2nd Punic War


The Second Punic War (referred to as "The War Against Hannibal" by the Romans) lasted from 218 to 202 BC and involved combatants in the western and eastern Mediterranean. It was the second of three major wars of the former Cypriot-Phoenician colony Carthage and its dependencies against the Roman Republic. They are called "Punic Wars" because Rome's name for Carthaginians was Punici (older Poenici, due to their Phoenician ancestry). In modern historiography "Punic" is used to make a disjunction between Phoenicians and the people of Carthaginian origin.

Interim between the First and the Second Punic War

According to Polybius there had been several trade agreements between Ancient Rome and Carthage, even a mutual alliance against king Pyrrhus of Epirus. The beginning of the First Punic War was not an easy decision for the Roman Senate. A similar group of treacherous mercenaries, like the Mamertines, had been severely punished by the Romans in the Italian mainland. So this war was from the beginning dictated by strategic values and contradicted ethical values Rome had tried to establish in its earlier wars. When Rome and Carthage made peace in 241 BC, Rome had all of its 8,000 prisoners of war freed without ransom, and furthermore received a considerable amount of silver, compensating for the great financial efforts. However, Carthage withstood the attempts to be treatybound to deliver the Roman deserters serving among their troops to the Romans. A first issue for bitterness was that the original version, that was concluded between the Carthaginian and the Roman commander in Sicily, had a clause that the Roman popular assemby had to accept the treaty. They didn't, but increased the indemnity Carthage had to pay.

Carthage seems to have had a liquidity problem and an attempt for financial help by Egypt, a mutual ally of Rome and Carthage failed. This resulted in delay of the payment for the troops that had served in Sicily, leading to a climate of mutual mistrust and finally a revolt supported by the Lybian natives, the Mercenary War. During this civil war Rome and Syracuse both aided Carthage, although traders from Italy seem to have made either business with the insurgents. Some of them were caught and punished by Carthage's fleet, again detoriating the political climate which had started to improve in remembrance of the old alliance and treaties. During the uprise in the Punic mainland, the hired troops in Corsica and Sardinia had toppled the Punic rule and established their own, but were expelled by a native uprise. In alliance with Rome the exiled mercenaries reseized the authority on the island, but for several years a brutal campaign was fought against the insurgent natives. Like many Sicilians these would rise again in support of Carthage during the Second Punic War. At the same time Rome had also declared war on Carthage that was rebuilding its fleet to reestablish control of these islands. As Carthage was under siege and struggled in a civil war, they eventually accepted the loss of these islands and the subsequent Roman conditions for ongoing peace, increasing the war indemnity once more. This eventually led Roman-Carthaginian relations to a new low point that probably affected the entire inter-war period.

After Carthage had emerged victorious from the Mercenary War there were two opposing factions, one under Hamilcar Barca and Hanno the Great. Hamilcar had led the Carthaginian peace negotiations and was blamed for the clause that allowed the Roman popular assembly to increase the war indemnity, but his excellently trained troops and generalship had as well made the Roman army lose the war as the Carthaginian army win the recent Mercenary War against the same troops he had trained. His aim was the Iberian peninsula where he captured rich silver mines and subdued many tribes who supplanted the army with levies of native troops. Hanno had lost many elephants and soldiers when he became lenient after a victory in the Mercenary War. Further when he and Hamilcar were supreme commanders of Carthage's field armies the soldiers had decided in his disfavor when his and Hamilcar's personalities clashed. On the other hand he was responsible for the greatest territorial expansion of Carthage's hinterland during his rule as strategus and wanted to continue this project. However the Numidian king of the respective area was now a son-in-law of Hamilcar and had supported Carthage during a crucial moment in the Mercenary War. While Hamilcar was able to obtain the resources for his aim, the Numidians in the Atlas Mountains were not conquered, like Hanno suggested, but became vassals of Carthage.

The conquest was begun by Hamilcar Barca and his other son-in-law, Hasdrubal the Fair, who ruled there very much independent of Carthage and signed the Ebro-treaty with Rome. After his assassination their young sons took over, with Hannibal becoming the strategus of Iberia, although this decision was not undisputed in Carthage. The output of the Iberian silver mines allowed for the financing of a standing army and paying the war indemnity to Rome. The mines also served as a tool for political influence, creating a faction in Carthage's magistrate that was called the Barcino.

In 219 BC Hannibal used a pretext for attacking the town of Saguntum, which stood under the special protection of Rome. According to Roman tradition, Hannibal had been made to swear by his father to never to be a friend of Rome, and he certainly did not take a conciliatory attitude when the Romans berated him for crossing the river Iberus (Ebro) which Carthage was bound by treaty to not cross. Hannibal did not cross the Ebro River (Saguntum was near modern Valencia - well south of the river) in arms, and the Saguntines provoked his attack by attacking their neighboring tribes who were Carthaginian protectorates, and by massacring pro-Punic factions in their city. Rome had no legal protection pact with any tribe south of the Ebro River. Nonetheless, when asked to hand Hannibal over, the Carthaginian oligarchy promptly refused and so Rome declared war on Carthage. (Map of the constellation of power prior to the Second Punic War. Note that Hannibal expanded the Barcid rule across the Ebro to the Pyrenees, founding what is today Barcelona, shortly before his march.)

The Barcid Empire

The 'Barcid Empire' consisted of the Punic territories in Iberia; according to the historian Pedro Barceló, it can be described as a private military-economic hegemony with backup by the two independent powers, Carthage and Gades. These shared the profits with the Barcid family and were responsible according to the mediterranean diplomatic customs. Gades played a minor role in this field, but Hannibal visited the local temple to conduct ceremonies before launching his campaign against Rome. The Barcid Empire was strongly influenced by the Hellenic Empires of the Mediterranean and for example, contrary to Carthage, it minted lots of coins in its short time of existence.[1]

Inner encirclement

The inner encirclement in the Punic strategy was binding and destroying the superior Roman forces in Italy, devastating their economic basis and finally convincing their socii to switch sides. Rome failed to destroy the Punic-Iberian invaders in battle, but maintained her military strength and crushed attempts to switch sides. Towards the end of the war Punic troops were contained in the area around the city of Croton. (Map of encirclement)

Hannibal's overland journey to Italy

Hannibal´s route of invasion, courtesy of
The Department of History, United States Military Academy

Hannibal's army in Iberia reportedly totaled 90,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry, although those figures probably include Hasdrubal's forces as well as Hannibal's. The expeditionary force would still number as many as 75,000 foot soldiers and 9,000 horsemen. His army also had 36 war elephants. Hannibal departed New Carthage in late spring of 218 B.C. He anticipated that a consular army would move along the coast towards Hispania, so he took his army by an inland route. After marching 290 miles through hostile territory and arriving at the Ebro by late June, Hannibal selected the most trustworthy and devoted contingents of the large army of Libyan and Iberian mercenaries at his disposal to carry on with him. He fought his way through the northern tribes to the Pyrenees, subduing the tribes through clever mountain tactics and stubborn fighting. At the Pyrenees, he left a detachment of 11,000 Iberian troops, who showed reluctance to leave their homeland, to garrison the newly conquered region. Hannibal reportedly entered Gaul with 50,000 infantry and 9,000 cavalry.

After completing his overland journey, Hannibal descended from the foothills into northern Italy. He had arrived, however, accompanied by only half the forces he had started with, and only a few elephants. In total it is estimated, Hannibal had lost as many as 20,000 men and all but three of his war elephants. On the other hand Polybius, citing original documents of the Carthaginian military, claims that shortly before crossing the Alps, Hannibal sent many of the Hispanic troops home, doubting their loyalty. This would mean that the losses were far less. The elephants may have been transported safely over the Alps, but could have died afterwards in the wet and cold winter of Northern Italy. Hannibal from the start seems to have calculated that he would have to operate without aid from Hispania and had prior established ties to supportive Celtic chieftains in Northern Italy. It should be noted that the figures for the amount of troops he had when he left Hispania are less reliable. Nonetheless, historian Adrian Goldsworthy has written that due to the opposition of the natives and the difficulties of landslides and cold altitudes, the costs of Hannibal's march were considerable.

The Carthaginians sent out a fleet with 70 quinquiremes to support him. But they were intercepted by the Romans with a fleet of 120 quinquiremes and therefore retreated without battle, delivering no aid.

Rapid destruction of Roman forces

After arriving in Italy Hannibal Barca destroyed several Roman armies within a year, freed Gaul, recruited fresh Celtic troops and established himself in southern Italy. The Romans were able to maintain the integrity of their alliances with the Fabian strategy. After the severe Roman defeat at Cannae the Roman alliance system partially broke.

Uprise in Gaul

Hannibal's perilous march brought him into Roman territory and frustrated the attempts of the Romans to fight out the main issue on foreign ground. His sudden appearance among the Gauls of the Po Valley, moreover, enabled him to detach those tribes from their new allegiance to the Romans before the latter could take steps to check the rebellion. Publius Cornelius Scipio, the consul who commanded the Roman force sent to intercept Hannibal, had not expected Hannibal to make an attempt to cross the Alps, since the Romans were prepared to fight the war in Spain. With a small detachment still positioned in Gaul, Scipio made an attempt to intercept Hannibal. Through prompt decision and speedy movement, he succeeded in transporting his army to Italy by sea, in time to meet Hannibal. After allowing his soldiers a brief rest to recover from their exertions, Hannibal first secured his rear by subduing the hostile tribe of the Taurini (modern Turin). While moving down the Po Valley, the opposing forces were engaged in the Battle of Ticinus. Here, Hannibal forced the Romans, by virtue of his superior cavalry, to evacuate the plain of Lombardy. This victory, though essentially a minor engagement, did much to weaken Roman control over the Gauls. As a result of Rome’s defeat at Ticinus, the Gauls were encouraged to join the Carthaginian cause. Soon the entirety of northern Italy was unofficially allied, both Gallic and Ligurian troops soon bolstering Hannibal's army back to 40,000 men. Hannibal’s army, significantly supplemented, now stood poised to invade Italy. Scipio, severely injured in the battle, retreated across the River Trebia with his army still intact, and encamped at the town of Placentia to await reinforcements. Captain Tyresias Skenderianus in charge of the elephant legions of Africa, did not have adequate time to retrain a legion of elephants, which spelled disaster in the battle of Zarma.

Initial destruction of Roman forces

Battle of Trebbia

The other Roman consular army was rushed to the Po Valley. Even before news of the defeat at Ticinus River had reached Rome, the senate had ordered the consul Sempronius Longus to bring his army back from Sicily to meet Scipio and face Hannibal. Hannibal, by skillful maneuvers, was in position to head him off, for he lay on the direct road between Placentia and Ariminum, by which Sempronius would have to march in order to reinforce Scipio. He then captured Clastidium, from which he drew large amounts of rations for his men. But this gain was not without its loss, as Sempronius avoided Hannibal's watchfulness, slipped around his flank, and joined his colleague in his camp near the Trebbia River near Placentia. There, in December of the same year, Hannibal had an opportunity to show his superior military skills at the Battle of the Trebia. In the first hours of the morning, before the meal, he lured out of the camp the whole Roman army, unprepared to the unexpected fight, hungry, tired and chilled; the cavalry was immediately driven off the field and the excellent Roman infantry, caught between Hannibal's main force and a hidden detachment led by his brother Mago Barca, who attacked on the flank, suffered heavy losses. The surviving Romans were forced to retreat.

Having secured his position in northern Italy by this victory, Hannibal quartered his troops for the winter with the Gauls, whose support for him abated. So, in spring 217 BC Hannibal decided to find a more reliable base of operations farther south. On the other hand, the Romans, greatly alarmed and dismayed by Sempronius’s defeat at Trebia, immediately made plans to counter the new threat from the north. The Roman senate resolved to elect new consuls the following year in 217 B.C. The two new consuls elected were Cnaeus Servilius and Gaius Flaminius. As both expected Hannibal to carry on advancing, the new consuls took their armies (one under Servilius to Ariminum on the Adriatic Sea, and the other under Flaminius to Arretium situated near the Apennine mountain passes) so commanding the eastern and western routes by which Hannibal could advance towards Rome.

Battle of Lake Trasimene, courtesy of the
Department of History, United States Military Academy

The only alternate route to central Italy lay at the mouth of the Arno. This route was practically one huge marsh, and happened to be overflowing more than usual during this particular season. Hannibal knew that this route was full of difficulties, but it remained the surest and certainly the quickest route to Central Italy. As Polybius claims “he Hannibal ascertained that the other roads leading into Etruria were long and well known to the enemy, but that one which led through the marshes was short, and would bring them upon Flaminius by surprise. This was what suited his peculiar genius, and he therefore decided to take this route.” For four days and three nights, Hannibal’s men marched “through a route which was under water” suffering terribly from fatigue and enforced want of sleep. He crossed the Apennines and the seemingly impassable Arno without opposition, but in the marshy lowlands of the Arno, he lost a large part of his force, including, it would seem, his remaining elephants.

Arriving in Etruria in the spring of 217 BC, Hannibal decided to lure the main Roman army under Flaminius into a pitched battle, by devastating under his very own eyes the area he had been sent to protect. As Polybius tells us, “he Hannibal calculated that, if he passed the camp and made a descent into the district beyond, Flaminius (partly for fear of popular reproach and partly of personal irritation) would be unable to endure watching passively the devastation of the country but would spontaneously follow him ... and give him opportunities for attack.”.[2] At the same time, he tried to break the allegiance of Rome’s allies, by proving that she was powerless to protect them. Despite this, Hannibal found Flaminius still passively encamped at Arretium. Unable to draw Flaminius into battle by mere devastation, Hannibal marched boldly around his opponent’s left flank and effectively cut Flaminius off from Rome (thus executing the first conscious turning movement in military history). Advancing through the uplands of Etruria, Hannibal provoked Flaminius to a hasty pursuit and, catching him in a defile on the shore of Lake Trasimenus, destroyed his army in the waters or on the adjoining slopes while killing Flaminius as well (see Battle of Lake Trasimene). He had now disposed of the only field force which could check his advance upon Rome, but despite the urgings of his generals, did not proceed to besiege Rome, as he lacked siege equipment and he had no supply base in central Italia. Instead he proceeded to the south in hopes of stirring up rebellion amongst the Greek population there. After Lake Trasimene, Hannibal stated, “I have not come to fight Italians, but on behalf of the Italians against Rome.”

Fabian Strategy, maintaining Roman military strength

Hannibal's three-main victories in Italy: (1) The Battle
of the Trebia (2) Battle of Lake Trasimene (3) Battle of
Cannae respectively, courtesy of The Department of
History, United States Military Academy.

Rome, reeling from her disastrous defeat at Lake Trasimene, was put into an immense state of panic. According to Polybius “On the news of the defeat reaching Rome, the chiefs of the state were unable to conceal or soften down the facts, owing to the magnitude of the calamity, and were obliged to summon a meeting of the commons and announce it. When the Praetor [the head of the Roman Senate] ... said, ‘We have been defeated in a great battle”, it produced such consternation that to those who were present on both occasions, the disaster seemed much greater now than during the actual battle.”[3] In times of such crisis, there was but one thing to do; and that was to appoint a dictator. Dictatorial power permitted a single man to develop his own strategies, make appointments in the civil government, and prepare armies without the usual political wrangling; a post that gave him near total authority for a period of approximately six months. “Abandoning” says Polybius “the system of government by magistrates elected annually, they [the Romans] decide to deal with the present situation more radically, thinking that the state of affairs and the impending peril demand the appointment of a single general with full powers”.[3] The man they appointed as sole commander, or “dictator”, was a man named Quintus Fabius Maximus, intelligent and prudent general coined as the "Cunctator" (akin to the English noun cunctation), or the "Delayer" in Latin

Departing from Roman military traditions, Fabius adopted the Fabian strategy of refusing open battle with his opponent while placing several Roman armies in Hannibal’s vicinity to limit his movement. While seeking to avoid battle, Fabius instead, sent out small detachments against Hannibal’s foraging parties, and always maneuvered the Roman army in hilly terrain, so as to nullify Hannibal’s decisive superiority in cavalry. Residents of small northern villages were encouraged to post lookouts, so that they could gather their livestock and possessions and take refuge into fortified towns. This, Fabius knew, would wear down the invaders’ endurance and discourage Rome’s allies from going over to the enemy, without having to challenge the Carthaginians to battle.

Having ravaged Apulia without provoking Fabius to battle, Hannibal decided to march through Samnium to Campania, one of the richest and most fertile provinces of Italy, hoping that the devastation would draw Fabius into battle. Livy tells us that “He [Hannibal] began to provoke and try his temper, by frequently shifting his camp and laying waste the territory of the allies before his eyes; and one while he withdrew out of quick sight and halted suddenly, and concealed himself in some winding of the road, if possible, to entrap [ambush] him on his descending into the plain”.[3] The dictator closely followed Hannibal’s path of destruction, yet still refused to let himself be drawn into battle, and thus remained on the defensive. While Fabius refrained himself from being drawn into battle, his troops became increasingly irritated by his “cowardly and unenterprising spirit”.[2] His inactive policies, while tolerable among wiser minds in the Roman Senate, were deemed unpopular, because the Romans had been long accustomed to facing their enemies in the field. Fabius’s strategy was especially frustrating to the mass of the people, who were eager to see a quick conclusion to the war. Moreover, it was widely believed, that if Hannibal continued plundering Italy unopposed, the terrified allies, believing that Rome was incapable of protecting them, might defect and pledge their allegiance to the Carthaginians.

Hannibal - Silver double shekel, c. 230 BC, The British Museum

As the year wore on, Hannibal decided that it would be unwise to winter in the already devastated lowlands of Campania but Fabius had ensured that all the passes out of Campania were blocked. Fortunately, the Carthaginian general hit upon a highly imaginative deception scheme. At night, he gathered together all the cattle, and after tying burning torches to their horns, he drove them along a ridge near the pass. To the Romans guarding the pass, this gave the impression that the Carthaginians, aided by torches, were attempting to escape through the woods, and thus left the defile to attack them. After the Romans had chased off after the cattle, Hannibal promptly occupied the pass, and his army made their way through the pass unopposed. Fabius was within striking distance but in this case his caution worked against him. Smelling a stratagem (rightly) he stayed put. For the winter, Hannibal found comfortable quarters in the Apulian plain. What Hannibal achieved in extricating his army was, as Adrian Goldsworthy puts it, "a classic of ancient generalship, finding its way into nearly every historical narrative of the war and being used by later military manuals". This was a severe blow to Fabius’s prestige, and soon after this, his period of power ended. The rest of autumn continued that year with frequent skirmishes— and after six months of exercising dictatorial power, Fabius would be removed from his position, in accordance with the Roman law.

Fabius' plans were in part ruined by Minucius, magister equitum and political enemy of Fabius. Minucius was named co-commander of Roman troops and, claiming Fabius to be a coward, decided to attack Hannibal's army in Larinum. The Carthaginians avoided Minuncius frontal attack by setting a trap, but, when Roman soldiers were on the verge of being slaughtered, Fabius Maximus rushed to his co-commander's assistance and Hannibal's forces immediately retreated.

Fabius became unpopular in Rome, since his tactics did not lead to a quick end of the war. Roman people gave Fabius the nickname Cunctator (delayer), and two new consuls, Gnaeus Servilius Geminus and Marcus Atilius Regulus, were elected to lead a more incisive war campaign.

Close Roman military collapse

In the campaign of 217 BC Hannibal had failed to obtain a following among the Italics; in the following year he had an opportunity to turn the tide in his favor. In the Spring of 216 B.C. Hannibal took the initiative and seized the large supply depot at Cannae in the Apulian plain. Thus, by seizing Cannae, Hannibal had placed himself between the Romans and their crucial source of supply. Once the Roman Senate resumed their Consular elections in 216, they appointed Caius Terentius Varro and Lucius Aemilius Paullus as Consuls. Some estimates have the Roman forces as large as 100,000 men, though this figure cannot be completely validated.

Destruction of the Roman army, courtesy of The
Department of History, United States Military Academy.

The Roman and Allied legions of the Consuls Aemilius and Varro, resolving to confront Hannibal, marched southward to Apulia. After a two days’ march, they found him on the left bank of the Audifus River, and encamped six miles away. Hannibal capitalized on the eagerness of Varro and drew him into a trap by using an envelopment tactic which eliminated the Roman numerical advantage by shrinking the surface area where combat could occur. Hannibal drew up his least reliable infantry in a semicircle in the center with the wings composed of the Gallic and Numidian horse. The Roman legions forced their way through Hannibal's weak center but the Libyan Mercenaries in the wings swung around by the movement, menaced their flanks. The onslaught of Hannibal's cavalry was irresistible, and Hasdrubal, his brother, who commanded the left, pushed in the Roman right and then swept across the rear and attacked Varro's cavalry on the Roman left. Then he attacked the legions from behind. As a result, the Roman army was hemmed in with no means of escape. Due to these brilliant tactics, Hannibal, with much inferior numbers, managed to surround and destroy all but a small remainder of this force. Depending upon the source, it is estimated that 50,000-70,000 Romans were killed or captured at Cannae. This makes it one of the most catastrophic defeats in the history of Ancient Rome, and one of the bloodiest battles in all of human history.

As Polybius notes, “How much more serious was the defeat of Cannae, than those which preceded it can be seen by the behavior of Rome’s allies; before that fateful day, their loyalty remained unshaken, now it began to waver for the simple reason that they despaired of Roman Power.”.[4] During that same year, the Greek cities in Sicily were induced to revolt against Roman political control, while the Macedonian king, Philip V pledged his support to Hannibal – thus initiating the First Macedonian War against Rome. Hannibal also secured an alliance with newly appointed King Hieronymous of Syracuse, and Tarentum also came over to him around then. Hannibal now had the resources and personnel needed to make a successful invasion of the City of Rome. At the time he was not certain of this and spent a great deal of time pondering whether to invade or not. During the time of his indecision the Romans had regrouped and become rejuvinated, making the invasion now impossible. The Romans looked back on Hannibal's indecision as what had saved Rome from sure failure. The only other notable event of 216 BC was the defection of Capua, the second largest city of Italy, which Hannibal made his new base. Yet even this defection failed to satisfy him as only a few of the Italian city-states, which he had expected to gain as allies consented to join him. Also, the Macedonian navy was no match for the Roman, so they were unable to help him directly.

Hannibal sent a delegation for peace negotiations to Rome and another offering release of his Roman prisoners of war on payment, but Rome rejected all offers.

Struggle for allies in southern Italy

Even after the battle of Cannae the Romans were able to field some forces and deploy them against traitors to their alliance system. Hannibal Barca enforced the persuasiveness of his arguments by economic damage. A system of terror and counter-terror was established to keep loyalties and discourage any sympathies for the enemy. The Punic armies put their speed and manoeuverability against the increasingly superior numbers of the Romans, but were handicapped in endurance and equipment for sieges. In the long run, Rome was winning in this contest.

Sieges and skirmishes in Italy

The war in Italy settled into a strategic stalemate in the years following Cannae. The Romans, after suffering three consecutive defeats and losing countless other battles, had at this point learned their lesson. They utilised the attritional strategies Fabius had taught them, and which, they finally realised, were the only feasible means of defeating Hannibal. Fabius Maximus was re-elected consul in 215 BC and again in 214 BC. They always kept Hannibal in view, they only fought when everything was in their favour; they sought to starve him rather than destroy him in battle; and cut down his power of doing harm as fast as circumstances warranted.[5] Despite their defeats and the defections, the Romans could still field larger armies than Hannibal, and could readily replace their losses. The consuls the Roman Senate elected always had upwards of 80,000 men to oppose Hannibal, whose army was deteriorating in quality and barely more than half of that of the Romans. Instead of using a single large army, Rome now began to field multiple smaller armies. These armies sought to tire Hannibal through fatiguing marches, constant skirmishes, and famine. As a result, for the next few years, Hannibal was forced to sustain a scorched earth policy and obtain local provisions for protracted and ineffectual operations throughout Southern Italy. Since he was no longer able to draw his opponents into a pitched battle, his immediate objectives were reduced to minor operations which centred mainly around the cities of Campania.

As the war drew on, Hannibal repeatedly appealed to the Carthaginian oligarchy for reinforcements and aid. The War-faction and the Pro-Roman Peace Party were the two main political parties that controlled Carthage during this time. The latter represented Peace and Conciliation with Rome, and the other represented a war policy and a policy of resistance to Rome. Despite the apparent unanimity of the acceptance of war, Hanno the Great, the leader of the peace party, condemned Hannibal’s actions. As spokesperson for the Carthaginian noble class, he opposed the policy of foreign conquest pursued by Hannibal. As a result, Hanno undermined support in Carthage for Hannibal's military efforts in Italy. Moreover, the success of the Romans in Iberia (Carthage's main source of wealth in the Mediterranean) had convinced the Carthaginians that their most valuable colony was at stake. Thus, in the hopes of stemming the tide against the Romans there, reinforcements desperately needed by Hannibal in Italy were otherwise rerouted to Iberia. Carthage also diverted her limited resources in Sardinia, as well as Sicily. At the same time, Hannibal experienced great difficulty materialising his allies. Many of the allies defected to the Carthaginians on the condition that they could not be forced to serve against their will. This not only rendered this defection less beneficial to Hannibal, but also ensured him that he could not rely on his allies as he hoped. To make matters worse, his men grew increasingly weak beyond the point where he was able to beat the Romans, who were daily growing stronger in numbers and experience.

As the forces detached under his lieutenants were generally unable to hold their own, and neither his home government nor his new ally Philip V of Macedon helped to make good his losses, his position in southern Italy became increasingly difficult and his chance of ultimately conquering Rome grew ever more remote. In 211 BC after a long siege Rome re-captured Capua, the second Italian city after Rome, and Syracuse, which fell after a two-year siege, made famous by the defence engines made by Archimedes, who was killed in the sack of the city. In 209 BC the Romans took back Tarentum. Hannibal still won a number of notable victories, completely destroying two Roman armies in 212 BC, and at one point, killing two Consuls (which included the famed Marcus Claudius Marcellus) in a battle in 208 BC. Nevertheless, without the resources his allies could contribute, or reinforcements from Carthage, Hannibal could not make further significant gains. Thus, inadequately supported by his Italian allies, abandoned by his government, and unable to match Rome’s resources, Hannibal slowly began losing ground. Hannibal continued defeating the Romans whenever he could bring them into battle, yet he was never able to complete another decisive victory that produced a lasting strategic effect. Leonard Cottrell encapsulated Hannibal's situation with an interesting analogy: “So the rest of the war becomes rather like a group of lesser animals [The Romans] following a wounded lion [Hannibal]. Every now and then the beast turns, and they scatter. Sometimes it conceals itself and then, leaping out, tears its tormentors to pieces. Afterwards, it moves on alone and unmolested for a while, but before very long it hears once again the stealthy pad-pad of footsteps following some way behind.”

End of the war in southern Italy

In 212 BC the Romans had so alienated Tarentum that conspirators admitted Hannibal to the city. The conspirators then blew the alarm on some Roman trumpets allowing Hannibal's troops to pick off the Romans as they stumbled out into the streets. Hannibal was able to keep control of his troops to the extent that there was no general looting. Instead, Hannibal, having committed himself to respect Tarentine freedom, told the Tarentines to mark every house where Tarentines lived. Only those houses not so marked and thus belonging to Romans were looted. The citadel, however, held out, so denying Hannibal the use of a harbour. His brother Hanno, however, was defeated at Beneventum, further depleting the overall Carthaginian force. Despite resisting a siege by Roman forces at Herdonea, the tide was slowly beginning to turn in Rome's favour. Further, in the same year, he lost his hold upon Campania, where he failed to prevent the Romans from encircling Capua.

Two Roman armies besieged Capua so persistently that Hannibal himself was forced to attack them with his full force in 212 BC. It was only a temporary relief, for shortly afterwards three Roman armies were again before Capua. The next year, Hannibal attempted to lift the siege with a sudden march through Samnium that brought him within three kilometers of Rome. He was hoping by this feint against their capital to draw the Roman army out into the open where he could destroy them in a pitched battle. Yet his strategy caused more alarm than real danger to the city. The siege of Capua continued, and the city fell in the same year. Likewise, in summer of 211 BC, the Romans completed their conquest of Syracuse and destruction of a Carthaginian army in Sicily. Shortly thereafter, the Romans pacified Sicily and entered into an alliance with the Aetolian League to counter Phillip V. Philip, who attempted to exploit Rome's preoccupation in Italy to conquer Illyria, now found himself under attack from several sides at once and was quickly subdued by Rome and her Greek allies. Meanwhile, Hannibal had defeated Fulvius at Herdonea in Apulia, but lost Tarentum in the following year.

In 210 BC Hannibal again proved his superiority in tactics by a severe defeat inflicted at Herdoniac in Apulia upon a proconsular army, and in 208 BC destroyed a Roman force engaged in the siege of Locri Epizephyri. But with the loss of Tarentum in 209 BC and the gradual reconquest by the Romans of Samnium and Lucania, his hold on south Italy was almost lost. In 207 BC he succeeded in making his way again into Apulia, where he waited, making arrangements for a combined march upon Rome with his brother Hasdrubal Barca. On hearing, however, of his brother's defeat and death at the Metaurus he retired into Bruttium, where he maintained himself for the ensuing years. The combination of these events marked the end to Hannibal's success in Italy. With the failure of his brother Mago Barca in Liguria (205 BC-203 BC) and of his own negotiations with Philip of Macedon, the last hope of recovering his ascendancy in Italy was lost.

Outer encirclement

The outer encirclement was fought by the Punics to regain their lost possessions and win over allies. The Romans aimed to destroy the Punic-Gadean Barcid Empire in Iberia and prevent major Punic allies from joining the theatre in Italy. Rome relied on her supreme naval power in these campaigns, but could not unfold naval supremacy. One by one the Roman military and their diplomats were able to achieve victories or stalemates in all areas of conflict. (Map of the encirclement)

The war in Iberia

The Roman campaign had several targets. It complicated supply and communication between the Barcid empire and their allies in northern Italy. It aimed to break up the very young Empire of the Barcids, enabling this source for levies and mercenaries of Iberian and Celtiberian origin. Furthermore were the local silvermines fundamental for financing the Punic armament.

First Roman expedition to Hispania

While the main campaign was taking place in Italy, the Romans had carried the war into Hispania. Over the years Rome had gradually expanded along the coast until in 211 BC it captured Saguntum. This prevented Hasdrubal Barca from sending his brother Hannibal any aid and also diverted Carthaginian reinforcements away from Italia. However, Hasdrubal was able to defeat the Romans in the Battle of the Upper Baetis, and the two Roman commanders, brothers named Publius Cornelius Scipio and Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus, were killed. Even so Hasdrubal did not feel confident enough to expel the Roman army after his other losses.

Second Roman expedition to Hispania

The Romans sent out Publius Scipio's son and namesake, Publius Cornelius Scipio, who later became known as Scipio Africanus Major. He arrived in 210 BC and held the authority of a consul, even though he had no experience in any offices. Vowing to avenge his father and uncle, he proceeded directly to what was effectively the logistics center of Punic Hispania, Carthago Nova. Scipio tricked the defending Mago (not Mago Barca) several times and forced him to surrender it completely after a short siege in 209 BC. After the Battle of Baecula Hasdrubal, deprived of his main port, decided to focus his efforts on the Italian peninsula.

Iberian uprise against the Barcid rule

Carthaginian reinforcements under the command of Mago Barca were prepared for supporting Hannibal. But it was decided to take first the silver mines of Sardinia to finance the war. This attempt failed. Afterwards these troops were needed to secure the resources in Hispania. But Carthaginian forces building up a new resistance in Hispania were defeated a few years later, in 206 BC, at the Battle of Ilipa, and Hispania became a Roman province.

Iberian uprise against the Roman rule

Under Andobales the Iberian tribes united against their new Roman overlords, but they were not able to exploit a mutiny among the Roman troops. Later the Iberians were defeated in battle, but resistance and unrest continued for about a century.

First Macedonian War

The First Macedonian War (215 BC - 205 BC) was fought by Rome, allied (after 211 BC) with the Aetolian League and Attalus I of Pergamon, against Philip V of Macedon allied with the Carthaginian commander Hannibal (not participating), contemporaneously with the Second Punic War against Carthage. There were no decisive engagements, and the war ended in a stalemate.

During the war Macedon attempted to gain control over parts of Illyria and Greece, but without success. It is commonly thought that these skirmishes with Philip in the east prevented Macedon from aiding the Carthaginian general Hannibal in the war with Rome.

The "Peace of Phoenice", a treaty drawn up at Phoenice, in 205 BC, formally ended the war.

The war in Sicily

Hiero's successor as amphipole of Syracuse, the young Hieronymus (ruled from 215 BC), broke the peace with the Romans. Led by consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus, they besieged the city in 214 BC. The city held out for three years with the help of Archimedes, who invented a number of military engines (including the Claw of Archimedes). One belief is, that a door in the wall was opened to negotiate, but a number of Roman soldiers charged through and raided the city[citation needed], killing Archimedes in the process. Polybius states, it was a naval raid in a new moon night, when the guards could not spot the approaching fleet. However, the Syracusians were able to force the Romans under the command of Publius Cornelius Scipio out again. But the loss was so devastating that they no longer found themselves capable of withstanding the enduring siege and it fell in 212 BC (Map of the kingdom of Hieron)

20,000 Punic troops, several Numidians among them landed in Sicily to relieve the siege of Syracus. Many towns soon went over to the Carthaginians, dissatisfied with Roman rule, but the former Punic main base in Lilybaeum stayed constantly under Roman control, secured by a large garrison force.

The war in Sardinia

Sardinia was a major supplier of grain in the Mediterranean and had also silver mines. Archeology shows that the coastal cities were relatively small and poor compared to the larger and wealthier cities in the hinterland. However, establishing Roman control there after the First Punic War had led to a decade of fierce resistance, however these rebellions were put down and a number of inhabitants enslaved.

Sardinian uprise

High hopes of ending the struggling Roman rule, which had established itself with utmost brutality during a whole decade of fights and massive enslavement, led to an uprise of the former wealthy natives of the interior island. Supporting Punic troops were caught by a storm and forced to delay their support. Furthermore Roman intelligence seems to have received word and doubled the islands garrison. The uprise was mostly crushed before the Punic troops arrived.

Punic expedition

Hannibal the Bald commanded the naval expedition to Sardinia. He had to make a stopover and reorganize his fleet on the Baleares after a storm caught him. When landing in Sardinia he faced a situation, totally different than his intelligence had predicted. The natives support was meagre, as their uprise had been untimely and the Roman adversaries were twice as many than he was prepared for. The expedition failed.

Raid on the Balearic Islands

Rome tried to establish a stronghold on the Balearic Islands, but the population was not very fond of their appearance and kept to their Punic allies.

Seeking a decision

After the loss of their stronghold in Iberia, Punic troops made attempts to change fortunes in northern Italy. Rome relied heavily on the output of the local intact economy. The Romans contained the invaders and launched a successful counterattack. Destruction in Africa forced the Punic troops to withdraw from Italy and defend Carthage. There the military dispute was solved after the defeat of Hannibal Barca and Carthage surrendered.

Expeditions to northern Italy

While losing ground in Spain, both brothers of Hannibal Barca tried to open hostilities in the relatively unharmed north of Italia with the help of local allies. Remains of their troops fought against the Romans after the peace treaty.

Hasdrubal's overland journey to Italy

After Hasdrubal Barca's army was defeated by Scipio at the battle of Baecula in 208 BC, he still managed to retreat with 2/3 of his army intact. Abandoning Hispania to some relatively weak garrisons, he set out to repeat his brother's crossing of the Alps. He eluded Scipio by crossing the Pyrenees at their western extremity, and, making his way thence through Gaul and the Alps in safety. The losses crossing the Alps were far less than Hannibal's and his troops were reinforced by natives. He penetrated far into Central Italy in 207 BC. His messengers to Hannibal were intercepted and his plan to join forces revealed. He was ultimately checked by two Roman armies, and being forced to give battle in an unfavorable position. There he was decisively defeated at the battle of the Metaurus. Hasdrubal himself fell in the fight; his head was cut off and thrown into Hannibal's camp as a sign of his utter defeat, in stark contrast of Hannibal's treatment of the bodies of fallen Roman Consuls. Remains of his army retreated to the allied Celtic tribes.

“ After the Metaurus victory however, the morale boost meant that Rome could continue to not only get recruits for their army, but that the Italian towns and tribes that Hannibal had so desperately tried to convince to abandon Rome would also be heartened and remain loyal. Had Hasdrubal joined with his brother, the resulting force could well have captured Rome and changed the fortunes of the Mediterranean basin.[6] ”

Mago's naval landing in Italy

Mago Barca made a campaign to invade Italy (this time by sea) with 15,000 men in 205 BC. They sailed from Minorca to Liguria. He managed to capture Genoa, and held control of northern Italy for three years. In 204 BC he was reinforced with 6,000 infantry and some cavalry. Wounded in a battle in Cisalpine Gaul, Mago was recalled back to Carthage along with Hannibal to aid in its defence. Before arriving, he died at sea. However, it is not clear to what extent he returned with his troops.

Boii uprise

The peace treaty between Rome and Carthage did not include northern Italy. There the war was carried on for some years afterwards. The Gauls were supported by remaining Punic officers and forces of Hasdrubal Barca's and Mago Barca's expeditions. Rome did not reestablish the colonies in the fertile Po valley after the war, a major setback for the Roman agriculture.

The war moves to Africa

After his victories in Hispania, Scipio returned to Rome a great hero, and, although he was technically ineligible, was elected consul in 205 BC. He resolved to end the war by attacking Carthage itself, and appealed directly to the Centuriate Assembly when he found the Senate opposed this. Thus he was given command of the two legions in Sicily, plus 7,000 volunteers he had recruited, and the next year brought the war to North Africa when he landed at Utica, about twenty miles away from Carthage. Here he was counting on support from some Numidians, who resented Carthaginian control and so agreed to provide him with cavalry.

Destruction of Punic and Numidian forces

Destruction of the regular armed forces under Hasdrubal Gisco and his Numidian allies under Syphax in an ambush. This battle of Bagbrades leads to first peace negotiations.

In 203 BC, when Scipio was carrying all before him in Africa and the Carthaginian peace party were arranging an armistice, Hannibal was recalled from Italy by the war party at Carthage. After leaving a record of his expedition engraved in Punic and Greek upon brazen tablets in the temple of Juno at Crotona, he sailed back to Africa. These records have been quoted by Polybius. His arrival immediately restored the predominance of the war party, who placed him in command of a combined force of African levies and his mercenaries from Italy. Hannibal opposed this and tried to convince them not to send these troops into battle. In 202 BC, Hannibal met Scipio in a peace conference, but political circumstances forced him to take battle. Despite mutual admiration, negotiations floundered due to Roman allegations of "Punic Faith," referring to the breach of protocols which ended the First Punic War by the Carthaginian attack on Saguntum, as well as perceived breach in the idealised Roman military etiquette (Hannibal's numerous ambuscades). Thus being a very biased view of the Roman wartime and postwartime propaganda.

Broken armistice and final peace treaty

This decisive battle soon followed. Unlike most battles of the Second Punic War, the Romans had superiority in cavalry and the Carthaginians had superiority in infantry. The Roman army was generally better armed and a head taller than the Carthaginian. Hannibal had refused to lead this army into battle because he expected them not to stand their ground. There have been very hard arguments between him and the oligarchy. His co-general Hasdrubal Gisco was forced to suicide by a violent mob after he spoke in support of Hannibal not to lead these troops into battle. Before the battle Hannibal held no speech to his new troops, only to his veterans. The new troops proved as cowardly and inexperienced as he had expected.

The Roman cavalry won an early victory, and Scipio had devised tactics for defeating Carthaginian war elephants. However, the battle remained closely fought, and at one point it seemed that Hannibal was on the verge of victory. However, Scipio was able to rally his men, and his cavalry attacked Hannibal's rear. This two-pronged attack caused the Carthaginian formation to disintegrate and collapse. After their defeat, Hannibal convinced the Carthaginians to accept peace. Notably, he broke the rules of the assembly by forcibly removing a speaker who supported continued resistance. Afterwards he was sued to apologize for his lack of behaviour.

Rome and Carthage after the war

Hispania was lost to Carthage forever, and was reduced to a client state. A war indemnity of 10,000 talents was imposed, her navy was limited to 10 ships to ward off pirates, and she was forbidden from raising an army without Rome's permission. Numidia took the opportunity to capture and plunder Carthaginian territory. Half a century later, when Carthage raised an army to defend itself from these incursions, it was destroyed by Rome in the Third Punic War. Rome on the other hand, by her victory, had taken a key step towards domination of the Mediterranean world.

The end of the war was not universally welcomed in Rome, for reasons of both politics and morale. When the Senate decreed upon a peace treaty with Carthage, Quintus Caecilius Metellus, a former consul, said he did not look upon the termination of the war as a blessing to Rome, since he feared that the Roman people would now sink back again into its former slumbers, from which it had been roused by the presence of Hannibal. (Valerius Maximus vii. 2. §3.). Others, most notably Cato the Elder, feared that if Carthage was not completely destroyed it would soon reacquire its power and pose new threats to Rome, and pressed for harsh peace conditions. Archeology found out that the famous military harbor, the Coton, had received a significant buildup after this war. It could house and quickly deploy about 200 triremes, and was a protected against viewing inside. Carthage fleet was restricted to only ten triremes as a term of surrender after the war. As has been pointed out for other Phoenician cities, privateers with warships played a significant role besides the trade, even when the Roman Empire was fully established and officially controlled all coasts. In this case it is not clear whether the treaty included private warships.

From the First Punic War is the only reference to Punic privateers, one of them, Hanno the Rhodian, owned a quinquireme (faster than the serial production models, the Romans had copied) , manned with about 500 men and then among the heaviest warships in use. Later pirates in Roman waters are all reported with much smaller vessels, that still could outrun the navy, but operated with less personnel costs. Thus, piracy was probably highly developed in Carthage and the state did not have a monopoly on military forces. It is likely that this played an important role in winning slaves, one of the most profitable trade goods, but merchant ships with tradeable goods and a crew were also within the scope. There is no source about the fate of Punic privateers in the interims of the Punic Wars.

Hannibal became a businessman for several years and later enjoyed a leadership role in Carthage. However, Carthaginian nobility was upset by his democratisation and battle against corruption. They convinced the Romans to force him into exile, where he met them and their allies on the battlefield again. He eventually committed suicide to avoid capture.

Carthage and Numidia after the war

Between these two a constant war on a very small scale took place, but until the Third Punic War, most of Carthages African territories had been lost and the Numidians traded independently with Greeks. (Roman Empire and Numidia after the war)


  • Bagnall, Nigel, The Punic Wars, 1990, ISBN 0-312-34214-4
  • Lazenby, John Francis, Hannibal's War, 1978
  • Robert E. A. Palmer, Rome and Carthage at Peace, Stuttgart 1997
  • [German] Barceló, Pedro A. Karthago und die iberische Halbinsel vor den Barkiden: Studien zur karthagischen Präsenz im westlichen Mittelmeerraum von der Gründung von Ebusus bis zum Übergang Hamilkars nach Hispanien, Bonn 1988, ISBN 3-7749-2354-X
  • [German] Ameling, Walter Karthago: Studien zu Militär, Staat und Gesellschaft, München 1993, ISBN 3-406-37490-5


  1. Pedro Barceló, Karthago und die Iberische Halbinsel vor den Barkiden
  2. a b Liddell Hart, Basil, Strategy, New York City, New York, Penguin Group, 1967
  3. a b c Cottrell, Leonard, Hannibal: Enemy of Rome, Da Capo Press, 1992, ISBN 0-306-80498-0
  4. Healy, Mark, Cannae: Hannibal Smashes Rome's Army, Steerling Heights, Missouri, Osprey
  5. Dodge, Theodore, Hannibal, Cambridge, Massachusetts, De Capo Press, 1891, ISBN 0-306-81362-9
  6. Paul K. Davis, 100 Most Decisive Battles from Ancient Times to the Present, page 43


Free JavaScripts provided by The JavaScript Source