Hannibal, son of Hamilcar Barca, was a Carthaginian military commander and tactician who is popularly credited as one of the most talented commanders in history. He was also brother to Mago and Hasdrubal and brother-in-law to Hasdrubal the Fair. He lived during a period of tension in the Mediterranean, when Rome (then the Roman Republic) established its supremacy over other great powers such as Carthage, and the Hellenistic kingdoms of Macedon, Syracuse, and the Seleucid empire. His most famous achievement was at the outbreak of the Second Punic War, when he marched an army, which included war elephants, from Iberia over the Pyrenees and the Alps into northern Italy.
During his invasion of Italy, he defeated the Romans in a series of battles, including those at Trebia, Trasimene and Cannae. He won over several Roman allies and maintained an army in Italy for more than a decade afterwards. Never personally losing on the battlefield while in Italy, he did in 211 BC fail to lift the siege of Capua, which was an important victory for Rome. Despite his successes against the Roman confederation, he could not force the Romans to accept his terms for peace. A Roman counter-invasion of North Africa forced him to return to Carthage, where he was decisively defeated by Scipio Africanus at the Battle of Zama.
After the war he 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, where he worked as a planner for the new capital. 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.
Hannibal would later be considered as one of the greatest generals of antiquity, together with Alexander the Great, 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,7 or, according to another version of the event, Pyrrhus, Scipio, then himself.8 Military historian Theodore Ayrault Dodge once famously called Hannibal the “father of strategy”,9 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.”
Hannibal was one of the sons of Hamilcar Barca. He had several sisters and the brothers Mago and Hasdrubal. 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 fathers struggles in the Mercenary War and the Punic conquest of Iberia. In light of Hamilar 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’.10
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 Gades, Hamilcar began the subjugation of the tribes of the Iberian Peninsula. Carthage at the time was in such a poor state that its navy was unable to transport his army to Iberia (Hispania); instead, Hamilcar had to march it towards the Pillars of Hercules and ferry it across the Strait of Gibraltar (present-day Morocco).
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. 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.”119
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. 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 Ebre River, so long as Rome did not expand south of it. Hasdrubal tried to consolidate Carthaginian power even 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. Titus Livy, a Roman scholar, gives a depiction of the young Carthaginian:
“ No sooner had he arrived…the old soldiers fancied they saw Hamilcar in his youth given back to them; the same bright look; the same fire in his eye, the same trick of countenance and features. Never was one and the same spirit more skillful to meet opposition, to obey, or to command…12 ”
After he assumed command, Hannibal spent two years consolidating his holdings and completing the conquest of Hispania south of the Ebro.13 However, Rome, fearing the growing strength of Hannibal in Iberia, made an alliance with the city of Saguntum 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.
The journey was planned originally by Hannibal’s brother-in-law Hasdrubal.
Hasdrubal became Carthaginian commander in Iberia 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 14. Hasdrubal 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 Carthage in late spring of 218 BC15 He fought his way through the northern tribes to the Pyrenees, 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.16
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.17
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 Drôme and a crossing of the main range to the south of the modern highway over the Col de Montgenèvre or a march farther north up the valleys of the Isere and Arc crossing the main range near the present Col de Mont Cenis.18
By whichever route, his passage over the Alps is one of the most celebrated achievements of any military force in ancient warfare. Hannibal successfully crossed the mountains, despite numerous obstacles such as harsh climate and terrain, the guerrilla tactics of the native tribes, and the challenge of commanding an army diverse in race and language. He descended from the foothills and arrived into northern Italy in the vicinity of modern Turin, but accompanied by only half the forces he had started with, and only a few elephants. From the start, he seems to have calculated that he would have to operate without aid from Hispania. Historians like Serge Lancell questioned the reliability of the figures for the number of troops he had when he left Hispania.19
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 Po 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, had not expected Hannibal to make an attempt to cross the Alps, since the Romans were prepared to fight the war in Iberia. 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 Ticinus. Here, Hannibal forced the Romans, by virtue of his superior cavalry, to evacuate the plain of Lombardy.20 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 Placentia with his army intact.20
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 Trebbia River near Placentia. There, in December of the same year, Hannibal had an opportunity to show his superior military skill at Trebia; after wearing down the excellent Roman infantry he cut it to pieces by a surprise attack from an ambush in the flank.
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 Arno. 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 Apennines (during which he lost his right eye 21 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.”22 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 Trasimenus, destroyed his army in the waters or on the adjoining slopes while killing Flaminius as well (see Battle of Lake Trasimene). 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 Trasimeno, Hannibal stated, “I have not come to fight Italians, but on behalf of the Italians against Rome.”23
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.
Silver double skekel, c. 230 BC showing the god Melqart, the Carthaginian equivalent of Herakles/ Hercules, and a war elephant. There are no known authentic images of Hannibal and there is no proof that even Carthaginian coins show his likeness.24 25Having 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 Apulian 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”.26 This was a severe blow to Fabius’s prestige, and soon after this, his period of power ended.
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.27 Once the Roman Senate resumed their Consular elections in 216, 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.28
The Roman and Allied legions of the Consuls, resolving to confront Hannibal, marched southward to Apulia. They eventually found him on the left bank of the Aufidus River, and encamped six miles 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.28 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.28 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 Hasdrubal (not Hasdrubal Barca) who commanded the left, pushed in the Roman right and then swept across the rear and attacked Varro’s cavalry on the Roman left.28 Then he 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 remainder of this force. Depending upon the source, it is estimated that 50,000-70,000 Romans were killed or captured at Cannae.9 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 Cannae 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).28 After Cannae, the Romans were not as enthusiastic in challenging Hannibal in pitched battles, instead preferring to defeat him by attrition, relying on their advantages of supply and manpower. As a result, Hannibal and Rome fought no more major battles in Italy for the rest of the war.29
The effect on morale of this victory meant that many parts of Italy joined Hannibal’s cause.30 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.”31 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 Syracuse. 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 Capua, 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.32 Indeed, Fabius received the surname “Cunctator” (“the Delayer”) because of his policy of not meeting Hannibal in open battle but through guerilla tactics.33 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.9 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 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 had 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 Tarentum 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 Ordona) in Apulia upon a proconsular army, and in 208 BC destroyed a Roman force engaged in the siege of Locri Epizephyri. 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. 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.
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 Crotona, he sailed back to Africa.34 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 Tunes 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.
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.
Engraving of the Battle of Zama by Cornelis Cort, 1567.
Note that the elephants shown are Asian ones rather than the very small North African ones used by Carthage.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. 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.
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 and death (195–183 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 Tyre, the mother-city of Carthage, and then to Ephesus, where he was honorably received by Antiochus III of Syria, 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 an old fool; 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 where he planned and supervised the building of the new royal capital Artaxata. From the court of Antiochus, who seemed prepared to surrender him to the Romans, Hannibal fled to Crete, but he soon went back to Asia Minor 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.35 Hannibal also visited Tyre; the home of his forefathers. However the Romans were determined to hunt him down, and they insisted on his surrender.
Prusias agreed to give him up, but Hannibal was determined not to fall into his enemies’ hands. At Libyssa on the eastern shore of the Sea of Marmora, he took poison, which, it was said, he had long carried about with him in a ring.
The precise year of his death is a matter of controversy. If, as Livy seems to imply, it was 183 BC, he died in the same year as Scipio Africanus, at the age of sixty four.
In modern-day Turkey (ruins near Diliskelesi, south of Gebze, 60 km (38 miles) east of Istanbul), 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 sceptical of the site.
Legacy to the ancient world
Long after his death, his name continued to carry a portent of great or imminent danger within the Roman Republic. It was written that he taught the Romans, who claimed to be fierce descendants of Mars, the meaning of fear. 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 ad portas” (“Hannibal is at 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.36 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.37 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.38
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.3940 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.”41 According to the historian Livy, Hannibal’s military genius was feared among the Romans and during Hannibal’s march against Rome in 211 BC42 “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.”43 In the Senate the news were “received with varying feelings as men’s temperaments differed,”44 so it was decided to keep Capua under siege, but send 15,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry as reinforcements to Rome.44.
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.45 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.46. After Cannae 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.4748 Although the long-term consequences of Hannibal’s war are debatable, this war was undeniably Rome’s “finest hour”.4950
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 Trasimene, 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.
The material of legend: in “Snow-storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps”, J.M.W. Turner envelopes Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps in Romantic atmosphereHannibal’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 warfare51 and has since captured the imagination of the world (romanticized by several artworks).