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A beardless Hannibal on a coin by Hannibal.
A beardless Melqart on a coin
of Hannibal (!!)
The Carthaginian general Hannibal (247-182 BCE) was one of the greatest military leaders in history. His most famous campaign took place during the Second Punic War (218-202), when he caught the Romans off guard by crossing the Alps.

This is the second part of an article; the first part can be found here.

Youth (247-219) Livy: Periochae The Alps I
Saguntum to Cannae (219-216) Appian: Hannibal The Alps II
Cannae to Zama (216-202) Appian: Spain
Looking for Revenge (202-182) Appian: Africa
Assessment, the online home of Ancient Warfare magazine
Bust of Philip V. Palazzo Massimo all terme, Roma (Italy). Photo Jona Lendering.
Philip V of Macedonia
(Palazzo Massimo alle terme,

From Cannae to Zama (216-202)

However, the Senate refused to come to terms and Rome's closest allies, those in central Italy, remained loyal. Therefore, Hannibal endorsed a larger strategy to make the Romans dissipate their strength. In the winter, he launched a diplomatic offensive, and in 215 he secured an alliance with king Philip V of Macedonia. Syracuse became a Carthaginian ally in 214.

Meanwhile, the Romans regained self-confidence and ground: Hannibal's attempts to capture ports like Cumae and Puteoli -necessary to receive fresh troops- failed. In the end, this would seal his fate.

Hannibal realized the problem and decided that he had to abandon his offensives in central Italy. He had been in Italy for almost four years, and his army still needed reinforcements. Therefore, he turned his attention to southern Italy, where he captured Tarentum and several other ports (213), facilitating the supply of new soldiers from Macedonia and Carthage. Rome countered this by an alliance with the Greek towns in Aetolia; the Aetolian League started a war against Macedonia. Although Carthage sent an army to Sicily, Hannibal himself received hardly any troops.

The third phase Second Punic war. Design Jona Lendering.
Second phase of the
Second Punic war (**)

In 212, Rome was able to take the initiative again and started to cut off Hannibal's lines of contact. First, it sent armies to recapture Syracuse and Capua. Syracuse was betrayed to Marcellus and re-entered the Roman alliance. (The famous scientist Archimedes of Syracuse was killed during the fights: text.) The Roman siege of Capua lasted for a long time and seemed to end in failure, but Hannibal realized that his exhausted troops would not be able to hold it. He therefore tried to force his enemies to raise their siege by a diversionary attack on Rome itself. He camped in front of the walls of Rome, but the Romans knew their city could not be taken. They continued the siege of Capua, and took it in 211.

Coin of Hasdrubal.
Hasdrubal (!!)
Slowly, the Romans pushed Hannibal southward. In 209, they recaptured Tarentum. Hannibal's situation became difficult and his government was unwilling to risk extra troops: the lines of contact were too long. Therefore, Hannibal decided to ask help from his brother Hasdrubal, who was still in charge of the Iberian armies. This time, the Romans were not surprised by the Carthaginian invasion across the Alps: Hasdrubal was defeated at the river Metaurus before he could contact his brother (207). Hannibal's hope of reinforcement had evaporated.

The Romans hunted him down in southern Italy, but Hannibal was able to continue a kind of guerilla war in the 'toe' of Italy. (Several modern scholars have argued that Hannibal destroyed the countryside of southern Italy, but the archaeological data contradict this. The radical changes must be dated to the second century, when the Romans introduced mass slavery to their plantages.)

Portrait bust of P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus. Musei Capitolini, Roma (Italy). Photo Marco Prins.
 P. Cornelius Scipio Africanus
(Musei Capitolini)
Meanwhile, the Romans conquered Iberia. This proved harder than they had suspected. After some initial successes, the Roman generals were killed in action and almost all was lost. However, a young commander, Publius Cornelius Scipio, took the Carthaginian capital of Iberia, Cartagena, by surprise and brought the Spanish war to a good end in 206. After a short while, Scipio was sent to Sicily and across the Mediterranean. He found an ally in the Numidian king Massinissa, and attacked Carthage itself. Unlike the Roman Senate, which had not panicked when Rome was under attack by Hannibal, the Carthaginian government was disheartened and recalled Hannibal's still unconquered veterans from Italy (203).

The decisive battle of the Second Punic War was therefore, thanks to Roman stubbornness, not fought on Italian soil, but in Africa. After several preliminary engagements, the armies of Scipio and Hannibal clashed at Zama (19 October 202). Hannibal tried to repeat his Cannae tactics, but Scipio had better cavalry than the unfortunate consuls fourteen years before. Hannibal's encircling movement failed, and the Carthaginians were defeated. Hannibal escaped to Carthage, where he advised negotiations. In 201, peace was signed. Rome asked an enormous prize: it demanded the Carthaginian fleet, recognition of the Roman conquests in Iberia, and an indemnity of no less than 10,000 talents, to be paid in fifty annual installments. Hannibal was forced to resign as a general.


Coin of the Seleucid king Antiochus III the Great. British Museum, London (Britain). Photo Marco Prins.
Antiochus III the Great
(British Museum, London)

Looking for revenge (202-182)

Carthage's economy was ruined and in 196 the people of Carthage choose Hannibal as suffete. In this capacity, Hannibal promoted a moderate democracy, reorganized the revenues, and took measures to stimulate agriculture and commerce. However, the constitutional reform clipped the wings of the landed aristocracy; its members informed the Roman Senate of Hannibal's plan to ally Carthage with the Seleucid Empire (i.e., Turkey, Syria, Palestine, Iraq and Iran); they suggested that Hannibal wanted to invade Italy a second time, if only the Seleucid king Antiochus III the Great gave him an army. It is unknown if this accusation was true, but when the Romans sent a commission of inquiry, Hannibal fled to Antioch, the capital of the Seleucid Empire. He had been in power for less than a year. His house was destroyed.

The Syrian war. Design Jona Lendering.
The Syrian war (**)
In these years, both Rome and the Seleucid king showed an interest in Greece and Macedonia. Rome defeated king Philip in the Second Macedonian War (200-197), and unexpectedly recalled their troops - leaving Greece unprotected against a Seleucid invasion. Antiochus swallowed the bait and invaded Greece (192). In this Syrian War, Hannibal advised Antiochus to invade Italy. It is easy to guess who was to be the commander of the expeditionary force. Instead, he was given a minor naval command; he was defeated in a naval battle off Side by Rome's maritime ally Rhodes (190).

Rome inflicted a devastating defeat upon its enemy near Magnesia, and Antiochus had to accept that what is now Turkey was to be added to the small kingdom Pergamon, a Roman ally (Peace of Apamea, 188). One of the Seleucid governors became independent: his name was Artaxias and he proclaimed himself king of Greater Armenia. Hannibal, whose life was in danger when he remained at the Syrian court, stayed with Artaxias, who followed his advice to built a new capital, Artaxata (modern Yerevan).

Later, Hannibal had to flee again: this time, he found refuge at the court of king Prusias I of Bithynia, whom he supported in its war against the Pergamene king Eumenes II Soter. As an admiral, the Carthaginian celebrated his last victory, defeating the Pergamene fleet (184). However, Rome intervened in Pergamon's favor, and Hannibal poisoned himself to avoid extradition (winter 183/182).

The place where this happened, Libyssa, was venerated by later generations. Among the pilgrims were Romans; the monument erected by the emperor Septimius Severus (193-211) was still visible in the eleventh century.


The Mediterranean world of the third and second centuries was in a process of transforming itself into some kind of unity. It had been a divided region in the fifth and fourth centuries, but now it was reorganizing itself, both culturally and politically. The creation of one, big Mediterranean Empire was inevitable, and the issue of the Second Punic War was whether this Mediterranean Empire would have a Roman or a Carthaginian face.

This does not mean that Rome or Carthage were actually aiming at world dominion. It simply means that their imperia were a consequence of a process of cultural homogenization. One way or another, some kind of Mediterranean unity was bound to come, and the big question was whether the Greek-Roman or the Phoenician-Carthaginian culture was to be the crystallization point. After Hannibal's death, Roman power was not seriously challenged for almost six centuries.


The most important ancient sources on Hannibal are Livy's books 21-39 (an ancient excerpt can be found here) and books 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, and 16 of the World History by Polybius of Megalopolis. Both make excellent reading. Additional information can be found in Appian's Roman history, especially the parts on the Hannibalic war, the Spanish war, the African war, and the Syrian War.

One of the many modern biographies: Serge Lancel, Hannibal (1995 Paris).

Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 1995
Revision: 23 August 2009
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