1902 Encyclopedia > Hannibal

Carthaginian soldier
(247-152 BC)

HANNIBAL. Hannibal was a very common Carthaginian name. Its final syllable bal occurs repeatedly, as a suffix, in Punic names, and is in fact taken from the chief Phoenician deity, Baal. The entire name denotes, according to a probable interpretation, "the favour of Baal."

The famous Hannibal, the hero of the Second Punic War, was the son of Hamilcar Barca, and was born in 247 B.C. He and his two brothers, Hasdrubal and Mago, were called by the father " the lion's brood." At the age of nine he begged his father, who was leaving Carthage for Spain, to take him with him. The request was granted, but not before he had sworn at that father's bidding on the altar of sacrifice eternal enmity to Rome. That vow determined his life's future. In Spain'he was bred up in camps under his father's eye. He was present at the battle in which his father fell in 228 B.C., being then in his nineteenth year. Hamilcar's son-in-law, Hasdrubal, succeeded to the command. Eight years afterwards, in 221 B.C., he was struck down by an Iberian assassin. Meantime the young Hannibal had proved himself thoroughly able both " to obey and to command." It was a matter of course that the soldiers with one voice at once hailed him as their general.

His first object was to complete the work of his father and his father's successor. Spain, he felt, must be more thoroughly overawed, if it was to be a base of operations against Rome. He pushed into the heart of the country, crossed the Tagus, and crushed the resistance of the tribes of the interior. Two campaigns sufficed for the conquest of all Spain to the south of the Ebro, except Saguntum, a town considerably south of the Ebro and some way to the north of the modern Valencia. It was a Greek colony from Zacynthus (Zante), and had grown into a rich and prosperous place, but, what was now far more important, it was in friendly relations with Rome. To attack it therefore would be like throwing down the gauntlet to the Roman senate and people. But Hannibal was able to tell the home Government at Carthage that the Saguntines were molesting Carthaginian subjects in the neighbourhood. Without awaiting an answer, he began the siege. Roman ambassadors at the solicitation of envoys from Saguntum landed on the coast, but were told by Hannibal that he could not see them, They went on to Carthage, but their remonstrances, though the subject of along debate, were in vain. Eight months passed away, and Saguntum, after a gallant defence, was forced to surrender, Hannibal got a rich booty for his army, and went into winter quarters at New Carthage (Cartagena). Again a Roman embassy went to Carthage and insisted on his being given up. The demand was refused. By the close of the year 219 B.C. the Second Punic War was in fact begun.

Hannibal's resolution was now taken. He prepared at once to invade Italy. He had a numerous and efficient army and a well-filled exchequer. All who shrank from the expedition he dismissed to their homes. In the spring of 218 B.C. he began his great march from New Carthage with an army of 90,000 foot, 12,000 horse, and 37 elephants. The Ebro was easily crossed. In the country beyond he had some fighting with the native tribes, and there he left Hanno, with a force of 10,000 foot and 1000 horse to secure the passes between Spain and Gaul. Again he sent back all in whom he saw signs of hesitation. With a considerably diminished army he passed the Pyrenees at Bellegarde and encamped at Iliberris (Elne). Some Gallic tribes, alarmed at his advance, had assembled in the neighbourhood, but he soon conciliated their chiefs and persuaded them that he meant them no mischief. So he continued his march without molestation to the Rhone.

Meanwhile the Romans had done little or nothing to check their enemy. At last the consul, Publius Cornelius Scipio, arrived at Massilia (Marseilles), and was surprised to find that Hannibal was about to cross the Rhone. But he was too late to oppose the passage, and Hannibal crossed the river probably at some point near the village of Roquemaure. He then followed its course, marching up its left bank to its junction with the Isère at Valence, and entered what was known as the " Island of the Allobroges." It was from thence that he began his famous passage of the Alps.

The narrative of Polybius, though it raises some difficult questions, has conveyed to most modern students and scholars the impression that Hannibal crossed by the pass of the Little St Bernard. If so, he must have entered Italy by the valley of Aosta. The subject has had a literature of its own devoted to it. The result is that the Little St Bernard Pass may be almost said to have made good its claims to the honour of Hannibal's memorable march. It was familiar to the ancients, and more than once Gauls had passed through it into the plains of Italy. Such high authorities as Arnold, Niebuhr, and Mommsen regard the question as settled in its favour.

Fifteen days in all were occupied in the passage. If the view above indicated is correct, Hannibal at first made his way over Mont du Chat through the Chevelu Pass, then continued his march up the valley of the Isere, and mounted the St Bernard. He must have descended the mountain by the valley of the Doria. Part of his route, that by which he climbed to the summit, was a narrow defile, and there he was threatened by the mountain tribes which appeared on the heights. At the " white rock," la roche blanche, as it is still called, he halted his infantry, while the cavalry and beasts of burden were making their way during the night to the top of the pass. Next day, the ninth day, he stood with his whole army on the highest point and spoke, it is said, some cheering words to his half-frozen Africans and Spaniards. The descent proved trying and dangerous. From the mountain tribes he had little to fear; it was the mountain slope, covered with recent snow, which caused delay and anxiety. The Italian side of the Alps is considerably steeper than the French side, and a road had to be constructed for the passage of the elephants and horses. This was a work of three days. In three more days they arrived in the valley of Aosta, and were welcomed by the Salassi, a friendly tribe of the Insubrian Gauls. The October of the year 218 B.C. saw the passage of the Alps accomplished and Hannibal with his army encamped in northern Italy.
Thus far he had been successful, but at a tremendous cost. His army was shrunk to a force of 20,000 infantry and 6000 cavalry,—the former being composed of Libyans and Spaniards in about the proportion of three to two, and the latter being chiefly Numidians, and admirably efficient.

It was now five months since he had set out from New Carthage. His men of course sorely needed rest, and this they had for a brief space amid the friendly tribes of Cisalpine Gaul. One tribe indeed, the Taurini, was hostile, but he soon captured their chief city, thus overawing the remaining tribes in the upper valley of the Po. It was now high time for the Eomans to exert themselves. Scipio after quitting Marseilles, whence he had sent on his army into Spain, had hurried back to Italy, and on reaching Placentia took command of the Roman army quartered there. He was indeed numerically weaker than Hannibal, and was deficient in cavalry. Still he advanced up the Po to meet him, and on the Ticino, somewhere, it would seem, near Vercelli, was fought the first engagement of the Second Punic War. It was a cavalry action, and the inferiority of the Romans in this arm was decisively proved. They were driven back with heavy loss, and Scipio himself was severely wounded, being rescued, it is said, by his son, a lad of seventeen, who subsequently became as famous as Hannibal himself, and had the good fortune to be his conqueror. He has gone down to posterity as Scipio Africanus. The defeated general fell back to the walls of Placentia. The Trebia, a southern tributary of the Po, was between him and the enemy, and he was soon joined by the other consul, Sempronius. Their united armies numbered not less than 40,000 men. Sempronius was for instantly giving battle ; Scipio was still disabled by his wound.

Sempronius had his way, and on a bitterly cold December day the Romans plunged into the swollen waters of the Trebia in the face of a sleet storm and a cutting wind. They fought well, but when taken in flank by Hannibal's brother Mago, who was lying in ambush amid brambles and bushes in a watercourse, they broke and fled in utter rout.
This decisive victory gave nearly all northern Italy to Hannibal, He let his troops rest during the winter, and added to them a number of Gauls. Early in the spring of 217 B.C. he decided to cross the Apennines and to penetrate into the heart of Italy. The route which he took brought him into the marshy lowlands of the Arno near Lucca and Pisa, and here he and his men had to wade through water for four days. Many of them perished miserably, and Hannibal himself lost an eye from ophthalmia. At last he encamped at Fiesole on high ground. The two consuls Flaminius and Servilius were, with their armies, respectively at Arezzo and Rimini. Flaminius was an impetuous man, and eager to win the glory of settling the war once for all. Hannibal, quitting the valley of the upper Arno, marched past him towards Perugia, ravaging the country and so provoking the Roman general to pursue him. The road from Cortona to Perugia skirts the northern shore of Lake Trasimene, and into this road, which is in fact a mountain defile, the Roman column unwarily entered. They were caught in a trap. Hannibal had posted his light troops on the hills on either side, while he himself blocked the outlet near Passignano with the best of his infantry. As soon as the Romans were in the pass they were assailed on all sides, and the battle soon became a mere massacre. The Roman army was in fact destroyed, and Flaminius was among the slain. We might suppose that Hannibal would have now done well to have marched straight on Rome, and this the Romans expected. But he may well have thought that it would be better to wait the chance of insurrection among the Italian communities. So he marched through Umbria, and again crossed the Apennines into Picenum. He then marched southwards along the coast into Apulia and encamped at Arpi. Meanwhile the Romans had made the famous Fabius Maximus their dictator. After levying an army of four legions, Fabius marched in pursuit of the enemy having first effected a junction with the army under Servilius at Rimini.

From the first Fabius had decided on the policy which earned for him the name of the Cunctator, the Delayer. He dogged his enemy's steps, but would never risk an engagement. The richest districts of southern Italy were laid waste under his very eyes. But he could not be provoked into any rash movement. Once indeed it seemed as if Hannibal was himself entrapped. He had been ravaging Campania, and was on the point of retreating into Samnium, when Fabius posted a force at the head of the pass which afforded the only available means for his retreat. Hannibal is said to have driven a multitude of oxen with lighted faggots on their horns up the hills overhanging the road, so as to give the impression that he and his army were retreating over the heights. Fabius's detachment quitted its position to check the supposed movement, and thus gave Hannibal an opportunity of escaping through the pass. The tactics of Fabius disgusted his men, and when he had to leave them for a time, he found on his return that his master of the horse, Minucius, on the strength of a small success won in his absence, was eager to bring on a general engagement. Fabius gave him a part of the army, with which Minucius ventured on an attack. He was on the brink of destruction when he was rescued by the dictator's timely interposition. After this Hannibal went into winter quarters at Geronium in the north of Apulia.

In the spring of the next year, 216 B.C., he moved south and pounced on Cannae, where Roman supplies were stored up in great abundance. The town is about 6 miles from the mouth of the Aufidus and about 8 from Canosa. The Romans were now again eager to strike a decisive blow. So a vast army was raised by the consuls of the year, zEmilius Paulus and Terentius Varro, numbering 80,000 infantry and 6000 cavalry. Hannibal's army was probably far inferior numerically. The consuls on arriving in Apulia made Canusium (Canosa) their headquarters. For some fewr days the armies faced each other on the banks of the Aufidus. There were some preliminary manoeuvres and skirmishes, till at last Varro, when it came to his turn to command, determined to fight. Both armies crossed the river, and Hannibal's men were drawn up within a loop which it forms near Cannae. On either flank he stationed a strong body of his veteran infantry. His other infantry, ranged in the centre in a crescent form, was soon driven in by the Roman legions, which had advanced to the attack in very deep formation. But meanwhile Hannibal's cavalry had put the Roman horse to rout, and had fallen on their rear. The Roman columns were now attacked also on either flank by the Carthaginian infantry. Pressed into a dense mass they were cut down without the possibility of resistance. The carnage is said to have been prolonged for eight hours. The Roman army was all but utterly destroyed. The consul iEmilius Paulus, nearly all the officers, and eighty senators, perished in the slaughter. Varro indeed escaped with a few horsemen to Venusia. The remainder were slain or made prisoners. It was at a comparatively small cost to himself that Hannibal won this great victory.

It might well be thought that such a victory would prove decisive, and that it must have been had Hannibal instantly pushed on to Rome. But he had probably good reasons for not doing so. He was, it must be remembered, as much as 200 miles from Rome ; he would have had to march through still hostile populations, and dry the time he would have arrived, he must have known that the first panic would have abated, and that the notion of carrying the city by a coup cle main was simply preposterous. What he counted on was the dissolution of the Italian confederacy, and a widespread revolt throughout Italy. Nor was he altogether deceived. The disaster of Cannae shook the loyalty of the Italian peoples. Rome was deserted by most of Apulia and Samnium, and almost wholly by the Lucanians and Bruttians. She retained indeed some strong fortresses, as Cales, Fregelk*, Casinum, Beneventum, Venusia, and these enabled her armies to maintain their ground. But Capua, in Campania, the richest and most powerful city in Italy after Rome itself, was lost to her. Thither Hannibal made his way from Cannae, and there he went into winter quarters, which were perhaps too comfortable and luxurious. But the story that his men became utterly demoralized is absurd. They proved in the subsequent years of the war that they could move rapidly and fight bravely. We may indeed well suppose that by this time many of his veteran Spaniards and Africans had been replaced by native Italian soldiers. It is, however, clear that he still had a fine army. It is true indeed that after Cannae his star seems rather to decline, but the explanation of this is that the Romans again reverted to the steady cautious tactics which they had learnt under Fabius. They too were for the most part well officered. The ablest of their generals was Marcellus. Yet even he never beat his antagonist in anything like a pitched battle. The Romans after Cannae made prodigious efforts. They sent three armies into the field, to watch and to check the enemy's movements. They kept themselves in strongly entrenched camps near fortresses which Hannibal had not the means of taking. Some indeed he did capture, as Nuceria, Acerrae, and Casilinum in Campania. At Cumae, Neapolis, and Nola he was foiled. The two years after Cannae, 215 and 214 B.C., passed without much being achieved on either side. Hannibal was vaguely hoping for reinforcements from Carthage, and for the aid of Philip, king of Macedon.

Next year, 213 B.C., he gained a considerable, success. Tarentum surrendered, and so did Metapontum and Thurii. At Tarentum indeed the Roman garrison still clung to the citadel, and Hannibal could not dislodge it. From Carthage he had received a reinforcement of some elephants and of 4000 Numidian cavalry, but this did not enable him to resume the offensive with much effect. Meanwhile Capua, besieged by two consular armies, seemed doomed to fall again into Roman hands. One of Hannibal's subalterns, Hanno, was defeated in the attempt to revictual the place. Hannibal himself hurried to its aid, but he could not bring the Romans to a battle, though he did temporarily raise the siege. The year 212 B.C. was one of mingled success and disaster for Rome. Syracuse that year had to surrender to Marcellus, and Carthage seemed to have quite lost Sicily. Here was an important gain for Rome. But in Spain the two brother Scipios had been cut off by Hasdrubal, who could now cross into Gaul and advance on Italy. And in Italy there had been some serious reverses. It would appear that there were actually six Roman armies in the field against Hannibal. One of these under Fulvius he destroyed in Apulia; another, made up of enfranchised slaves under Gracchus—a proof this of the extremity to which Rome was reduced—he put to rout, Gracchus himself perishing in an ambuscade.

By the spring of 211 B.C. the Romans were besieging Capua with three armies. It was clear that the city must fall, unless Hannibal could come to its rescue. He made the attempt indeed, but he could not break the hostile lines, so strongly were they entrenched. Then he conceived the idea of drawing them off by menacing Rome itself. Now for the first time he marched through Latium and made it taste all the horrors of war. At last he encamped 3 miles from Rome on the Anio. But the Romans did not lose their presence of mind, or even relinquish the siege of Capua; they simply recalled Fulvius with one of the armies. There were two legions within the city, and Hannibal probably never meditated a serious assault. He ravaged the country up to the walls, but he did nothing more. Through Samnium he again marched into Apulia and thence into Bruttium, where he unsuccessfully attacked Rhegium and the citadel of Tarentum. Capua meanwhile' was forced to surrender. This greatly discouraged Hannibal's Italian allies. Marcellus too had come back from Sicily after his capture of Syracuse. Altogether the year 211 B.C. was a very unpromising one for Hannibal. Next year, 210 B.C., however, he partly recovered lost ground by completely defeating the Roman praator Cneius Fulvius at Herdonea, the modern Ordona, in Apulia. But he could not follow up this success, and his evident weakness led to the speedy return of Samnium and Lucania to the Roman confederacy. The following year saw Tarentum slip from his grasp. But he soon had his revenge. Next year the two consuls, Crispinus and Marcellus, were both cut off and slain by the Numidian cavalry in the neighbourhood of Venusia. Another disaster soon followed. A Roman arm}' was besieging Locri in the extreme south. It was routed and indeed destroyed by Hannibal. Thus at the close of the year 208 B.C. the struggle was clearly by no means decided.

Rome had been making immense efforts. We hear of her having twenty-three legions under arms, and possibly the total number of her armies may have reached 200,000 men. The patriotic spirit of her citizens was still at the highest. But her finances were in a deplorable plight, and corn had risen to an almost famine price. The country round must have been woefully wasted, and multitudes reduced to beggary. One thing indeed the Romans had had to console them during these trying years. The Latin communities in Etruria and Latium had stood by them with wonderful fidelity. This had been their salvation. But now in the years 209 and 208 B.C. came signs of discontent and wavering. Of the Latin colonies several declared that they could no longer furnish contingents or contributions. There were rumours too of a disloyal movement in Etruria. But, worst of all, there came news in the autumn of 208 B.C. that Hasdrubal had crossed the Pyrenees. By next summer he would have passed the Alps. Should the two brothers unite their forces, Rome's fate, it could hardly be doubted, would be sealed. She was now in far greater jeopardy than she was even after the disastrous day of Cannae.

The year 207 was thus a very anxious one. Claudius Nero and Marcus Livius were the consuls. The first was to watch Hannibal in Apulia, the other was to encounter Hasdrubal in Cisalpine Gaul. Livius retreated before the new invader, and let him reach Sena in Urnbria, to the south of the river Metaurus, without opposition. Thence Hasdrubal sent despatches to his brother, who was at Canusium in Apulia. The plan was that they should join their armies at Narnia on the Flaminian road, between 50 and 60 miles from Rome. Unluckily for the two brothers the despatches fell into the hands of Nero. His resolution was formed in a moment. Leaving the bulk of his army in its camp, he hurried northwards with 7000 of his best troops, and after a rapid march of 200 miles he joined Livius. The two generals forced Hasdrubal to a battle. The Carthaginian was utterly defeated, and he was himself slain. Nero returned with all speed to his army, and informed Hannibal of the defeat and death of his brother by having the head of Hasdrubal flung into his camp. With that sight all hope must have died in Hannibal's heart. The battle of the Metaurus was indeed one of the decisive battles of the world. It decided the Second Punic War. From that time, for four more years, Hannibal could but stand on the defensive in the southernmost corner of the Italian peninsula. But even to the last no Roman general dared to close with him. Never in a single battle, as Polybius says, was he beaten while in Italy. Before quitting the country, he left a memorial of his wonderful achievements. In the temple of Juno on the Lacinian promontory, near Crotona, he inscribed on brazen tablets in Punic and in Greek an account of his expedition and his campaigns. Polybius saw the inscription and doubtless availed himself of it for his history. For fifteen years Hannibal had maintained himself in Italy, ravaging it from end to end, and inflicting on the Romans according to their own calculation a total loss of 300,000 men. Now all was clearly over. After Nero's victory the Romans could afford to wait the course of events. Scipio had been victorious in Spain, and early in 204 B.C. he was allowed to cross into Africa. Soon it was clear that he would threaten Carthage more effectively than Hannibal had ever threatened Rome. He received the order of recall at Crotona, and thence embarked for Africa. He landed at the smaller Leptis, on the coast of Tunis, late in the year 203 B.C., and lingered during the winter at Hadrumetum, the modern Susa. His brothers Hasdrubal and Mago had both fallen, and he was now the last of the " lion's brood." Fugitive as he was, his presence roused the Carthaginian spirit. The people would not hear of peace. Hannibal indeed attempted to negotiate, and had an interview with Scipio, but in vain. When he saw that he must fight, he could not have felt any of his old confidence. He had some good troops, but he was numerically inferior to the enemy. Of his veterans
but few could have remained. The armies at last met at Zama, somewhere near the modern Keff. The battle was obstinately contested, and Hannibal's old soldiers died fighting in their ranks. But he never really had a chance of victory. Many of his men were raw mercenaries, and some of them deserted to the enemy. His army was utterly discomfited, and indeed annihilated. The defeat was not discreditable to him, but it was decisive. With a handful of men he escaped to Hadrumetum, and in the year 202 B.C. the Second Punic or, more properly, the Hannibalian War was at an end.
He was still only in his forty-sixth year. He soon showed that he could be a statesman as well as a soldier. Peace having been concluded, he was appointed chief magistrate of the state. The office had become rather insignificant, but Hannibal restored its power and authority, The oligarchy, always jealous of him, had even charged him with having betrayed the interests of his country while in Italy, and neglected to take Rome when he might have done so. The dishonesty and incompetence of these men had brought the finances of Carthage into grievous disorder. So effectively did Hannibal reform abuses that the heavy tribute imposed by Rome could be paid by instalments without additional and extraordinary taxation. Carthage grew prosperous, and again the Romans trembled. Seven years after the victory of Zama they demanded Hannibal's surrender. They were still in mortal dread of their old enemy. Hannibal did not wish his countrymen to disgrace themselves, and he therefore at once became an exile. First he went to Tyre, the mother-city of Carthage, and thence to Ephesus, where he was honourably received by Antiochus, king of Syria, who was then preparing for war with Rome. Hannibal soon saw that the king's army was no match for the Romans. He advised him to equip a fleet and throw a body of troops on the south of Italy, adding that he would himself take the command. But he could not make much impression on Antiochus, who was a conceited man, quite ignorant of the strength of Rome. The story was told that, pointing to the great army he had assembled at Ephesus, he asked Hannibal if he did not think that these were enough for the Romans. Hannibal's reply was, " Yes, enough for the Romans, however greedy they may be." The great army in which Antiochus had trusted was in 190 B.C. routed by Scipio at Magnesia near Smyrna. Again Rome demanded the surrender of Hannibal.

The end was now at hand. From the court of Antiochus Hannibal fled to Crete, but he soon went back to Asia, and sought refuge with Prusias, king of Bithynia. Once more the Romans were determined to hunt out the old man, and they sent Flamininus to insist on his surrender. Prusias was but a poor paltry princeling, and he promptly complied. Hannibal did not choose to fall into his enemies' hands. At Libyssa, on the eastern shore of the Sea of Marmora, he took poison, which, it was said, he had long carried about with him in a ring. The precise year of his death was a matter of controversy. If, as Livy seems to imply, it was 183 B.C., he died in the same year as his great and victorious antagonist, Scipio Africanus.

As to the transcendent military genius of Hannibal there cannot be two opinions. The man who for fifteen years could hold his ground in a hostile country against several powerful armies and a succession of able generals must have been a commander and a tactician of supreme capacity. Wonderful as his achievements were, we must marvel the more when we take into account the grudging support he received from Carthage. As his veterans melted away, he had to organize fresh levies on the spot. We never hear of a mutiny in his army, composed though it was of Africans, Spaniards, and Gauls. He who could throw a spell over such rough and various natures must indeed have been an extraordinary man. Again, all we know of him conies for the most part from hostile sources. The Romans feared and hated him so much that they could not do him justice. Long after the peril had passed away, we may well believe that Horace accurately reflected their sentiment in describing him, as he does more than once, as the dines Hannibal. Livy speaks of his great qualities, but he adds that his vices were equally great, among which he singles out his " more than Punic perfidy " and " an inhuman cruelty." For the first there would seem to be no further justification than that he was consummately skilful in the use of ambuscades. For the latter there is, we believe, no more ground than that at certain crises he acted in the general spirit of ancient warfare. Sometimes he contrasts most favourably with his enemy. No such brutality stains his name as that perpetrated by Claudius Nero on the vanquished Hasdrubal. Polybius merely says that he was accused of cruelty by the Romans and of avarice by the Carthaginians. He had indeed bitter enemies, and his life was one continuous struggle against destiny. For steadfastness of purpose, for organizing capacity and a mastery of military science, he has perhaps never had an equal.

Considering his fame, we should have expected to find a number of anecdotes about him. There are, however, only a few. One is given by Cicero (De Oratore, ii. 18); and may fairly find a place here. When he was an exile at Ephesus, he was invited to hear a lecture from one Phormio, a philosopher. The lecturer discoursed on things in general and on the duties of a commander-in-chief in particular, and was warmly applauded by his audience. Some of the hearers turned to Hannibal and asked him what he thought of it. " I have seen," said he, " plenty of old fools in my time, but this man beats them all."

Our chief sources for the life of Hannibal are Polybius and Livy. With Polybius we are generally on safe ground, but unfortunately we have not his guidance throughout. Livy's narrative is too much devoted to his country to be impartial; but he is minute, and his entire history of the Second Punic War has come down to us. There are besides the meagre epitomes of Floras and Orosius, and the remains of the abridgment of Dion Cassius by Zonaras. We have also Plutarch's lives of Fabius Maximus and Marcellus, in which of course Hannibal figures conspicuously, and a life by Cornelius Nepos. To these must be added Appian, whose book on the Wars of Hannibal is not without some value. (W. J. B.)

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