Before Hannibal Carthage, one of the most famous cities of antiquity, was founded on the north coast of Africa by the Phoenicians of Tyre (sur) in 814 B.C. The foundation of Carthage was closely followed by the establishment of other Phoenician cities in the west Mediterranean over which Carthage gradually gained control. From then on, Carthaginian power expanded into Spain, Sicily and numerous other places in the northern Mediterranean. This brought them into direct conflict with the empires in Rome and Greece. At the start of the 3rd century B.C.. Carthage was supreme in the western Mediterranean, enjoying the security of sea power and trading with her stations in Sicily, Sardinia, and Spain as well as with the shores of Africa. Rome was painfully struggling to obtain the mastery of central and southern Italy, where she had absorbed the power and culture of the Etruscans and gradually forged a federation of small states. It must have already become clear that there was not going to be room in the Mediterranean for both Rome and Carthage. The clash came over Sicily in the First Punic War (264-241 B.C), at the end of which Carthage lost Sicily. sea-power, and security. The Roman victory in Sicily induced Rome to cross the narrow straits to Africa and attack Carthage directly. Fortunately for Carthage, a strong and honest man appeared in the person of Hamilcar Barca, a commander who had evacuated his forces undefeated from Sicily in the best tradition of Dunkirk.
Hamilcar was able to put down a mutiny in the Carthagian army and restore order to it. The political situation at that time had a strangely modern flavour. Rome pursued a policy of cold war during which annexed Sardinia and Corsica, increased the reparations which Carthage was obliged to pay, and declared the Roman sphere of interest in Spain to extend from the North down to the river Ebro. In Carthage, a peace treaty was in power, commercially minded, ready to play the quisling. Hamilcar Barca, on the other hand, had popular support and the command of the armed forces. With these he proceeded to develop the Carthaginian hold on Spain, ostensibly to enable Carthage to pay repatriation to Rome, but in fact, be- cause he saw in Spain a source of manpower and supplies and a base from which to attack Rome. With his son-in-law Hasdrubal and his four sons Hannibal, Hasdrubal, Hanno, and Mago, the 'lion's brood' as he called them. Hamilcar Barca soon succeeded in turning southern Spain into a sort of empire where new Carthage or Carthagena was founded. In 228 B.C. he fell in battle and was succeeded by Hasdrubal his son-in- law who, in his turn was murdered seven years later in 221 B.C.
The Rise of Hannibal The army thereupon unanimously chose Hannibal to be their general in spite of his youth, "because of the shrewdness and courage which he had shown in their service." Hannibal was then 26 years old. This strange man, whose name means "Joy of Baal", had accompanied his father on his campaign in Spain. at the tender age of nine. Hamilcar Barca had agreed to take him on his campaign on one condition, that before the sacrifice which he was then making to the gods, Hannibal should swear eternal enmity to Rome. No man ever kept a promise more faithfully. Hannibal's first military success was in Saguntum, which precipitated the Second Punic War. It is quite clear that Hannibal carried out a carefully prepared plan which he had inherited from his father. His object was nothing less than the destruction of the power of Rome before Rome destroyed Carthage, and Rome's most vulnerable spot was in Italy itself where the Roman federation of states was still loose and the Celtic tribes of Gauls in the North were in revolt. But since Carthage had lost command of the sea to Rome, how was Hannibal to get to Italy with his troops? The Romans never imagined for one moment that he could or would make the journey of 1500 miles overland from Spain, across the Pyrenees, the south of France, and the Alps; but that was exactly what Hannibal had decided to do. Having decided on his strategy and selected his theatre of operations? Hannibal followed two principles which have grown no less important since his day: the seizure of the initiative, and the maintenance of the element of surprise. 218 B. C. may seem a long time ago. but the manner in which Hannibal set about his task is identical with that which a competent commander would follow today. Hannibal first secured his bases at Carthage and Carthagena. Next he collected detailed information about the countries and peoples through which he proposed to pass. For this purpose he sent for messengers (liaison-officers) from the Gaulish tribes and asked for detailed accounts of the terrain and the fertility of the country at the foot of the Alps, in the midst of the Alps, and in the plain of the river Po. Today, this aspect of Hannibal's planning would come under the heading of logistics. He also wanted to know the number of the inhabitants of the various populations, their capacity for war, and particularly whether their enmity against the Romans was maintained. This would be called political intelligence. He was particularly anxious to win over the Gauls on both sides of the Alps as he would only be able to operate in Italy against the Romans if the Gauls co-operated with him. He therefore planned a campaign of psychological warfare, to raise and maintain the morale of his supporters and to undermine the enemy's will and power to resist. The operations began in great secrecy in the spring of 218 B.C. after Hannibal delivered a morale boosting speech to his troops.
Moved by the emotions of indignation and lust for conquest, his men then leapt to their feet and shouted their readiness to follow Hannibal. He praised them for their valour and fixed the date of D- day, which was about the end of May. In this episode Hannibal's actions were paralleled two thousand years later by another young general of about his age, like him about to cross the Alps, and again like Hannibal, to make his initial reputation thereby: Napoleon Bonaparte. From Carthagena Hannibal marched his army to the Ebro and then to Ampurias, through the Pyrenees and along the shore of the Mediterranean through the South of France, fighting much of the way. As far as the Rhone, there is little doubt about the route which Hannibal's army followed: but from the Rhone over the Alps into Italy, Hannibal's route has been a bone of contention for two thousand years.
Crossing of the Alps
Hannibal left Spain for Italy in the spring of 218 B.C. with about 35,000 seasoned troops. His force included a squadron of Elephants. The Romans planned to intercept him near Massilia (Marseille) and, after dealing with him, to invade Spain. Publius Cornelius Scipio was in charge of this operation, while Tiberius Sempronius led another army in Sicily, destined for Africa. However, Scipio had to sent his legions to deal with a Gallic revolt, and by the time he reached Massilia by sea, he learned that he had missed Hannibal by only a few days. Thereupon, Scipio returned to northern Italy and awaited Hannibal's arrival. In the meantime, Scipio had sent his brother Gnaue to Spain with an army to cut Hannibal off from his brother Hasdrubal. It appears that Hannibal crossed the Alps somewhere between the Little St Bernard and Montgenevre passes. He did not be-gin to cross until early fall, which meant that he encountered winter- like conditions in the Alpine region. His force suffered greatly from the elements and the hostility of local tribesmen. He lost most of his elephants, and by the time he reached northern Italy, his army was reduced to about 26,000 men, 6,000 of whom were Cavalry. However, the number was quickly raised to about 40,000 by the addition of Gauls.
Invasion of Italy
In the first engagement with Roman troops, Hannibal's cavalry won a minor victory over Scipio's forces near the Ticinus River. This was fol-lowed by a decisive victory at the Trebia River in December 218 B.C. over Roman legions led by Scipio and Sempronius, who was recalled from Sicily when Hannibal invaded Italy. Hannibal's superior numbers in cavalry and his ski in the combined use of cavalry and infantry were key factors in his success at the Trebia, as in later victories. Hannibal had a decided ad-vantage in northern Italy. where the Gauls were friendly to his cause and where his cavalry could operate in the broad plains. The Romans therefore decided to withdraw to central Italy and await Hannibal who began to cross the Apennines in the spring of 217. The mountains again proved costly both to his army and personally to Hannibal, who lost the sight of one eye from an infection. The Roman consuls for 217, Gaius Flaminius and Servilius Geminus, had stationed themselves at Arretium and Ariminum to guard both possible routs, west and east, by which Hannibal might cross the Apennines. Hannibal selected Flaminius' western routs, but the consul refused to give battle alone. Allowing Hannibal to pass, Flaminius followed, harassing the Carthaginian army and hoping to meet Geminus farther south, where they would jointly give battle.
However, Hannibal am-bushed Flaminius in a narrow pass near Lake Trasimene and destroyed almost his entire army of 25.000. At Rome, Quintius Fabius Maximus was elected dictator by the centuriate assembly. Rather than join battle with Hannibal, who had marched south into Apulia, he decided on a policy of caution and harassment that would keep Hannibal moving and gradually wear him down. Hannibal moved from Apulia into Campania, followed and watched by Fabius, who finally bottled him up in an area unfavourable to cavalry and decided to give battle. At night, how-ever, Hannibal sent oxen toward Fabius' army with burning sticks tied to their horns; while the Romans investigated what they considered an attack, he escaped with his army to ADulia, where he wintered.
The Battle of Cannae
When Fabuis' tenure as dicta-tor expired, the consuls for 216, Lueius Paullus and Gaius Varro, took charge of the war against Hannibal. On learning that Hannibal had captured the Roman depot at Cannae, in Apulia, the consuls decided to give battle, and Hannibal now faced two formidable armies. However, at Cannae he again selected ground favourable to his tactics and strong cavalry. while the Romans relied on their superior numbers and their fighting skill. Hannibal's plan called for his cavalry, positioned on the flanks of a crescent-shaped line, to defeat the Roman horsemen quickly and to at-tack the Roman infantry from the rear as it pressed upon a weakened centre of Spaniards and Gauls: his superior African troops, at the crucial moment. were to press from the flanks and complete the encirclement. The plan succeeded and the Romans suffered 25.000 dead and l0,000 captured.
Hannibal's Political Strategy The ancient were fond of debating why Hannibal did not immediately march on Rome following his victory at Cannae, but clearly he could not have taken the city having taken part in numerous battles across Italy. His main objective was not the total destruction of Rome but a settlement that would free Carthage from Ro-man intervention. Hannibal had hoped that his victories would bring about the wholesale defection of Italian cit-ies from the Roman confederacy. However, the only major defection from Rome was Capua. When it was obvious to Hannibal that he could not effectively surround Rome with a ring of hostile Italian states, he broadened the conflict to draw off Roman's manpower and to spread its resources thin. In 215 he made an alliance with Philip V of Macedon; doubtless he did not want Philip to invade Italy but merely to drain Roman strength by waging war in Greece. The alliance came to naught because Hannibal could not supply Philip with a navy and because Rome checked Philip with its own navy and Aetolian allies (first Macedonian War, 214-205). Hannibal also brought Syracuse into the war against Rome. Hiero, ruler of Syracuse and long an ally of Rome, died in 215. His grand- son, Hieronymous took control of the city and made an alliance with Hannibal. Hieronymous was soon killed in a revolt, but Punic agents gained control of Syracuse. However, Roman control of Sicily was generally restored by 211, when Syracuse fell.
Following the defeat at Cannae, the Romans resorted back to Fabius' tactics of harassing Hannibal while avoiding formal engagements. This seemed to have rendered Hannibal's tactical skill and superior cavalry ineffective. Consequently, the Romans were able to retake Capua although their resources were heavily stretched by Hannibal 's international diplomacy. However, the real blow to Hannibal came from without. In 209, the Romans took Carthagena and forced Hasdrubal out of Spain. This cut his main supply route off. When Romans discovered that Hasdrubal had crossed the Alps to link up with Hannibal they left a small force to watch Hannibal and marched quickly with their main force to the Metaurus River, where they defeated Hasdrubal. Hannibal learned of the defeat when Hasdrubal's head was thrown into his camp. Hannibal knew that he was without hope of reinforcement. For the rest of the Italian campaign he was generally restricted to Bruttium. Hannibal had no supporting navy and appeared indifferent to that Roman naval supremacy which in the first place was able to cut off reinforcements and in the second to bring about unimpeded the invasion of Carthage. Although his tactics in the field, as attested even by Scipio, were brilliants, and he himself by his personal appearances and quick marches up and down Italy dazzled the Ro-mans and complicated their strategy, he was at a decided disadvantage as regards reinforcements and provisions. In 204, the Italian general Scipio landed in Carthage and was so successful that the following year Carthage sued for peace, terms were agreed upon, and Hannibal was re-called.
The sight of Hannibal reinforced the Carthaginian will to resist, how-ever, and hostilities were renewed. The two armies met at Zama in 202, in a battle that decided the outcome of the war. This time Hannibal met his match; he was outnumbered by a superior cavalry and was let down by the commercially-minded rulers of Carthage. Hannibal, his army destroyed, escaped. Peace was made the next year. Rome severely restricted the Carthaginian navy and demanded a heavy indemnity. Carthage was for-bidden to make war outside its African domain, and could fight within Africa only with Roman permission. Since failure to accept the peace terms would have meant the destruction of Carthage, Hannibal worked for their acceptance and retired to private life in 200. In 196 Hannibal attacked the position, power, and corruption of the aristocrats so vigorously that they told the Romans he was scheming with Antiochus III of Syria and planning another war with Rome. A Roman investigation commission was sent to Carthage on a pretext, but Hannibal knew it was aimed at him, and he eventually made his way to Antiochus. The charge that Hannibal had plotted with Antiochus is unsupported, but after he became a member of the Syrian court he certainly advised the King to attack the Romans. After Antiochus defeat, Hannibal went to Prussia in 183 B.C., but the Ro-mans, by what means it is unknown, put themselves in a position to demand his surrender. Unable this time to escape arrest, Hannibal took his own life rather than suffer further humiliation.
Hannibal Barca: Military Genius