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Hannibal Essay, Research Paper


In 237 B.C., Hamilcar Barca took his nine year old son, Hannibal, to the alter of a Carthaginian god and made him swear that he would always be an enemy to the Romans. Hannibal and his father then left for Spain. The center of Carthaginian power in Spain was the city of New Carthage(modern Carthagena). Hannibal saw firsthand his father’s techniques for war (Green 9).

When Hamilcar died in battle in 230 B.C., his son-in-law, Hasdrubal, became general and continued Carthage’s influence in Spain. In 226 B.C. Hasdrubal signed a treaty with the Romans. The treaty stated that neither army could cross the Ebro River in northern Spain (Charles-Picard 11).

When Hasdrubal was killed in 221 B.C., the Carthaginians unanimously elected twenty-six-year-old Hannibal to be commander of the army in Spain. He continued to conquer land without crossing the Ebro River, except for the city of Saguntum, an ally of Rome. When Saguntum began trouble between Carthage and Rome in 219 B.C., Hannibal raided the city. This began the Second Punic War. Hannibal began a long and dangerous journey, with battle elephants marching at the front of his army (Green 21).

Hannibal left a lasting reminder of his deeds in the names of Spanish places such as Potus Hannibalis, Insula Hannabalis, and Scalae Hannibalis (Lancel 12).

In the spring of 218 B.C., Hannibal handed over command of the Spanish armies to his brother Hasdrubal. He then led his troops north toward the Pyrenees Mountains and began one of the most famous journeys in history (Green 24).

Hannibal’s army included Libyans and Numidians from North Africa, Iberians and Celtiberians from Spain, and Gauls from Spain, France, and Italy.There were ninety thousand foot soldiers, twelve thousand horsemen, and several dozen war elephants. Hannibal used the elephants to break infantry lines and to create fear and disorder. The elephants also frightened horses, so they were able to disrupt the enemy’s cavalry (Green 25).

In the Pyrenees, Hannibal encountered resistance from local tribes. He lost a lot of his men to fighting, and some of the mercenaries went home because they were scared of the long journey. With all this, Hannibal continued to move as quickly as possible. He knew that it was important to reach the Alps before winter storms made them impassable (Green 27).

When news of Hannibal’s army reached Rome, the Gauls of northern Italy revolted. The Gauls had been very hostile to the Romans.The Romans had plans to attack Carthage and New Carthage, but they had to be delayed because of the rebelling tribes in Italy and the approach of Hannibal. So the Romans sent troops under the command of Publius Cornelius Scipio, to stop Hannibal at Massilia(modern Marseilles, France) (Lancel 21).

Massilia is on the French coast where the Rhone River runs into the Mediterranean Sea. The Rhone is a wide river with a swift current, so it was a great obstacle to Hannibal. Scipio’s troops set up camp by the sea, thinking that Hannibal would reach Massilia in the near future. But he did not realize how fast Hannibal was moving his troops (Lancel 26).

When Scipio received news of Hannibal, it was too late. Hannibal had moved his entire army across the Rhone, fifty miles north of Massilia (Lancel 29).

Although Hannibal’s army had been reduced to fifty thousand infantry, nine thousand horses, and thirty-seven elephants, it was a great accomplishment to get across the Rhone. To transport the

elephants, the men built rafts and covered them with dirt and branches, so that the elephants would think that they were walking on solid ground. Not a single elephant was killed while trying to cross the Rhone (Green 31).

When the Alps came into view, Hannibal allowed his army a few days to rest, because he knew that his army had doubts about crossing the Alps. Never before had elephants crossed the Alps. The army did not reach the Alps until late in the year, and many troops and horses were killed. Some troops who came from warmer climates died from the cold. Some troops died of hunger because food was short o come by. Others died in fights with mountain tribes. Some of the mountain tribes rolled big stones down the mountains and caused men and animals to fall from the narrow mountain passage (Green 33).

When Hannibal reached the Italian side of the Alps, he had lost nearly half of his soldiers and a third of his horses, but there is no record of him losing any elephants. The news ran throughout Italy: Hannibal has crossed the Alps! (Green 35).

With the Alps behind him, he set out to conquer the Romans. He could not hope for the surrender of Rome unless he defeated the Roman army. Hannibal would nearly win, beginning with a battle at Cannae in 216 B.C.(Charles-Picard 31).

Scipio’s troops had gone on to Spain. When he got back to Italy from Massilia, he took command of the Roman forces that had been sent north and went out to meet Hannibal.

Hannibal was eager to face the Roman forces, because he needed to know how many there were and what sort of man was in command (Green 40).

The first battle between the two forces occurred when Hannibal’s horsemen met the advancing Romans at the Ticinus River. The Romans retreated, but not before Scipio was wounded (Green 41).

The Roman general Tiberius Sempronius Longus arrived with reinforcements from Sicily. But Longus and Scipio disagreed on how to handle Hannibal. In December of 218 B.C. Hannibal lured Longus into a trap at the Trebia River. Longus took all of the Roman horsemen and legions. The Carthaginians destroyed about three-quarters of the Roman army (Green 45).

Winter weather stopped the advance of Hannibal. Most of his men and animals had died. By spring, only one elephant was alive (Lancel 51).

Hannibal had to fight in two other battles before he could get close to Rome. But he did not attack Rome. He did not have enough men or supplies to attack. So Hannibal went and stayed in Italy until 203 B.C.(Green 55).

The armies of Hannibal and Scipio met one more time near the city of Zama in 202 B.C. The two armies had set up camp across from one another. Hannibal and Scipio rode out on horseback to meet each other on the battlefield (Green 56).

On the day of battle, Hannibal placed eighty elephants in front of his infantry. The elephants were not done with their training, and the Romans used trumpet blasts and shouts to confuse them.

Hannibal had suffered his first and last defeat. With it came the end of Carthaginian influence around the Mediterranean and the end of the Second Punic War (Green 58).

In 183 B.C., the Romans heard that Hannibal had gained control of an army. They demanded that Hannibal should be turned over to them. Roman troops surrounded Hannibal’s house. When they crashed into his house, Hannibal was dead on the floor. He had drank a cup of poison ( Green 61).

Hannibal was important in history because of his military expertise. Although he had learned many of his tactics from his father and Alexander the Great, he will always be known for his maneuvers in battle. He will also be remembered for being the first person to cross the Alps with elephants.

Green, Robert. Hannibal. New York: Franklin Watts, 1996.

Lancel, Serge. Carthage A History. Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1995.

Charles-Picard, Gilbert and Colette. Daily Life In Carthage. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1961.

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