. There his army--which consisted, according to Polybius, of 90,000 infantry, 12,000 cavalry and a number of elephants--met with stiff resistance from the Pyrenean tribes. This opposition and the desertion of some of his Spanish troops greatly diminished his numbers, but he reached the Rhône River with but little resistance from the tribes of southern Gaul.

    Hannibal used coracles and boats locally commandeered; for the elephants he made jetties out into the river and floated the elephants from these on earth-covered rafts. Horses were embarked on large boats or made to swim.

    During this operation hostile Gauls appeared on the opposite bank, and Hannibal dispatched a force under Hanno to cross farther upstream and attack them in the rear.

    The Alpine crossing.

    Hannibal's army approached the Alps either by the Col de Grimone or the Col de Cabre, then through the basin of the Durance, or else by the Genèvre or Mont Cenis passes into the upper Po Valley, descending into the territory of the hostile Taurini, where Hannibal stormed their chief town (modern Turin).

    While crossing the Alps, first danger came from the Allobroges, who attacked the rear of Hannibal's column. On the third day he captured a Gallic town and provided the army from its stores with rations for two or three days. Snow was falling on the summit of the pass, making the descent even more treacherous. Upon the hardened ice of the previous year's fall, the soldiers and animals alike slid and foundered in the fresh snow. A landslide blocked the narrow track, and the army was held up for one day while it was cleared. Finally on the 15th day, after a journey of five months from Cartagena, with 20,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry, and only a few of the original 38 elephants, Hannibal descended into Italy, having surmounted the difficulties of climate and terrain, the guerrilla tactics of inaccessible tribes, and the major difficulty of commanding a body of men diverse in race and language under conditions to which they were ill fitted.

    The war in Italy.

    Hannibal's forces were now totally inadequate to match the army of Scipio, who had rushed to the Po River to protect the recently founded Roman colonies of Placentia and Cremona. The first action between the two armies took place on the plains west of the Ticino River, and Hannibal's Numidian cavalry prevailed. Scipio was severely wounded, and the Romans withdrew to Placentia.

    Hannibal spent the summer of 217 resting at Picenum, but later he ravaged Apulia and Campania; meanwhile the delaying tactics of Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator's army allowed only skirmishes between the two armies. Suddenly in early summer of 216 Hannibal moved southward and seized the large army supply depot at Cannae on the Aufidus River. There early in August the Battle of Cannae was fought. While the Gauls and Iberian infantry of Hannibal's centre line yielded before the drive of the numerically superior Roman infantry, the Libyan infantry and cavalry of Hannibal's flanks stood fast, overlapped the Roman line, and in a rear encircling movement turned to pursue the victorious legionaries.

    This great land victory brought the desired effect: many regions began to defect from the Italic confederacy. But Hannibal did not march on Rome but spent the winter of 216-215 in Capua. Gradually the Carthaginian fighting strength weakened.

    Hannibal, except for the capture of Tarentum (modern Taranto), gained only minor victories (215-213). Reinforcements from Carthage were few. In 213 Casilinum and Arpi were recovered by the Romans, and in 211 Hannibal was obliged to march to relieve the Roman siege of Capua. Despite Hannibal's quick march to within three miles of the strongly fortified walls of Rome, Capua fell. In the same year, in Sicily, Syracuse fell, and by 209 Tarentum, in south Italy, had also been recaptured by the Romans.

    The wars in Spain and Africa.

    Meanwhile Roman successes in Spain dealt severe blows to Carthaginian power there. In 208 Hasdrubal, detaching a force from the main Carthaginian army, crossed the Alps (probably by his brother's route) to go to Hannibal's aid. Hasdrubal's army was defeated, however, at Metaurus in northern Italy (207) before the Carthaginian armies could effect a junction. His last hope of making a recovery in central Italy thus dashed, Hannibal concentrated his forces in Bruttium, where with the help of his remaining allies he was able to resist Roman pressure for four more years.

    Scipio, however, struck at North Africa, breaking Carthage's principal ally, the Massaesylian Numidians, and endangering Carthage. In order to go to the help of his country, Hannibal abandoned Italy in 203. Although a preliminary armistice had already been declared and the Carthaginian armies had accepted Scipio's severe terms (winter 204-203), Hannibal concentrated the remnants of the Carthaginian forces at Hadrumetum (modern Sousse, Tunisia). Almost at the very moment when the ambassadors were returning from Rome with the preliminary peace proposals, the Carthaginians violated the armistice.

    Accounts of the campaigns that followed differ greatly. Both Hannibal and Scipio, in order to link up with their respective Numidian allies, moved up the Bagradas River to the region of Zama Regia. Hannibal was now deficient in cavalry; the mercenary troops of his front line and the African infantry of his second line together were routed, and Scipio, seeing that Hannibal's third line, the veteran soldiers, was still intact, reformed his front and brought up the Numidian cavalry of Masinissa, his Numidian ally, in the Carthaginian rear. Hannibal lost 20,000 men in defeat, but he himself escaped Masinissa's pursuit.

    Exile and death.

    Hannibal was a loser and ran away. He ran to some guy and was defeated by the Romans again.

    Finally the Romans by unknown means put themselves in a position to demand the surrender of Hannibal. Unable this time to escape, Hannibal poisoned himself in the Bithynian village of Libyssa. The year is uncertain but was probably 183.

    "Hannibal" World Book Encyclopedia, 1989.
    "Hannibal" Groliers Multimedia Encyclopedia, 1996.
    "Colonial Punic Wars and Hannibal", Salim George Khalaf, 1997

    J. B. Cone