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Ancient Hannibal was a Carthaginian general and statesman who is widely considered one of the greatest military commanders in history.
He lived in a time when the Roman Republic became a major power, whilst reigning over Italy, which created a great deal of conflict in the Western Mediterranean Basin.
The Romans had won the First Punic War (264–241 BC) which created a great feeling of vengeance in the Carthaginian Empire (generally Northwest Africa).
The Second Punic War broke out in 218 BC after Hannibal’s attack on Saguntum, an ally of Rome in Hispania. He then made his famous military exploit of carrying war to Italy by crossing the Alps with his African elephants.
Hannibal won a succession of dramatic victories in his first few years in Italy and distinguished himself for his ability to determine his and his opponent’s respective strengths and weaknesses.
Hannibal occupied most of southern Italy for 15 years, but could not win a decisive victory, as the Romans led by Fabius Maximus avoided confrontation with him, instead waging a war of attrition.
A counter-invasion of North Africa led by Scipio Africanus forced him to return to Carthage. Scipio eventually defeated Hannibal at the Battle of Zama, having previously driven Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal out of the Iberian Peninsula.
After the war, Hannibal successfully ran for the office of sufet. He enacted political and financial reforms to enable the payment of the war indemnity imposed by Rome; however, those reforms
were unpopular with members of the Carthaginian aristocracy and in Rome, so he fled into voluntary exile.
During this time, he lived at the Seleucid court, where he acted as military advisor to Antiochus III the Great in his war against Rome. Antiochus met defeat at the Battle of Magnesia and was forced to accept Rome’s terms, and Hannibal fled again, making a stop in the Kingdom of Armenia.
His flight ended in the court of Bithynia. He was afterwards betrayed to the Romans and committed suicide by poisoning himself.
Hannibal is often regarded as one of the greatest military strategists in history and one of the greatest generals of Mediterranean antiquity, together with Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great,
Julius Caesar, Scipio Africanus and Pyrrhus.
Plutarch states that Scipio supposedly asked Hannibal “who the greatest general was”, to which Hannibal replied “either Alexander or Pyrrhus, then himself”.
Military historian Theodore Ayrault Dodge called Hannibal the “father of strategy”, because Roman armies adopted elements of his military tactics into their own strategic arsenal.
Hannibal has been cited by various subsequent military leaders, such as Napoleon Bonaparte, as an inspiration and the greatest strategist of all.
Who Was Ancient Hannibal?
Hannibal, general of the Carthaginian army, lived in the second and third century B.C. He was born into a Carthaginian military family and made to swear hostility toward Rome.
During the Second Punic War, Hannibal swept across southern Europe and through the Alps, consistently defeating the Roman army, but never taking the city itself.
Rome counterattacked, and he was forced to return to Carthage where he was defeated. He worked for a time as a statesman, before he was forced into exile by Rome.
To avoid capture by the Romans, he eventually took his own life.
Hannibal Barca was born in Carthage (present-day Tunisia) in approximately 247 B.C. He was the son of Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca (Barca meaning “thunderbolt”).
After Carthage’s defeat by the Romans in the First Punic War in 241 B.C, Hamilcar devoted himself to improving both his and Carthage’s fortunes.
At an early age, he took Hannibal to Spain and made him swear eternal hostility toward the Roman Empire.
At age 26, Hannibal was given command of an army and immediately set out to consolidate Carthaginian control of Iberia.
He married Imilce, an Iberian princess and conquered or allied with numerous Iberian tribes.
He made the seaport of Qart Hadasht (“New City,” now Cartagena) his home base.
In 219 B.C., Hannibal attacked the town of Saguntum (Sagunto, Spain), raising the ire of Rome and starting the Second Punic War.
Crossing The Alps
In late spring, 218 B.C., Hannibal marched through the Pyrenees toward Gaul (southern France) with more than 100,000 troops and nearly 40 war elephants.
He met little resistance from local forces allied to Rome. Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio attempted to confront him at the Rhone River, but Hannibal had already crossed it and was on his way to the Alps.
Hannibal’s Alps crossing was a remarkable military achievement. In addition to an inclement climate, Hannibal’s army faced guerrilla attacks from indigenous tribes who rolled heavy stones across their path.
On the 15th day of the crossing, and more than five months away from Cartagena, Hannibal finally exited the Alps with just 20,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry and all 37 elephants.
Second Punic War
Over the next three years, Hannibal’s army battled Scipio’s forces for control of Italian territory. For most of this time, Hannibal fought with little aid from Carthage.
He was able to inflict heavy casualties on the Roman army in the battles of Trebbia, Trasimene and Cannae, but at a heavy cost in men and many of his elephants.
He was able to get within three miles of the capital before a stalemate ensued.
Hannibal did not have the numbers to successfully push into Rome and Scipio didn’t have the superior forces to defeat him.
Meanwhile, Rome dispatched forces to Iberia and North Africa, raiding Carthaginian towns and villages.
In 203 B.C., Hannibal abandoned his Roman campaign and traveled back to defend his country.
In 202 B.C., the armies of Hannibal and Scipio met at the Battle of Zama, where unlike in previous meetings, the Romans had superior forces.
They used trumpets to stampede the remaining few elephants, which circled back and trampled the Carthaginian troops.
Hannibal’s army was scattered, with many of his soldiers gradually hunted down and killed by the Romans.
The Roman terms for peace were extremely harsh on the Carthaginians, severely reducing their military and extracting large reparations.
After being elected a chief magistrate, Hannibal spent the next several years in Carthaginian politics. During this time, he instituted elections for military judges and changed terms of office from life to two years.
However, the Romans eventually became concerned about Hannibal’s growing power and in 195 B.C. demanded that he retire from office.
Hannibal moved to Ephesus (Turkey) and became a military adviser. In 190 B.C., he was placed in command of a Seleucid (Greek) Empire fleet and engaged in war with Rome’s ally Pergamon.
Hannibal’s army was defeated, and he fled to Bithynia. The Romans demanded he be turned over to them, but he was determined not to fall into enemy hands and fled.
When Did Hannibal Die?
In approximately 183 B.C., at Libyssa, near the Bosporus Straits, Hannibal took his own life by ingesting a vial of poison.
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