GoTo

Hannibal Barca (247 BC - c.183-181 BC)

Hannibal Barca was born in present-day Tunisia. His father, Hamilcar Barca, was a general of the city-state of ancient Carthage. The Carthaginian Empire had territory all around the Mediterranean coastline, throughout north Africa and into parts of Europe. It had a powerful navy and relied heavily on trade. However, the First Punic War between the Carthaginians and Rome (264 BC - 241 BC) saw this powerful navy destroyed (although hundreds of ships were lost on both sides). Rome was victorious, and Hamilcar, as one of the Carthaginian generals in the war, had tasted defeat. The enmity with Rome was not going to just go away...

Two mighty powers encroaching upon each other

Hamilcar drowned in a naval battle when Hannibal was 18. Hannibal's brother-in-law, Hasdrubal, became the military commander. He was assassinated in 221 BC and the Carthaginians once more looked to the Barca family to lead the army; Hannibal was now in command. The Carthaginian forces had been busy conquering Iberia, something which made Rome uneasy. Hannibal was itching to revenge the defeat his father had suffered in the First Punic War and it wasn't much longer before the Second Punic War broke out (218 BC). Hannibal had already proven himself on the battlefield against the Iberian tribes; now he was ready to show the ancient world that Rome was vulnerable...

A huge army, including 37 war elephants, marches on Rome

According to ancient sources, Hannibal marched rapidly into Roman territory, crossing the Alps with a force of thousands of infantry and cavalry...and elephants! The great strategist met the Roman forces at the Battle of the Trebia (northern Italy). Hannibal had 40,000 men and the Romans had 42,000 men. Hannibal planned his battle tactics carefully and won a resounding victory, losing around 5,000 men to the Roman losses of around 28,000! In 217 BC another major battle was fought, at Lake Trasimene (Umbria, Italy). Hannibal now commanded 55,000 soldiers, facing a Roman army of 30,000. Yet again, the Romans were decimated, losing 15,000 to around 2,500 Carthaginians. Hannibal had ambushed the Romans and was bearing down on Rome. His greatest victory was on the horizon...

An amazing victory leads to stalemate

In 216 BC, Hannibal met another Roman army at Cannae (south-east Italy). The Roman Republic put out a huge force of 86,400 with the hope it could wipe out the 50,000 men fighting for Hannibal. The Romans attacked with a deep central formation which allowed Hannibal to use a pincer movement, attacking the weaker Roman flanks. Hannibal's center retreated slowly and carefully, while the Romans basically marched themselves into a corner, surrounded by the Carthaginian forces. The Romans were annihilated - losing 53-75,000 men compared to Hannibal's losses of around 5,000. But Hannibal did not have enough power and equipment to take Rome, and the Romans learned from their defeats by employing Fabian strategy (from Roman Consul Quintus Fabius Maximus): skirmishes and attritional warfare whilst avoiding pitched battles. Hannibal's downfall took time, but it seemed inevitable...

Scipio Africanus learns from Hannibal

Hannibal spent 15 years fighting in Italy. He won some great victories, but Rome still stood in defiance. Rome had managed to rebuild its forces and now had a great general of its own to face Hannibal, in Scipio Africanus. Hannibal was recalled to Carthage to defend against Scipio's invasion. In 202 BC, Scipio and Hannibal fought at the Battle of Zama (in modern Tunisia). 35,000 Romans defeated 40,000 Carthaginians and Hannibal had to retreat. The Second Punic War was over, and Carthage was punished so heavily by the Roman Republic that it never became a real threat again.

Dan the Info-man
In the Third Punic War (149 BC - 146 BC) the Romans completely destroyed Carthage, with many thousands of Carthaginians killed or enslaved.

Why "Punic"?

The three Punic Wars were fought between Carthage and Rome, so why were they known as "Punic"? Romans spoke Latin, and the Latin word for "Carthaginians" was "Punici"...hence the name.

Death and legacy

Hannibal was not killed at Zama and served other regional powers for many years. It is unclear how he died, although fever from a wound has been recorded. His legacy as a master of strategy has lived on, with many considering him one of the greatest military commanders that ever lived. His tactics are still studied by historians and future military leaders.

Dan the Info-man
This is a statue of Hannibal in the Tuileries Garden in Paris.
Have a comment or suggestion?