59 Hannibal Facts: Discover The Life Of The Carthaginian General

Joan Agie
Oct 24, 2023 By Joan Agie
Originally Published on Mar 08, 2022
Hannibal facts will discuss Mediterranean history

Hannibal Barca is widely considered to be one of the greatest military commanders.

Hannibal Barca was born and raised in the ancient city of Carthage. His name is mainly linked to the Second Punic War, fought between the Roman Republic and Carthage.

One of the most incredible feats of Hannibal Barca was to cross the snow-clad mountains of the Alps to reach Italy from Spain. This was a tremendous achievement if we consider how hard it must have been to walk through mountain passes with a large army.

In doing so, he did the unthinkable and almost destroyed Rome once and for all.

Life And History Of Hannibal

The story of Hannibal Barca and his clash with Rome is legendary. Hannibal was given charge of the Carthaginian army at the young age of 25, after the passing of his father, Hamilcar Barca.

Both Hannibal and his father hailed from the Barca family of Carthage, which had a stronghold in the affairs of the state.

Hannibal's fierce hatred toward Rome prompted him to raise an enormous army so that he could invade Italy. Hannibal Barca was born at a time when the Carthaginian Empire was engaged in the First Punic War with Rome.

The city-state of Carthage was the center of the great Phoenician Civilization, which rose in and around the Levant and then spread across the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. It remained the most important power in the region of the Mediterranean for several centuries.

Legend has it that Carthage was founded by Queen Dido in circa eighth century BC. Carthage had a vast empire stretched across the areas along the Mediterranean Sea. The empire had established colonies in the islands of Sardinia and Sicily. Its influence and power had even reached Spain, in mainland Europe.

However, around the third century BC, Rome was beginning to expand its boundaries. The Romans were based in the city-state of Rome, which was founded in the eighth century. 

From a nondescript provincial town, Rome had grown to be a major powerhouse in Italy. So, it was only natural that the two rival powers of the Mediterranean would come face to face in a bitter struggle.

The Romans found Carthage to be the biggest rival on its quest to become a great power in the region. Likewise, Carthage suddenly had a new foe in the form of Rome, vying for the same amount of pride and prestige that Carthage had been enjoying in this part of the world for a long time.

The First Punic War began in 264 BC, the same year that Hannibal Barca was born. During the First Punic War, Hannibal's father was one of the leaders of the Carthaginian Army. The war stretched for almost 23 years, after which Rome emerged as the decisive winner in 241 BC. 

As Hannibal's father was the commander of Carthage's forces, the blame for the defeat fell upon his shoulders. After winning the war, Rome sought payments in taxes in return for the safety of Carthage. 

As the state treasury was emptied to fulfill the demands thrown by Rome, the mercenary armies of Carthage were overlooked. This caused tension and strife in the military, and Hannibal's father had to give assurances to his soldiers about their salaries.

The next step that Hannibal's father took would change the young Hannibal's life forever. To raise money for the state, Hamilcar fixed his sight toward Spain. A nine-year-old Hannibal accompanied his father to Spain after he was made to promise that the defeat of Rome would be the primary objective in his life. 

Some sources suggest that Hamilcar even made his son take a sacred vow that would see Hannibal oppose Rome all his life. 

Hamilcar's aim was to take Spain under the control of Carthage and extract resources to heal the damage to the treasury caused by the defeat in the First Punic War. 

Hamilcar was successful in annexing large parts of Spain after a series of campaigns, following which he brought Spain's silver under Carthage control.

Hannibal Barca spent the entirety of his youth hanging around his father's forces. Being so close to combat veterans and other soldiers and speaking the local Punic language, Hannibal had developed a keen eye for military strategy and management. 

At the age of 23, Hannibal Barca was given the command of the Carthaginian cavalry. He did not take much time to show his talents on the field of battle. 

Sometime around 228 BC, Hamilcar was killed in action in one of his Spanish campaigns. The responsibility of leading the army was passed on to Hasdrubal the Fair, who was Hannibal's brother-in-law.

When Hasdrubal was murdered in 221 BC, Hannibal came forward to apply for the charge of the Generalship of the Carthaginian Army. 

After careful consideration, the Carthaginian Senate granted Hannibal's request. So, at the young age of 25, Hannibal Barca was made the commander of one of the strongest armies of the known world.

Contribution Of Hannibal To The Army

According to the treaty agreed between Rome and Carthage after the end of the First Punic War, Carthage had the right to explore its interests in Spain. Hamilcar did just that, and now his son, the new General Hannibal, was pursuing the same policies.

As a first bold move after becoming General, Hannibal made steady gains in Spain and moved closer to the city of Saguntum (close to modern Valencia). This alarmed Rome since Saguntum was allied to them. 

Without paying heed to the repercussions of his actions, Hannibal marched towards Saguntum and captured it. This incident, which took place in 218 BC, marked the start of the Second Punic War.

Rome did not respond militarily at first, instead relying on diplomacy to reach a settlement with Carthage. However, when Carthage outright refused to come to the negotiation table, Rome had no other option but to send a Roman force to tackle the situation in Saguntum. 

Yet, when the Roman army reached Saguntum, it was already on the ground, and Hannibal's Army was nowhere to be seen. Soon the Roman army discovered that Hannibal was on his way to Northern Spain.

On reaching the northern parts of Spain, Hannibal did not stop fighting. He went on fighting the local tribes and provided the soldiers under his command ample amount of combat experience. 

It was during this time that Hannibal made the decision to take his army to Italy in order to defeat Rome.

Hannibal was well aware that his Spanish territorial possessions could never be safe from Roman forces unless he left a sizable army garrisoned in Spain. With that in mind, Hannibal divided his forces and left his younger brother, Hasdrubal Barca, in charge of Spain in his absence. 

It is really important to note here that by this time, Hannibal had grown in stature and was portrayed as someone who had the sole mission to free the people of mainland Europe from the menace of Rome. 

This portrayal of Hannibal helped in the recruitment of local populations for the upcoming Roman expedition.

Hannibal's next phase of the plan was to find a way to reach Italy. The option of crossing the Mediterranean Sea to launch a naval attack on Rome was out of the picture since Rome had long overtaken Carthage as the most potent maritime power in the region. 

Hannibal was hence left with no choice but to do the unthinkable, which was to cross the treacherous mountain route to Northern Italy through the Alps.

Hannibal's army, consisting of roughly 90,000 soldiers, plus his war elephants numbering approximately 37, had the herculean task of covering the perilous journey that many believed was near impossible. 

Despite the presence of countless dangers and risks, Hannibal Barca set about doing something previously unheard of. Hannibal's army made a quick advance from northern Spain into southern Gaul (modern-day France) and battled various tribes that inhabited the region.

By the time Hannibal was at the foothills of the Alps, his forces had already been depleted, and some of his junior officers were in open disagreement with Hannibal's plans. Hannibal and his forces took around 17 days to complete the hazardous journey across the Alps.

Once he had set foot in Northern Italy, he was left with about 20,000 infantry and 6,000 cavalry soldiers.

Although his forces had majorly reduced in number, Hannibal had faith in his superior military mind to turn disadvantages into advantages. 

Hannibal was an exceptional reader of the terrain of an area and always selected a place that would aid his soldiers in battle.

Hannibal's exact burial site in Turkey remains unknown

Role Of Hannibal In Battles

The high point of the Second Punic War came in 218 BC when the Romans faced Hannibal's forces for the first time on a battlefield in the Battle of the Trebia.

This battle was fought next to the River Trebia, where Hannibal had told a portion of his army to lay hidden for a surprise attack.

As soon as the Romans made their way into the waters of the river, the soldiers who were hiding in the waters took the Romans entirely by surprise and decimated them. Hannibal also lost his right eye to an infection after his victory in the Battle of Trebia.

This would go on to be the first of the several victories that Hannibal could muster in his military career.

The next great war of the Second Punic War was fought in 216 BC in a place called Cannae. Widely considered one of the finest military victories of all time, the Battle of Cannae proved Hannibal's genius as an army commander once and for all.

Hannibal did not have a big army going into this battle. The Carthaginian army numbered about 45,000 soldiers. 

On the other hand, the Roman army had a number far exceeding 70,000. Under these circumstances, Hannibal had to come up with a brilliant strategy to hope for victory.

As fate would have it, Hannibal did precisely that. He ordered his troops to form the shape of a crescent and signaled the comparatively auxiliary units to remain in the middle. 

Hannibal then placed his principal units towards the flanks, something no general before him had done in recorded history. As the battle ensued, the Romans concentrated their forces toward the central zone of Hannibal's army.

The Romans made initial gains by getting the better of Hannibal's auxiliary units in the middle. 

Yet, the Romans had already fallen into the trap set by Hannibal. They were caught unawares when they found themselves encircled by the Carthaginian flanks from the side and by their cavalry from the rear. 

There was no way out for the Romans from that situation, and it was a total disaster for the Roman Army. The Romans lost more than 50,000 men in the Battle of Cannae to Hannibal's 12,000.

The Battle of Cannae is Hannibal's most significant military victory. It caused the decline of Rome's prestige in Italy for a while. Several Italian city-states, such as Capua, abandoned their allegiance to Rome and joined Hannibal's camp.

Even after turning the Roman army to rubble, Hannibal took the unpopular choice of not attacking Rome directly. Historians have not really been able to reach a consensus as to why Hannibal chose not to attack Rome when he had the best advantage. 

Some believe that Hannibal was convinced that Rome was a well-guarded city, and its walls were hard to breach. Not to forget, Hannibal had to leave his siege equipment back in Spain before crossing the Alps.

What is Hannibal known for?

Hannibal continued his campaigns in Italy for 15 years, during which time he had to fight many battles. One of his chief rivals in the early years of the campaign was Roman General Fabius Maximus.

Fabius Maximus became famous for coming up with a new kind of strategy to deal with Hannibal. He used to keep the main Roman army away from the scene of battles during his engagements with the Carthaginian forces and used guerrilla tactics to inflict damage to Hannibal's forces.

Ultimately, Rome decided that the best way to make Hannibal leave Italy was by launching a counter-invasion of Carthage itself. The Roman Senate carried out this mission to a young Roman General named Scipio Africanus

Scipio was instrumental in recapturing Roman possessions in Spain from Carthage. His success in Spain left Hannibal with no choice but to abandon his Italian campaign and return to Carthage.

Both Scipio and Hannibal set sail for Carthage around the same time. Eventually, they met on the plains of Zama for the ultimate battle between Rome and Carthage. 

The Battle of Zama would be the final battle in Hannibal's long and illustrious military career. This was the only time the great Carthaginian general was outsmarted by a rival commander, in this case, Scipio.

Hannibal's loss in the Battle of Zama brought an end to the Second Punic War. Rome emerged as the sole master of the Mediterranean following the brutal war terms that were forced upon Carthage. 

Hannibal retained a crucial administrative position in Carthage for a while after the conclusion of the war but was soon ostracized by the Carthaginian elite.

Hannibal spent his final years as a fugitive, running from one place to another. Hannibal was the military advisor to the Seleucid King Antiochus III for a while. 

After failing to guide his forces to victory against Roman forces, Hannibal once again fled the court of Antiochus to seek refuge in the Kingdom of Bithynia (in modern-day Turkey).

Hannibal was given protection by the Bithynian King Prusias I at first. But when the Romans came looking for Hannibal, Prusias agreed to hand over Hannibal to the Romans. 

In the end, when his little house was surrounded by the Romans, Hannibal chose to take his own life rather than being captured and humiliated by the Romans.

The death of Hannibal, followed by the fall of Carthage, cleared the path for Rome to become the undisputed power of the Mediterranean world. 

With no significant power left to challenge its ascendancy after the demise of Carthage, Rome orchestrated a relentless expansion drive. 

Many scholars are actually of the view that one of the reasons why Rome transformed from a city-state into the Roman Empire was because of the fall of Carthage.

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Written by Joan Agie

Bachelor of Science specializing in Human Anatomy

Joan Agie picture

Joan AgieBachelor of Science specializing in Human Anatomy

With 3+ years of research and content writing experience across several niches, especially on education, technology, and business topics. Joan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Human Anatomy from the Federal University of Technology, Akure, Nigeria, and has worked as a researcher and writer for organizations across Nigeria, the US, the UK, and Germany. Joan enjoys meditation, watching movies, and learning new languages in her free time.

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