Hannibal, the son of Hamilcar Barca, was born in 248 BC. His father commanded the Carthaginian land forces during the later stages of the First Punic War.

He kept his army intact and led a successful guerrilla war against the Romans in Sicily. As soon as he was old enough, Hannibal joined his father's army in the invasion of Hispania.

Hamilcar Barca died in battle in 228 BC. Hannibal's brother-in-law Hasdrubal the Fair succeeded to his command of the army with Hannibal serving as an officer under him.

Hasdrubal signed a treaty with the Romans where Carthage promised not to expand north of the Ebro River. Hasdrubal also endeavored to consolidate Carthaginian power through diplomatic relationships with native tribes. This included arranging the marriage between Hannibal and an Iberian princess named Imilce.

Hasdrubal the Fair was assassinated by a Celtic assassin in 221 BC. Hannibal was now proclaimed commander-in-chief by the army.

In 218 BC Carthage decided to hit back. Defeated at sea, the Carthaginians decided this time to attack Italy by land from their base in Hispania. Hannibal led an army made up of 30,000 Spanish infantrymen, 9,000 African cavalry and a team of elephants. To attack Rome from Hispania meant that Hannibal had to take his soldiers and animals over the snow-covered Alps.

The Romans did not believe it was possible and were taken by surprise. However, the journey had taken its toll and by the time Hannibal reached Italy, he only had 26,000 men left alive.

The first battle between the two sides took place at Trebia in 218 BC. Although they had many more men, the Romans were heavily defeated by the Carthaginians. One of the reasons for this was that the Romans had trouble coping with Hannibal's elephants. The elephants were used at the front of the Carthaginian forces (similar to the way tanks were used in the First World War). Because of the elephants' size and trumpeting, the Romans had great difficulty in persuading their horses to charge Hannibal's forces.

The Romans tried several different tactics against elephants. They were extremely difficult to kill, so the main aim was to make them panic and run amok amongst the Carthaginians. They tried to do this by killing their driver or by stabbing them with javelins in the soft skin under the tail. The Romans also discovered that elephants were frightened of the sound of squealing pigs. Therefore pigs were covered in tar, set alight and let loose amongst the elephants. The Carthaginians attempted to counteract this tactic by giving wine to the elephants before battle and stabling them with pigs so that they would get used to the squealing.

Although Hannibal's elephants survived the Battle of Trebia, most of them died soon afterwards from the cold weather. However, the lack of elephants did not stop Hannibal inflicting a series of defeats on the Romans. The most important of these was at Cannae where over 50,000 Roman soldiers were killed and a further 19,000 were captured. Hannibal, on the other hand, lost less than 6,000 men.

Even though they suffered these losses, the Romans refused to surrender. As Hannibal was never strong enough to attack Rome itself, he failed to obtain a total victory over the enemy.

The Roman Senate responded to these military reverses by ordering an attack on Carthaginian held Spain. This was a success, and Scipio Africanus, who organised the campaign, became a national hero. Scipio now started to plan an attack on Carthage, and Hannibal was forced to abandon the territory he controlled in Italy in order to defend his homeland.

Scipio and his troops landed in Africa in 204 BC. Instead of attacking Carthage, Scipio visited King Masinissa of Numidia, whose cavalry had played such an important part in Hannibal's victories over the Romans. In exchange for promises of Carthaginian territory, King Masinissa agreed to join forces with Scipio.

The Battle of Zama took place in 202 BC. Hannibal had 40,000 men and 80 elephants while Scipio had 25,000 Romans and 11,000 Numidians. Hannibal started the battle by ordering an elephant charge. However, the Romans had learnt by bitter experience how to deal with elephants. Instead of pigs they now used men blowing trumpets. The noise frightened the elephants and many of them turned and stampeded, trampling to death large numbers of Carthaginians. Hannibal's troops were scattered and they were gradually hunted down by the Numidian cavalry.

The Romans were extremely harsh on the defeated Carthaginians. All but ten of their ships were destroyed, vast amounts of money had to be handed over and all overseas territories had to be abandoned. Carthage also had to promise that in future it would gain permission from Rome before forming alliances or going to war with other countries.

Hannibal now decided to become a politician and he was elected as suffete, or chief magistrate. He reformed the way Carthage was governed, stipulating that membership of the Hundred and Four be chosen by direct election rather than co-option. He also changed the term of office from life to a year with a term limit of two years.

The Romans became concerned by Hannibal's growing power and in 195 BC they demanded he retired from office. Hannibal moved to Ephesus, where he met Antiochus III of Syria and later became his military adviser.

In 190 BC Hannibal was placed in command of a Seleucid fleet but was defeated in a battle off the Eurymedon River. He fled to Crete, before seeking refuge with King Prusias I of Bithynia, who was engaged in warfare with Rome's ally, King Eumenes II of Pergamon. Hannibal went on to serve the Bithynians in this war.

The Romans became concerned about Hannibal's naval victories and demanded that Prusias I hand him over. Hannibal was determined not to fall into his enemies' hands and at Libyssa he took poison.

Primary Sources

(1) Juvenal, Satire X (c. AD 120)

Hannibal is the man for whom Africa was too small a continent... Now Spain swells his empire, now he surmounts the Pyrenees... Nature throws in his path high Alpine passes, blizzards of snow: but he... moves mountains... "We have accomplished nothing," he cries, "till we have stormed the gates of Rome, till our Carthaginian standard is set in the City's heart."

(2) Livy, The Early History of Rome (c. 25 BC)

The dreadful vision was now before their eyes; the towering peaks, the snow-clad pinnacles soaring to the sky... the people with their wild and ragged hair, stiff with frost... There was great confusion and excitement amongst the men, and still more among the terrified horses... the horses were soon out of control... In the confusion many men were flung over the sheer cliffs which bounded each side of the pass, and fell to their deaths thousands of feet below. But it was worst for the pack-animals. Loads and all, they went tumbling over the edge almost like falling masonry.

(3) In his book The Rise of the Roman Empire, the historian, Polybius described how Hannibal took his elephants across the River Rhone. (c. 110 BC)

A number of solidly built rafts were constructed... The elephants were accustomed to obey their Indian mahouts until they arrived at the edge of the water, but they would on no account venture into it. Then they led the elephants along with two females in front, whom the rest obediently followed. As soon as they were standing on the last rafts, the ropes holding these were cut... At this the animals panicked and at first turned round and began to move about in all directions, but as they were by then surrounded on all sides by water, their fear eventually compelled them to stay quiet. In this way... they managed to get most of the animals over on these rafts, but some became so terror-stricken that they fell into the river when they were half-way across. The drivers of these were all drowned, but the elephants were saved, because through the power and the length of their trunks they were able to keep these above the surface and breathe through them, and spout out any water which had entered their mouths.


1. Select passages from source A that helps to explain Juvenal's opinion of Hannibal.

2. How does source A help to explain what is being described in source B?

3. Livy and Polybius were not with Hannibal when he crossed the Pyrenees in 218 BC. In fact, they did not write their accounts of the march until over a hundred years after the event took place. What kind of sources of information would Livy and Polybuis have probably looked at before writing their accounts of Hannibal crossing the Pyrenees?