Hannibal Barca

Born in 247 BC, Hannibal’s birthplace Carthage (the capital of what is now Tunisia) was losing a long and important war. It had been the Mediterranean's most prosperous seaport and possessed wealthy provinces, but it had suffered severe losses from the Romans in the so-called First Punic War (264-241). After Rome's victory, it stripped Carthage of its most important province, Sicily; and when civil war had broken out in Cartage, Rome seized Sardinia and Corsica as well. These events must have made a great impression on the young Hannibal. Hannibal came from a rich, famous and influential family of Barca's, was the oldest son of the great Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca. Hannibal had a typically big family: both parents, two brothers, Hasdrubal II and Mago; adopted brother-in-law Hasdrubal and a younger sister. Hasdrubal was married to Hannibal's eldest sister and had a son, Hanno. History does not divulge the exact dates of birth and death, names and number of Barca's family members, especially females. In 237 BC, 10 year-old little Hannibal said to his father before he left to the war in Spain, "I want to go with you". Hamilcar, without a word, took the child with him to Spain. Hamilcar added new territories to this informal empire. In this way, Carthage was compensated for its loss of overseas territories that it had suffered in the First Punic War. The Romans believed that Hannibal's father forced his son to promise eternal hatred against the Romans. It is said that before they left for Spain, little Hannibal stated, as he stood at an altar beside his father, "I swear that so soon as age will permit I will use fire and steel to arrest the destiny of Rome." The Carthaginians had good reasons to hate their enemies and Hannibal carried this hated for the Romans until the very last day of his life. Drilled from childhood as a soldier, he, like other military geniuses such as Alexander the Great and Napoleon, showed his ability in early manhood. It took nine years for Hamilcar to conquer or win over the native tribes of Spain. These tribes were no match for the Carthaginian's training in disciplined warfare. As a result, all of the land south of the Ebro River in Spain became New Carthage. In 230 B.C, Hamilcar was killed in battle, and command of the army was left to his son-in-law, Hasdrubal. No doubt his fathers death added even more hatred in Hannibal for the Romans. During all of Hannibal's years in Spain, in which he married a native princess, first under his father and then under his brother-in-law, Hasdrubal, he was taught the world of the soldier and proved time and time again to be born for battle. The following was said of him…Hannibal was fearless in encountering danger, and his prudence when in the midst of them, were extreme. Long marches could not exhaust his body, nor his mind subdued, by any toil. He could endure alike either heat or cold. The wants of nature determined quantity of his food and drinking and the seasons of his sleeping and waking were distinguished neither by day nor night. Hannibal did not need a comfortable and quite environment, although his enemies did. Many saw him wrapped in a military cloak, lying on the ground amid the watches and outposts of the soldiers. His dress was not at all superior to that of his equals, his arms and horses were conspicuous. He spoke Greek and Latin fluently." He was described as "the first to lead the charge and the last to leave". He is shown in the only surviving portraits, the silver coins of Cartagena struck in 221 BC, the year of his election as general, with a youthful, beardless, and pleasant face. Hannibal became very interested in elephants after studying strategy of Pyrrhus. Elephants were his advantage in the battle, something like modern tanks. When Hasdrubal was murdered in 221 B.C., there was never a doubt as to his successor. It was inevitable that upon the death of Hasdrubal, Hannibal would succeed him. At the age of twenty-six, he was chosen by the army as their new commander. Even the army istelf would not have guessed that Hannibal would lead them to victories that would come.

Hannibal returned to his father's aggressive military politics in 220 when captured Salamanca. Hannibal's first real military success came the next year when he besieged Saguntum, a Roman ally, which precipitated the Second Punic War. It is quite clear that Hannibal carried out a carefully prepared plan that he had inherited from his father. His object was nothing less than the destruction of the power of Rome before Rome destroyed Carthage. The Romans demanded Hannibal to be handed over by the Carthaginian government. Before making preparations for the invasion of Italy Hannibal first provided for the security of Africa and Spain by leaving an army of about 16,000 men in each country. The army in Africa consisted principally of Spanish troops, and that in Spain of Africans, under the command of his brother Hasdrubal (not to be confused with his dead brother in law). Rome's most vulnerable spot was in Italy itself where the Roman federation of states was still loose and the Celtic tribes of Gauls in the North were in revolt. But since Carthage had lost command of the sea to Rome, how was Hannibal to get to Italy with his troops? The Romans never imagined for one moment that he could or would make the journey of 1500 miles overland from Spain, across the Pyrenees, the south of France, and the Alps, but that was exactly what Hannibal had decided to do. Hannibal first secured his bases at Carthage and Carthagena. Next he collected detailed information about the countries and peoples through which he proposed to pass. For this purpose he sent for messengers from the Gaulish tribes and asked for detailed accounts of the terrain and the fertility of the country at the foot of the Alps, in the midst of the Alps, and in the plain of the river Po. He also wanted to know the number of the inhabitants of the various populations, their capacity for war, and particularly whether their enmity against the Romans was maintained. He was particularly anxious to win over the Gauls on both sides of the Alps as he would only be able to operate in Italy against the Romans if the Gauls co-operated with him. He therefore planned a campaign of psychological warfare, to raise and maintain the morale of his supporters and to undermine the enemy's will and power to resist. The operations began in great secrecy in the spring of 218 B.C. after Hannibal delivered a morale boosting speech to his troops. Moved by the emotions of indignation and lust for conquest, his men then leapt to their feet and shouted their readiness to follow Hannibal. He praised them for their valour and fixed the date which was about the end of May. And so in spring 218 BC Hannibal set out against the Romans from Hispania (now Spain), In a lightning campaign, he crossed the Pyrenees with an army of 50,000 infantry, 9,000 cavalry and 37 elephants; next, he crossed the river Rhône. He either swept the Gallic tribes before him or won them as allies. Then he made his march that brought him greater glory than all his victories. He led his army across the Alps, a high mountain range across which there was not a single good route in those days. He did not begin to cross until early fall, which meant that he encountered winter like conditions in the Alpine region. His force suffered greatly from the elements and the hostility of local tribesmen. Lack of provisions was also a problem, and many of his troops were reduced to eating their fellow soldiers after they died. Hannibal’s army, all accustomed to the hot African sun, waded through knee-deep snow and icy mountain torrents and many were swept away by avalanches, For 33 days Hannibal lost an average of 1000 men a day. It is said that on one occasion, when the Carthaginians could not persuade their elephants to cross a river, Hannibal ordered one of his men to wound the most ill tempered of the animals and then swim quickly across. The maddened animal leaped into the water after its tormenter, and the rest of the elephants followed. By the time he finally crossed Hannibal had lost most of his elephants, and by the time he reached northern Italy, his army was reduced to about 26,000 men, 6,000 of whom were Cavalry. However, the number was quickly raised to about 40,000 by the addition of Gauls. As Hannibal made his way south he defeated the Romans in one encounter after another, in a cavalry engagement at the river Ticinus (east of Turin), the Carthaginians defeated their opponents. Hannibal won a second victory at the river Trebia (west of modern Piacenza), defeating a Roman army that had been supplemented with the Roman troops that had been sent to Sicily earlier that year in December 218 BC. WIth two great victories under his belt, he led his army across the marshes around the Arno River for three days and nights his me waded waist deep in water, able to rest only on horses. None of the elephants survived and around this time Hannibal himself lost one of his eyes, some say during a minor engagement, some claim from an infection. The Romans counterattacked by sending out some 25,000 men under Consul Flaminius. Hannibal and his troops carefully laid a stratergy for ambush at Lake Trasimene. A road ran along the side of the Lake with mountains rising all the way up around in a semi-cirlce forming a valley facing the water, there was only a small entry and exit to the lake side valley, located at each end of the Mountain range. Hannibal placed the majority of his men on the mountains, hidden by mist, and blocked the exit of the valley with another squandren of troops. HE also placed another unit to block the entrance after the Romans entered the valley. As Consul Flaminius lead his Roman troops into the lake side valley, Hannibal and his troops sprung down from the mountains onto them at full haste. Meanwhile His flaking units blocked the entry and exit to the valley. Hannibal's ambush had been perfectly planned, as 25000 Romans were now attacked from three sides, and being blocked off by the lake. Hannibal and his tops fought viciously, many Roman's attempted to retreat the only way they could, by entering the lake, and drowned. Hannibal and his men killed until there was nobody left to kill, the Roman legions were annihilated. After the slaughter Hannibal and his troops stripped many of the Romans of their weapons and armour. Hannibal's imaginative tactics had triumphed once again. Hannibal expected that Rome's allies would now leave their master and come over to Carthage. This, however, did not happen, and he was forced to cross the Apennines a second time, hoping to establish a new base in Apulia, the 'heel' of Italy. While he tried to win over Rome's allies by diplomatic means, the Romans appointed Quintus Fabius Maximus as a dictator (a magistrate with extraordinary powers). He tailed the invader, but being carefull to avoid battle, which lead to him earning the nickname "The Delayer". Hannibal and his men continued burning villages and killing roman officials in the hope of goading Rome into another battle. Fabius continued shadowing Hannibal for months, until they finally cought up with him in the floor of a deep valley cut off by a river in southern Italy, Hannibal appeared trapped. Nightfall fell, and the Romans noticed a great horde of lights charging up the hill side. Thinking Hannibal and his army were attempting to escape they immeadiatly charged, only to discover a great herd of cattle with burning torches attached to their horns. In the time of the distraction, Hannibal and his army had silently crept out of the valley by one of the unguarded exits. In another ingenius stratergy, Hannibal had once again humiliated the Romans. The Romans soon found Fabius's strategy unacceptable although Fabius's policy had been successful. Besides, a Roman army had attacked Carthage's African possessions, which prevented the Carthaginians to sent reinforcements. And, contrary to Hannibal's expectation, Rome's allies remained loyal. In 216, the Roman senate decided that time had come to solve the problem by one great, decisive battle. Taking no risks, the two consuls raised an army of 80, 000 men. Hannibal's army at that time counted some 50,000 men. In July, the Romans pinned down the Carthaginian army in the neighbourhood of Cannae on the Italian East-Coast; the battle was engaged on August 2nd, it would be Hannibal's greatest victory. Hannibal once again proved to be a strategic genius. Despite being outnumbered nearly two to one, Hannibal's armies stayed with him, showing their tremendous confindence in him as a war strategist and leader, their confidence would be proven well placed. Against the straight line of the Roman ranks he deployed his troops in an inverted crescent, with a weak centre and strong wings. As usual, Hannibal didnt place his own life above that of his men, and actually positioned himself in the weakest section of the crescent of his troops. While the Roman infantry found it easy to push back the centre into an arch, the battle was decided elsewhere in the clash between the cavalries on the flanks, where the Carthaginians won victor’s laurels. Then they quickly returned to the main battlefield, gradually encircling around the Romans, for whom the battle ended in disaster, Hannibal and his army continued to slowly drive inwards, hacking and slashing untill all Roman's lay dead. Only 70 of the Romans horsemen survived, 10000 of their foot soldiers were taken prisoner, while another 10000 escaped, the rest, some 60,000 or so Romand soldiers died. Hannibal was victorous yet again. Rome was in dispair, their armies ahd been annihilated time and time again, and people were beginning to even leave the City. It is said Parents in Rome would scare their misbehaving children by proclaiming "Hannibal ad portas!" – Hannibal is at the Door!" Hannibal had inflicted on the Romans the greatest defeat in their history, after this event, many Roman allies switched sides. Sardinia revolted and Capua became Hannibal's capital in Italy. The successful commander was thirty years old when he entered Capua, seated on his last surviving elephant.

Despite his remarkable efforts, Hannibal had not won the war yet, the Romans called to arms all men over the age of 17, they put together two legions of slaves and enlisted 6000 pardoned criminals. The war continued, however, with Rome unexpectidly not surrendering, the tide began to turn. Many of Hannibal's troops called for a march on Rome itself, however Hannibal hesitated, his stratergy appears to have been destroying Rome's power and hold over it's allies, not the actual destruction of Rome itself. An actual siege of Rome itself would likely have not been possible at the time, and Hannibal was aware of this, if he marched on Rome and failed it would have undone all the success he had achieved. However, Hannibal did make the attempt to march on Rome, coming as close as three miles from the actual City. However the City couldnt be taken, Hannibal didnt have the recources or amrs for a proper siege on the great City, and ever the realist, Hannibal lead his troops back to Capua. Hannibal and his army continued a siege of Capua, and took it in that year. Slowly however, the Romans pushed Hannibal southward. In 209 BC, they recaptured Tarentum. Unable to beseige Rome, and forced to remain in the Italian countryside and relentlesly hounded by Roman Forces, Hannibal's situation had become difficult and his government was unwilling to risk extra troops, the lines of contact were too long. Therefore, Hannibal decided to ask help from his brother Hasdrubal, who was still in Spain. This time, the Romans were not surprised by the Carthaginian invasion across the Alps and in 207 BC Hasdrubal was defeated and killed at the river Metaurus before he could contact his brother. Hannibal's hope of reinforcement had evaporated, and he was struck with grief and depression over his brother’s death, which he learnt of when Hasdrubal’s head was actually catapulted into his camp. Upon seeing his brothers head, Hannibal was heard to remark "I see there the fate of Carthage". Despite his amazing campaign and victories, Hannibal's stratergy of Rome losing its power over the land hadn't come to fruition. Rome itself couldnt be defeated, Hannibal knew this, but he fought on, still hoping to lesson its hold on it's allies. The Romans hunted him down in southern Italy, but Hannibal was able to continue a kind of guerilla war in the 'toe' of Italy. Meanwhile, the Romans conquered Spain. This proved harder than they had suspected. After some initial successes, the Roman generals were killed in action and almost all was lost. However, a young Roman commander, Scipio Africanis, took the Carthaginian capital of Spain, Cartagena, by surprise and brought the Spanish war to a good end in 206 BC. After a short while, Scipio was sent across the Mediterranean and attacked New Carthage. In 204 BC Scipio landed in Carthage and was so successful that the following year Carthage sued for peace, terms were agreed upon, and Hannibal was re-called. The sight of Hannibal reinforced the Carthaginian will to resist, however, and hostilities were renewed. After some minor engagements, Scipio and Hannibal clashed at Zama on October 19 202 BC. This battle is also known as the battle of Naraggara. Hannibal, supposedly suffering great depression at this time from his failing to win the war despite winnig numerous battles, tried to repeat his Cannae tactics, but Scipio had better cavalry than the Romans fourteen years before. The now 45 year old Hannibal's encircling movement failed, and Hannibal and his Carthaginians were defeated for the first and last time. The now aging Hannibal had met his match; he was outnumbered by a superior cavalry and was let down by the commercially minded rulers of Carthage. Hannibal did manage to escape to Carthage, where he advised negotiations. In 201, peace was signed. Rome asked an enormous prize, it demanded the Carthaginian fleet, recognition of the Roman conquests in Spain, and an indemnity of no less than 10,000 talents, to be paid in fifty annual installments. And it forced Hannibal to resign as a general. For all his efforts, Hannibal had been defeated but he would still not go down easily. Carthage's economy was ruined and in 200 BC Hannibal became a cheif magistrate. In this capacity, Hannibal promoted a modest democracy, reorganized the revenues and stimulated agriculture and commerce. Hannibal's plan was to win allies against Rome; he would not give up, he worked hard to bring about change under the new atmosphere of peace with Rome. Since failure to accept the peace terms would have meant the destruction of Carthage, Hannibal attacked the position, power, and corruption of the aristocrats so vigorously that they told the Romans he was scheming with Antiochus III of Syria and planning another war with Rome. A Roman investigation commission was sent to Carthage on a pretext, but Hannibal knew it was aimed at him, and he eventually made his way to Antiochus, the Carthaginian Hero was no longer welcome in his home town, he was forced into exile. The charge that Hannibal had plotted with Antiochus is unsupported, but after he became a member of the Syrian court he certainly advised the King to attack the Romans. After Antiochus defeat, Hannibal went to Prussia in 183 BC. A respected adviser to various kings, a great military leader, Hannibal continued in exile, but the Romans continued to hunt for him. Hannibal was finally trapped by the Romans in Bithynia North-Western Turkey in 183 BC, this time, their was no escape. Refusing to surrender and suffer more humiliation, Hannibal took his own life with a poison he always carried, he was 65 years old. This speaks volumes of his pride and hatred for the Romans, as he would rather commit suicide than surrender. After Hannibal's death, Roman power was not seriously challenged for almost six centuries. Carthage would later be razed to the ground by the Romans in the 3rd Punic War and lost forever. It is not to be expected that his Roman biographers would treat Hannibal impartially. In spite of the charges of Hannibal's cruelty put forth by the Roman authors, he did enter into agreement with Fabius for the return of prisoners and treated with respect the bodies of Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus (consul 215 BC) and Lucius Aemilius Paulus (216 BC), the fallen enemy generals. Many claim that although he fought the Romans with passionate hatred, Hannibal never actually wanted to destroy Rome, only its power over his people, which is why he hesitated to attack the actual city. Of avarice, the other charge commonly laid against him, no direct evidence is found other than the practices necessary for a general to finance a war: indeed, he spared Fabius' farm. His physical bravery is well attested, and his temperance and continence were praised. His power of leadership is implied in the lack of rioting and disharmony in that mixed body of men he commanded for so long, while the care he took for his elephants and horses as well as his men gives proof of a humane disposition. Many still wonder why Hannibal never managed to actually take Rome; if he had the second Punic War may have ended differently. Hannibal was an individual of ascetic habits and a fanatic, but he was not cruel, inhuman or even "cannibal," as some Romans claimed. He simply was obsessed with defeating the Power of Rome and winning the Punic Wars for Carthage, a dream that would never be realised despite his incredible and stubborn efforts. He is still remembered today for his tremendous accomplishment of crossing the Alps and inflicting upon Rome its greatest ever defeats. Hannibal was a pride filled war strategic genius whom never gave up, fought with bravery and heart, and was determined, admired and was a man of and for his people, despite being considered something of a conqueror. He was a symbol of hope and pride among his people. In my opinion he is worthy of Hero billing.