Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.)Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.) - As devastating as the First Punic War was, the second was even more destructive. It can almost be compared to the difference between the First and Second World Wars. And it was largely thanks to the efforts of one man...Hannibal Barca, who swore revenge on Rome. It began in 218 B.C. when he crossed the Alps with a formidable war machine. Remember, that after the first war, Carthage's navy was scrapped, making an invasion by sea impossible. That left a land invasion as the only alternative, and Rome was protected from the north by the Alps. Carthage began almost immediately rebuilding its empire by conquering and exploiting the resources of Iberia (Spain). It established colonies, particularly Carthago Nova from which it could launch a campaign. Hannibal began with approximately 90,000 infantry, 12,000 cavalry and 37 elephants. When the war began, the Romans considered the Alps impassable and initially had little to fear from Carthage, even knowing of its expansion into Iberia. Five months later, Hannibal had descended from the Alps and entered the Po Valley in northern Italy, albeit with a substantially smaller army. He arrived with only about 26,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry and an unknown number of elephants (I've heard as few as six and as many as 30), having garrisoned or lost many troops along the way. His successful traversing of the Alps is considered one of the greatest logistical feats in history, because it was done with no supply line. Keeping an army alive on only what the land had to offer through some of the harshest terrain on earth was a monumental feat. The Romans, for their part, had planned to invade Africa and end the war before it started. But once they learned of Hannibal's entry into their own territory, they had to abandon the plan and prepare to defend their homeland. For the next 15 years, the Carthaginian general would live in Italy and do everything possible to bring Rome to its knees.

 

Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.)Battle of the Trebia (218 B.C.) - The Battle of the Trebia in December 218 B.C., was the first major conflict of the Second Punic War. Our primary sources are the Roman historians Livy and Polybius. A month before Trebia, Carthage won a skirmish at Ticinus when the cavalries engaged each other. The Romans sent an advance army north under the command of Publius Cornelius Scipio to meet Hannibal. It had originally tried to cut him off in Gaul (Transalpine Gaul), by landing at the allied Greek colony of Massilia (modern Marseilles), but Hannibal evaded by turning north and following the Rhône River before turning east and crossing the Alps. When Scipio realized he'd missed the Carthaginian general, he hurried back to Italy. They finally met at Ticinus, where Hannibal easily routed Rome's forces. Scipio was severely injured and probably would have died had he not been saved by his son, Publius Scipio, who would later become the famous Scipio Africanus. Meanwhile, Rome's southern army under the command Sempronius Longus, which had been in Sicily preparing for an invasion of North Africa, was recalled by the Senate, and ordered to march north to bolster Scipio's troops. Hannibal's victory at Tricinus threw Rome's northern province into chaos. Cisalpine Gaul revolted. When he first arrived, Hannibal tried to recruit Celtic troops, but they were reluctant because they were not convinced he could defeat Rome. But now, after seeing his resolve, about 8,000 Celtic soldiers joined Hannibal's army. The stage was now set for the first big battle; the Battle of the Trebia (named after the river which is a tributary of the Po). Hannibal drew the numerically superior Roman army out by sending his Numidian cavalry into its camp to harass it. As the Romans gathered to meet the small force, it withdrew and headed back toward the Carthaginian camp. Hannibal arrayed the bulk of his army in a line with his infantry in the center and his cavalry flanking both ends. Approaching in the distance, the Roman army saw the opposing army lined up for battle and marched toward it. Unbeknownst to consul Longus, Hannibal had taken 2,000 troops, 1,000 cavalry and 1,000 infantry and hidden them along the banks of the Trebia. The Romans marched past them to engage the Cathaginian line. After the battle began, the 2,000 hidden troops emerged from the river and attacked the Roman army from behind (very similar to the strategy employed by Alexander at the Battle of the Hydaspes). It ended in an overwhelming victory for Hannibal. Rome lost about half of its 42,000 troops, whereas Carthage lost about 5,000, including all but one of its elephants. But Hannibal had demonstrated that he was a serious threat to Rome and was not going anywhere anytime soon.

 

Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.)Battle of Lake Trasimene (217 B.C.) - After his victory at Trebia, Hannibal's army swelled to over 50,000 as more Celts in northern Italy became convinced he might defeat Rome. He stayed in Cisalpine Gaul for the winter, then marched into the heart of Roman territory in the Spring of 217. In Rome, apathy was becoming concern as the expectation of a quick victory was disappearing. The Roman senate resolved to raise another army under the direction of two new consuls, Gnaeus Servilius Geminus and Giaus Flaminius. Geminus replaced Scipio and Flaminus took over the remnants of Longus' army. Four new legions were raised and added to what was left of the original army. They were then divided between the two consuls and set out to hunt down Hannibal. Because the Italian peninsula is split by the Apennine mountains, the Punic army could only travel south by one of two routes (or so it seemed). The Romans knew this and their strategy involved blocking those routes to prevent Carthage's advancement into southern Italy. But once again, Hannibal outmaneuvered the Romans. He found an unguarded pass at the mouth of the Arno River and entered Eturia (with some difficulty). Once through, he began devastating the land in an attempt to draw Flaminius, whose army was closest, into a pitched battle. Initially, Flaminius refused, intending to wait for Geminus to arrive so they could attack with the full force of the Roman military. However, Hannibal managed to march around Flaminius' left flank and cut off his supply line. In addition, rumblings started coming from the Senate over Hannibal's free reign of the countryside. These developments prompted Flaminius to take on Carthage before Geminus arrived. Meanwhile, Hannibal was scouting the territory to find the ideal ground on which to fight. He found it at Lake Trasimene. Knowing the Romans were now in pursuit, Hannibal set-up camp on the north shore. The land north of the lake was slightly elevated and heavily forested, while the Malpasso Road ran between the lake and the woods. The Romans would be marching along the road coming from the west. Closest to the camp, Hannibal deployed his heavy infantry up in the woods in a line parallel to the road. Beyond that, he deployed his cavalry, also parallel to the road. Finally, the choice of Lake Trasimene was brilliant for another reason. In the early morning, when the battle was fought, a mist hovered above the water and spilled over the shore across the surrounding land. As the Roman army approached, Hannibal sent a small force to engage them and draw their attention (similar to what he did at Trebia). The Romans, eager for battle, took the bait and ran to meet them. In the skirmish, the Carthaginians withdrew, pulling the Romans into the ambush. When they reached the camp, Hannibal sprang the trap, and the troops hidden in the forest rushed into battle; infantry hitting the left flank, and the cavalry riding 'round behind the Roman line. They enveloped Flaminius' army like a python smothering its prey. Surrounded on all sides and their vision obscured by the fog, the Romans were thrown into confusion. Many tried to flee the carnage by running into the lake, but to no avail. After about four hours, the Roman army was wiped out, again losing about half of its 30,000 troops, including Flaminius. Carthage lost only 2,500. It is considered one of the greatest ambush victories in history. If Rome was concerned before, now it was in a full panic.

 

Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.)Cannae (216 B.C.) - Things got worse for Rome before they got better. Fearing for the survival of its city, the senate took the desperate measure of abolishing the consulships and appointing a dictator. The thinking was that a dictator could make the quick military decisions necessary to counteract Hannibal's campaign. They elected Quintus Fabius Maximus. To everyone's surprise, though, Fabius chose not to engage Hannibal at all, believing he could not be beat in open warfare. He chose rather to mirror Hannibal's movements and try to weaken him with ambushes from smaller forces, considered to be one of the earliest examples of guerilla warfare. It became known as the Fabian Strategy. It also proved unpopular as it did not produce results quickly enough. It earned him the nickname "delayer" and Hannibal's reign of terror continued virtually unabated. The biggest fear with this type of strategy was that it would encourage southern Italy to revolt against Rome and join Carthage. After six months, Fabius was deposed and Rome returned to the election of consuls. In 216 B.C., Rome raised a massive army of over 80,000 soldiers and elected Gaius Terentius Varro and Lucius Aemilius Paullus to lead it. This time, the battlefield would be Cannae in southeast Italy. Hannibal captured a supply depot in an attempt to force Rome's hand. Its army caught up with Carthage at Cannae and set-up camp a couple miles away. Their actions signaled that both armies were eager for battle. Rome was confident of victory thanks to the size of its fighting force, roughly 30,000 more men than Carthage had. Carthage's only advantage was its cavalry; greater in numbers and quality. There is a story that during a scouting report, one of Hannibal's officers, named Gisgo, was amazed at the size of Rome's army and expressed concern about it. Hannibal's response reportedly was, "Something even more amazing has escaped your notice, Gisgo. That, although there are more of them, not one among them is named Gisgo.", indicating his confidence in his men's experience. On the morning of the battle, the Romans marched straight for the Punic camp intending to overwhelm them by brute force. The terrain offered no tactical advantages for Hannibal as it had in the previous two conflicts. But that did not mean that he didn't have a plan up his sleeve. He arrayed his army in a line with the Aufidus River behind him. Varro, who was in command of the Roman army, noticed this and intended to push the Carthaginians up against the river and create a panic, as it offered no room for retreat. This, apparently, is exactly what Hannibal wanted him to believe. As the two armies met, the center of Carthage's line began to collapse and fall back. Varro's strategy was working as intended...or so he thought. But it was a ruse. Carthage's line was not retreating, it was drawing the Romans in. As the center of the line was falling back, both ends of the Carthaginian line were advancing and wrapping themselves around the Roman flanks. Once again, Hannibal managed to surround Rome's army. Not only did this throw the Roman soldiers into a panic (as it had at Lake Trasimene), but it completely neutralized their superior numbers. Those in the center of the phalanx had no enemies to fight, and may have even attacked some of their own in the confusion. The Cathaginians killed from the outside in, and after about six hours, 70,000 Romans were dead. Hannibal's losses were not insignificant, 6 to 8 thousand; but in light of what happened, it qualifies as one of Rome's worst defeats in its long history. Even more distressing, this Roman Republic which would go on to become the greatest empire in the ancient world, was on the brink of ceasing to exist.

 

Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.)Battle of Metaurus (207 B.C.) - One of the least known battles of the Second Punic War was also one of the most pivotal. It is probably not so famous because it is one in which Hannibal did not participate. After Cannae, Rome was at its weakest point. In fact, historians have debated whether or not Hannibal should have marched directly on the city immediately following his greatest victory. Rome was in no position to offer much resistance and may have sued for peace. But Hannibal instead chose to rest his troops, not confident they could take the capital. This respite gave Rome the time it needed to re-group and re-organize. In the interim, a number a cities in southern Italy defected and joined Carthage, including Capua, the capital of Campania and the second largest city after Rome. But for all his success, Hannibal was still only one man and commanded only one army. Rome, on the other hand, was still a major power. It commanded the greatest navy in the Mediterranean and remained unified against the Punic threat. And after Cannae, it began to figure out Hannibal. In Italy, it went back to a largely Fabian strategy and concentrated on weakening his ability to conduct war. While Hannibal was roaming free on the Italian peninsula, Rome decided to strike his base of operations, Iberia. Scipio Africanus was sent there in 210 B.C. and quickly began making a name for himself, earning a reputation as a gifted military leader. In 209, he captured Carthago Nova, the town from which Hannibal first launched his campaign. But even doing so, he was not able to prevent one final expedition from launching. Hannibal's brother, Hasdrubal Barca, left Carthago Nova in the same year with the objective of reaching Italy and meeting up with Hannibal to strengthen his army. He crossed the Alps, just as Hannibal had done a decade earlier, but with much greater success. The reason being, this time Hasdrubal was assisted by the Celtic tribes, many of whom joined his army. When he reached Italy, he sent word to Hannibal of his arrival. Hannibal who was in southern Italy began moving north to meet him. The Romans, at the same time, had two armies of their own. One, under Gaius Claudius Nero, was shadowing Hannibal's army, and the other, under Marcus Livius Salinator, was tasked with preventing Hasdrubal from reaching his brother. Before that happened, the Romans caught a lucky break. Nero intercepted two of Hasdrubal's couriers who were sent to inform Hannibal of the rendezvous location, which was South Umbria. Figuring he had gained time by their capture, Nero decided to divide his forces. His larger force kept tracking Hannibal's movement, while about 6,000 of his crack infantry and 1,000 cavalry, along with Nero himself, marched north to enhance Livius' army. The combined forces met the Carthaginians at the Metaurus River. We do not have accurate figures on the size of the two armies, but Rome's was thought to be larger, especially with the addition of Nero's forces. Hasdrubal was an able commander, but he was no Hannibal. Both sides drew up their lines and attacked. The Roman cavalry was on its left flank to meet Carthage's cavalry on its right. This is where the battle was decided. Rome's cavalry was too powerful and began overpowering Carthage's. Nero's troops which had been on Rome's right flank and were stalled against tough Punic resistance, swung back behind the Roman line and joined the attack on the left. This addition of forces caused Carthage's right flank to collapse. The army panicked and began to flee. Most of the casualties were cut down in the retreat and Hasdrubal himself was killed. Carthaginian losses were about 10,000, and the Romans lost about 2,000. Nero decapitated Hasdrubal's body and moved south to rejoin the rest of his army. He threw his brother's head into Hannibal's camp to send the message that no help would be arriving. It marked the beginning of the end of Hannibal's campaign in Italy.

 

Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.)Battle of Zama (202 B.C.) - By 204 B.C., Rome was finally in a position to take the war to Africa. Scipio Africanus had conquered Iberia and Hannibal had been isolated in Italy. Scipio's success got him elected consul in 205 and he proposed the bold plan of invading North Africa. Despite some strong opposition, he swayed the senate and was chosen to launch the invasion from Sicily the following year. Two events turned things critical for Carthage. Scipio won the Battle of Utica in 203, and Rome succeeded in turning the kingdom of Numidia to its side Up until then, Numidia and Carthage had been allies. Now Carthage had a powerful enemy on its border. This shifted the focal point of the war from Italy to Africa. Hannibal had no choice but to return home. He would command the Carthaginian forces at Zama and face Scipio Africanus for the first and only time in the war (not counting Ticinus, where he was under his father's command). Carthage had the larger army, but it was inexperienced (except for a small contingent from the Italy campaign) and Hannibal did not have time to properly train it. Scipio's forces consisted of battle hardened soldiers from the Spanish expedition, and the newly acquired Numidian cavalry which had previously fought for Carthage. Zama Regia was an open plain which benefited Scipio, whose cavalry was superior to Hannibal's. Hannibal did have 80 war elephants, but by this time, the Romans had developed a strategy for fighting them from previous encounters with Carthage. Scipio opened up lanes in his battle lines to allow the elephants to run through without trampling his infantry. The strategy worked. Both sides formed their infantry in three rows and this is where the fiercest fighting took place. But the battle was decided by the cavalry. Hannibal knew he was at a disadvantage here and he ordered his cavalry to draw Rome's away from the battle, so he could try to win the fight with his infantry. It worked initially; Rome's cavalry got separated from the main battle. But when the Punic cavalry turned and fought Rome's, it was trounced. Once defeated, the Roman horses turned back and attacked the Carthaginian line from the rear. That was all it took to end the battle in a major victory for Rome and Scipio Africanus. 20,000 of Carthage's side were lost, but Hannibal survived. Rome only lost about 2,500. After 16 years of war and near victory after Cannae, Carthage no longer had the ability to wage war. It sued for peace. Terms were even harsher than they were after the First Punic War. Carthage's military was completely dismantled to ensure that it could never threaten Rome again. It couldn't even declare war (on anyone) without Rome's consent. And it lost all its holdings outside of the immediate vicinity of the city itself. Carthage was finished as an empire.