Conquests of Hannibal
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Upon the assassination of Hasdrubal (221 BC), Hannibal was proclaimed commander-in-chief by the army and confirmed in his appointment by the Carthaginian government. After he assumed command, Hannibal spent two years consolidating his holdings and completing the conquest of Hispania south of the Ebro.[clarification needed] However, Rome, fearing the growing strength of Hannibal in Iberia, made an alliance with the city of Saguntum which lay a considerable distance south of the River Ebro and claimed the city as its protectorate. Hannibal perceived this as a breach of the treaty signed with Hasdrubal and so he laid siege to the city, which fell after eight months. Rome reacted to this apparent violation of the treaty and demanded justice from Carthage.
Second Punic War
Overland journey to Italy
Hannibal departed New Carthage in late spring of 218 BC. He fought his way through the northern tribes to the Pyrenees, subduing the tribes through clever mountain tactics and stubborn fighting. He left a detachment of 11,000 troops to garrison the newly conquered region. At the Pyrenees, he released another 11,000 Iberian troops who showed reluctance to leave their homeland. Hannibal reportedly entered Gaul with 50,000 foot soldiers and 9,000 horsemen.
Hannibal recognized that he still needed to cross the Pyrenees, the Alps, and many significant rivers. Additionally, he would have to contend with opposition from the Gauls, whose territory he passed through. Starting in the spring of 218 BC, he easily fought his way through the northern tribes to the Pyrenees and, by conciliating the Gaulish chiefs along his passage, reached the Rhône River before the Romans could take any measures to bar his advance. Arriving at the Rhône in September, Hannibal's army numbered 38,000 infantry, 8,000 cavalry, and 37 war elephants.
After outmaneuvering the natives, who had tried to prevent his crossing, Hannibal evaded a Roman force marching from the Mediterranean coast by turning inland up the valley of the Rhone. His exact route over the Alps has been the source of scholarly dispute ever since (Polybius, the surviving ancient account closest in time to Hannibal's campaign, reports that the route was already debated). The most influential modern theories favour either a march up the valley of the Drome and a crossing of the main range to the south of the modern highway over the Col de Montgenevre (argued by Sir Gavin de Beer, Alps and Elephants) or a march further north up the valleys of the Isere and Arc crossing the main range near the present Col de Mont Cenis (most fully argued by Denis Proctor, Hannibal's March in History). By whichever route, his passage over the Alps is one of the most celebrated achievements of any military force in ancient warfare. Hannibal successfully crossed the mountains, despite numerous obstacles such as harsh climate and terrain, the guerrilla tactics of the native tribes, and the challenge of commanding an army diverse in race and language. He descended from the foothills and arrived into northern Italy in the vicinity of modern Turin, but accompanied by only half the forces he had started with, and only a few elephants. From the start he seems to have calculated that he would have to operate without aid from Hispania. Historian Adrian Goldsworthy, however, points out that the figures for the number of troops he had when he left Hispania are less than reliable.
Battle of Trebia
Hannibal's perilous march brought him into the Roman territory and frustrated the attempts of the enemy to fight out the main issue on foreign ground. His sudden appearance among the Gauls of the Po Valley, moreover, enabled him to detach those tribes from their new allegiance to the Romans before the latter could take steps to check the rebellion.
Publius Cornelius Scipio, the consul who commanded the Roman force sent to intercept Hannibal, had not expected Hannibal to make an attempt to cross the Alps, since the Romans were prepared to fight the war in Iberia. With a small detachment still positioned in Gaul, Scipio made an attempt to intercept Hannibal. Through prompt decision and speedy movement, he succeeded in transporting his army to Italy by sea, in time to meet Hannibal. Hannibal's forces moved through the Po Valley and were engaged in a small confrontation at Ticinus. Here, Hannibal forced the Romans, by virtue of his superior cavalry, to evacuate the plain of Lombardy. While the victory was minor, it encouraged the Gauls and Ligurians to join the Carthaginian cause, whose troops bolstered his army back to 40,000 men. Scipio was severely injured and retreated across the river Trebia to camp at Placentia with his army intact.
The other Roman consular army was rushed to the Po Valley. Even before news of the defeat at Ticinus had reached Rome, the senate had ordered the consul Sempronius Longus to bring his army back from Sicily to meet Scipio and face Hannibal. Hannibal, by skillful maneuvers, was in position to head him off, for he lay on the direct road between Placentia and Arminum, by which Sempronius would have to march in order to reinforce Scipio. He then captured Clastidium, from which he drew large amounts of rations for his men. But this gain was not without its loss, as Sempronius avoided Hannibal's watchfulness, slipped around his flank, and joined his colleague in his camp near the Trebbia River near Placentia. There, in December of the same year, Hannibal had an opportunity to show his superior military skill at Trebia; after wearing down the excellent Roman infantry he cut it to pieces by a surprise attack from an ambush in the flank.
Battle of Lake Trasimene
Having secured his position in northern Italy by this victory, Hannibal quartered his troops for the winter with the Gauls, whose support for him abated. In the Spring of 217 BC, Hannibal decided to find a more reliable base of operations farther south. Expecting Hannibal to carry on advancing to Rome, Cnaeus Servilius and Gaius Flaminius (the new Consuls of Rome) took their armies to block the Eastern and Western routes Hannibal could use to get to Rome.
The only alternate route to central Italy lay at the mouth of the Arno. This route was practically one huge marsh, and happened to be overflowing more than usual during this particular season. Hannibal knew that this route was full of difficulties, but it remained the surest and certainly the quickest route to Central Italy. As Polybius claims, Hannibal’s men marched for four days and three nights, “through a route which was under water”, suffering terribly from fatigue and enforced want of sleep. He crossed the Apennines (during which he lost his left eye because of conjunctivitis) and the seemingly impassable Arno without opposition, but in the marshy lowlands of the Arno, he lost a large part of his force, including, it would seem, his remaining elephants.
Arriving in Etruria in the spring of 217 BC, Hannibal decided to lure the main Roman army, under Flaminius, into a pitched battle, by devastating under his very own eye the area he had been sent to protect. As Polybius tells us, “he [Hannibal] calculated that, if he passed the camp and made a descent into the district beyond, Flaminius (partly for fear of popular reproach and partly of personal irritation) would be unable to endure watching passively the devastation of the country but would spontaneously follow him . . . and give him opportunities for attack.” At the same time, Hannibal tried to break the allegiance of Rome’s allies, by proving that Flaminius was powerless to protect them. Despite this, Hannibal found Flaminius still passively encamped at Arretium. Unable to draw Flaminius into battle by mere devastation, Hannibal marched boldly around his opponent’s left flank and effectively cut Flaminius off from Rome (thus executing the first recorded turning movement in military history). Advancing through the uplands of Etruria, Hannibal provoked Flaminius to a hasty pursuit and, catching him in a defile on the shore of Lake Trasimenus, destroyed his army in the waters or on the adjoining slopes while killing Flaminius as well (see Battle of Lake Trasimene). He had now disposed of the only field force which could check his advance upon Rome, but, realizing that without siege engines he could not hope to take the capital, he preferred to exploit his victory by passing into central and southern Italy and encouraging a general revolt against the sovereign power. After Lake Trasimeno, Hannibal stated, “I have not come to fight Italians, but on behalf of the Italians against Rome.”
The Romans appointed Fabius Maximus as a dictator. Departing from Roman military traditions, Fabius adopted the Fabian strategy — named after him — of refusing open battle with his opponent while placing several Roman armies in Hannibal’s vicinity to limit his movement.
Having ravaged Apulia without provoking Fabius to battle, Hannibal decided to march through Samnium to Campania, one of the richest and most fertile provinces of Italy, hoping that the devastation would draw Fabius into battle. Fabius closely followed Hannibal’s path of destruction, yet still refused to let himself be drawn, and thus remained on the defensive. This strategy was unpopular with many Romans who believed it was a form of cowardice.
Hannibal decided that it would be unwise to winter in the already devastated lowlands of Campania but Fabius had ensured that all the passes out of Campania were blocked. To avoid this, Hannibal deceived the Romans into thinking that the Carthaginian Army was going to escape through the woods. As the Romans moved off towards the woods, Hannibal's army occupied the pass, and his army made their way through the pass unopposed. Fabius was within striking distance but in this case his caution worked against him. Smelling a stratagem (rightly) he stayed put. For the winter, Hannibal found comfortable quarters in the Apulian plain. What Hannibal achieved in extricating his army was, as Adrian Goldsworthy puts it, "a classic of ancient generalship, finding its way into nearly every historical narrative of the war and being used by later military manuals". This was a severe blow to Fabius’s prestige, and soon after this, his period of power ended.
Battle of Cannae
In the spring of 216 BC, Hannibal took the initiative and seized the large supply depot at Cannae in the Apulian plain. By seizing Cannae, Hannibal had placed himself between the Romans and their crucial source of supply. Once the Roman Senate resumed their Consular elections in 216, they appointed Gaius Terentius Varro and Lucius Aemilius Paullus as Consuls. In the meantime, the Romans, hoping to gain success through sheer strength in numbers, raised a new army of unprecedented size, estimated by some to be as large as 100,000 men.
The Roman and Allied legions of the Consuls, resolving to confront Hannibal, marched southward to Apulia. They eventually found him on the left bank of the Audifus River, and encamped six miles away. On this occasion, the two armies were combined into one, the Consuls having to alternate their command on a daily basis. The Consul Varro, who was in command on the first day, was a man of reckless and hubristic nature, and was determined to defeat Hannibal. Hannibal capitalized on the eagerness of Varro and drew him into a trap by using an envelopment tactic which eliminated the Roman numerical advantage by shrinking the surface area where combat could occur. Hannibal drew up his least reliable infantry in a semicircle in the center with the wings composed of the Gallic and Numidian horse. The Roman legions forced their way through Hannibal's weak center, but the Libyan Mercenaries in the wings swung around by the movement, menaced their flanks. The onslaught of Hannibal's cavalry was irresistible, and Hasdrubal (not Hasdrubal Barca) who commanded the left, pushed in the Roman right and then swept across the rear and attacked Varro's cavalry on the Roman left. Then he attacked the legions from behind. As a result, the Roman army was hemmed in with no means of escape.
Due to these brilliant tactics, Hannibal, with much inferior numbers, managed to surround and destroy all but a small remainder of this force. Depending upon the source, it is estimated that 50,000-70,000 Romans were killed or captured at Cannae. Among the dead were the Roman consul Lucius Aemilius Paullus, as well two consuls for the preceding year, two quaestors, twenty-nine out of the forty-eight military tribunes and an additional eighty senators (at a time when the Roman Senate was no more than 300 men, this constituted 25%–30% of the governing body). This makes the Battle of Cannae one of the most catastrophic defeats in the history of Ancient Rome, and one of the bloodiest battles in all of human history (in terms of the number of lives lost within a single day). After Cannae, the Romans were not as enthusiastic in challenging Hannibal in pitched battles, instead preferring to defeat him by attrition, relying on their advantages of supply and manpower. As a result, Hannibal and Rome fought no more major battles in Italy for the rest of the war.
The effect on morale of this victory meant that many parts of Italy joined Hannibal's cause. As Polybius notes, "How much more serious was the defeat of Cannae, than those which preceded it can be seen by the behavior of Rome’s allies; before that fateful day, their loyalty remained unshaken, now it began to waver for the simple reason that they despaired of Roman Power.". During that same year, the Greek cities in Sicily were induced to revolt against Roman political control, while the Macedonian king, Philip V pledged his support to Hannibal – thus initiating the First Macedonian War against Rome. Hannibal also secured an alliance with newly appointed King Hieronymous of Syracuse. It is often argued that if Hannibal would have received proper material reinforcements from Carthage he might have succeeded with a direct attack upon Rome. For the present he had to content himself with subduing the fortresses which still held out against him, and the only other notable event of 216 BC was the defection of Capua, the second largest city of Italy, which Hannibal made his new base. However, only a few of the Italian city-states which he had expected to gain as allies consented to join him.
The war in Italy settled into a strategic stalemate. The Romans utilized the attritional strategies Fabius had taught them, and which, they finally realized, were the only feasible means of defeating Hannibal. Indeed, Fabius received the surname "Cunctator" because of his policy of attrition. The Romans deprived Hannibal of a large-scale battle and instead, assaulted his weakening army with multiple smaller armies in an attempt to both weary him and create unrest in his troops. For the next few years, Hannibal was forced to sustain a scorched earth policy and obtain local provisions for protracted and ineffectual operations throughout Southern Italy. His immediate objectives were reduced to minor operations which centered mainly round the cities of Campania.
As the forces detached his lieutenants were generally unable to hold their own, and neither his home government nor his new ally Philip V of Macedon helped to make good his losses, his position in southern Italy became increasingly difficult and his chance of ultimately conquering Rome grew ever more remote. Hannibal still won a number of notable victories: completely destroying two Roman armies in 212 BC, and at one point, killing two Consuls (which included the famed Marcus Claudius Marcellus) in a battle in 208 BC. Nevertheless, without the resources his allies could contribute, or reinforcements from Carthage, Hannibal could not make further significant gains. Thus, inadequately supported by his Italian allies, abandoned by his government, and unable to match Rome’s resources, Hannibal slowly began losing ground. Hannibal continued defeating the Romans whenever he could bring them into battle, yet he was never able to complete another decisive victory that produced a lasting strategic effect.
Hannibal's retreat in Italy
In 212 BC Hannibal captured Tarentum but he failed to obtain control of the harbour. The tide was slowly turning against him, and in favor of Rome.
The Romans mounted two sieges of Capua, which fell in 211 BC, and the Romans completed their conquest of Syracuse and destruction of a Carthaginian army in Sicily. Shortly thereafter, the Romans pacified Sicily and entered into an alliance with the Aetolian League to counter Phillip V. Philip, who attempted to exploit Rome's preoccupation in Italy to conquer Illyria, now found himself under attack from several sides at once and was quickly subdued by Rome and her Greek allies. Meanwhile, Hannibal had defeated Fulvius at Herdonea in Apulia, but lost Tarentum in the following year.
In 210 BC, Hannibal again proved his superiority in tactics by inflicting a severe defeat at Herdoniac (modern Ordona) in Apulia upon a proconsular army, and in 208 BC destroyed a Roman force engaged in the siege of Locri Epizephyri. But with the loss of Tarentum in 209 BC and the gradual reconquest by the Romans of Samnium and Lucania, his hold on south Italy was almost lost. In 207 BC, he succeeded in making his way again into Apulia, where he waited to concert measures for a combined march upon Rome with his brother Hasdrubal Barca. On hearing, however, of his brother's defeat and death at the Metaurus he retired into Bruttium, where he maintained himself for the ensuing years. The combination of these events marked the end to Hannibal's success in Italy. With the failure of his brother Mago Barca in Liguria (205–203 BC) and of his own negotiations with Philip of Macedon, the last hope of recovering his ascendancy in Italy was lost. In 203 BC, after nearly fifteen years of fighting in Italy, and with the military fortunes of Carthage rapidly declining, Hannibal was recalled to Carthage to direct the defense of his native country against a Roman invasion under Scipio Africanus.
Conclusion of Second Punic War (203–201 BC)
Return to Carthage
In 203 BC, when Scipio was carrying all before him in Africa and the Carthaginian peace party were arranging an armistice, Hannibal was recalled from Italy by the war party at Carthage. After leaving a record of his expedition engraved in Punic and Greek upon brazen tablets in the temple of Juno at Crotona, he sailed back to Africa. His arrival immediately restored the predominance of the war party, who placed him in command of a combined force of African levies and his mercenaries from Italy. In 202 BC, Hannibal met Scipio in a fruitless peace conference. Despite mutual admiration, negotiations floundered due to Roman allegations of "Punic Faith," referring to the breach of protocols which ended the First Punic War by the Carthaginian attack on Saguntum, as well as perceived breach in contemporary military etiquette (Hannibal's numerous ambuscades). The decisive battle at Zama soon followed.
Battle of Zama
Unlike most battles of the Second Punic War, at Zama the Romans had superiority in cavalry and the Carthaginians had superiority in infantry. This Roman cavalry superiority was due to the betrayal of Masinissa, who had earlier assisted Carthage in Iberia, but changed sides in 206 BC with the promise of land and due to his personal conflicts with Syphax, a Carthaginian ally. This betrayal gave Scipio Africanus an advantage that had previously been possessed by the Carthaginians. Although the aging Hannibal was suffering from mental exhaustion and deteriorating health after years of campaigning in Italy, the Carthaginians still had the advantage in numbers and were boosted by the presence of 80 war elephants.
The Roman cavalry won an early victory, and Scipio had devised tactics for defeating Carthaginian war elephants. However, the battle remained closely fought. At one point it seemed that Hannibal was on the verge of victory, but Scipio was able to rally his men, and his cavalry attacked Hannibal's rear. This two-pronged attack caused the Carthaginian formation to disintegrate and collapse. With their foremost general defeated, the Carthaginians had no choice but to accept defeat and surrender to Rome. Carthage lost approximately 31,000 troops with an additional 15,000 wounded. In contrast, the Romans suffered only 1500 casualties. The battle resulted in a loss of respect for Hannibal by his fellow Carthaginians. It marked the last major battle of the Second Punic War, with Rome the victor. The conditions of defeat were such that Carthage could no longer battle for Mediterranean supremacy. However, Hannibal has still been glorified despite this loss due to the fact that Scipio had used Hannibal's tactics to defeat him.
- Lancel, Serge, Hannibal, p. 225
- Prevas, John, Hannibal Crosses the Alps: The Invasion of Italy and the Second Punic War, p. 86
- Lancel, Serge, Hannibal, p. 60
- Dodge, Theodore. Hannibal. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press (reprint edition), 1891 ISBN 0-306-81362-9
- Liddell Hart, Basil, Strategy, New York City, New York, Penguin Group, 1967
- USAWC Comparing Strategies of the 2nd Punic War by James Parker. View as HTML
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- Prevas, John, Hannibal Crosses the Alps, p. xv
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- Polybius, The Histories of Polybius, 2 Vols., trans. Evelyn S. Shuckburgh (London: Macmillan, 1889), I. 264-275.
- Prevas, John, Hannibal Crosses the Alps: The Invasion of Italy and the Second Punic War, p. 200
- Pliny, tr. by Mary Beagon, The Elder Pliny on the Human Animal, p. 361
- Livy, The War with Hannibal, 28.46