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Hannibal Barca


Hannibal Barca is considered one of the great generals of history. He was the leader of the army for the city of Carthage and spent his life waging war on the city of Rome.

Growing Up

Hannibal was born in the city of Carthage. Carthage was a powerful city in North Africa (the modern day country of Tunisia) on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Carthage was the major rival to the Roman Republic in the Mediterranean for many years. Hannibal's father, Hamilcar Barca, was a general in the Carthage army and had fought Rome during the First Punic War.

Statue of Hannibal
Hannibal by Sebastian Slodtz
Growing up, Hannibal wanted to be a soldier like his father. He had two brothers, Hasdrubal and Mago, and a number of sisters. When Hannibal's father went to the Iberian Peninsula (Spain) to gain control of the region for Carthage, Hannibal begged to come along. His father only agreed to let him come after Hannibal swore a sacred oath that he would always remain an enemy of Rome.

Early Career

Hannibal rose quickly in the ranks of the army. He learned how to be a leader and a general from his father. However, his father died in 228 BCE when Hannibal was 18 years old. For the next 8 years Hannibal studied under his brother-in-law Hasdrubal the Fair. When Hasdrubal was assassinated by a slave, Hannibal became the general of the Carthage army in Iberia.

In his first few years as general, Hannibal continued his father's conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. He conquered several cities and extended the reach of Carthage. However, soon Rome became concerned over the strength of Hannibal's army. They made an alliance with the city of Saguntum on the coast of Spain. When Hannibal conquered Saguntum, Rome declared war on Carthage and the Second Punic War began.

Second Punic War

Hannibal decided to take the war to Rome. He would lead his army overland, through Spain, Gaul (France), over the Alps, and into Italy. He hoped to conquer Rome. His army departed the city of New Carthage (Cartagena) on the coast of Spain in the spring of 218 BCE.

Map of the route Hannibal to Rome from Spain
Hannibal's route to Rome by Ducksters

Crossing the Alps

Hannibal's army quickly advanced towards Italy until it reached the Alps. The Alps were tall mountains with difficult weather and terrain. The Romans felt safe, thinking that no general would dare to lead their army through the Alps. Hannibal did the unthinkable, however, and marched his army across the Alps. Historians differ on how many troops Hannibal had when he first entered the Alps, but it was somewhere between 40,000 and 90,000 troops. He also had around 12,000 cavalry and 37 elephants. When Hannibal reached the other side of the Alps, his army was greatly reduced. He arrived in Italy with around 20,000 soldiers, 4,000 horsemen, and a few elephants.

Battles in Italy

Once across the Alps, Hannibal engaged in battle with the Roman army at the Battle of Trebia. However, he first gained new troops from the Gauls of Po Valley who wanted to overthrow Roman rule. Hannibal soundly defeated the Romans at Trebia and continued to advance on Rome. Hannibal continued to win more battles against the Romans including the Battle of Lake Trasimene and the Battle of Cannae.

Map of the Battle of Trebia
The Battle of Trebia by Frank Martini
A Long War and Retreat

Hannibal and his army advanced to within a short distance of Rome before they were stopped. At this point the war became a stalemate. Hannibal stayed in Italy for several years constantly battling Rome. However, the Romans had more manpower and eventually wore down Hannibal's army. Nearly fifteen years after arriving in Italy, Hannibal retreated back to Carthage in 203 BCE.

End of the War

After returning to Carthage, Hannibal prepared the army for an attack by Rome. The final battle of the Second Punic War took place at the Battle of Zuma in 202 BCE. It was at Zuma that the Romans finally defeated Hannibal. Carthage was forced to sign a peace treaty giving up control of Spain and the Western Mediterranean to Rome.

Later Life and Death

After the war, Hannibal went into politics in Carthage. He was a respected statesman for several years. However, he still hated Rome and wanted to see the city defeated. He eventually went into exile in Turkey where he plotted against Rome. When the Romans came after him in 183 BCE, he fled to the countryside where he poisoned himself in order to avoid being captured.

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