In the 3rd century BC two mighty powers were spreading their influences across the Mediterranean – Carthage and Rome. This was long before Rome was an Empire, in fact Rome barely controlled Italy at this point. Carthage was a Phoenician city who at their peak excelled at maritime trade. But only one of these powers could survive. As a young boy Hannibal Barca was exposed to war, his father Hamilcar Barca fought in the first Punic war, and legend has it that he made Hannibal promise him to always be an enemy of Rome. Hannibal was born in 247BC and at the age of 28 he began his war with Rome, he led an attack on the city of Saguntum who were allies of Rome. Why? to lure Rome into war. It worked! Rome sent an army to Saguntum. The second Punic war had begun! Hannibal was not going to wait around for the Romans though, he had other ideas. While the Roman army was sailing over to Spain, Hannibal came up with a plan to march his army to Rome!
En route to Spain the Roman fleet stopped near Marseille to resupply, the Romans found Hannibal’s camp, and came to the conclusion Hannibal must be heading for Rome! They sailed back to Rome to assemble a larger army to defend the homeland. Hannibal realised the Romans had found out about his plan to take the war to Rome, to avoid a sudden conflict he took a detour through the Alps. fifty thousand men and thirty seven elephants marched up the Alps reaching heights of eight thousand feet, with no time to stop and little food the massive army whom most of had never seen snow before struggled on, they eventually made it onto Roman territory, half had died or deserted but Hannibal was ready to give Rome its biggest fright ever.
After several battles, all of which Hannibal was victorious, Rome assembled an army which consisted of eighty five thousand men, this was the largest army Rome had ever amassed. The battle of Cannae took place in August 216BC, it was a bloodbath – sixty thousand Romans were killed. Hannibal was victorious again, and it looked like the end for Rome. But Hannibal never invaded the city, instead he expected Rome to surrender, which of course, they didn’t. But why didn’t Hannibal invade the city? Maybe it’s because he didn’t have any siege weapons and was in dire need of reinforcements, he sent his brother Mago home to try and convince Carthage to send more men so they could finally take Rome. Mago was indeed given men but was ordered to defend Spain.
Hannibal was left in Italy for seven years and with no reinforcements he couldn’t complete his final assault on Rome. During this time Rome had built yet another new army, and finally came up with a solution to get rid of Hannibal – Invade Carthage! Scipio started his war on Carthage by reclaiming Spanish territories lost to Hannibal and after he returned triumphant he planned his attack on Carthage. Hannibal was finally called back to Carthage to save the city when the Romans came knocking but it was all but too late. Scipio successfully beat Hannibal at the Battle of Zama. Hannibal fled and lived on for another 19 years, eventually the Romans tracked him down, but before they got to him, he killed himself.
Sources – BBC, National Geographic, History Channel, Timothy B. Shutt – Wars That Made the Western World
The awesome map at the top is from the book, Atlas of Empires by Peter Davidson.
To this day nobody knows what Hannibal Barca looked like, it is a topic which is highly debated. It really goes without saying that Giulio Romano’s renaissance masterpiece is from the 16th century is of course inaccurate, and the statue in the image above is probably the most well known image of Hannibal, but it looks very Roman to me. Consider that ultimately the Romans destroyed Carthage and probably destroyed what little surviving evidence of Hannibal there was.