Hannibal

Definition

by
published on 28 April 2011
Map of Hannibals Route into Italy (The Department of History, United States Military Academy)

Hannibal, son of Hamilcar Barca, (248–183 or 182 BC), commonly known as Hannibal was a Carthaginian military commander and tactician who is popularly credited as one of the most talented commanders in history. His father Hamilcar Barca was the leading Carthaginian commander during the First Punic War. Hannibal lived during a period of tension in the Mediterranean, when Rome (then the Roman Republic) established its supremacy over other great powers such as Carthage, and the Hellenistic kingdoms of Macedon, Syracuse, and the Seleucid empire.

One of Hannibal's most famous achievements was at the outbreak of the Second Punic War, when he marched an army, which included war elephants, from Iberia over the Pyrenees and the Alps into northern Italy. In his first few years in Italy, he won three dramatic victories Trebia, Trasimene and Cannae and made several Roman allies. Hannibal occupied much of Italy for 15 years, however a Roman counter-invasion of North Africa forced Hannibal to return to Carthage, where he was decisively defeated by Scipio Africanus at the Battle of Zama. Scipio studied Hannibal's tactics and brilliantly devised some of his own, and finally defeated Rome's nemesis at Zama having previously driven Hasdrubal, Hannibal's brother, out of Spain.

One of Hannibal's most famous achievements was when he marched an army, which included war elephants, from Iberia over the Pyrenees and the Alps into northern Italy.

After the war Hannibal successfully ran for the office of suffete. He enacted political and financial reforms to enable the payment of the war indemnity imposed by Rome. However, Hannibal's reforms were unpopular with members of the Carthaginian aristocracy and Rome, and he fled into voluntary exile. During his exile, he lived at the Seleucid court, where he acted as military advisor to Antiochus III in his war against Rome. After Antiochus met defeat and was forced to accept Rome's terms, Hannibal fled again, making a stop in Armenia. His flight ended in the court of Bithynia, where he achieved an outstanding naval victory against a fleet from Pergamum. He was afterwards betrayed to the Romans, but Hannibal was determined not to fall into his enemies' hands. He poisoned himself at Libyssa on the eastern shore of the Sea of Marmara. Before dying, he left behind a letter declaring: "Let us relieve the Romans from the anxiety they have so long experienced, since they think it tries their patience too much to wait for an old man's death".

Often regarded as the greatest military tactician and strategist in history, Hannibal would later be considered as one of the greatest generals of antiquity, together with Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Scipio, and Pyrrhus of Epirus. Plutarch relates that, when questioned by Scipio as to who was the greatest general, Hannibal is said to have replied either Alexander, Pyrrhus, then himself, or, according to another version of the event, Pyrrhus, Scipio, then himself. He was regarded as a "gifted strategist" by men like Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington. His life has been the basis for a number of films and documentaries.



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Timeline

Visual Timeline
  • 409 BCE
    Selinus on Sicily is sacked by Hannibal.
  • 248 BCE - c. 182 BCE
    Life of Hannibal.
  • 218 BCE - 201 BCE
    Second Punic War. Hannibal leads 50,000 foot soldiers, 9000 cavalry, and 37 war elephants over the Pyrennees and the Alps.
  • Dec 218 BCE
    Battle of Trebia.
  • c. 217 BCE - 218 BCE
    30,000 Celtic infantry and 4,000 Celtic cavalry join Hannibal. Celts constitute just over 50% of his army in Italy.
  • 217 BCE
    Victory of Hannibal over the Romans at Lake Trasimene.
  • c. 21 Jul 217 BCE
    Battle of Lake Trasimene.
  • 216 BCE
    Battle of Cannae. Worst defeat in Roman history, against Carthage.
  • 216 BCE
    "Hannibal ante portas." Hannibal directly threatens the city of Rome, but cannot advance due to lack of supplies and reinforcements.
  • c. 2 Aug 216 BCE
    Hannibal defeats the Romans at the Battle of Cannae.
  • 202 BCE
    Battle of Zama. The Carthaginian army is defeated, Hannibal flees to Hadrumentum.
  • 195 BCE
    Facing the threat of being handed to the Romans as a result of the opposition to the reforms he initiated in Carthage, Hannibal flees to Crete and then to Tyre, in Seleucid territory. He will become one of the military advisors of king Antiochos III Megas in his war against Rome.
  • c. 183 BCE
    As an ambassador to the Hellenistic kingdom of Bithynia, T. Quinctius Flamininus, the general who defeated Macedon, demands that Hannibal should be surrendered in Roman hands. As king Prusias gives in, Hannibal commits suicide in the village of Libyssa, in order to escape captivity. The Roman Senate did not approve of Flamininus' action.

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