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Hannibal is considered to be one of the greatest commanders that the world history has known. He was born in 247 BC at Carthage and died at Libyssa between years 183-181 BC. He is known for his rule in the Bithynia Kingdom (188-181 BC), Seleucid Empire (198-188BC) and Carthage empire (221-202). This paper explores Hannibal’s background and early career, the second Punic War, his exile, and death.
Background and Early Career
Hannibal was born in Carthage (present-day Tunisia) in the family of a Carthaginian leader called Hamilcar Barca. Hannibal had two brothers named Mago and Hasdrubal. He also had sisters, but the number of his sisters is not known. Many scholar articles quote ‘he had several’ female siblings. Hannibal had a close family relationship with Naravas who was the Numidian King and husband to one of Hannibal’s sister. Other notable figures include Hasdrubal the Fair who was his other brother-in-law. However, it is essential to understand that all of his sisters were older than him and therefore, at the time of their marriage, Hannibal was still a little child. Therefore, Naravas and Hasdrubal the Fair extended their help to him after he took from his father. The brother-in-law had worked closely with Hamilcar Barca in the Punic conquest and the Mercenary Wars.
Hannibal’s childhood was characterized by insecurity and war. At this period, Carthage was defeated in the First Punic War. However, his father was able to take over the Iberian Peninsula. After the takeover, he had to rebuild the faith of his people and restore his family’s reputation. Therefore, he forcibly imposed obedience on the Iberian tribes. He decided to conquer overseas territories. To his disappointment, the Carthaginian navy had weakened such that they could not transport Hamilcar’s army to the oversee nations. He, therefore, decided to take his command on a foot march towards the Pillars of Hercules. At the time of departure, Hannibal is reported to have begged him that he should be allowed to accompany his father. At this time, Hannibal was only nine years. He also swore that he would become an enemy of the Romans forever. After a long plead with his father, Hannibal was allowed to accompany his father in the foot march. They were able to conquer some minor tribes and significant Kingdoms. Soon or later, they engaged in conquest wars and half-way conquered Hispania. Hamilcar, however, did not live long before he drowned in conquest wars.
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At the time of Hamilcar’s death, Hannibal was already 18 years but not yet of age to succeed his father. Therefore, Hasdrubal the Fair, took after Hamilcar and appointed Hannibal as the immediate officer under him. He came with a new set of policies. First, Hasdrubal stated that he wanted to secure the interest of his people (those of Carthage and its captives). Secondly, he signed treaties, including agreements with Rome, not to engage in expansion wars past the Ebro. Thirdly, he participated in diplomatic peace talks with native tribes as a way of consolidating the people in the entire region and those beyond Carthaginian borders. In 221 BC, Hasdrubal the fair was assassinated.
Hasdrubal’s assassination marked the onset of Hannibal’s reign. By this time, Hannibal was 26 years old. Soon after assuming command, he embarked on strategic planning and consolidation of his power, army, and resources. Two years down the line, Hannibal completed the conquest of Hispania. He reached the region to the south of Ebro. Having in mind that his predecessor had signed a treaty with Rome not to engage in any quests beyond the Ebro, tension started building in the Rome empire. His next campaigning extended Hannibal’s wrath to Alithia. This city was the capital of Olcade, and the attack prompted their surrender. Rome started formulating strategies to overcome the increasing might of Hannibal. He had already brought the Punic war to the River Tagus which was at a proximity of Rome’s territory. In 220 BC, Hannibal launched his second campaign against Vaccei. This kingdom was to the west and had its strongholds in Arbucala and Helmantice. He attacked and dismantled the fortresses, and Vaccei surrendered. After the great battles of conquest, he successfully set his course back home. On their way home, a coalition of Spanish tribes attacked them at The River Tagus. The coalition was led by Carpetani. Hannibal’s army was strong, and once more, they won and reigned over their enemies. Upon receiving this information, Rome started moving fast to counter Hannibal’s expansion. Rome, therefore, signed treaties with Saguntum, a region to the south of Ebro. This course of action triggered the war between Hannibal and Rome. Hannibal started by attacking the city of Saguntum and saw it fall to the ground in 8 months. Rome wrote to the Carthaginian government questioning Hannibal’s actions as a breach of the treaty. However, the Carthaginian rule declared war over Rome. Hannibal set his course towards Italy, Southern Gaul and Hispania.
The Second Punic War
The onset of the Second Punic War started when Hannibal left New Carthage in 218 BC. He set his course Northwards and marched conquering and subduing the local Northerners. The decision to advance North was one of his conquest strategies to attack Rome. He had gathered information that nations in the North had allied with Italy and Rome and joined forces against him. Therefore, instead of attacking Rome directly, he first attacked the allied forces in North, making Rome more vulnerable and open from the Southern and the Northern regions. He had also learned from the defeat of his father in the first Punic war. Hannibal had to weaken the allies of his enemies before engaging the bigger prize. On his way North, he trained foot soldiers and war-elephant corps. He had a plan to launch an attack on Italy that would devastate the Mediterranean world for two consecutive decades.
The Battle of Trebia (Spring of 217 BC)
Hannibal’s attack on the Rome’s new allies namely the Gauls of Po Valley marked the beginning of the Battle of Trebia. Before Rome could counter the attack, Hannibal had already succeeded to detach the Gauls and other local tribes from their Rome allegiances. However, Rome felt threatened and sent an army under Publius Cornelius Scipio to counter Hannibal’s movement. Scipio rapidly transported his soldiers via the sea to Italy. Scipio succeeded in intercepting Hannibal’s approach through Italy. Therefore, Hannibal changed route and traveled through the Po Valley. The Romans engaged him in the Battle of Ticinus. Hannibal used his superior cavalry and pushed the Romans from the plains Lombardy. Scipio was severely injured but was saved by his brave Son. He retreated and settled at Placentia with his army.
After this defeat, the Roman Senate ordered reinforcement army to join Scipio in Placentia. Hannibal used his field skills and intercepted the incoming infantry in the region between Arminum and Placentia. Before the reinforcement could reach Placentia, Hannibal launched a surprise attack at Trebia, an area near Placentia. The ambush attack enabled him to slay the entire Roman infantry, and his might grew even stronger.
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Battle of Lake Trasimene (December of 217 BC)
After the win of the war of Trebia, Hannibal started luring Roman leaders, specifically the newly appointed consular Flaminius into battle. His lure mainly involved attacking small cities and villages to show that the Roman empire was weak and could not protect its people. Flaminius started following him as planned. Upon reaching Etruria, Hannibal launched a devastating attack on the small city. Flaminius, burning with range, hastened his pursuit and engaged Hannibal in a battle on the shores of Lake Trasimenus. Hannibal killed Flaminius and defeated his Roman Army. The Romans saw a need to change its leadership structure and appointed Quintus Fabius as its Dictator. Fabius used new tactics in war. He never followed Hannibal in his attack route. He remained focused on protecting the capital and the people of Rome. Despite the fact that this strategy was unpopular among the Romans, Fabius stayed healthy and intact. People of Rome took this method of leadership as a form of cowardice.
Battle of Cannae (Spring of 216 BC)
This is one of the most devastating wars in the history of human conflicts3. At this period, Hannibal had considerably approached Rome’s heart. The Romans resumed their traditional leadership and elected two consuls namely Lucius Aemilius and Gaius Terentius. Each of the consuls was assigned an army which comprised of around 50000 to 80000 men. Hannibal, on the other hand, attacked Cannae and took control of the Rome’s legion supply depot. In response to this attack, the two consuls decided to attack Hannibal from two sides, the right and the left. The encircled him within a 9.7 km radius. Hannibal was situated on the banks of River Aufidus4. The two consuls alternated command day after the other. Hannibal had to formulate a new tactic. Therefore, he divided his army into a semi-circle and lured the Rome legions to coming closer and reduce the attack radius. In turn, he used his right wing to attack comprised the Numidian Cavalry under his commander called Maharbal. The left-wing consist of the Iberian Cavalry led by commander Hanno. Hannibal led the forward marching Carthaginian cavalry. The right wing attacked and devasted the massive Roman army approaching from that direction. The left side and the forward marching cavalries fought and defeated the Roman army from the right and behind1. In this way, the remaining Roman army had no escape route. Therefore, Hannibal’s army destroyed the Roman legion to the latter. The remainders were captured. It is estimated that in human history, this battle marked the highest number of loss of life in a single day7. After this victory, a majority of Italy states joined Hannibal’s army. Consequently, King Phillip V agreed to support Hannibal in his conquest wars. Hannibal was also able to acquire Capua (which voluntarily joined him), and he made it his new base. Capua was among the most significant cities in Italy.
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Hannibal’s Downfall and Retreat
After the great achievement, Hannibal retired momentarily. However, in 210 BC, he engaged a proconsular army and acquired Herdonia, Apulia. In 209 BC, the Romans invaded Lucania and Samnium which were significant parts of his previously-conquered Italy. By now, he was losing control over Italy. In 208 BC, he completely damaged a Roman army at Locri8. In 207 BC, he started planning to attack Rome. However, his plans did not continue after receiving information that his brother Hasdrubal Barca had been killed by the Romans and his head had been cut off. This message made him hold still his plans, and he retired.
Hannibal never attempted to attack Rome directly. Some sources note that he knew that he never had the support and resources to match Rome’s capital3. Therefore, after the war and Cannae, Hannibal had started losing his might. The reasons for his loss of control include:
- The home government failed to provide him with the necessary human resources and supplies. Some sources note that the Carthage government may have abandoned him because of jealousy. Similarly, the Carthaginian territories were extremely stretched, and no amounts could reach Hannibal in time.
- Rome had restructured its attack strategies and adopted the methods proposed by Fabius. The council had come to see that Fabius was right about engaging Hannibal in an open battle. Therefore, they started using small armies to launch attacks some army bases. They also scorched significant parts of Southern Italy, where Hannibal had gained support. This kind of scorch and guerilla warfare devastated Hannibal’s army, and they started running short of supplies. Therefore, some soldiers began abandoning their lieutenants and camps in search of food5. When Hannibal requested support from the home government, now headed by Hanno II the Great, he was frustrated that the leader and the council were reluctant to help him.
- His new supporters such as King Phillip V didn’t come to his aid after the scorch policy initiated by the Romans. Therefore, Hannibal’s mercenaries became less motivated and abandoned the army. The soldiers who left were replaced by unskilled men from Italy and Gaul. Thus, Hannibal’s army grew weaker and initiated his retreat journey6.
- The death of his Brother by the Romans. Hannibal received the information that his brother’s head had been cut off and the Romans had traveled with it all over Italy and finally dumped it at Hannibal’s camp. These activities saw him retire officially at Calabria3. His other brother, Mago, was defeated in Liguria.
- Rome launched one of its most active battles against Hannibal in 201 BC. Their success was boosted by betrayal acts of Masinissa. At the same time, Hannibal was aging and was suffering from mental disorder. The Romans engaged Hannibal’s army in the Battle of Zama and left more than 20000 Hannibal’s men dead and more than 15000 wounded. Following the defeat, Hannibal traveled back home2.
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Exile and Death of Hannibal
After the defeat in Zama, and after Hannibal had traveled back home, the Romans demanded that Hannibal should turn himself in. Hannibal went into voluntary exile in Syria, where Antiochus III received him warmly. Antiochus was preparing a war against Rome. He asked Hannibal to be a chief strategist in his battles. However, not long after, Romans waged strong wars against Antiochus and asked him to give up Hannibal. Hannibal saw that Antiochus was ready to give him up and therefore, he fled to Bithynia. Here, he helped the King defeat enemies in Battles against Eumenes. Rome then threatened to attack Bithynia if they did not have over Hannibal. The then Bithynia ruler, King Prussia wanted to give him up. This turn of events scared Hannibal, and he decided to commit suicide. Some sources say that he took poison at around 181 BC1. Some other sources confirm that his death was in 183 BC2,3,4. What remains clear is that the Great general died in the period between 183-181 BC.
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