Today’s entry is about the mighty elephant Hannibal, a man whose father instilled such a hate in him for the city of Rome that he would not only fight his entire life to try and destroy it, but took a draught of poison rather than be imprisoned within her halls. Hannibal absolutely loathed Rome, it was a deep, deep hate born and bred from the loss of his father, brothers and friends to their legions, and it all began from one legendary act.
The act (that Hannibal reportedly loved to talk about) was when his father, the mighty Hamilcar held him aloft above a fire and made him swear to hate Rome or face the flames and oblivion.
Being a young soldier within his father’s campaign, Hannibal at first fought whilst witnessing his father and older brother expand Carthage into Spain and beat back Rome like nobody’s business. He was sharp and ambitious which eventually led to him becoming first officer to his brother Hasdrubal after their father had died in combat. Hasdrubal was a man of reason and organized treaties of peace with Rome (who wanted to bury their dead) to keep them out of Carthagian territory. He also made an alliance with the tribes of the Iberian peninsula. To solidify relations, Hannibal was made to marry an Iberian princess and diplomacy was the order of the day.
For all the good that Hasdrubal did, he was assassinated in 221BC and Hannibal ascended as supreme commander. Based on accounts at the time, his father’s men were elated at the sight of their new warlord as he stood as his father did in visage, demeanor and more importantly… intent. See Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal had been assassinated for forming alliances with Rome’s enemies, namely the barbarian Celts.
When the Celts made to invade Italy, the Romans struck first and decimated them, calling for Hasdrubal’s head in time with the victory. When the assassination had succeeded, the Romans falsely believed the threat was diminished, thinking that Hasdrubal’s brother was not like his predecessors, but little did they know that Hannibal planned on picking up where his brother had left off.
“Rome began to fear his intentions”
Once ruler, Hannibal conquered Hispania and his popularity and army grew with every victory that he commanded. Rome, seeing the son of Hamilcar growing in power, began to fear his intentions and immediately made an alliance with Saguntum ( a city of eastern Spain). Hannibal saw this as a breach of the treaty his brother had signed with Rome and declared war immediately.
Editor’s note: I believe this was all the excuse Hannibal needed to pick up the pace which his father started and execute some revenge on the Romans. Needless to say, the Siege of Saguntum, set off the movement that Hannibal would become legendary for.
The long and treacherous road to Rome’s back door.
To plot Rome’s defeat, Hannibal studied his father’s strategy in the First Punic War and examined the flaws which caused him to lose. He surmised that his father was wrong to go at Rome directly, which left her allies to aid her from all ends. He put together an army of well-trained elephants and foot soldiers to not only drive into Rome via land, but to take all of her allies through conquest or surrender prior to going into the country itself. The plan was unprecedented for its age and Hannibal was deemed a military genius for concocting it. His upcoming war would involve everyone within the Mediterranean area, from North Africa upwards and it was a major awakening for everyone at the time from barbarian to noble.
With over 100,000 allied warriors, Hannibal rode north to the Pyrenees, cutting through tribes of stubborn troops via sheer numbers or military wit. For other barbarian Gauls who would have barred his path on the way to the Alps (Hannibal was planning on hitting Rome through the back door… pun intended), he either allied with the tribes or made peace for safe passage. At times Hannibal would leave over 10,000+ troops garrisoned on a territory that he sacked – of course this meant they weren’t willing to make the Carthagian ride through peacefully.
By the time he made it to the Rhone, Hannibal had around 45,000 troops and 40 war elephants. The Alps were a monster to get through however and even with Hannibal’s ingenuity (using vinegar and fire to break through a rockfall as an example), many died making the journey to invade Rome. When Hannibal, son of Hamilcar finally stepped foot into Italy, his troops were around 25,000 and only a handful of elephants remained.
The Sacking of Rome
Rome, anticipating Hannibal to be in Iberia (where their intel told them he had made an alliance), sent it’s legions there to intercept him. Little did they know that he had braved the Alps (a feat that no-one would have dared try for the sheer insanity it took) and was now at their very gates.
The appearance of the Carthagian horde forced the Romans to yield the territory of Lombardy and won the Gauls over to Hannibal’s side. Rome however countered via Sicilian reinforcements but the military genius of Hannibal shone through again when he shattered the superior Roman infantry through a surprise ambush.
Securing a position in northern Italy, Hannibal prepared his forces to march through the center while Rome fortified her armies in preparation of the assault (it’s already sounding like a kick ass movie right?) Hannibal made the surge, winning victory after victory against the Romans but eventually things started to swing the other way as his alliances buckled and resources dwindled.
The Romans, who had managed to flip most of Hannibal’s alliances were content at wearing down his splintered army and it eventually worked out for them. The long stalemate and years away from home had begun to take its toll on Hannibal’s invaders and the impressive ground that he had gained began to break away from fatigue. For over 11 hard years Hannibal fought, conquering regions of Italy only to lose them again later on.
In 207 BC Hannibal orchestrated a pincer attack with his brother (named after their late father) Hasdrubal Barca to finally lance Rome and break her back. Hasdrubal Barca was defeated however and this was enough to sober Hannibal’s will and he eventually retreated to retire in Bruttium (an old Italian city). Four years later after losing his brother to the war, Hannibal was called back to his home country of Carthage in order to help defend her against the now invading Romans.
Death before Dishonor!
When Hannibal arrived in Africa, his presence reignited the troops with vigor and he was placed in command of them immediately.
Meeting the Roman leaders to organize a truce, Carthage was allowed to keep it’s fortifications in North Africa but would lose all of their territories within the Roman area proper (all of that work for nothing). It was a devastating meeting and one that Hannibal did not agree with – how could he? Going against his fellow generals who agreed with a peaceful surrendering, the mighty elephant went to war once more in the Battle of Zama.
At Zama Hannibal’s forces got rocked by the Romans and his invincible reputation suffered irreparable damage. His people had lost respect for him after all of these years as he seemed more a fanatic than the man they saw leave to defeat their mortal enemy. This upstart war by Carthage was done and the city was forced to comply with the original agreement (to lose all of their conquered territories) and Hannibal at 43 had no choice but to return home and play politics as a fallen warlord.
Years later after doing an exemplary job as a political lead for Carthage, the Romans who disliked the prosperity that their conquered enemy was showing, demanded the surrender of Hannibal to them.
Choosing instead to go into exile, Hannibal went to Ephesus to act as consul to their king who was prepping to try his hand at defeating Rome. Although the king didn’t listen to Hannibal’s strategies and was eventually routed by his enemy, Hannibal continued to lend his insights to the other generals, resulting in small victories and a continued annoyance to the legions.
In 181BC Prusias I of Bitynia, agreed to turn over Hannibal to the Romans even after he had assisted him in their campaign (Oh Hannibal you trusted too much). Rather than be taken in by his enemy, Hannibal drunk poison from a ring that he had worn for years. The ring was created for that very occasion and Hannibal The Great died with honor, a lion who wouldn’t back down to the Romans and a memory to them that their immortal Empire was not as invincible as they believed.See some words or phrases that you don't understand? Check out The Dragon's Lexicon.