Hannibal (1)

Hannibal (Phoenician: Hanba'al, "mercy of Ba'al"; †406): son of Gesco, Carthaginian commander, notorious for his hatred of the Greeks.

Sicily in Antiquity
Sicily in Antiquity

In the battle of Himera in 480, the Carthaginian leader Hamilcar, son of Hanno, was defeated by Gelon, the tyrant of Syracuse. The Sicilian Greeks widely believed that Gelon's victory meant the end of a Carthaginian attempt to conquer the whole island, and perhaps rightly so. Hamilcar committed suicide, and his family did not return to Carthage. Instead, his son Gesco lived as an exile in the Greek city of Selinus.

However, the family was not forever out of favor and Gesco's son Hannibal, the subject of this article, was a respected man and a trusted soldier, who lived in Carthage. In 410, war broke out between Selinus and the native city of Segesta, which appealed for help in Carthage. The Carthaginian mercenaries defended the town, and when the Selinuntians had been repelled, Syracuse promised to come to the help of Selinus.

In 409 or 408, Hannibal landed near Lilybaeum in the far west, with an army that consisted of Carthaginian citizens, mercenaries from several parts of Europe, and native Libyans. He advanced to Selinus, which he captured. The inhabitants were killed, a Syracusan relief force led by Diocles was evaded, and Hannibal proceeded to Himera, the city where his grandfather had been defeated seventy-two years before. After the capture of the city, Hannibal ordered the torture and execution of three thousand Greek POWs. In the autumn, Hannibal returned to Carthage, where he celebrated his victories.

In the Greek part of the island, a serious crisis started when the exiled Syracusan leader Hermocrates returned to Sicily and started to raid the Carthaginian territories with a private army. His successes created uneasiness in Syracuse, where the exile was favorably compared to Diocles, who was now sent into exile too. When Hermocrates tried to return to his city, civil war broke out, and he was killed. Now, Syracuse was leaderless.

The Carthaginians were encouraged, and attacked for the second time. Again, the Greeks believed that their opponents now wanted to conquer the entire island, and this time this was certainly true. Carthage may even have concluded a deal with Athens, which would ensure that Syracuse's Greek allies Corinth and Sparta would not come tot the assistance of the Sicilians. (These years were those of the Peloponnesian War.) In 406, Hannibal returned to Sicily, and founded a new city, Thermae, near the ruins of Himera. Then, he proceeded to Acragas, with an army of Spanish, Campanian, and Balearic mercenaries, Carthaginian elite troops, and native Libyan levies.

The war for Acragas was intense, because it received support from Syracuse, Gela, Camarina, Messina, and the cities of southern Italy; Acragas had also hired mercenaries in Campania and Greece. At first, the united Greek army was able to repel the besiegers, but with so many people crowded in one place, it comes as no surprise that a plague broke out. Among those who died was Hannibal, who was succeeded by Himilco.

In the spring of 405, he defeated his opponents, captured Acragas, sacked it, and advanced to Gela.

Although the Carthaginians did not conquer the entire island, Hannibal had for the first time organized the Sicilian province, which was to remain a contested bu stable possession of the Carthaginian empire until the Romans conquered it, a century and a half later, in the First Punic War (264-241).

The main source for Hannibal's career is Diodorus of Sicily, World History, book 13.

This page was created in 2004; last modified on 9 April 2020.