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Hannibal, son of Hamilcar Barca, (248–183 or 182 BC), commonly known as Hannibal (in Punic: Annobal, meaning "Ba'al's grace/help/blessing", Greek: ο Άννίβας), was a Carthaginianmarker military commander and tactician who is popularly credited as one of the most talented commanders in history. His father Hamilcar Barca was the leading Carthaginian commander during the First Punic War, his younger brothers were Mago and Hasdrubal, and he was brother-in-law to Hasdrubal the Fair.

Hannibal lived during a period of tension in the Mediterraneanmarker, when Romemarker (then the Roman Republic) established its supremacy over other great powers such as Carthagemarker, and the Hellenistic kingdoms of Macedon, Syracuse, and the Seleucid empire. One of his most famous achievements was at the outbreak of the Second Punic War, when he marched an army, which included war elephants, from Iberiamarker over the Pyreneesmarker and the Alps into northern Italymarker. In his first few years in Italy, he won three dramatic victories Trebiamarker, Trasimenemarker and Cannaemarker and won over several Roman allies. Hannibal occupied much of Italy for 15 years, however a Roman counter-invasion of North Africa forced Hannibal to return to Carthage, where he was decisively defeated by Scipio Africanus at the Battle of Zama. Scipio studied Hannibal's tactics and brilliantly devised some of his own, and finally defeated Rome's nemesis at Zama having previously driven Hasdrubal, Hannibal's brother, out of Spain.

After the war Hannibal successfully ran for the office of suffete. He enacted political and financial reforms to enable the payment of the war indemnity imposed by Rome. However, Hannibal's reforms were unpopular with members of the Carthaginian aristocracy and Rome, and he fled into voluntary exile. During his exile, he lived at the Seleucid court, where he acted as military advisor to Antiochus III in his war against Rome. After Antiochus met defeat and was forced to accept Rome's terms, Hannibal fled again, making a stop in Armenia. His flight ended in the court of Bithynia, where he achieved an outstanding naval victory against a fleet from Pergamum. He was afterwards betrayed to the Romans.

Often regarded as the greatest military tactician and strategist in history, Hannibal would later be considered as one of the greatest generals of antiquity, together with Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Scipio, and Pyrrhus of Epirus. Plutarch gives that, when questioned by Scipio as to who was the greatest general, Hannibal is said to have replied either Alexander, Pyrrhus, then himself, or, according to another version of the event, Pyrrhus, Scipio, then himself. Military historian Theodore Ayrault Dodge once famously called Hannibal the "father of strategy", because his greatest enemy, Rome, came to adopt elements of his military tactics in its own strategic arsenal. This praise has earned him a strong reputation in the modern world and he was regarded as a "gifted strategist" by men like Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington. His life has been the basis for a number of films and documentaries.

He has been attributed with the famous quotation, "We will either find a way, or make one."

Background and early career

Hannibal was one of the sons of Hamilcar Barca, a Carthaginian leader. He had several sisters and two brothers, Hasdrubal and Mago. His brothers-in-law were Hasdrubal the Fair and the Numidian king Naravas. He was still a child when his sisters married and his brothers-in-law were close associates during his father's struggles in the Mercenary War and the Punic conquest of Iberia. In light of Hamilcar Barca's cognomen, historians refer to Hamilcar's family as the Barcids. However, there is debate as to whether the cognomen Barca (meaning "thunderbolt") was applied to Hamilcar alone or was hereditary within his family. If the latter, then Hannibal and his brothers also bore the name 'Barca'.

After Carthage's defeat in the First Punic War, Hamilcar set out to improve his family's and Carthage's fortunes. With that in mind and supported by Gadesmarker, Hamilcar began the subjugation of the tribes of the Iberian Peninsulamarker. Carthage at the time was in such a poor state that its navy was unable to transport his army to Iberiamarker (Hispania); instead, Hamilcar had to march it towards the Pillars of Herculesmarker and transport it across the Strait of Gibraltarmarker (present-day Moroccomarker/Spainmarker).

According to Livy, Hannibal much later said that when he came upon his father and begged to go with him, Hamilcar agreed and demanded him to swear that as long as he lived he would never be a friend of Rome. There is even an account of him at a very young age begging his father to take him to an overseas war. In the story, Hannibal's father took him up and brought him to a sacrificial chamber. Hamilcar held Hannibal over the fire roaring in the chamber and made him swear that he would never be a friend of Rome. Other sources report that Hannibal told his father, "I swear so soon as age will permit...I will use fire and steel to arrest the destiny of Rome."

Hannibal's father went about the conquest of Hispania. When his father was killed in battle, Hannibal's brother-in-law Hasdrubal succeeded to his command of the army with Hannibal serving as an officer under him. Hasdrubal pursued a policy of consolidation of Carthage's Iberian interests, even signing a treaty with Rome whereby Carthage would not expand north of the Ebro River, so long as Rome did not expand south of it. Hasdrubal also endeavored to consolidate Carthaginian power through diplomatic relationships with native tribes. As a part of his deals Hasdrubal arranged the marriage between Hannibal and an Iberian princess named Imilce.

Upon the assassination of Hasdrubal (221 BC), Hannibal was proclaimed commander-in-chief by the army and confirmed in his appointment by the Carthaginian government. Livy, a Roman scholar, gives a depiction of the young Carthaginian:

After he assumed command, Hannibal spent two years consolidating his holdings and completing the conquest of Hispania south of the Ebro. However, Rome, fearing the growing strength of Hannibal in Iberia, made an alliance with the city of Saguntummarker which lay a considerable distance south of the River Ebro and claimed the city as its protectorate. Hannibal perceived this as a breach of the treaty signed with Hasdrubal and so he laid siege to the city, which fell after eight months. Rome reacted to this apparent violation of the treaty and demanded justice from Carthage. In view of Hannibal's great popularity, the Carthaginian government did not repudiate Hannibal's actions, and the war he sought was declared at the end of the year. Hannibal was now determined to carry the war into the heart of Italy by a rapid march through Hispania and southern Gaul.

Second Punic War in Italy (218–203 BC)

Overland journey to Italy

Hannibal´s route of invasion given by the Department of History, United States Military Academy.

The journey was planned originally by Hannibal's brother-in-law Hasdrubal.

Hasdrubal became Carthaginian commander in Iberiamarker in 229 BC, a post he would maintain for some eight years until 221 BC. Soon the Romans became aware of an alliance between Carthage and the Celts of the Po River valley in Northern Italy. The latter were amassing forces to invade Italy, presumably with Carthaginian backing. Thus, the Romans pre-emptively invaded the Po region in 225 BC. By 220 BC, the Romans had annexed the area as Gallia Cisalpina . Hamilcar was assassinated around the same time (221 BC), bringing Hannibal to the fore. It seems that, having apparently dealt with the threat of a Gaulo-Carthaginian invasion of Italy (and perhaps with the original Carthaginian commander killed), the Romans lulled themselves into a false sense of security. Thus, Hannibal took the Romans by surprise a scant two years later in 218 BC by merely reviving and adapting the original Gaulo-Carthaginian invasion plan of his brother-in-law.

Hannibal departed New Carthagemarker in late spring of 218 BC He fought his way through the northern tribes to the Pyreneesmarker, subduing the tribes through clever mountain tactics and stubborn fighting. He left a detachment of 11,000 troops to garrison the newly conquered region. At the Pyrenees, he released another 11,000 Iberian troops who showed reluctance to leave their homeland. Hannibal reportedly entered Gaul with 40,000 foot soldiers and 12,000 horsemen.
The Little St Bernard: one of the proposed crossing points into Italy
Hannibal recognized that he still needed to cross the Pyrenees, the Alps, and many significant rivers. Additionally, he would have to contend with opposition from the Gauls, whose territory he passed through. Starting in the spring of 218 BC, he easily fought his way through the northern tribes to the Pyrenees and, by conciliating the Gaulish chiefs along his passage, reached the Rhône River before the Romans could take any measures to bar his advance. Arriving at the Rhône in September, Hannibal's army numbered 38,000 infantry, 8,000 cavalry, and 37 war elephants.

After outmaneuvering the natives, who had tried to prevent his crossing, Hannibal evaded a Roman force marching from the Mediterranean coast by turning inland up the valley of the Rhône. His exact route over the Alps has been the source of scholarly dispute ever since. (Polybius, the surviving ancient account closest in time to Hannibal's campaign, reports that the route was already debated.) The most influential modern theories favour either a march up the valley of the Drômemarker and a crossing of the main range to the south of the modern highway over the Col de Montgenèvremarker or a march farther north up the valleys of the Iseremarker and Arc crossing the main range near the present Col de Mont Cenismarker or the Little St Bernard Passmarker.

By Livy's account the crossing was accomplished in the face of huge difficulties. These Hannibal surmounted with ingenuity such as when he used vinegar and fire to break through a rockfall. According to Polybius he arrived in Italy accompanied by 20,000 foot soldiers and 4000 horsemen, and only a few elephants. If Polybius is correct in his figure for the number of troops he commanded after the crossing of the Rhone this would suggest that he had lost almost half of his force. Historians like Serge Lancell have questioned the reliability of the figures for the number of troops he had when he left Hispania. From the start, he seems to have calculated that he would have to operate without aid from Hispania.

Battle of Trebia

Hannibal's perilous march brought him into the Roman territory and frustrated the attempts of the enemy to fight out the main issue on foreign ground. His sudden appearance among the Gauls of the Pomarker Valley, moreover, enabled him to detach those tribes from their new allegiance to the Romans before the latter could take steps to check the rebellion.
Publius Cornelius Scipio, the consul who commanded the Roman force sent to intercept Hannibal, and Scipio Africanus' father, had not expected Hannibal to make an attempt to cross the Alps, since the Romans were prepared to fight the war in Iberiamarker. With a small detachment still positioned in Gaul, Scipio made an attempt to intercept Hannibal. Through prompt decision and speedy movement, he succeeded in transporting his army to Italy by sea, in time to meet Hannibal. Hannibal's forces moved through the Po Valley and were engaged in a small confrontation at Ticinusmarker. Here, Hannibal forced the Romans, by virtue of his superior cavalry, to evacuate the plain of Lombardy. While the victory was minor, it encouraged the Gauls and Ligurians to join the Carthaginian cause, whose troops bolstered his army back to 40,000 men. Scipio was severely injured, his life only saved by the bravery of his son who rode back onto the field to rescue his fallen father. Scipio retreated across the river Trebia to camp at Placentiamarker with his army intact.

The other Roman consular army was rushed to the Po Valley. Even before news of the defeat at Ticinus had reached Rome, the senate had ordered the consul Sempronius Longus to bring his army back from Sicily to meet Scipio and face Hannibal. Hannibal, by skillful maneuvers, was in position to head him off, for he lay on the direct road between Placentia and Arminum, by which Sempronius would have to march in order to reinforce Scipio. He then captured Clastidium, from which he drew large amounts of rations for his men. But this gain was not without its loss, as Sempronius avoided Hannibal's watchfulness, slipped around his flank, and joined his colleague in his camp near the Trebia River near Placentiamarker. There, in December of the same year, Hannibal had an opportunity to show his superior military skill at Trebiamarker; after wearing down the excellent Roman infantry he cut it to pieces by a surprise attack from an ambush in the flank.

Battle of Lake Trasimene

Having secured his position in northern Italy by this victory, Hannibal quartered his troops for the winter with the Gauls, whose support for him abated. In the Spring of 217 BC, Hannibal decided to find a more reliable base of operations farther south. Expecting Hannibal to carry on advancing to Rome, Cnaeus Servilius and Gaius Flaminius (the new Consuls of Rome) took their armies to block the Eastern and Western routes Hannibal could use to get to Rome.
The only alternate route to central Italy lay at the mouth of the Arnomarker. This route was practically one huge marsh, and happened to be overflowing more than usual during this particular season. Hannibal knew that this route was full of difficulties, but it remained the surest and certainly the quickest route to Central Italy. As Polybius claims, Hannibal’s men marched for four days and three nights, “through a route which was under water”, suffering terribly from fatigue and enforced want of sleep. He crossed the Apenninesmarker (during which he lost his right eye because of conjunctivitis) and the seemingly impassable Arno without opposition, but in the marshy lowlands of the Arno, he lost a large part of his force, including, it would seem, his remaining elephants.

Arriving in Etruria in the spring of 217 BC, Hannibal decided to lure the main Roman army under Flaminius, into a pitched battle, by devastating under his very own eye the area Flaminius had been sent to protect. As Polybius tells us, “he [Hannibal] calculated that, if he passed the camp and made a descent into the district beyond, Flaminius (partly for fear of popular reproach and partly of personal irritation) would be unable to endure watching passively the devastation of the country but would spontaneously follow him . . . and give him opportunities for attack.” At the same time, Hannibal tried to break the allegiance of Rome’s allies, by proving that Flaminius was powerless to protect them. Despite this, Hannibal found Flaminius still passively encamped at Arretium. Unable to draw Flaminius into battle by mere devastation, Hannibal marched boldly around his opponent’s left flank and effectively cut Flaminius off from Rome (thus executing the first recorded turning movement in military history). Advancing through the uplands of Etruria, Hannibal provoked Flaminius to a hasty pursuit and, catching him in a defile on the shore of Lake Trasimenusmarker, destroyed his army in the waters or on the adjoining slopes while killing Flaminius as well (see Battle of Lake Trasimenemarker). This was the most costly ambush the Romans would ever sustain until the Battle of Carrhae against the Parthians. He had now disposed of the only field force which could check his advance upon Rome, but, realizing that without siege engines he could not hope to take the capital, he preferred to exploit his victory by passing into central and southern Italy and encouraging a general revolt against the sovereign power. After Lake Trasimene, Hannibal stated, “I have not come to fight Italians, but on behalf of the Italians against Rome.”

The Romans appointed Fabius Maximus as a dictator.Departing from Roman military traditions, Fabius adopted the Fabian strategy — named after him — of refusing open battle with his opponent while placing several Roman armies in Hannibal’s vicinity to limit his movement.

Having ravaged Apulia without provoking Fabius to battle, Hannibal decided to march through Samnium to Campania, one of the richest and most fertile provinces of Italy, hoping that the devastation would draw Fabius into battle. Fabius closely followed Hannibal’s path of destruction, yet still refused to let himself be drawn, and thus remained on the defensive. This strategy was unpopular with many Romans, who believed it was a form of cowardice.

Hannibal decided that it would be unwise to winter in the already devastated lowlands of Campania but Fabius had ensured that all the passes out of Campania were blocked. To avoid this, Hannibal deceived the Romans into thinking that the Carthaginian Army was going to escape through the woods. As the Romans moved off towards the woods, Hannibal's army occupied the pass, and his army made their way through the pass unopposed. Fabius was within striking distance but in this case his caution worked against him. Smelling a stratagem (rightly), he stayed put. For the winter, Hannibal found comfortable quarters in the Apulianmarker plain. What Hannibal achieved in extricating his army was, as Adrian Goldsworthy puts it, "a classic of ancient generalship, finding its way into nearly every historical narrative of the war and being used by later military manuals". This was a severe blow to Fabius’s prestige, and soon after this, his period of power ended.

Battle of Cannae

Destruction of the Roman army, courtesy of The Department of History, United States Military Academy.
In the spring of 216 BC, Hannibal took the initiative and seized the large supply depot at Cannae in the Apulian plain. By seizing Cannae, Hannibal had placed himself between the Romans and their crucial source of supply. Once the Roman Senate resumed their Consular elections in 216 BC, they appointed Gaius Terentius Varro and Lucius Aemilius Paullus as Consuls. In the meantime, the Romans, hoping to gain success through sheer strength in numbers, raised a new army of unprecedented size, estimated by some to be as large as 100,000 men, but more likely around 60-80,000.

The Roman and Allied legions of the Consuls, resolving to confront Hannibal, marched southward to Apuliamarker. They eventually found him on the left bank of the Aufidus River, and encamped six miles (10 km) away. On this occasion, the two armies were combined into one, the Consuls having to alternate their command on a daily basis. The Consul Varro, who was in command on the first day, was a man of reckless and hubristic nature, and was determined to defeat Hannibal. Hannibal capitalized on the eagerness of Varro and drew him into a trap by using an envelopment tactic which eliminated the Roman numerical advantage by shrinking the surface area where combat could occur. Hannibal drew up his least reliable infantry in a semicircle in the center with the wings composed of the Gallic and Numidian horse. The Roman legions forced their way through Hannibal's weak center, but the Libyan Mercenaries in the wings, swung around by the movement, menaced their flanks. The onslaught of Hannibal's cavalry was irresistible, and Maharbal, Hannibal's chief cavalry commander, who led the mobile Numidian cavalry on the right, shattered the Roman cavalry opposing them. Hannibal's Spanish and Gallic heavy cavalry, led by his brother Hanno on the left, defeated the Roman heavy-cavalry, and then both the Carthaginian heavy cavalry and the Numidians attacked the legions from behind. As a result, the Roman army was hemmed in with no means of escape.

Due to these brilliant tactics, Hannibal, with much inferior numbers, managed to surround and destroy all but a small remnant of this force. Depending upon the source, it is estimated that 50,000-70,000 Romans were killed or captured at Cannae. Among the dead were the Roman consul Lucius Aemilius Paullus, as well as two consuls for the preceding year, two quaestors, twenty-nine out of the forty-eight military tribunes and an additional eighty senators (at a time when the Roman Senate comprised no more than 300 men, this constituted 25%–30% of the governing body). This makes the Battle of Cannaemarker one of the most catastrophic defeats in the history of Ancient Rome, and one of the bloodiest battles in all of human history (in terms of the number of lives lost within a single day). After Cannae, the Romans were very hesitant to confront Hannibal in pitched battle; preferring instead to weaken him by attrition, relying on their advantages of interior lines, supply, and manpower. As a result, Hannibal fought no more major battles in Italy for the rest of the war. It is believed his refusal to bring the war to Rome itself was due to a lack of commitment from Carthage in terms of men, money and materiel - principally siege equipment. Whatever the reason, the choice prompted Maharbal to say, "Hannibal, you know how to gain a victory, but not how to use one."
The effect on morale of this victory meant that many parts of Italy joined Hannibal's cause. As Polybius notes, "How much more serious was the defeat of Cannae, than those which preceded it can be seen by the behavior of Rome’s allies; before that fateful day, their loyalty remained unshaken, now it began to waver for the simple reason that they despaired of Roman Power." During that same year, the Greek cities in Sicily were induced to revolt against Roman political control, while the Macedonian king, Philip V, pledged his support to Hannibal – thus initiating the First Macedonian War against Rome. Hannibal also secured an alliance with newly appointed Hieronymus of Syracusemarker. It is often argued that if Hannibal had received proper material reinforcements from Carthage he might have succeeded with a direct attack upon Rome. For the present he had to content himself with subduing the fortresses which still held out against him, and the only other notable event of 216 BC was the defection of certain Italian territories, including Capuamarker, the second largest city of Italy, which Hannibal made his new base. However, only a few of the Italian city-states which he had expected to gain as allies consented to join him.


The war in Italy settled into a strategic stalemate. The Romans utilized the attritional strategies Fabius had taught them, and which, they finally realized, were the only feasible means of defeating Hannibal. Indeed, Fabius received the surname "Cunctator" ("the Delayer") because of his policy of not meeting Hannibal in open battle but through guerilla tactics.The Romans deprived Hannibal of a large-scale battle and instead, assaulted his weakening army with multiple smaller armies in an attempt to both weary him and create unrest in his troops. For the next few years, Hannibal was forced to sustain a scorched earth policy and obtain local provisions for protracted and ineffectual operations throughout Southern Italy. His immediate objectives were reduced to minor operations which centered mainly round the cities of Campania.

As the forces detached to his lieutenants were generally unable to hold their own, and neither his home government nor his new ally Philip V of Macedon helped to make good his losses, his position in southern Italy became increasingly difficult and his chance of ultimately conquering Rome grew ever more remote. Hannibal still won a number of notable victories: completely destroying two Roman armies in 212 BC, and at one point, killing two Consuls (which included the famed Marcus Claudius Marcellus) in a battle in 208 BC. Nevertheless, without the resources his allies could contribute, or reinforcements from Carthage, Hannibal could not make further significant gains. Thus, inadequately supported by his Italian allies, abandoned by his government (either because of jealousy or simply because Carthage was overstretched) , and unable to match Rome’s resources, Hannibal slowly began losing ground. Hannibal continued defeating the Romans whenever he could bring them into battle, yet he was never able to complete another decisive victory that produced a lasting strategic effect.

Carthaginian political will was embodied in the ruling oligarchy. While there was a Carthaginian Senate, the real power in Carthage was with the inner "Council of 30 Nobles" and the board of judges from ruling families known as the "Hundred and Four." These two bodies consisted of the wealthy, commercial families of Carthage. Two political factions operated in Carthage: the war party, also known as the "Barcids" (Hannibal’s family name) and the peace party led by Hanno the Great. Hanno had been instrumental in denying Hannibal’s requested reinforcement following the battle at Cannae.

Hannibal started the war without the full backing of Carthaginian oligarchy. His attack of Saguntum had presented the oligarchy with a choice of war with Rome or loss of prestige in Iberia. The oligarchy and not Hannibal controlled the strategic resources of Carthage. Hannibal constantly sought reinforcement from either Iberia or North Africa. Hannibal’s troops lost in combat were replaced with less well-trained and motivated mercenaries from Italy or Gaul. The commercial interests of the Carthaginian oligarchy dictated the reinforcement of Iberia rather than Hannibal throughout the duration of the campaign.

Hannibal's retreat in Italy

In 212 BC Hannibal captured Tarentummarker but he failed to obtain control of the harbour. The tide was slowly turning against him, and in favor of Rome.

The Romans mounted two sieges of Capua, which fell in 211 BC, and the Romans completed their conquest of Syracuse and destruction of a Carthaginian army in Sicily. Shortly thereafter, the Romans pacified Sicily and entered into an alliance with the Aetolian League to counter Phillip V. Philip, who attempted to exploit Rome's preoccupation in Italy to conquer Illyria, now found himself under attack from several sides at once and was quickly subdued by Rome and her Greek allies. Meanwhile, Hannibal had defeated Fulvius at Herdonea in Apulia, but lost Tarentum in the following year.

In 210 BC Hannibal again proved his superiority in tactics by inflicting a severe defeat at Herdoniac (modern Ordonamarker) in Apulia upon a proconsular army, and in 208 BC destroyed a Roman force engaged in the siege of Locri Epizephyrimarker. But with the loss of Tarentum in 209 BC and the gradual reconquest by the Romans of Samnium and Lucania, his hold on south Italy was almost lost. In 207 BC he succeeded in making his way again into Apulia, where he waited to concert measures for a combined march upon Rome with his brother Hasdrubal Barca. On hearing, however, of his brother's defeat and death at the Metaurus he retired into Bruttium, where he maintained himself for the ensuing years. His brother's head had been cut off, carried across Italy, and tossed over the palisade of Hannibal's camp as a cold message of the iron-clad will of the Roman Republic. The combination of these events marked the end to Hannibal's success in Italy. With the failure of his brother Mago Barca in Liguria (205 BC-203 BC) and of his own negotiations with Philip of Macedon, the last hope of recovering his ascendancy in Italy was lost. In 203 BC, after nearly fifteen years of fighting in Italy, and with the military fortunes of Carthage rapidly declining, Hannibal was recalled to Carthage to direct the defense of his native country against a Roman invasion under Scipio Africanus.

Conclusion of Second Punic War (203–201 BC)

Return to Carthage

In 203 BC, Hannibal was recalled from Italy by the war party at Carthage. After leaving a record of his expedition engraved in Punic and Greek upon bronzen tablets in the temple of Juno at Crotonamarker, he sailed back to Africa. His arrival immediately restored the predominance of the war party, who placed him in command of a combined force of African levies and his mercenaries from Italy. In 202 BC, Hannibal met Scipio in a fruitless peace conference. Despite mutual admiration, negotiations floundered due to Roman allegations of "Punic Faith," referring to the breach of protocols which ended the First Punic War by the Carthaginian attack on Saguntum, and a Carthaginan attack on a stranded Roman fleet. What had happened was that Scipio and Carthage had worked out a peace plan, which was approved by Rome. The terms of the treaty were quite modest, but the war had been long for the Romans. Carthage could keep its African territory but would lose its overseas empire, a fait-accompli. Masinissa (Numidia) was to be independent. Also, Carthage was to reduce its fleet and pay a war indemnity. But Carthage then made a terrible blunder. Its long-suffering citizens had captured a stranded Roman fleet in the Gulf of Tunesmarker and stripped it of supplies, an action which aggravated the faltering negotiations. Meanwhile Hannibal, recalled from Italy by the Carthaginian senate, had returned with his army. Fortified by both Hannibal and the supplies, the Carthaginians rebuffed the treaty and Roman protests. The decisive battle at Zama soon followed, and it removed Hannibal's air of invincibility.

Battle of Zama

Unlike most battles of the Second Punic War, at Zama the Romans had superiority in cavalry and the Carthaginians had superiority in infantry. This Roman cavalry superiority was due to the betrayal of Masinissa, who had earlier assisted Carthage in Iberia, but changed sides in 206 BC with the promise of land and due to his personal conflicts with Syphax, a Carthaginian ally. This betrayal gave Scipio Africanus an advantage that had previously been possessed by the Carthaginians. Although the aging Hannibal was suffering from mental exhaustion and deteriorating health after years of campaigning in Italy, the Carthaginians still had the advantage in numbers and were boosted by the presence of 80 war elephants.

The Roman cavalry won an early victory by swiftly routing the Carthaginian horse, and standard Roman tactics for limiting the effectiveness of the Carthaginian war elephants were effective. Part of Scipio's tactics for stopping Hannibal's elephants was to bring trumpets to frighten the elephants into running into the Carthaginian lines. Some historians say that the elephants routed the Carthaginian cavalry and not the Romans. However, the battle remained closely fought. At one point it seemed that Hannibal was on the verge of victory, but Scipio was able to rally his men, and his cavalry, having routed the Carthaginian horse, attacked Hannibal's rear. This two-pronged attack caused the Carthaginian formation to disintegrate and collapse. With their foremost general defeated, the Carthaginians had no choice but to accept defeat and surrender to Rome. Carthage lost approximately 20,000 troops with an additional 15,000 wounded. In contrast, the Romans suffered only 1,500 casualties. The battle resulted in a loss of respect for Hannibal by his fellow Carthaginians. It marked the last major battle of the Second Punic War, with Rome the victor. The conditions of defeat were such that Carthage could no longer battle for Mediterranean supremacy.

Later career

Peacetime Carthage (200–196 BC)

Hannibal was still only 43 and soon showed that he could be a statesman as well as a soldier. Following the conclusion of a peace that left Carthage stripped of its formerly mighty empire, Hannibal prepared to take a back seat for a time. However, the blatant corruption of the oligarchy gave Hannibal a chance to re-emerge and he was elected as suffete, or chief magistrate. The office had become rather insignificant, but Hannibal restored its power and authority. The oligarchy, always jealous of him, had even charged him with having betrayed the interests of his country while in Italy, for neglecting to take Rome when he might have done so. So effectively did Hannibal reform abuses that the heavy tribute imposed by Rome could be paid by installments without additional and extraordinary taxation. He also reformed the Hundred and Four, stipulating that its membership be chosen by direct election rather than co-option. He also used citizen support to change the term of office in the Hundred and Four from life to a year with a term limit of two years.

Exile (195–183/181 BC)

Fourteen years after the victory of Zama, the Romans, alarmed by Carthage's renewed prosperity, demanded Hannibal's surrender. Hannibal thereupon went into voluntary exile. First he journeyed to Tyremarker, the mother-city of Carthage, and then to Ephesusmarker, where he was honorably received by Antiochus III of Syriamarker, who was preparing for war with Rome. Hannibal soon saw that the king's army was no match for the Romans. He advised him to equip a fleet and land a body of troops in the south of Italy, offering to take command himself. But he could not make much impression on Antiochus, who listened to his courtiers and would not entrust Hannibal with any important office.

According to Cicero, while at the court of Antiochus, Hannibal attended a lecture by Phormio, a philosopher, that ranged through many topics. When Phormio finished a discourse on the duties of a general, Hannibal was asked his opinion. He replied: "I have seen during my life many old fools; but this one beats them all." Another story about Hannibal in exile gives a strange slant to his supposed Punic perfidy. Antiochus III showed off a vast and well-armed formation to Hannibal and asked him if they would be enough for the Roman Republic, to which Hannibal replied, "Yes, enough for the Romans, however greedy they may be." It should be noted that in this situation Hannibal had not been given command of the army, but Antiochus himself had developed the battle plan and was subsequently defeated.

In 190 BC he was placed in command of a Seleucid fleet but was defeated in a battle off the Eurymedon River. According to Strabo and Plutarch, Hannibal also received hospitality at the Armenian court of Artaxias I. The authors add an apocryphal story of how Hannibal planned and supervised the building of the new royal capital Artaxatamarker. From the court of Antiochus, who seemed prepared to surrender him to the Romans, Hannibal fled to Cretemarker, but he soon went back to Asia Minormarker and sought refuge with Prusias I of Bithynia, who was engaged in warfare with Rome's ally, King Eumenes II of Pergamon. Hannibal went on to serve Prusias in this war. During one of the naval victories he gained over Eumenes, Hannibal had large pots filled with poisonous snakes thrown onto Eumenes' ships. Hannibal also visited Tyre; the home of his forefathers. However the Romans were determined to hunt him down, and they insisted on his surrender.

Death (183/181 BC)

Prusias agreed to give him up, but Hannibal was determined not to fall into his enemies' hands. At Libyssamarker on the eastern shore of the Sea of Marmaramarker, he took poison, which, it was said, he had long carried about with him in a ring.. Before dying, he left behind a letter declaring:

"Let us, relieve the Romans from the anxiety they have so long experienced, since they think it tries their patience too much to wait for an old man's death".

The precise year of Hannibal's death is unknown. In his Annales, Titus Pomponius Atticus reports that it occurred in 183 BC, and Livy implies the same. Polybius, who wrote nearest the event, gives 182 BC. Sulpicius Blitho records it under 181 BC.

Possible gravesite

In modern-day Turkeymarker (ruins near Diliskelesi, south of Gebzemarker, 60 km (38 miles east of Istanbulmarker), an interesting curiosity is to be found in an industrial estate on a small hill beneath some cypress trees. Reputed to be Hannibal's grave, it was magnificently restored by emperor Septimius Severus (ruled AD 193-211), but it is now just a pile of stones. Excavations were carried out in 1906 by the German archeologist, Theodor Wiegand, but he was skeptical of the site.

Legacy to the ancient world

It was written that he taught the Romans the meaning of fear. It has been said that for generations, Roman housekeepers would tell their children brutal tales of Hannibal when they misbehaved. In fact, Hannibal became such a figure of terror, that whenever disaster struck, the Roman Senators would exclaim "Hannibal ante portas" (“Hannibal before the Gates!”) to express their fear or anxiety. This famous Latin phrase evolved into a common expression that is often still used when a client arrives through the door or when one is faced with calamity. This illustrates the psychological impact Hannibal's presence in Italy had on Roman Culture.

A grudging admiration for Hannibal is evident in the works of Roman writers such as Livy, Frontinus, and Juvenal. The Romans even built statues of the Carthaginian in the very streets of Rome to advertise their defeat of such a worthy adversary. It is plausible to suggest that Hannibal engendered the greatest fear Rome had towards an enemy. Nevertheless, they grimly refused to admit the possibility of defeat and rejected all overtures for peace, and they even refused to accept the ransom of prisoners after Cannae.

During the war there are no reports of revolutions among the Roman citizens, no factions with the Senate desiring peace, no pro-Carthaginian Roman turncoats, no coups. Indeed, throughout the war Roman aristocrats ferociously competed with each other for positions of command to fight against Rome's most dangerous enemy. Hannibal's military genius was not enough to really disturb the Roman political process and the collective political and military genius of the Roman people. As Lazenby states, "It says volumes, too, for their political maturity and respect for constitutional forms that the complicated machinery of government continued to function even amidst disaster--there are few states in the ancient world in which a general who had lost a battle like Cannae would have dared to remain, let alone would have continued to be treated respectfully as head of state." According to the historian Livy, Hannibal's military genius was feared among the Romans and during Hannibal's march against Rome in 211 BC "a messenger who had travelled from Fregellae for a day and a night without stopping created great alarm in Rome, and the excitement was increased by people running about the City with wildly exaggerated accounts of the news he had brought. The wailing cry of the matrons was heard everywhere, not only in private houses but even in the temples. Here they knelt and swept the temple-floors with their dishevelled hair and lifted up their hands to heaven in piteous entreaty to the gods that they would deliver the City of Rome out of the hands of the enemy and preserve its mothers and children from injury and outrage." In the Senate the news was "received with varying feelings as men's temperaments differed," so it was decided to keep Capua under siege, but send 15,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry as reinforcements to Rome..

According to Livy, the land occupied by Hannibal's army outside Rome in 211 BC was sold at the very time of its occupation and for the same price. This may not be true but as Lazenby states, "could well be, exemplifying as it does not only the supreme confidence felt by the Romans in ultimate victory, but also the way in which something like normal life continued.. After Cannaemarker the Romans showed a considerable steadfastness in adversity. An undeniable proof of Rome's confidence is demonstrated by the fact that after the Cannae disaster she was left virtually defenseless, but the Senate still chose not to withdraw a single garrison from an overseas province to strengthen the city. In fact, they were reinforced and the campaigns there maintained until victory was secured; beginning first in Sicily under direction of Claudius Marcellus, and later Hispania under Scipio Africanus. Although the long-term consequences of Hannibal's war are debatable, this war was undeniably Rome's "finest hour".

Most of the sources available to historians about Hannibal are from Romans. They considered him the greatest enemy Rome had ever faced. Livy gives us the idea that he was extremely cruel. Even Cicero, when he talked of Rome and her two great enemies, spoke of the "honourable" Pyrrhus and the "cruel" Hannibal. Yet a different picture is sometimes revealed. When Hannibal's successes had brought about the death of two Roman consuls, he vainly searched for the body of Gaius Flaminius on the shores of Lake Trasimenemarker, held ceremonial rituals in recognition of Lucius Aemilius Paullus, and sent Marcellus' ashes back to his family in Rome. Any bias attributed to Polybius, however, is more troublesome, since he was clearly sympathetic towards Hannibal. Nevertheless, Polybius spent a long period as a hostage in Italy and relied heavily on Roman sources, so there remains the possibility that he was reproducing elements of Roman propaganda.


Hannibal's name is also commonplace in later art and popular culture, an objective measure of his foreign influence on Western history.

Like other military leaders, Hannibal's victories against superior forces in an ultimately losing cause won him enduring fame that outlasted his native country within North Africa. His crossing of the Alps remains one of the most monumental military feats of ancient warfare and has since captured the imagination of the world (romanticized by several artworks).


Novel unless otherwise noted:
  • written 1308-21, Dante's Divine Comedy, poem, Inferno XXXI.97-132, 115-124 (Battle of Zama) and Paradiso VI
  • 1726, Gulliver's Travels, satirical work
  • 1862, Gustave Flaubert's Salammbô, set in Carthage at the time of Hamilcar Barca. Hannibal appears as a child.
  • 1996, Elisabeth Craft, A Spy for Hannibal: A Novel of Carthage, 091015533X
  • 1996-2000, Ross Leckie, Carthage trilogy, source of the 2008 film (1996, Hannibal: A Novel, ISBN 0-89526-443-9 ; 1999, Scipio, a Novel, ISBN 0-349-11238-X ; Carthage, 2000, ISBN 0-86241-944-1)
  • 2005, Terry McCarthy, The Sword of Hannibal, ISBN 0-446-61517-X
  • 2006, David Anthony Durham, Pride of Carthage: A Novel of Hannibal, ISBN 0-385-72249-4
  • 2006, Angela Render, Forged By Lightning: A Novel of Hannibal and Scipio, ISBN 1-4116-8002-2

Theatre and opera

Military history

Hannibal is usually ranked among the best military strategists and tacticians. According to Appian, several years after the Second Punic War, Hannibal was a political advisor in the Seleucid Kingdom and Scipio was sent there on a diplomatic mission from Rome.
Hannibal's exploits (especially his victory at Cannaemarker) continue to be studied in military academies all over the world.

Maximilian Otto Bismarck Caspari, in his article in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, praises Hannibal in these words:

Even his Roman chroniclers acknowledged his supreme military leadership, writing that, "he never required others to do what he could and would not do himself".According to Polybius 23, 13, p. 423: "It is a remarkable and very cogent proof of Hannibal's having been by nature a real leader and far superior to anyone else in statesmanship, that though he spent seventeen years in the field, passed through so many barbarous countries, and employed to aid him in desperate and extraordinary enterprises numbers of men of different nations and languages, no one ever dreamt of conspiring against him, nor was he ever deserted by those who had once joined him or submitted to him."

Count Alfred von Schlieffen's eponymously-titled "Schlieffen Plan" was developed from his military studies, with particularly heavy emphasis on Hannibal's envelopment technique he employed to surround and victoriously destroy the Roman army at Cannaemarker. George S. Patton believed that he was a reincarnation of Hannibal as well as many other people including a Roman legionary and a Napoleonic soldier. Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of the Coalition Forces in the Gulf War, claimed that "The technology of war may change, the sophistication of weapons certainly changes. But those same principles of war that applied to the days of Hannibal apply today."

According to the military historian, Theodore Ayrault Dodge,

TV and film

Year Film Other notes
1914 Cabiria Italian Silent film
1939 Scipio Africanus - the Defeat of Hannibal (Scipione l'africano) Italian Motion Picture
1955 Jupiter's Darling MGM musical picture starring Howard Keel and Esther Williams
1960 Annibale Italian Motion Picture starring Victor Mature
1996 Gulliver’s Travels Gulliver summons Hannibal from a magic mirror.
1997 The Great Battles of Hannibal British documentary
2001 Hannibal: The Man Who Hated Rome British documentary
2005 The True Story of Hannibal British documentary
2004 The Phantom of the Opera The beginning Opera being rehearsed is one about Hannibal so titled Hannibal
2005 Hannibal vs. Rome in National Geographic Channel
2006 Hannibal - Rome's Worst Nightmare TV film
2008 Battles BC S01E01 History Channel TV film
2010/2011 Hannibal the Conqueror Mainstream movie, starring Vin Diesel in the role of Hannibal (not confirmed)


Image:Comic History of Rome p 201 Hannibal makes the usual neat and appropriate Speech previous to killing himself.jpg|Hannibal makes the usual neat and appropriate speech prior to killing himself.Image:Comic History of Rome p 173 Hannibal crossing the Alps.jpg|Hannibal crossing the Alps.Image:Young Folks' History of Rome illus169.png|Hannibal's Vow.Image:Comic History of Rome Table 06 Hannibal whilst even yet a child swears eternal hatred to the Romans.jpg|Hannibal whilst even yet a child swears eternal hatred to the Romans.


See also



  1. Hannibal's date of death is most commonly given as 183 BC, but there is a possibility it could have taken place in 182 BC.
  2. M.O.B. Caspari, HANNIBAL ("grace of Baal") 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
  3. Church, Alfred J., The Story of Carthage, p. 269
  4. Plutarch, and when asked what his choices would be if he had beaten Scipio, he replied that he would be the best of them all Life of Titus Flamininus 21.3-4.
  5. Plutarch, Life of Pyrrhus 8.2.
  6. Lancel, S. Hannibal p.6.
  7. Reverse Spins Patton, the Second Coming of Hannibal.
  8. Dodge, Theodore Ayrault, Hannibal: A History of the Art of War Among the Carthaginians and Romans Down to the Battle of Pydna, 168 B.C, p. 143
  9. Fagan, Garret G. "The History of Ancient Rome". Lecture 13: "The Second Punic War". Teaching Company, "Great Courses" series.
  10. Lancel, Serge, Hannibal, p. 225
  11. Prevas, John, Hannibal Crosses the Alps: The Invasion of Italy and the Second Punic War, p. 86
  12. Lancel, Serge, Hannibal, p. 60
  13. Montgenèvre: Peter Connolly, Hannibal and the Enemies of Rome (1978); ( extensive summary); Col de la Traversette: Gavin de Beer, Alps and Elephants and Napoleon III; Mahaney 2008, "Hannibal's Odyssey; Environmental Background to the Alpine Invasion of Italia"; Mont Cenis: Denis Proctor, Hannibal's March in History. Other theories include the Col du Clapier (Serge Lancel, Hannibal (1995) and the Col du Petit Saint Bernard (Barthold Niebuhr).
  14. Livy History of Rome book21 ,36
  15. Livy History of Rome, Book 21 sections 32-36
  16. S. Lancel, Hannibal (1995; English translation 1999) page 60.
  17. Dodge, Theodore. Hannibal. Cambridge Massachusetts: De Capo Press, 1891 ISBN 0-306-81362-9
  18. Liddell Hart, Basil, Strategy, New York City, New York, Penguin Group, 1967
  19. USAWC Comparing Strategies of the 2nd Punic War by James Parker. View as HTML
  20. De Beer, Sir G. (1974) Hannibal: the Struggle for Power in the Mediterranean p.91. Thames and Hudson, London.
  21. Hannibal ad Portas. Konrad Theiss Verlag, Stuttgart, 2004.
  22. Goldsworthy, Adrian K. The Roman Army at War 100 BC - AD 200, New York
  23. Cottrell, Leonard, Enemy of Rome, Evans Bros, 1965, ISBN 0-237-44320-1
  24. Prevas, John, Hannibal Crosses the Alps, p. xv
  25. Chaplin, Jane Dunbar, Livy's Exemplary History, p. 66
  26. Polybius, The Histories of Polybius, 2 Vols., trans. Evelyn S. Shuckburgh (London: Macmillan, 1889), I. 264-275.
  27. Prevas, John, Hannibal Crosses the Alps: The Invasion of Italy and the Second Punic War, p. 200
  28. Pliny, tr. by Mary Beagon, The Elder Pliny on the Human Animal, p 361
  29. Livy, The War with Hannibal, 28.46
  30. Bournoutian, George A. (2006). A Concise History of the Armenian People: From Ancient Times to the Present. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda, p. 29. ISBN 1-5685-9141-1.
  31. Cornelius Nepos, Hannibal 11.4-5.
  32. Cornelius Nepos, Hannibal 12.5; Juvenal, Satires X.164
  33. Cornelius Nepos, Hannibal 13.1
  34. Alan Emrich, Practical Latin
  35. Holland, Rome and her Enemies 8
  36. Livy, The War With Hannibal 22.61
  37. Lazenby, Hannibal's War 237-8
  38. Goldsworthy, The Fall of Carthage 315
  39. J. F. Lazenby, The Hannibalic War, 254
  40. Livy, The War With Hannibal 26.7 http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/txt/ah/Livy/Livy26.html
  41. Livy, The War With Hannibal 26.9 http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/txt/ah/Livy/Livy26.html
  42. Livy, The War With Hannibal 26.8 http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/txt/ah/Livy/Livy26.html
  43. Livy, The War with Hannibal, 26.11
  44. J.F. Lazenby, The Hannibalic War, p. 254
  45. Bagnall, The Punic Wars 203
  46. Lazenby, Hannibal's War 235
  47. Lazenby Hannibal's War 254
  48. Goldsworthy The Fall of Carthage 366-7)
  49. Hannibal, Carthaginian general, The Columbia Encyclopedia
  50. Hannibal at CarpeNoctem.tv
  51. Daly, Gregory, Cannae: The Experience of Battle in the Second Punic War, p. x
  52. Cottrell, Leonard, Hannibal: Enemy of Rome, p. 134
  53. "Any man who thinks he is the reincarnation of Hannibal or some such isn't quite possessed of all his buttons", quoted by D'Este, Carlo, in Patton: A Genius For War, p. 815
  54. Hirshson, Stanley, General Patton: A Soldier's Life, p. 163
  55. Carlton, James, The Military Quotation Book, New York City, New York, Thomas Dunne Books, 2002

Further reading in Punic Wars

  • Bickerman, Elias J. "Hannibal’s Covenant", American Journal of Philology, Vol. 73, No. 1. (1952), pp. 1–23.
  • Bradford, E, Hannibal, London, Macmillan London Ltd., 1981
  • Caven, B., Punic Wars, London, George Werdenfeld and Nicholson Ltd., 1980
  • Cottrell, Leonard, Hannibal: Enemy of Rome, Da Capo Press, 1992, ISBN 0-306-80498-0
  • Daly, Gregory, Cannae: The Experience of Battle in the Second Punic War, London/New York, Routledge, 2002, ISBN 0-415-32743-1
  • Delbrück, Hans, Warfare in Antiquity, 1920, ISBN 0-8032-9199-X
  • Hoyos, Dexter: Hannibal's Dynasty: Power and Politics in the Western Mediterranean, 247–183 B.C. (Routledge: London & New York, 2003; paperback edition with maps, 2005) - has much discussion of strategy and warfare.
  • Hoyos, Dexter, Hannibal: Rome's Greatest Enemy, Bristol Phoenix Press, 2005, ISBN 1-904675-46-8 (hbk) ISBN 1-904675-47-6 (pbk)
  • Lamb, Harold, Hannibal: One Man Against Rome, 1959.
  • Lancel, Serge, Hannibal, Blackwell Publishing, 1999, ISBN 0631218483
  • Livy, and De Selincourt, Aubery, The War with Hannibal: Books XXI-XXX of the History of Rome from its Foundation, Penguin Classics, Reprint edition, July 30, 1965, ISBN 0-14-044145-X (pbk)(also [1776])
  • Prevas, John, Hannibal Crosses the Alps: The Invasion of Italy and the Second Punic War, 2001, ISBN 0306810700, questions which route he took
  • Talbert, Richard J.A., ed., Atlas of Classical History, Routledge, London/New York, 1985, ISBN 0-415-03463-9
  • Yardley, J.C. (translator) & Hoyos, D. (introduction, notes, maps and appendix on Hannibal's march over the Alps): Livy: Hannibal's War: Books 21 to 30 (Oxford World's Classics: Oxford Univ. Press, UK & USA, 2006).

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