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The Second Punic War – The Hannibal War

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The Second Punic war between Carthage and the Roman Republic, 218 BC – 202 BC, was the second of three Punic wars. After First Punic War, both sides had been decimated. But Carthage was in worse position, they not only suffered extensive economic losses as a result of the interruption of their maritime trade but also had to accept costly conditions of surrender.

Control of the Iberian Peninsula

Carthage needed a solution to improve its weakened economy, after receiving a heavy blow with the loss of Sicily. The solution was a military expedition to obtain the riches of the Iberian Peninsula. The towns of southern Hispania were subdued by Carthage. Hannibal established alliances with the tribes in the eastern Iberian Peninsula thanks to his diplomatic skills.

The war in Italy

The Carthaginians could not face the Romans on the sea, given the naval superiority of the latter. Knowing this, Hannibal set out from the Iberian Peninsula to Italy across the Alps. Hannibal led an army of 100,000 North Africans and Iberians across southern France and crossed the Alps in 218 BC. His invasion of Italy came as a surprise. In the spring he arrived in northern Italy with an army of about 40,000 troops.

The Romans, commanded by Scipio, tried to attack him when he was not yet ready, but they were repelled by the cavalry. Hannibal’s horsemen crossed the River and defeated the Roman army in the Battle of Trebia. The Romans withdrew, leaving Hannibal in control of northern Italy. Romans planned to ambush Hannibal but were completely surprised when ambushed in the battle of Lake Trasimene (one of the greatest Roman defeats), where the Roman troops were encircled and defeated.

In spite of the victory and the advice of his generals, Hannibal did not proceed to siege Rome, since he lacked adequate equipment and did not have a supply base in central Italy. Therefore, he went to the south of Italy with the hope of inciting a rebellion among the Greek cities of the south, which would allow him to have more economic resources to defeat the Romans.

Quintus Fabius Maximus had been named the Roman dictator and decided that the best thing would be to avoid further battles, due to the superiority of the Carthaginian cavalry. Instead, he tried to cut off Hannibal’s supply line, devastating the fields and harassing his army. These operations are now known as Fabian tactics. Rome employed “Fabian tactics”, dividing the army into small forces located in vital locations, and avoiding Carthaginian attempts to lure them into pitched battles. In the year 211 BC, Rome began to resurface from its ashes.

Romans decided to reverse the course of the war, for which they sent a large army to besiege the city of Capua. Hannibal forced the Romans to raise the siege, but could not remain in the city due to lack of supplies. The Romans, once Hannibal had left, returned to besiege the city, completely surrounding it with a double moat. The attacks of Hannibal were fended off in order to force them to raise the siege. He marched on Rome. He arrived at the gates of the city, but the powerful fortifications and four legions made him desist from his attack. In addition, the legions that besieged Capua did not move from their position. Hannibal, therefore, was forced to leave the city at the mercy of the Romans. The fall of Capua facilitated  the recapture of the main cities of southern Italy controlled by the Carthaginians

Roman invasion of Africa

The year after the conquest of Iberia, Scipio, elected consul 205 BC, decided to attack Carthage directly, taking advantage of Roman naval superiority. Once disembarked in Africa in 204 BC, without opposition from the Carthaginian fleet, the Romans found an ally that would ultimately prove decisive, the king of Oriental Numidia, stripped of his throne by his arch-rival, an ally of Carthage.

In 202 BC, the Romans carried out their attack. The Carthaginians and the Numidians gathered their last reserves to confront Scipio. The ensuing Battle of Zama culminated in complete Roman victory and forced Carthage to enter into peace negotiations. The battle of Zama was the first great defeat of Hannibal in his military career.

The end of the War

Hannibal himself decided to carry out peace negotiations with Rome because he understood that it is useless to continue. The harsh conditions imposed by Rome are: loss of all the possessions of Carthage located outside the African continent; prohibition of declaring new wars without the permission of the Roman people; obligation to deliver the entire military fleet; payment of 10,000 talents of silver (approximately 260,000 kg) in 50 years;  maintenance of Roman occupation troops in Africa for three months; delivery of 100 hostages chosen by Scipio, as a guarantee of compliance with the treaty.

Hannibal accepted the conditions so that the Romans would leave him in peace while he helped Carthage to reconstitute its power. The treaty was ratified by the Senates, both Carthaginian and Roman. The harsh conditions imposed by Rome, although they left it as an independent state, reduced Carthage to a second-tier state.

Carthaginians believed Rome to be a vulgar state, a militarist culture. But Rome was already beginning to be something else, it was becoming an Empire. It has been said that the Second Punic War was more the war between a man and a State than between two states, as has usually been presented. Hannibal and his family, with little support from their city, maintained the war for more than 20 years thanks to a subtle and intelligent strategic maneuver: Move the operations center to the Italian camps, devastating those who had started the fight. This war pushed Rome to its limits, but led to the founding of a great Roman Empire.


  • Karinsky D.D. Punic Wars // Encyclopedic Dictionary of Brockhaus and Efron
  • Revyako K. A. Punic Wars
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