Born in around 247 B.C, Hannibal Barca was a Carthaginian general and of the greatest historical military leaders. The climax of Hannibal’s popularity took place during Second Punic War that was fought between 218 and 202. During the war, he crossed the Alps and caught Romans off guard. During his military reign, he nearly overpowered Rome who considered him their greatest enemy.
The expedition to Spain
At the age of 9, Hannibal accompanied his father for an expedition to Spain and before he started, he took an oath and swore to hate the Romans eternally, something that he kept faithfully to his heart throughout his entire life. After Hamilcar died, his brother in law, Hasdrubal, employed him while undertaking most of his military operations. The soldiers held him in great esteem and he gained a great reputation for strategic skills and bravery. In fact, after the assassination of Hasdrubal, the army elected him in one voice as the Commander in Chief. This appointment was once ratified by the Carthage authorities.
When he was 29, he took command of the army with ready zeal as he was eager to realize the legacy that his father had left him and was mainly interested in attacking his country’s rival for attacking him on their own soil. Hannibal started off in 218 BC from New Carthage with 12, 000 horse and 90, 000 foot. Hannibal had many victories against Rome and the first military success of Hannibal was in Saguntum, Spain and this precipitated the famous Second Punic War. At the time of the war, he organized his Carthage forces which led across Alps with the elephants and he achieved many surprising military victories. But in 202 Hannibal lost Battle of Zama and Carthage were forced to make very heavy concessions to Romans.
Hannibal flees to Asia Minor
Some time after Second Punic War came to an end, Hannibal fled from North Africa and went to Asia Minor. In Asia, he greatly assisted Syria’s Antiochus III to fight the Romans albeit unsuccessfully in 190 BC during Battle of Magnesia. According to the peace terms reached upon, Antiochus was required to surrender Hannibal but he was able to flee again to Bithynia.
During the war between king Prusias 1 from Bithynia, Asia Minor and King Eumenes II from Pergamon, Hannibal was the commander of Bithynian fleet. He used catapults for hurling pots that were filled with very poisonous snakes and directed them to the ships of their enemies. Following this action the Pergamese were in panic and fled and this allowed Bithynians to win the war.
The name Hannibal literary means ‘Joy of Baal’ while Barca on the other hand means ‘lightening’. Even after Carthage had lost Punic Wars, Hannibal still retained his great reputation as a great military leader and formidable opponent. Hannibal greatly inspired his soldiers and aimed at making themselves feel confidence about themselves especially while in battle. He matched with his soldiers from the Pyrenees to Rhone without facing any opposition because Scipio was by then in Massilia. Hannibal still had to encounter another difficulty and this is when it came to passing the Alps.
The difficulties of Alps
Despite the attacks he received in Alps by storms, the snows and mountain tribes alongside other difficulties. He allowed his army of 26, 000 men some time for recruiting and then subdued Taurini where he launched a siege for three days and took control of the city. By now, Scipio had come back from Massilia and now took command of northern army in Italy and he met Hannibal for the first time near River Ticinus on the plains. The Romans were defeated entirely and since Scipio was wounded severely, he opted to retreat across the Po. Later, the armies would meet at Trebia but Romans had by then received reinforcement and they were numerous.
The battles took place in 218 BC and Hannibal inflicted another severe defeat on Consul Flaminius near L. Thrasymene. Thousands were killed by sword which also included Consul as well and thousands others died at the lake and about fifteen thousand more were taken in captivity. Hannibal only lost 1500 of his men and spent the winter at Cannae.
After he had inflicted shaming defeats on Romans, Hannibal next strategy was to arm Italian nations to fight against Rome. This way, he aimed to completely crash her power by using her own subjects. On the contrary, Romans did everything possible to avoid being involved in pitched battle with Carthaginians. They instead opted to keep tribes in great awe and then harassed Hannibal together with his lieutenants by using small armies distributed in various parts of his country.
On the other hand, Hannibal traversed Italy through all possible directions and surprised Roman generals as he captured their towns and defeated their armies. Hannibal was forced to keep himself confined in Brutium mountainous peninsula due to the defeat of both Hasdrubal and his brother near River Metaurus and he resisted all efforts for about four years. After having stayed in Italy for about 15 years, he was then called back to Africa in order to defend Tunisia against Scipio.
Unfortunately, even with the bravery that his veteran troops shown and his utmost endeavors, Scipio defeated him near Zama and he lost 20000 men. The following year, peace was finally concluded. In the meantime, the daring scheme that Hannibal had became baffled but this never meant any diminish of the hatred he felt about Rome. Accordingly, he prepared himself even with great zeal to still give Rome one more deadly struggle in the future.
For starters, Hannibal decided to first of all focus his attention on political reforms as well as constitutional reforms that every one called for loudly. However, his enemies later accused him of stirring Antiochus III from Syria to the Romans. They argued that Hannibal asked them to launch war on Rome and when he was visited by ambassadors in Carthage, he fled to Antiochus court at Ephesus. He didn’t take any notable part at the war that followed but the king regretted bitterly that he never heeded his advice of carrying the war to Italy.
When the war was nearing conclusion, one of the conditions given was that Hannibal surrenders but when he foresaw this, he fled away to Prusias. The King of Bithynia who had become victorious over Eumenes hosted him. The Romans demanded him at length and when he realized that he couldn’t escape anymore, he took poison and died. He always carried the poison with him for such emergencies.
Legacy and achievements
Even after death, Hannibal was still considered to be a great military leader. Even after suffering great losses in Punic Wars, he still retained his great reputation and was regarded as one of the most formidable opponents to have ever lived.
Hannibal not only used war in his quest to win over the Romans as he also tried diplomatic means. Quintus Fabius Maximus was appointed by the Romans as a dictator or a magistrate given extraordinary powers. Hannibal tailed the invader keenly but was able to evade battle and Romans found this strategy to be unacceptable and later called him ‘dwadler’ meaning Cunctator. Actually, this wasn’t fair entirely as Fabius wasn’t experienced and would have to train his army and this made the policy largely unsuccessful.
This was also worsened by the fact that African possessions of Carthage had also been attacked by the Roman army. This prevented Carthaginians from sending reinforcements and unlike what Hannibal had expected, allies of Rome remained loyal. In 216, Roman senate finally decided that it was time for them to have the problem solved by having one great battle to decide on the matter. The two consuls without taking any risks organized an army of more than 80000 men and Hannibal had an army of just 50000 men. The Carthaginian army was pinned down by the Romans in July in Cannae on Italian east coast. The actual battle was engaged by the two warring nations on second August.
Hannibal’s crescent, convex shaped lines soon started becoming concave due to being encircled by Roman elite troops and Carthaginian lines were destroyed eventually. Of the three well known Carthaginian military leaders, Hannibal is the most popular of them all. He is notably remembered for leading his forces which also included elephants across Alps heading to Rome. He managed to terrorize Roman forces for many years even though he also suffered considerable defeats as well.
In all his battles, Hannibal was fully determined to revenge on Rome due to the victory they had in First Punic War. At the start, he had considerable success and when he realized that he could no longer maintain control on Rome, they forced him to retreat and start the peace negotiation process. After his series of defeats, Hannibal tried hard to recapture the military glory he had earlier but was unsuccessful and this forced him to swallow poison and died thereby avoiding being captured by the Romans. Hannibal was nicknamed as ‘father of strategy’ and in fact, Romans later adopted most of the tactics he had used on them.