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Roman reaction

2nd Punic war; Hannibal Barca, Rome's worst enemy

±247 - ±185 bc

Hannibal Barca according to Livius
Hannibal came to power over the Carthaginian forces in Spain after his brother in law had been murdered. At that moment he had the age of about 26 years. In Livius(21.4) Hannibal is given a lot a ugly traits, like cruelty and dishonesty and even less trustworthy than the common Carthaginians, who were considered untrustworthy in Rome. But compare this to Livius (21.21). This of course is a very stereotype picture of an enemy, who almost brought those noble Romans on their knees. Everybody who attacked Rome had to be evil. Yet in his descriptions of the events we can see Livius admires at least the achievements of this man and in his ab urbe condita 28.12 he even openly admires Hannibal's leadership.

Hannibal Barca according to Polybius
Polybius needs 4 chapters (9.22-26) to tell us that he doesn't know much about Hannibal's character. He doesn't give an extensive profile like Livius, but he suggests Hannibal's popularity amongst his men depended on paying them generously (Pol.3.13). Of course Hannibal knew mercenaries would be loyal and good fighters as long as he paid them. Carthago knew very well what happened if you did not.This constant need for money , to keep his men happy, probably explanes why he seemed so greedy. But when we observe how he crossed the Alps, where he lost about half his army and the remaining half stayed loyal to him, he must have had that magical touch that makes extraordinary leaders. Almost any other man would have been crucified, like the Carthaginians usually did with failing commanders. In Polybius(11.19) also Polybius openly admires the Hannibal's learship. (This text probably served as a source for Livius)

Tactics versus strategy
Hannibal was very young when he became the general in Spain. He would prove to be an outstanding tactician, but his strategy would fail. Why? Tacticians win a battle; a strategist looks beyond that and contemplates totally different subjects than needed for a battle. Hannibal only slightly considered how to win the war. The most of his strategy he inherited from his father.
Carthago certainly had the powers to win the war but lacked the will. Hannibal was too much counteracted by his opponents in the Carthaginian senate. Hanno opposed him in every move he made. Hannibal should have convinced his senate this war was inevitable and this was the time to have it started, because the alternative was to be destroyed. He plunged them into the war without a warning instead.

Adapt or die
Strange as it may sound Hannibal's way of fighting was defensive, even very defensive. His only aggressive action was his crossing of the Alps. After that he waited for the Romans to attack. After four times and have been defeated all four times the Romans adapted and stopped fighting pitched battles with Hannibal. Hannibal never found a counter strategy.
Hannibal must have known the Romans would never give up before their city was conquered. They had proved that against Phyrrus and in the first Punic war. Yet Hannibal expected them to negotiate peace when he and his army were still a week's march from Rome. The Romans refused of course.

Hannibal a liberator?
Hannibal had reckoned, he would be seen as a liberator and all the peoples in Italy would change sides and help him defeat the Romans. He forgot to take in account the people close around Rome hadn't seen war on their territory for 70 years and were used to live in peace and prosperity. To keep it that way, they would support Rome until the end. And if they even considered making paece with Carthago on their own, Rome would be ready to act.

Hannibal's allies
Hannibal's natural allies would be the Gauls in the north and the Samnites in the south. Hannibal only partly succeeded in winning them to his side and make them fight for him. As we will see in the next pages he started with fighting with the Gauls when he wanted to cross the Rône. And when he had the chance to show the who his enemies were, he ran off into the Alps.

Now let's look into this war in more detail in the next pages.

    Bust of Hannibal Barca    

Hannibal Barca


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