Hannibal (247-183/1 B.C.)
Carthaginian general, one of the great military leaders of antiquity, who commanded the Carthaginian forces against Rome in the Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.).
Hannibal was the son of the great Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca. According to Polybius and Livy, the main Latin sources for his life, Hannibal was taken to Spain by his father and at an early age was made to swear eternal hostility to Rome. From the death of his father in 229/228 until his own death about 183, Hannibal's life was one of constant struggle against the Roman Republic.
Hannibal's earliest commands were given to him in the Carthaginian province of Spain by Hasdrubal, son-in-law and successor of Hamilcar. It is clear that Hannibal emerged as a successful officer, for, on the assassination of Hasdrubal in 221, the army proclaimed him, at age 26, its commander in chief, and the Carthaginian government quickly ratified his field appointment.
Hannibal immediately turned himself to the consolidation of the Punic hold on Spain. He married a Spanish princess, Imilce, and then conquered various Spanish tribes. He fought against the Olcades and captured their capital, Althaea; he quelled the Vaccaei in the northwest; and in 221, making the seaport Cartagena (Carthage Nova, the capital of Carthaginian Spain) his base, he won a resounding victory over the Carpetani in the region of the Tagus River.
In 219 Hannibal attacked Saguntum, an independent Iberian city south of the Ebro River. In the treaty between Rome and Carthage subsequent to the First Punic War (264-241), the Ebro had been set as the northern limit of Carthaginian influence in the Iberian Peninsula. Saguntum was indeed south of the Ebro, but the Romans had "friendship" (though perhaps not an actual treaty) with the city and regarded the Carthaginian attack on it as an act of war. The siege of Saguntum lasted eight months, and in it Hannibal was severely wounded. The Romans, who had sent envoys to Carthage in protest (though they did not send an army to help Saguntum), after its fall demanded the surrender of Hannibal. Thus began the Second Punic War, declared by Rome and conducted, on the Carthaginian side, almost entirely by Hannibal.
The march into Gaul
Hannibal spent the winter of 219-218 at Cartagena in active preparations for carrying the war into Italy. Leaving his brother Hasdrubal in command of a considerable army for the defense of Spain and North Africa, he crossed the Ebro in April or May of 218 and marched into the Pyrenees (the Romans, shortly before they heard of this, decided on war). There his armywhich consisted, according to Polybius, of 90,000 infantry, 12,000 cavalry (Polybius' figures are probably exaggerated; a total force of about 40,000 is more likely), and a number of elephantsmet with stiff resistance from the Pyrenean tribes. This opposition and the desertion of some of his Spanish troops greatly diminished his numbers, but he reached the Rhône River with but little resistance from the tribes of southern Gaul. Meanwhile, the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio transported his army, which had been detained in northern Italy by a rebellion, by sea to Massilia (Marseille). As Scipio moved northward along the right bank of the Rhône, he learned that Hannibal had already crossed the river and was marching northward on the left bank. Realizing that Hannibal probably planned to cross the Alps, Scipio returned to northern Italy to await him.
Controversy has surrounded the details of Hannibal's movements after the crossing of the Rhône. Polybius states that he crossed it while the river was still in one stream at a distance of four days' march from the sea. Fourques, opposite Arles, is thought to be a likely place, but he may have made a crossing north of the confluence of the Isère and the Rhône. Hannibal used coracles and boats locally commandeered; for the elephants he made jetties out into the river and floated the elephants from these on earth-covered rafts. Horses were embarked on large boats or made to swim. During this operation hostile Gauls appeared on the opposite bank, and Hannibal dispatched a force under Hanno to cross farther upstream and attack them from behind.
After crossing the Alps and receiving friendly Gallic leaders headed by the northern Italian Boii, whose superior knowledge of the Alpine passes must have been of the greatest value to Hannibal's plans, the Carthaginians crossed the Durance River (or more probably an ancient branch of it that flowed into the Rhône near Avignon) and passed into an area called "the island," the identification of which is the key to Hannibal's subsequent movements on land. According to Polybius, it was a fertile, densely populated triangle bounded by hills, by the Rhône, and by a river that is probably either the Aygues or the Isère. On the "island" a civil war was being fought between two brothers (of what tribe it is not clear). Brancus, the elder, in return for Hannibal's help, provided supplies for the Carthaginian army, which, after marching about 750 miles in four months from Cartagena, was in sore need of them.
The Alpine crossing
Hannibal's army approached the Alps either by the Col de Grimone or the Col de Cabre, then through the basin of the Durance, or else by the Montgenèvre or Mont Cenis pass into the upper Po valley, descending into the territory of the hostile Taurini, where Hannibal stormed their chief town (modern Turin).
Some details of Hannibal's crossing of the Alps have been preserved. At first danger came from the Allobroges, who attacked the rear of Hannibal's column. (Along the middle stages of the route, other Celtic groups attacked the baggage animals and rolled heavy stones down from the heights on the enfilade below, thus causing both men and animals to panic and lose their footings on the precipitous paths. Hannibal took countermeasures, but these involved him in heavy losses in men.) On the third day he captured a Gallic town and from its stores provided the army with rations for two or three days. Harassed by the daytime attentions of the Gauls from the heights and mistrusting the loyalty of his Gallic guides, Hannibal bivouacked on a large bare rock to cover the passage by night of his horses and pack animals in the gorge below. Snow was falling on the summit of the pass, making the descent even more treacherous. Upon the hardened ice of the previous year's fall, the soldiers and animals alike slid and foundered in the fresh snow. A landslide blocked the narrow track, and the army was held up for one day while it was cleared. Finally, on the 15th day, after a journey of five months from Cartagena, with 20,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry, and only one of the original 37 elephants (the sole Asian elephant among 36 African), Hannibal descended into Italy, having surmounted the difficulties of climate and terrain, the guerrilla tactics of inaccessible tribes, and the major difficulty of commanding a body of men diverse in race and language under conditions to which they were ill-fitted.
The war in Italy
Hannibal's forces were now totally inadequate to match the army of Scipio, who had rushed to the Po River to protect the recently founded Roman colonies of Placentia (modern Piacenza) and Cremona. The first action between the two armies took place on the plains west of the Ticino River, and Hannibal's Numidian cavalry prevailed. Scipio was severely wounded, and the Romans withdrew to Placentia. After maneuvers failed to lead to a second engagement, the combined armies of Sempronius Longus and Scipio met Hannibal on the left bank of the Trebia River south of Placentia and were soundly defeated (December 218). This victory brought both Gauls and Ligurians to Hannibal's side, and his army was considerably augmented by Celtic recruits. After a severe winter (in which he contracted an eye infection), he was able to advance in the spring of 217 as far as the Arno River. Although two Roman armies were now in the field against him, he was able to outmaneuver that of Gaius Flaminius at Arretium and reached Faesulae (modern Fiesole) and Perugia. By design, this move forced Flaminius's army into open combat, and, as it passed between the northern shore of Lake Trasimene and the opposite hills, Hannibal's troops from their prepared positions all but annihilated it, killing thousands and driving others to drown in the lake. Reinforcements of about 4,000 cavalry under Gaius Centenius were intercepted before they arrived and were also destroyed. The Carthaginian troops were too worn to clinch their victories and march on Rome. Hannibal, furthermore, nurtured the vain hope that the Italian allies of Rome would defect and cause civil war.
Hannibal spent the summer of 217 resting at Picenum, but later he ravaged Apulia and Campania; meanwhile the delaying tactics of Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator's army allowed only skirmishes between the two armies. Suddenly in early summer of 216 Hannibal moved southward and seized the large army supply depot at Cannae on the Aufidus River. There early in August the Battle of Cannae (modern Monte di Canne) was fought. While the Gauls and Iberian infantry of Hannibal's centre line yielded (without breaking) before the drive of the numerically superior Roman infantry, the Libyan infantry and cavalry of Hannibal's flanks stood fast, overlapped the Roman line, and in a rear encircling movement turned to pursue the victorious legionaries.
This great land victory brought the desired effect: many regions began to defect from the Italic confederacy. Hannibal, however, did not march on Rome but spent the winter of 216-215 in Capua. Gradually the Carthaginian fighting strength weakened. The strategy suggested by Fabius was put into operation: to defend the cities loyal to Rome; to try to recover, where opportunity offered, those cities that had fallen to Hannibal; never to enter battle when the enemy offered it but rather to keep the Carthaginians alert in every theatre of war. Thus Hannibal, unable because of inferior numbers to spread his forces to match the Romans and unable to employ this concentrated strength in a decisive battle, passed from the offensive to a cautious and not always successful defensive in Italy, inadequately supported by the home government at Carthage and, because of the Roman command of the sea, forced to obtain local provisions for protracted and ineffectual operations.
Hannibal, except for the capture of Tarentum (modern Taranto), gained only minor victories (215-213). Reinforcements from Carthage were few. In 213 Casilinum and Arpi (captured by Hannibal in winter 216-215) were recovered by the Romans, and in 211 Hannibal was obliged to march to relieve the Roman siege of Capua. Despite Hannibal's quick march to within 3 miles (5 km) of the strongly fortified walls of Rome, Capua fell. In the same year, in Sicily, Syracuse fell, and by 209 Tarentum, in south Italy, had also been recaptured by the Romans.
The wars in Spain and Africa
Meanwhile Roman successes in Spain dealt severe blows to Carthaginian power there. In 208 Hasdrubal, detaching a force from the main Carthaginian army, crossed the Alps (probably by his brother's route) to go to Hannibal's aid. Hasdrubal's army was defeated, however, at Metaurus in northern Italy (207) before the Carthaginian armies could effect a junction. His last hope of making a recovery in central Italy thus dashed, Hannibal concentrated his forces in Bruttium, where with the help of his remaining allies he was able to resist Roman pressure for four more years.
Scipio, however, struck at North Africa, breaking Carthage's principal ally, the Massaesylian Numidians, and endangering Carthage. In order to go to the help of his country, Hannibal abandoned Italy in 203. Although a preliminary armistice had already been declared and the Carthaginian armies had accepted Scipio's severe terms (winter 204-203), Hannibal concentrated the remnants of the Carthaginian forces at Hadrumetum (modern Sousse, Tunisia). Almost at the very moment when the ambassadors were returning from Rome with the preliminary peace proposals, the Carthaginians violated the armistice.
Accounts of the campaigns that followed differ greatly. Both Hannibal and Scipio, in order to link up with their respective Numidian allies, moved up the Bagradas River to the region of Zama Regia. Hannibal was now deficient in cavalry; the mercenary troops of his front line and the African infantry of his second line together were routed, and Scipio, seeing that Hannibal's third line, the veteran soldiers, was still intact, reformed his front and brought up the Numidian cavalry of Masinissa, his Numidian ally, in the Carthaginian rear. Hannibal lost 20,000 men in defeat, but he himself escaped Masinissa's pursuit.
Exile and death
The treaty between Rome and Carthage that was concluded a year after the Battle of Zama frustrated the entire object of Hannibal's life, but his hopes of taking arms once more against Rome lived on. Although accused of having misconducted the war, he was made a suffete (a civil magistrate) in addition to retaining his military command, and as suffete he was able to overthrow the power of the oligarchic governing faction at Carthage and bring about certain administrative and constitutional changes. He thus became unpopular with a certain faction of the Carthaginian nobility, and, according to Livy, he was denounced to the Romans as inciting Antiochus III of Syria to take up arms against the Romans. Hannibal fled to the court of Antiochus at Ephesus (195), where he was welcome at first, since Antiochus was preparing war with Rome. Soon, however, the presence of Hannibal and the sound advice he gave concerning the conduct of the war became a source of embarrassment, and he was sent to raise and command a fleet for Antiochus in the Phoenician cities. Inexperienced as he was in naval matters, he was defeated by the Roman fleet off Side, in Pamphylia. Antiochus was defeated on land at Magnesia in 190, and one of the terms demanded of him by the Romans was that Hannibal should be surrendered. Again accounts of Hannibal's subsequent actions vary; either he fled via Crete to the court of King Prusias of Bithynia, or he joined the rebel forces in Armenia. Eventually he took refuge with Prusias, who at this time was engaged in warfare with Rome's ally, King Eumenes II of Pergamum. He served Prusias in this war, and, in one of the victories he gained over Eumenes at sea, it is said that he threw cauldrons of snakes into the enemy vessels.
Finally the Romans by unknown means put themselves in a position to demand the surrender of Hannibal. Unable this time to escape, Hannibal poisoned himself in the Bithynian village of Libyssa. The year is uncertain but was probably 183.
It is not to be expected that his Roman biographers would treat Hannibal impartially, but Polybius and Dio Cassius give the least-biased accounts. 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) and Lucius Aemilius Paulus (216), the fallen enemy generals. 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 warindeed, he spared Fabius's farm.
Much that was said against him (e.g., cannibalism by Polybius) might be ascribed to individual activities of his generals, but even this is uncertain. 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. His treachery, that punica fides that the Romans detested, could from another point of view pass for resourcefulness in war and boldness in stratagem. Of his wit and subtlety of speech, many anecdotes remain. He spoke Greek and Latin fluently, but more personal information is absent from his biographies. He is shown in the only surviving portraits, the silver coins of Cartagena struck in 221, the year of his election as general, with a youthful, beardless, and pleasant face. (Encyclopaedia Britannica Article)