History has given the world many great military minds. In recent times the world has seen such men as Dwight D. Eisenhower, George Patton, Douglas MacArthur, and Erwin Rommel. From ancient times, schools teach about Alexander the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, Scipio Africanus, and Germanicus. But few have accomplished the feats of Hannibal Barca in the Second Punic War. His major accomplishment, marching his army through the Pyrenees and the Alps and into what is now Italy, is a military accomplishment worth honoring. During his march, Hannibal defeated the Romans in three decisive battles; Trebia, Trasimene, and his most decisive and well fought victory at Cannae. When Hannibal finally arrived in Italy, he maintained an Army there for over a decade pillaging and plundering his way through the heart of Ancient Rome. While in Italy he never lost on the battlefield, and eventually had to withdraw back to Carthage to attempt to fend off a Roman counter-attack led by Scipio Africanus. It is here that Hannibal is finally defeated, quite decisively, by the Romans.
To better understand Hannibal’s great military expertise, it is important to first understand his history. To accomplish this, we turn our attention towards Rome’s greatest historian, Livy. In his work, History of Rome, Livy dedicated ten of his 137 books to the seventeen year long Second Punic War. So to begin, Hamilcar, Hannibal’s father, was the commander of the Carthaginian forces late in the First Punic War, and this is the root of Hannibal’s great disgust for the Roman Empire. Livy tells us that after this war, when Hamilcar was preparing to transfer his troops to the Iberian Peninsula to help rebuild Carthaginian power, Hannibal begged to travel with him. Hamilcar, about to prepare an offer to the gods for the journey, agreed and “led the boy to the altar and made him solemnly swear…that as soon as he was old enough he would be the enemy of the Roman people.” From this point on Hamilcar taught his son everything he knew and prepared him to take up the fight against Rome at the first available instance. Indeed, the reason that it took so long for the Second Punic War to begin was that of “Hamilcar’s timely death and…that Hannibal was still too young to assume command.”
After Hamilcar’s death in battle, Hasdrubal (Hannibal’s brother-in-law) took over command of the Carthaginian forces on the peninsula. During his time of rule, Hasdrubal decided it was a good idea to strengthen Carthaginian power over what they already controlled and signed a peace treaty with Rome. “It was with Hasdrubal…that the Romans had renewed the treaty of peace, fixing the river Ebro as the boundary between their respective spheres and establishing the neutrality of Saguntum as a sort of buffer state.” When Hasdrubal was assassinated, it was clear who should be his successor. Hannibal wasted little time, in fact Livy states: “From the very first day of his command Hannibal acted as if he had definite instructions to take Italy…and to make war on Rome.” Hannibal began to further the reach of Carthaginian power on the peninsula by conquering the remaining tribes below the Ebro. It is here that we first see his military cunning.
After conquering the territory of the Olcades, Hannibal returned with his army to the city of New Carthage for the winter. The following spring Hannibal invaded the territory of the Vaccaei, and after their defeat the people of Vaccaei decided to meet with the Olcades and force the Carpetani into action. Livy states that “Hannibal had returned from his expedition…and was near the Targus [River], when they set upon his column, encumbered as it was with loot, and threw it into confusion.” Hannibal drew his forces back and didn’t engage with a direct retaliatory strike. During the night, he waited until all movement has ceased in the enemy camp and crossed the river, leaving a chance for the enemy to attack him. Livy relates that the enemy...
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