How did Rome defeat Carthage

Hannibal - the man who almost defeated Rome

In the year 218 BC the war between the great powers Rome and Carthage breaks out again. Its general Hannibal surprises the enemy: on his breakneck campaign he crosses the Alps and marches through Italy, with a huge army and a weapon that was previously unknown to the Romans: elephants!

Hannibal's army

It is a sight to be feared: Huge creatures trample along the narrow path. Two and a half meters tall, with enormous ears and a tail that grows out of their faces.

With curved tusks, they effortlessly clear boulders out of the way. And on their heads sit men who steer the monsters with iron rods! The people who lived in 218 BC In the south of Gaul - that is, in present-day France - have never seen elephants before. In disbelief, they marvel at the army of the foreign general. His name? Hannibal Barkas, Carthaginian and brilliant strategist. His goal? Italy, where he wants to fight the Romans.

Hannibal has 37 elephants in his army, an estimated 8,000 riders on horses and 38,000 foot soldiers who climb uphill in their armor. The powerful army broke out in Spain five months earlier. She conquered the peaks of the Pyrenees, crossed southern France and crossed the raging waters of the Rhône. Now the army is heading straight for the Alps, Europe's highest mountain range. A gigantic obstacle ...

Who was Hannibal?

Almost everything that is known about Hannibal today comes from two books. One of them was written by the Greek scholar Polybius, the other by the Roman historian Titus Livius. But no one was there on Hannibal's campaigns. So both could only write down what they were told or what they read, which is why you cannot rely on their reports one hundred percent.

What is certain is that Hannibal was around 247 BC. In Carthage, a city on the African Mediterranean coast in what is now Tunisia. A few decades earlier, the Carthaginians ruled the Mediterranean: They had the strongest fleet, traded extensively and lived in one of the richest cities in the world at that time. But since 264 BC They wage war against the Romans (see box below).

When they were in 241 BC They lose a lot of money to Rome. Shortly afterwards they also do mercenary Stunk who fought in the army for Carthage: Celts, Ligurians, Greeks, Iberians and Lybians demand money for their services. But Carthage is broke and can't pay. In the mercenary war that followed (241–238 BC), the commander-in-chief of the Carthaginian army, Hannibal's father Hamilcar Barkas, finally put down the uprising.

The Punic Wars - 118 Years of Zoff

In the 3rd century BC, Rome reached out to the Mediterranean. But so far the Carthaginians have ruled - or Punians, as the Romans call them. The following conflicts between the powers go down in history as Punic Wars.

First Punic Krieg (264 to 241 BC)

264 BC Carthage dominated not only the Mediterranean Sea, but also islands such as Corsica, Sardinia and large parts of Sicily. Rome would like to get them under the nail
tear - and send an army to today's Messina in Sicily. The war lasted more than 20 years before Carthage was defeated. It loses the Mediterranean islands and most of its fleet. In addition, it has to pay a fat compensation to Rome.

Second Punic War (218 to 201 BC)

The Carthaginians spread out in what is now southern Spain - which the Romans don't like: 218 BC. They declare war again. But the Carthaginian general Hannibal initially inflicted heavy losses on the Romans. Only after years does the tide turn. This time the Romans impose even stricter peace conditions on the Carthaginians, such as the ban on waging war without Rome's permission.

Third Punic War (149 to 146 BC)
The Numidians from what is now Algeria attack the Carthaginian Empire. When Carthage defends itself, the Romans claim that the Carthaginians had the terms of peace
injured and waged war without Rome's permission. So it comes to the Third Punic War. For the third time the winner is Rome - and Carthage will be finally razed to the ground!

The Second Punic War

So warlike times. No wonder that Hannibal became a fighter as a child: he was only nine years old when his father took him on a campaign in what is now Spain. From then on he lives among soldiers, listens to their songs and their rough jokes.

He practices fighting and riding with weapons. And he learns to lead an army. It soon becomes clear: Hannibal is a great talent! At the age of 25 he became the commander of Carthage's army in Spain. Soon afterwards, the thug conquered the city of Saguntum, which was allied with Rome - and there was another huge squabble with Rome. The Second Punic War begins!

Instead of waiting for the Romans to attack, Hannibal decides to strike himself. His bold plan: He wants to march around 2500 kilometers to Italy and attack the enemy on his own soil. The fact that the Alps lie in between like a huge protective wall does not frighten him: "The Alps are high mountains, but nowhere do the mountains reach up to the sky and are impassable for humans." With these words he encourages his men before he takes them into the mountains leads.

Hannibal's crossing of the Alps

The 15-day crossing of the Alps is torture for the Carthaginians. They suffer from the thin mountain air, the cold, the wind and the snow.

They freeze their fingers and toes off. They fall on icy ground, break arms and legs - many unfortunate people slide unsteadily into the depths, sometimes with their horses.

But Hannibal marches on, and despite all the dangers, his soldiers remain loyal to him. Because their general is just as hard on himself as he is on his men. Titus Livius wrote: "Many have seen him lying on the ground to sleep between guards, only covered with a soldier's cloak."

When Hannibal and his army reached the northern Italian Po plain, they achieved one of the most impressive feats of antiquity - and all 37 elephants survived the grueling tour! The general moves through Italy with his troops and wins one battle after the other. At first the elephants help out and trample down the enemies. But the cold of the northern Italian winter wears them away: as early as the beginning of 217 BC. Only one of the animals is still alive.

The Romans taken by surprise are slowly getting queasy: Who is this Hannibal who dares to challenge their empire and conquer ever larger parts of Italy?

The battle of Cannae

In a decisive battle they want to finally get the guy down: In August 216 BC. BC Rome and Carthage armies meet in Cannae, a city in southern Italy. Hannibal's army faces a Roman army that is almost twice as large. But the cunning general circles around the enemy, his riders and soldiers ruthlessly grappling with the legionnaires.

The plan works: Hardly any Roman survives, up to 70,000 are killed! It is the worst defeat a Roman army has ever suffered or will suffer in the centuries to come. The battle of Cannae will go down in history. Even today, the military use Hannibal's ingenious strategy from back then as a model.

Hannibal's big mistake

The enemy is on the ground. But now Hannibal makes a mistake: he refuses to march to Rome to deal the death blow to the empire!

Does he think he lacks the right weapons to siege the city? Historians are still puzzling today. His officer Maharbal is said to have said to Hannibal: "You know how to win, but you don't use victory."

So Hannibal lets his chance slip by. And the Romans don't think about making peace! With their general Fabius Maximus, who is nicknamed "the hesitant", they pursued a clever tactic in the years to come: they avoid major battles - and attack the Carthaginians especially where Hannibal is not. First in Spain. Then in North Africa. Hannibal traveled through Italy for years without being able to force the decisive battle.

When the Romans 204 BC Crossing to Africa with 40 warships, Hannibal was recalled from Italy to defend Carthage. But luck has left him: 202 BC. BC he is defeated in the battle of Zama. 16 years after Hannibal's legendary journey across the Alps, Rome conquered his homeland. This ends the Second Punic War: Carthage is defeated - and Rome the new superpower of the coming centuries!