Hannibal (247-183/1 B.C.)
"I swear that so soon as age will permit . . . I will use fire and steel to arrest the destiny of Rome." The boy Hannibal said this as he stood at the altar beside his father, the great Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca. The father and son were leaving for Spain, where Hamilcar hoped to make up for the losses that Carthage had suffered in the First Punic War.
Hannibal learned quickly. After his father's death he took command of the army in Spain. Then in 218 B.C. he launched the mission to which he had been sworn. As the Roman Senate made plans to invade Carthage, Hannibal started one of history's most daring marches. He led his forces along eastern Spain, over the Pyrenees Mountains, and across the Rhône River. His 90,000 infantry, 12,000 cavalry, and 37 elephants traveled all autumn. When they reached the Alps, the cold was intense. Some of Hannibal's soldiers died of exposure. Others fell to their death.
Only about half of them reached northern Italy, but Hannibal's skilled cavalry tactics crushed the Roman forces at the Trebia River and at Lake Trasimene. Alarmed, the Romans appointed a dictator, the wise statesman Quintus Fabius Maximus, and gave him extraordinary power. Choosing not to risk an engagement at once, Fabius instead followed the Carthaginians, delaying and harassing them. At last, in 216 B.C., the Roman army met Hannibal's band at Cannae in southeastern Italy. Hannibal outwitted and annihilated them, slaying an estimated 60,000.
Hannibal's triumph was brief, however. Neither his own countrymen nor the Italians he had subdued during his 15 years in Italy supported him. His brother Hasdrubal, bringing reinforcements from Spain, was defeated by the Romans and killed. Hannibal finally returned home when a Roman army under Scipio Africanus invaded Carthage. There at Zama he suffered a crushing and final defeat.
Hannibal now showed that he could be a statesman as well as soldier. He reformed the government of Carthage and paid the heavy tribute exacted by Rome. The Romans, alarmed by this prosperity and fearing that Hannibal might renew the war against them, demanded his surrender, but he fled to Asia. Several years later the Romans hunted him down. Hannibal took poison, ending the life of one of the greatest military leaders of ancient times. (Encyclopaedia Britannica Article)