Second Punic War: Hannibal vs Scipio

Deliverable #4: Tangent Deliverable

January 12, 2003

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2nd Punic War

Hannibal Barca was born in 247 BC, oldest son to the great Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca. His birthplace, the republic of Carthage, was at that time losing a major war with the neighboring republic of Rome. The first Punic War, as it was known, ended in 241 when Hannibal was 6 years old. Carthage lost much from the war, including all of it's territory outside of Africa. A dislike of Rome was common among the Carthaginians, and it is rumored that Hannibal was made to swear eternal hatred for the republic to the east.

After the losses of it's island territories to Rome at the end of the war, Carthage had chosen to expand into Spain instead. Hannibal was brought to the ongoing territorial wars there by his father in 237 BC. Hannibal was 10 years old at the time, and was already being raised into a life of war. On the other side of the Mediterranean Sea another great general of the times was born. Publius Cornelius Scipio "Africanus" was born in Rome in 236 BC, son to a popular Roman general of the same name. The Scipio family had been very successful in Rome, and much was expected of young Publius Africanus.

When Hamilcar Barca died in 229 BC in battle near the Jucar river, command of the Spanish wars was given to Hannibal's brother-in-law, Hasdrubal. Hasdrubal continued the Carthaginian efforts in Spain, encouraging diplomatic relations with the tribes of the region. As part of these diplomacies Hannibal was married to a local princess. When Hasdrubal was assassinated in 221 BC, the Carthaginian army in Spain elected Hannibal as the new commander. Hannibal returned to the tactics of his father, favoring military action over diplomacy.

During Hasdrubal's command, a treaty was made with the Romans, who had become wary of Carthage's new expansions. According to the treaty, everything south of the Ebro river was considered territory of Carthage. However, the city of Saguntum, deep within Carthage's Iberian territory, had been independently seeking friendship with Rome. Hannibal had given the city a wide berth in fear of Roman aggression, but when Saguntum started to become a contender in the politics of Spain he was left with little choice. He seiged and captured the city in 219 BC. Rome was enraged and demanded the immediate surrender of Hannibal, but Carthage refused. The Second Punic War was started as a result. By 218 BC Publius Cornelius, Scipio Africanus' father, was ordered to the war in Spain.  After landing in Massalia and realizing that Hannibal was already moving his army into Italy, Publius sent his brother onward to Spain while he and Scipio Africanus, by now 18 years of age, sailed back to defend Italy. They gathered their forces in the Po Valley and waited for Hannibal's arrival.

Hannibal had shocked the Romans by deciding to march his army into Italy by way of crossing the Alps. Hannibal left Spain under command of his brother Hasdrubal Gisco (Not to be confused with his dead brother in law, Hasdrubal), and marched his army across the Ebro and into southern Gaul. There he recruited many of the Roman-hating Celtic barbarians. Friendly Gallic tribes guided Hannibal and his army through the Alps, a task Hannibal's army completed in just 16 days, even under numerous attacks and hardships. Having lost over half of his army along the hard march from Spain, Hannibal replaced most of his losses from Gallic tribes near the Po river.

The first battle of the war was soon to take place between Hannibal and Publius Cornelius near the river Ticinus. Hannibal's Numidian cavalry won him the battle,  and would have cost the wounded Publius his life if not for a daring rescue attempt led by his son Scipio Africanus. The Romans withdrew and waited for reinforcement at the river Trebbia. When Titus Sempronius arrived with two legions, another battle was soon under way. Sempronius' desire for a fight led to the ambush of the Roman army, and another victory for Hannibal.

Hannibal marched his army onward, across the Apennine mountains. After evading the Romans' attempt to defend against the crossing, Hannibal set up an ambush for his pursuing enemies. The Romans stumbled into the trap at Lake Trasimeno, and nearly the entire army was killed as they were surrounded and forced into the waters. After this stunning defeat, the Roman people elected Fabius Maximus as dictator of Rome. He adopted an unpopular strategy of never engaging in open battles with Hannibal, but instead following him and wearing him down with small skirmishes. Rome's allies remained loyal, and Hannibal received no reinforcements.

The Romans soon grew tired of Fabius' tactics however, and by 216 had instead raised an army of 80,000 men. The two consuls, Varro and Paullus, gave battle to Hannibal's army at Cannae. Hannibal's elephants had all died by that time, leaving his superior cavalry as his only advantage over the larger forces of the two consuls. However, as the forces advanced on each other, Hannibal's cavalry was able to route the Roman equivalents, allowing Hannibal to box in the remaining roman infantry. The infantry was slaughtered, and Hannibal had once again shocked Rome.

Scipio had escaped from the battle, and led other survivors in an escape from their doomed camp. With both previous leaders dead, the remnants of the army appointed Scipio as a commander. At merely 20 years old, Scipio had already become known for his ability. The defeat at Cannae has stifled the Romans, but had in no way defeated them. A new army was raised in Rome even as the south of Italy fell to Hannibal.

The number of men Rome needed to engage Hannibal was considerable, leaving them little power to halt his actions throughout Italy. He attempted to move south and capture port towns, that reinforcements from Carthage might be more easily received. He was moderately successful, as many Samnite cities came under his influence. He finally received reinforcement from Carthage in 215, although not as strong a force as he would have hoped. His victories had been only mild in the south, not the grand victories that would be needed to cripple Rome for good. He had failed in his attempt to take Naples, but the wealthy city of Capua offered itself to him. He then attempted to take the city of Nola, but the city officials had gotten word to Rome of the impending attack and an army was sent under Marcus Marcellus to save the city. Hannibal sieged the city, but the battles continued to be only bloody draws. Hannibal soon called off the attack on the city, deprived once again of a grand victory.

While Hannibal was trying to incite Rome's allies in revolt, Scipio was busy with his own legacy in Rome. As a favor for his cousin, Scipio had involved himself in the elections for curule aedile, a high position of administration for public works. Being unprecedentedly young for such a race, Scipio and his cousin's victory in 214 BC came as a shock to the older statesman. At 22, such an accomplishment was unheard of. All was not well in Rome however, as the Sicilian kingdom of Syracuse defected to Hannibal after the death of king Hiero II in 215 BC.

The battles waged on, Rome staging a number of brutal assaults in southern Italy and Sicily, taking back much of what had been lost to Hannibal. Fabius' tactics of wearing down Hannibal were employed further, and Hannibal's continued losses and the lack of reinforcements proved to be heavily taxing. In 212 Hannibal was finally able to take the port town of Tarentum, a long sought after dock for reinforcements. However, Marcellus was pressuring Hannibal by recapturing a number of towns and beginning a siege and blockade of Syracuse.

By 211 Syracuse had fallen to the Romans, and Capua was under heavy siege. Hannibal attempted to lift the siege by feigning a direct attack on Rome, but his gambit failed and Capua was recaptured. The Romans were also prone to disaster that year, as Hannibal's brothers attempted to march across war-torn Spain and repeat the crossing of the Alps to reinforce him. Scipio's father and uncle gave battle to the brothers in the Baetis River valley, and were both defeated and killed. The remnants of the Spanish armies were rallied together and put up another valiant defense at the river Ebro, holding back the two Carthaginian commanders.

When no one in Rome wanted to lead new armies to the Spanish front, Scipio readily volunteered, and was unanimously selected in 210 BC. Although he was only 26, and two of his closest family members had already died in Spain, he was the most willing and qualified man at the time. Arriving with his army in Spain in 209 BC, Scipio's interests fell to Carthage Nova (New Carthage) in the most southern portion of Spain, the treasury and major port of all of Spain.

Scipio moved most of his army to Nova Carthage and attacked the lightly manned fortress that year, having constructed his own defenses against any reinforcing armies from the north. He outwitted the town's defenders with a number of fake attacks, and then took the town in a simultaneous land and sea assault. In one swoop the uncapturable Carthaginian gateway to Spain had been taken, leaving Scipio to focus on diplomacies with the people and tribes of Spain. Meanwhile in Italy, Fabius had been successful in recapturing Hannibal's port of Tarentum, leaving little likelihood of Hannibal receiving further reinforcements.

Hasdrubal Barca, Hannibal's brother, was raising men for an army to reinforce the Carthaginian armies of Spain. Scipio, aware of Hasdrubal's plans, marched his armies north to attempt a quick strike while Hasdrubal was vulnerable and before either of the two other Carthaginian armies in Spain could react. The battle took place at Baecula in 208 BC. Scipio drew out Hasdrubal's men with a light initial assault, and then flanked and crushed the smaller army with the rest of his force. Hasdrubal survived and retreated with the remains of his army unopposed, Scipio having decided that to follow would have been far to risky. Hasdrubal met up with Mago, another of Hannibal's brothers, and took command of his army, which he marched through the Pyrenees and into Gaul in preparation for an attack on Italy.

Mago was left in Spain to enlist more soldiers, and was soon joined by a fresh new army from Carthage. Scipio sent a small task force that was successful in crippling the combined Carthaginian armies, delaying any possible attacks from his enemies. Although Hannibal had lost many of his southern Italian cities, he was successful in killing the two consuls sent to defeat him in 208 BC, including the previously successful Marcellus. Meanwhile, Hasdrubal Barca met defeat in Italy at the river Metaurus by the new Roman consuls, and was killed.

Scipio faced a dilemma in 206 BC, as the combined Carthaginian armies had been successful in raising an army numerically superior to his. Although Scipio had increased his own forces as well, most of his army was now made up of the same Spanish natives that had failed his father 6 years previous. Disregarding his weak position, Scipio marched west to meet Carthage's army. The two forces met at Ilipia, and a long process of feigns began. Each evening both armies would march out in the same formation, neither attacking, but both offering to battle. After three days of this however, Scipio instead prepared his army and marched on the Carthaginian forces before dawn. In their rush to defend themselves, the Carthaginians hadn't noticed Scipio's change of formation from the previous days, and they were soon flanked by the wings of the rotating Roman line. The Carthaginians were defeated and the survivors were hunted down after the battle, leaving Spain entirely to the Romans.

Scipio returned to Italy in 205 BC and was elected consul to Sicily at the age of 31, a position that gave him the authority to attack Africa. He was given command of the army there, made up mostly of the disgraced survivors of Cannae. Scipio set about training and disciplining his new soldiers and volunteers, as well as recapturing Locri and forcing Hannibal to retreat when he attempted to defend it. After amassing food and equipment, training his troops and fleets, Scipio set sail for Africa in 204 BC.

He was met in Africa by king Masinissa and a group of friendly cavalry from war-torn Numidia. Scipio's army was soon pinned into his easily defendable winter quarters by two large forces from Carthage and Numidia. In a display of sheer brilliance, Scipio was able to annihilate both of these stronger forces. Scipio directed Masinissa and a small detachment of troops to set fire to the Numidian camp, while waiting by the Carthaginian camp with most of the army himself. The Carthaginians, thinking the fire was accidental, rushed to aid the Numidians in firefighting. As they exited their camp, they were set upon by Scipio's army, who proceeded to burn the Carthaginian camp as well. Scipio had succeeded in destroying over 40,000 enemy soldiers, as well as the only current threat to his forces.

The Carthaginians regrouped after the slaughter, but were defeated twice more by Scipio's well trained and well disciplined forces. Although Hannibal had been recalled from Italy to defend Carthage, the constant loss had taxed Carthage's fighting spirit. Carthage sued for peace, but the armistice was broken when a group of Roman transports were caught in a storm and scattered on the shore and the Roman envoys seeking return of the ships were attacked. Scipio prepared his troops for war once again in the winter of 203 BC, but this time it would not be so easy. Hannibal had finally reached Africa, landing at Hadrumentum with his veteran army, fresh troops from Carthage, and 80 war elephants.

Hannibal reinforced his army with the Carthaginian population, continuing to train and recruit while waiting for Scipio to make a move. Scipio, realizing time was against him, began causing havoc in the countryside while moving west, closer and closer to Masinissa who had taken much of his cavalry to claim Numidia for himself. This tactic proved successful, as not only did Scipio meet up with the Numidian cavalry, but it also gave him a better camp for his army before the battle, unlike Hannibal whose camp was far from any water sources. The battle at Zama in 202 BC, quite possibly the most important of the war, could easily have gone either way. However, the combination of Scipio's formation in order to minimize the effect of Hannibal's elephants, as well as Rome's superior Numidian cavalry, brought victory for both the battle, and the war. Scipio's cavalry routed the Carthaginian equivalents and were then able to fall upon the rear of Hannibal's infantry. Hannibal returned to Carthage and encouraged the acceptance of Scipio's terms of surrender.

Scipio spent the rest of the year putting affairs in Africa into order and helping Masinissa secure the throne of Numidia. After the war, Scipio returned back to Rome to serve as Consul in 201 BC. At this time Hannibal had returned to Carthage, the home he hadn't seen for 35 years. There he attempted to bring about economic reforms, and was made a chief magistrate, as well as retaining his military powers. He reformed the Carthaginian government and achieved a sounder economic base, but made many enemies among the elder wealthy citizens. These enemies spread rumors that Hannibal was secretly inciting Antiochus III of Syria to attack Rome. Evading a Roman inquiry, Hannibal fled to Antiochus' court in 195 BC. Scipio led a basic life as a politician while Hannibal worked behind the scenes in the Syrian court until 191 BC.  It was then that Antiochus provoked war with Rome by invading Greece.

Scipio Africanus was chosen to act as advisor in the coming war to his brother and the current consul, Lucius Scipio. By this time Antiochus had grown jealous of Hannibal's fame and reputation, making him a commander of a fleet instead of the ground forces, a position Hannibal had difficulty adjusting to. Hannibal was defeated in a naval battle, and the Roman ground forces defeated Antiochus in 190 BC. Knowing that the Romans were demanding that he be handed over as part of the peace settlement, Hannibal possibly fled to Armenia, although what he did there is still under great debate. It is known however that he eventually ended up in the court of king Prusias I of Bithynia. There he acted as an advisor in Bithynia's war against Pergamum, an ally of Rome. Although the exact circumstances are unknown, Rome was eventually in a position to demand from Prusias the surrender of Hannibal, who took poison in 183 BC rather than surrender to his life-long enemy.

While Hannibal was aiding Bithynia in the battle against Pergamum, Scipio was having his own difficulties. His many enemies in Rome were finally catching up to him, and the persecution was frantic. He defeated his political enemies in a few short, yet powerful speeches, and was left to spend his last years in peace at his country estate in Liturnum. Although his opponents tried to force him back to stand trial in Rome, such motions were defeated unanimously by both friend and enemy tribune alike. Scipio died peacefully in his home in 183 BC, the very same year Hannibal took his own life.

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Last Update: January 16, 2003