Hannibal

Hannibal

(c. 247-183 B.c.)

Son of Hamilcar Barca, Hannibal was born in Carthage, the great Phoenician city on the coast of North Africa. He was born during the First Punic War (264-241 B.C.), in which Rome defeated Carthage. After Rome took Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica away from Carthage, Hamilcar Barca made his nine-year- old son swear his eternal hate for Rome.Hannibal and his father went to Spain to establish a new Carthaginian empire.

Following the death of his father and then of his brother-in-law, Hannibal became supreme commander in Spain and leader of the Barcids (the Barca family). Nervous about the rise of this new rival, Rome declared war on Carthage in 218 B.C., starting the Second Punic War.

Hannibal led 35,000 troops and a number of elephants over the Pyrenees and Alps. He lost nearly all the elephants and many of his troops to the frigid conditions in the Alps, but he recruited Gallic tribespeople to join his attack on Rome.

Having defeated Carthage in the First Punic War, the Romans were supremely confi¬ dent. To their astonishment, Hannibal defeat¬ ed them at the Ticinus River (218 B.C.) and the Trebia River (218 B.C.) and won a major victory at Lake Trasimene (217 B.C.).

The Battle of Cannae (216 B.C.) was Hannibal’s masterpiece. He lured the body of Roman infantrymen to the center of his own lines, then caught them completely unprepared when his cavalry swept around the wings and trapped them. Fifty thousand Romans per¬ ished that day.

Meanwhile, Roman armies led by Publius Cornelius Scipio (see no. 8) conquered Carthaginian Spain. Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal escaped from Spain with 10,000 men and reached northern Italy, having fol¬ lowed Hannibal’s route over the Alps.

However, Hasdrubal was caught by two Roman armies, and his force was destroyed.Hannibal learned of his brother’s efforts only when Hasdrubal’s head was thrown into his camp.

In 203 B.C., Hannibal was recalled by Carthage to defend the city against the Roman army, led by Scipio. The Battle of Zama (202 B.C.) showed that Scipio and the Romans had successfully copied Hannibal’s style in war. This time it was Hannibal and the Carthaginians who were caught in a vise between Roman infantry and cavalry.

Hannibal escaped from the field and per¬ suaded the leaders of Carthage to seek peace. He retired to private life at the end of the war and served as a magistrate for the city in 196 B.C. His political foes in Carthage persuaded Rome that Hannibal was ready to fight once more.

Rome demanded that Carthage surren¬ der Hannibal, but he fled to the court of Antiochus III of Syria. Hannibal encouraged Antiochus to fight Rome, and the resulting Roman-Syrian War (192-189 B.C.) ended in complete victory for the Romans. Hannibal then fled to the court of Prusias of Bithynia, where he took poison rather than be taken prisoner by the Romans.