Campaigns of the Second Punic War

Campaigns of the Second Punic War

Campaigns of the Second Punic War - History

- Since Rome now ruled the Sea they could choose the field of battle. They decided to send one army to Spain and another to Sicily and Africa.

- Hannibal acted strategically and began a series of operations that dictated the course of the war for the greater part of its duration. He developed a plan by cutting off their source of strength in which he invaded Italy, thus causing a disruption of the league.

- Hannibal's chances of ever reaching Italy seemed small, for the sea was guarded by the Roman fleets and the land route was long and treacherous but he was very determined.

- Hannibal lost over 10,000 men and many elephants crossing the Alps.

- Hannibal picked up an army of Gauls along his way through the Alps.

- While Hannibal was attacking on the north, the Macedonians were attacking on the east.

- The Latin allies held firm and every freeman and slave was drafted for military service.

- When Scipio moved into Spain he crushed Hannibal's rear support.

- For Polybius, the Second Punic War illustrated the superiority of the strong Roman constitution over Hannibal's individual genius.


Rome is almost unique in the ancient world in that its history, military and otherwise, is documented often in great detail almost from the city's very foundation to its eventual demise. Although some histories have been lost, such as Trajan's account of the Dacian Wars, and others, such as Rome's earliest histories, are at least semi-apocryphal, the extant histories of Rome's military history are extensive.

Rome's earliest history, from the time of its founding as a small tribal village, Ζ] to the downfall of its kings, is the least well preserved. Although the early Romans were literate to some degree, Η] this void may be due to the lack of will to record their history at that time, or such histories as they did record were lost. ⎖]

Although the Roman historian Livy (59 BC – 17 AD) ⎗] lists a series of seven kings of early Rome in his work Ab Urbe Condita, from its establishment through its earliest years, the first four kings (Romulus, ⎘] Numa, ⎙] ⎚] Tullus Hostilius ⎚] ⎛] and Ancus Marcius) ⎚] ⎜] may be apocryphal. A number of points of view have been proposed. Grant and others argue that prior to when the Etruscan kingdom of Rome was established under the traditional fifth king, Tarquinius Priscus, ⎝] Rome would have been led by a religious leader of some sort. ⎞] Very little is known of Rome's military history from this era, and what history has come down to us is more of a legendary than of factual nature. Traditionally, Romulus, after founding the city, fortified the Palatine Hill, and shortly thereafter, Rome was "equal to any of the surrounding cities in her prowess in war". ⎟]

"Events before the city was founded or planned, which have been handed down more as pleasing poetic fictions than as reliable records of historical events, I intend neither to affirm nor to refute. To antiquity we grant the indulgence of making the origins of cities more impressive by comingling the human with the divine, and if any people should be permitted to sanctify its inception and reckon the gods as its founders, surely the glory of the Roman people in war is such that, when it boasts Mars in particular as its parent. the nations of the world would as easily acquiesce in this claim as they do in our rule."
Livy, on Rome's early history ⎠]

The first of the campaigns fought by the Romans in this legendary account are the wars with various Latin cities and the Sabines. According to Livy, the Latin village of Caenina responded to the event of the abduction of the Sabine women by invading Roman territory, but were routed and their village captured. The Latins of Antemnae and those of Crustumerium were defeated next in a similar fashion. The remaining main body of the Sabines attacked Rome and briefly captured the citadel, but were then convinced to conclude a treaty with the Romans under which the Sabines became Roman citizens. ⎡]

There was a further war in the 8th century BC against Fidenae and Veii. In the 7th century BC there was a war with Alba Longa, a second war with Fidenae and Veii and a second Sabine War. Ancus Marcius led Rome to victory against the Latins and, according to the Fasti Triumphales, over the Veientes and Sabines also.

Tarquinius Priscus (Ruled 616 to 579 BC) [ edit | edit source ]

Lucius Tarquinius Priscus' first war was waged against the Latins. Tarquinius took the Latin town of Apiolae by storm and took great booty from there back to Rome. ⎢] According to the Fasti Triumphales, the war occurred prior to 588 BC.

His military ability was tested by an attack from the Sabines. Tarquinius doubled the numbers of equites to help the war effort, ⎣] and defeat the Sabines. In the peace negotiations that followed, Tarquinius received the town of Collatia and appointed his nephew, Arruns Tarquinius, also known as Egerius, as commander of the garrison which he stationed in that city. Tarquinius returned to Rome and celebrated a triumph for his victories that, according to the Fasti Triumphales, occurred on 13 September 585 BC.

Subsequently the Latin cities of Corniculum, old Ficulea, Cameria, Crustumerium, Ameriola, Medullia and Nomentum were subdued and became Roman. ⎤]

Servius Tullius (Ruled 578-535 BC) [ edit | edit source ]

Early in his reign, Servius Tullius warred against Veii and the Etruscans. He is said to have shown valour in the campaign, and to have routed a great army of the enemy. The war helped him to cement his position at Rome. ⎥] According to the Fasti Triumphales, Servius celebrated three triumphs over the Etruscans, including on 25 November 571 BC and 25 May 567 BC (the date of the third triumph is not legible on the Fasti).

Tarquinius Superbus (Ruled 535-509 BC) [ edit | edit source ]

Early in his reign Tarquinius Superbus, Rome's seventh and final king, called a meeting of the Latin leaders at which he persuaded them to renew their treaty with Rome and become her allies rather than her enemies, and it was agreed that the troops of the Latins would attend at a grove sacred to the goddess Ferentina on an appointed day to form a united military force with the troops of Rome. This was done, and Tarquin formed combined units of Roman and Latin troops. ⎦]

Tarquin next began a war against the Volsci. He took the wealthy town of Suessa Pometia, with the spoils of which he commenced the erection of the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus which his father had vowed. He also celebrated a triumph for his victory. ⎧]

He was next engaged in a war with Gabii, one of the Latin cities, which had rejected the Latin treaty with Rome. Unable to take the city by force of arms, Tarquin had his son, Sextus Tarquinius, infiltrate the city, gain the trust of its people and command of its army. In time he killed or exiled the city's leaders, and handed control of the city over to his father. ⎨]

Tarquin also agreed to a peace with the Aequi, and renewed the treaty of peace between Rome and the Etruscans. ⎩] According to the Fasti Triumphales, Tarquin also won a victory over the Sabines.

Tarquinius later went to war with the Rutuli. According to Livy, the Rutuli were, at that time, a very wealthy nation. Tarquinius was desirous of obtaining the booty which would come with victory over the Rutuli. ⎪] Tarquin unsuccessfully sought to take the Rutulian capital, Ardea, by storm, and subsequently began an extensive siege of the city. The war was interrupted by the revolution which overthrew the Roman monarchy. The Roman army, camped outside Ardea, welcomed Lucius Junius Brutus as their new leader, and expelled the king's sons. It is unclear what was the outcome of the siege, or indeed the war. ⎫]

Campaigns of the Second Punic War - History

Nothing seems to me a nobler ambition than to be able to hold by you eloquence the minds of men, to captivate their wills, to move them to and fro in whatever direction you please." -Cicero

The Second Punic War (218-201 BC) Click to See MAP

The second Punic War was dominated by one man, Hannibal of Carthage, who had dedicated himself at the age of 9 to the total destruction of Rome (see Hannibal and Hamilcar). He invented an ingenious plan while Rome was off fighting the Gauls by land and the Illyrian (Greek) pirates on sea.

Carthage was not going to give up easily. A determined leader of Carthage, Hamilcar Barca directed his attention to Spain where they could get control over the mineral resources there and create an army from the people there that would match the Roman legions. His son Hannibal was committed to ruin Rome and created a military base in Spain.

Hannibal devised an ingenious plan. His intention was to make a surprise attack upon Italy herself. He led his new army consisting of 60,000 men, 6,000 horses and 37 war elephants over the River Rhone (with his elephants on rafts), then across the Pyrenees mountains, then through southern Gaul and they finally arrived at the Alps after 5 months.

Only 1/2 of his army had survived. The Greek historian Polybius described the scene. (see Polybius and Hannibal). Hannibal finally arrived in Italy and went a severe rampage against the Romans. The Roman historian Livy describes Hannibal's leadership. (see Livy and Hannibal)

Hannibal's Military Genius

Hannibal's military brilliance was unsurpassed and he skillfully maneuvered his armies along with strategic use of his elephants and he demoralized the Romans when they came to stop him at Lake Trasimene and Cannae. Hannibal trapped the Roman legions between the hills and the lake at Trasimene forcing them back into the water where many of them drowned.

The worst defeat for Rome was at Cannae (216 BC) where Hannibal surrounded the entire Roman army and killed 50,000 men while only losing 6,000 of his own soldiers. This proved to be Rome's worst military disaster.

Hannibal's manpower was great, but they were not large enough nor did they have enough equipment to invade the city of Rome or maintain a long siege. Hannibal remained undefeated for 12 years and his army went anywhere they wanted in Italy and ravaged the countryside for 4 more years when he was called back to Africa.

Rome could not defeat Hannibal in Italy so she retaliated by conquering Spain and then attacking Carthage. Under the leadership of Cornelius Scipio Africanus a Roman army sailed to Africa and attacked Carthage. Hannibal was recalled to Africa in 203 BC to defend his homeland and he was defeated by Scipio in 202 BC at Zama Regia, 80 miles southwest of Carthage. This was Hannibal's first defeat. He escaped to Greece but for Carthage the war was lost.

Carthage surrendered and gave up her fleet and all her overseas territory, including the Spanish colonies, and paid another large indemnity.

Now Rome was clearly the master of the Mediterranean Sea. (see Hannibal and Scipio)


In 29 BC, the Roman Senate ordered the closure of the doors to the Temple of Janus in the Roman Forum for the first time in over 200 years. Signifying that the Roman state was no longer at war, this act reportedly pleased Augustus, then in his 5th Consulship, more than all the other honours showered on him. But the closure could not have been less appropriate. As Dio himself points out, there were ongoing major operations against the Treveri in Gaul, and the Cantabri and Astures in Spain. [1] Furthermore, the closure inaugurated nearly half a century of virtually incessant warfare, during which Augustus dramatically enlarged the Empire, annexing Egypt, Dalmatia, Pannonia, Noricum, and Raetia, expanding possessions in Africa, and completing the conquest of Hispania, but suffered a major setback in Germania. As a result, Augustus would establish the frontiers of the empire for centuries.

30 BC Edit

GAUL: The Morini and Treveri tribes of Gallia Comata province (Pas-de-Calais region of NE France), rebel against Roman rule and the Suebi Germans cross the Rhine to give them support. But the Morini are defeated by the proconsul (governor) of Gaul, Gaius Carrinas, who goes on to drive out the Suebi, for which he is awarded a joint Triumph with Augustus in 29 BC. [2]

EGYPT: The prefectures Aegypti (governor of Egypt) Gaius Cornelius Gallus quells two local revolts in Heroonpolis in the Nile delta and in the Thebaid. [3] Subsequently, he leads a Roman army South of the First Cataract of the Nile for the first time. He establishes a puppet-state called Triacontaschoenos under a local petty king to act as a buffer-zone between Egypt and Aethiopia (i.e. the kingdom of Aksum), as well as a loose protectorate over Ethiopia itself. [4] Despite his success, Gallus incurs Augustus' displeasure by erecting monuments to himself and is recalled to Rome, tried by the Senate and convicted of various unspecified charges and banished. [5]

29 BC Edit

GAUL: The Treveri revolt is quelled by the new proconsul of Gaul, C. Nonius Gallus, who is rewarded with the title of imperator ("supreme commander"). [6]

LOWER DANUBE: The proconsul of Macedonia, M. Licinius Crassus, grandson of Crassus the triumvir, launches the conquest of Moesia. He chases an army of Bastarnae, which was raiding a Roman allied tribe, back over the Haemus (Balkan) mountains but fails to bring them to battle. He then marches against a major fortress held by the Moesi people. Although his vanguard is routed by a Moesi sortie, Crassus succeeds in taking the stronghold. After that, he intercepts and routs the Bastarnae host near the Ciabrus river (Tsibritsa, Bulgaria), personally killing its leader in combat. Those Bastarnae who escape across the Danube river, and entrench themselves in a natural strongpoint, he dislodges with the assistance of the local king of the Getae. Crassus then turns his attention to the Moesi again. After a long and arduous campaign, he forces the submission of the great majority of Moesi. [7]

26 BC Edit

SPAIN: Augustus takes personal command of the campaign against the Cantabri. [8]

EGYPT: Responding to a directive from Augustus, the prefectures Aegypti, Aelius Gallus (no relation to his predecessor, Cornelius Gallus) leads an expedition across the Red Sea against the Sabaeans of Arabia Felix (mod. Yemen). The key attraction was that this region produced aromatic substances such as frankincense and myrrh, which were greatly prized in Rome. In addition, occupation of Sabaea would give the Romans control of both sides of the entrance to the Red Sea, the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, since Cornelius Gallus had established a garrison at Arsinoe (near Assab, Eritrea) on the Ethiopian shore. The expedition consists of 10,000 troops including allies, and 130 freight-ships. Gallus was counting on the assistance of the Nabataean Arabs of NW Arabia, whose king Obodas was a Roman ally and contributed 1,000 warriors under his chief secretary, Syllabus. But the latter allegedly sabotaged the mission throughout with poor advice. The force sails by ship from Clysma (Suez, Egypt) to Luke Come but suffers heavy losses to storms in transit, so that on arrival, Gallus is forced to spend the rest of the year at Lake Come to give his men a chance to recuperate and to effect repairs to his fleet. [9]

25 BC Edit

SPAIN: Augustus, although in nominal command of the campaign against the Astures and Callaeci, is incapacitated by illness. The campaign is brought to a successful conclusion, with the last rebels crushed, by the governors of Hispania Citerior and Ulterior, respectively Gaius Antistius Vetus and Publius Carisius. [8]

ALPS: Augustus despatches an army under Aulus Terentius Varro Murena against the Salassi tribe of the Val d'Aosta region of the northwestern Alps. The latter controlled the Great St Bernard pass, the shortest route between Italy and the Upper Rhine region. The Salassi are utterly defeated and, according to Strabo, Murena deports and sells into slavery 44,000 tribespeople.

Roman Campaigns in Germania (c.12 BC – AD 16) Edit

The Roman campaigns in Germania were a series of conflicts between the Germanic tribes and the Roman Empire. Tensions between the Germanic tribes and the Romans began as early as 17 BC with Clades Lolliana, where the 5th Legion under Marcus Lollius was defeated by the tribes Sicambri, Usipetes, and Tencteri. Augustus responded by rapidly developing military infrastructure across Gaul. His general, Nero Claudius Drusus, began building forts along the Rhine in 13 BC and launched a retaliatory campaign across the Rhine in 12 BC.

Drusus led three more campaigns against the Germanic tribes in the years 11–9 BC. For the campaign of 10 BC, he was celebrated as being the Roman who traveled farthest east into Northern Europe. Succeeding generals would continue attacking across the Rhine until AD 16, notably Publius Quinctilius Varus in AD 9, who suffered a major humiliation at Teutoburg Forest. During the return trip from his campaign, Varus was betrayed by Arminius, who was an ally of Rome and leader of the Cherusci. Roman expansion into Germania Magna stopped as a result, and all campaigns immediately after were in retaliation of the Clades Variana and to prove that Roman military might could still overcome German lands. The last general to lead Roman forces in the region during this time was Germanicus, the adoptive son of Augustus' successor, Tiberius, who in AD 16 launched the final major military expedition by Rome into Germania. The Roman Empire would launch no other major incursion into Germany until Marcus Aurelius (r. 161–180) during the Marcomannic Wars. [10]

Campaigns of the Second Punic War - History

The map is dedicated to the Second Punic War.
The main participants in the war were Rome and Carthage. The struggle was for supremacy in the western Mediterranean. This is one of the largest and most significant wars of the ancient world, after which Rome became a world power.

After Rome conquered Italy, he encountered Carthage, the largest state in the western Mediterranean. The First Punic War had begun and It ended in 241 BC in victory of Rome. Carthage loss Sicily.
Аfter 20 years Carthage begins a new war. The main initiator of the war was Hannibal, the son of the commander of the First Punic War Hamilcar Barkа. The war began with the unexpected passage of Hannibal through the Alps. The first stage was very successful for the Carthaginians. But a decisive victory was not achieved, the Romans were able to resist the final defeat in Italy, then defeat Carthage in Spain, and at the end transfer the fighting to Africa. There the decisive battle took place, in which Hannibal was defeated.

In addition to Rome and Carthage, Macedonia, Numidia, Syracuse, the Achaean Union, the Aetolian Union and Pergamum also participated in the war. The war lasts 17 years.

Map texts are taken from Wikipedia.
The project is open, if you have a desire to understand world history or share your knowledge, you can take part in mapping.

The Punic Wars: Kriegsschuldfrage and the Question of the Just War

The Germans have a wonderful expression for culpability in war: Kriegsschuldfrage. Who is to blame for the initiation of war and its concomitant horrors? Related to this question is the determination of whether a war was justified or not. A “just war” is often regarded as one waged in self-defense, as when one nation repulses invasion by another, but the matter becomes slippery when pre-emptive aggression is labeled “just.” As for the notion of a “good” war, I would argue that war is never good, as it invariably produces carnage afflicting the innocent. In recent times some historians have referred to WWII as “the good war,” arguing that it was so because it countered the menace of Hitler, but history is never that simple. Even in that conflict, the “good” side committed horrendous crimes against humanity, such as the incineration of innocent civilians in the fire-bombing of Dresden, or in the holocaust of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, the atom bomb. No, there is no “good war,” but a war may be “just,” and that matter often hinges on the determination of the Kriegsschuldfrage.

The three long wars waged between Carthage and Rome from 264 to 146 BCE, called by the latter “Punic Wars,” pitted the North African maritime trading city-state of Carthage against the power of the militaristic Roman Republic. The conflicts resulted in over a million casualties and a scale of destruction not seen before in the history of warfare. Who deserves the blame for these conflagrations—who was it that started the wars, and for what purpose?

The Roman Republic is well known for its emphasis on laws and legality and Roman historians present the city on the Tiber as following the rule of law. They would have us believe that Rome was always in the right and fought wars only for a just cause, to ward off aggression by others or to defend allies they had agreed to protect. Let us examine this claim in the light of the facts of the historical record. When we do so, we will see that all three so-called Punic Wars were actually initiated by Rome under one pretext or another, and not for benevolent purposes.

Let us start by looking at the first conflict (264-241). At the time, Sicily was divided between the eastern part, under the control of Syracuse, and the western part, under the influence of Carthage. In 288 BCE, a group of thugs known as the Mamertines, renegade Campanian mercenaries, occupied the city of Messana (today’s Messina) in Sicily, killing all the adult males and forcing the women to become their “wives”. Defeated in battle by the forces of King Hiero II of Syracuse, the Mamertines secretly called on the Carthaginians and on the Romans for help. The Carthaginians, interested in curtailing Syracusan control, interceded first, achieving a cessation of hostilities with Hiero and placing a detachment of troops in Messana, the latter to the displeasure of the Mamertines. The Roman Senate, in the meantime, although Rome had no presence or investment in Sicily, voted to send an invasion force to exploit the opportunity to displace the Carthaginians and commence Roman expansion into Sicily. The Roman attack started the first Punic War, which initially saw Carthaginians and Syracusans become allies to try to repel the invaders. After being defeated by the Romans, King Hiero, in self-preservation mode, switched sides, and the war became one between Rome and Carthage.

That the Roman invasion was not motivated by altruistic goals is clear from the fact that at the same time that Messana was initially occupied by the Mamertines a similar gang of cutthroat renegade soldiers had taken over Rhegium, right across the narrow strait separating Italy from Sicily. The thugs on the Italian side were severely punished by the Romans (most were summarily executed). Consequently, any claim by the Romans that they were interested in the protection of a similar gang in Messana is laughable. Clearly, expansionistic greed was behind the initiation of hostilities that would last 23 years and cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

As for the second Punic War, pro-Roman historians, such as Polybius and Livy, have tried to blame it on the actions of the great Carthaginian general, Hannibal Barca, who some believe was motivated by a need to avenge the wrongs committed against Carthage as well as by his undying hatred of Rome. (We have already demonstrated the fallacy of the alleged “eternal hatred,” see A Matter of Hatred on this website.) But let us examine the historical facts.

The prelude to the second war (218-201) was the Roman annexation of Sardinia, a Carthaginian territory, at a time when Carthage was unable to respond due to the devastation caused by the first war and the “truceless war” it was forced to wage against its own mutinous mercenaries (241-237). Hamilcar Barca, Hannibal’s father, had been the commander of the Carthaginian land forces in Sicily at the time of the disastrous naval defeat at the Aegates Islands, which compelled Carthage to capitulate in 241 BCE. Although Hamilcar remained unvanquished, he was forced to accept the defeat of Carthage and was put in charge of repatriating the contingents of mercenaries that composed his army. He wisely sent them home gradually, so that they could be paid and dismissed one group at a time. The Carthaginian magistrates, though, misjudged the situation, waited until all the men were back, and then attempted to negotiate reduced pay. This led to violent mutiny, and in the following conflict, characterized by atrocities on both sides, the very survival of the city was at stake. While Hamilcar was able to crush the rebellion, Carthage was exhausted and powerless to resist the theft of Sardinia and later Corsica by the Romans, who added insult to injury by demanding an exorbitant additional war indemnity under the threat of a new declaration of war.

Hamilcar led an expeditionary force to Spain, to secure the resources that Carthage would need to pay the indemnity owed to Rome. He was successful in his endeavors, expanding Carthaginian control in Iberia until his death in an ambush in 228, where he sacrificed himself to save the lives of his sons. His successor was his son-in-law, Hasdrubal the Handsome, who continued Carthaginian expansion, mostly by diplomatic means, until he was assassinated in 221. It was during his rule that the Romans, concerned with the success of the Carthaginians, sent a delegation to establish the Ebro Treaty (signed in 226 or 225). By it, the Carthaginians agreed to accept the boundary of the river Iber (Ebro), which they were not to cross in arms. Interestingly enough, the Roman historians do not inform us about Rome’s responsibilities under the treaty, although obviously there must have been some quid pro quo: Rome was not to interfere south of the Ebro.

The Romans implicitly violated the Ebro treaty by forming an alliance with the city of Saguntum, south of the Ebro and thus within Carthaginian territory. There is no evidence that such alliance existed prior to the signing of the treaty. Not only that, but Rome encouraged the Saguntines to massacre Carthaginian partisans in their city and to aggress against the Turboleti, a tribe under Carthaginian protection. Hannibal, who had been voted by acclamation the new commander-in-chief of the Carthaginian forces in Spain upon the death of his brother-in-law, reacted by marching against Saguntum and taking it by storm, after an eight-month-long siege. During those eight months the Saguntines sent repeated requests for assistance to Rome, to no avail—no help materialized. The Romans waited until Saguntum had fallen and then sent a delegation to Carthage to demand that Hannibal be turned over to them for punishment. Following the refusal of the Carthaginian assembly, Rome declared war on Carthage.

Questions about the second Punic War

1) Why did Hannibal chose to avoid combat with the Roman army sent against him near Rhone river, and crossed the Alps into Italy, suffering all these losses there?

I found this older discussion, and I fully share the questioning of Cedar Brown there. Also, I'm not fully convinced by the explanations given.

If he had known beforehand how difficult and costly the crossing would have been, do you suppose he would have chose the battle(s) alongside the coast to Italy?

Can we consider this choice a grave tactical mistake of this military genius?

2) What was the tactical purpose of the crescent-shaped formation of the Carthaginian infantry in the battle of Cannae? Was there any gained advantage from it, in comparison with a straight line formation (with a purposefully weakened centre and reinforced flanks), as deployed by the Athenians in the battle of Marathon? Did this formation improve the chances of accomplishing the double envelopment of the enemy?

And finally, was it deployed purposefully and by choice, or was it an accidental result of pre-battle circumstances?

Personally, I think this formation lured the Romans into naturally converging towards where the battle was taking place, into the short front of the protruding Carthaginian centre. Instead of perhaps moving straight forward to meet the Carthaginian flanks that lay behind the front-line, the Romans moved diagonally, converging towards the centre, where the purposefully weak Carthaginian infantry was first to engage, and now retreating. This move further diminished the breadth of the Roman formation, making it easier to envelope, and cramped them together in a narrow area, making it very difficult to manoeuvre and fight.

At least that's how I understand the usefulness of this 'peculiar' formation. And I also think that it was intentionally chosen by Hannibal, an absolutely brilliant tactic.

3) Why didn't Hannibal advance towards Rome after his staggering victory at Cannae? Even one of his commanders urged him to, and it seems that it might have been quite feasible to lay siege on Rome and try to take it after most of the Roman army in Italy was annihilated at Cannae.

Was perhaps Hannibal's sole intention to try and force the Romans into a favourable to Carthage peace treaty, by breaking their morale and resolve to fight on (how terribly mistaken he was about that!), never truly intending, or considering it feasible, to actually capture Rome itself?

Or did he simply evaluate the situation, and decided that capturing Rome would have to wait until later, when, and if, further favourable conditions would have materialised for his cause?

Do you think that Hannibal's decision was correct, or was it the worse mistake of his military career?

Did he ever even have a chance of actually conquering Rome, or did he accomplish the maximum a man possibly could, if we take into consideration the resources and manpower available to him, the relative strength of Rome and Carthage at the time, and the overall strategic situation of the two combatants and their allies?

4) This is a speculative question which I'm tempted to ask, but you might as well ignore it.

What do you think would have happened if Hannibal was indeed successful? What if Carthage had won the war, or worse, if instead of Carthage it was Rome that was "delenda"?
Could we safely classify the Punic Wars as some of the most significant military events in human history?


This strategy derives its name from Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, [1] the dictator of the Roman Republic given the task of defeating the great Carthaginian general Hannibal in southern Italy during the Second Punic War (218–201 BC). [2] At the start of the war, Hannibal boldly crossed the Alps and invaded Italy. [3] Due in part to Hannibal's skill as a general, he repeatedly inflicted devastating losses on the Romans—quickly achieving two crushing victories over the Romans at the Battle of the Trebia and the Battle of Lake Trasimene. [4] [5] After these disasters the Romans appointed Fabius Maximus as dictator. Fabius initiated a war of attrition fought through constant skirmishes and limiting the ability of the Carthaginians to forage for food. [6] [7]

Hannibal suffered from two weaknesses. First, he was commander of an invading foreign army on Italian soil, effectively cut off from the home country by the difficulty of seaborne resupply. [8] His only hope of destroying Rome was by enlisting the support of her allies. As long as the Italians remained loyal to Rome, then there was little Hannibal could win. Hannibal planned to convince Rome's allies that it was more beneficial for them to side with the Carthaginians through a combination of winning battles and negotiation. [9] Therefore, Fabius calculated that the way to defeat Hannibal was to avoid engaging with him in pitched battles, so as to deprive him of victories. He determined that Hannibal's extended supply lines, and the cost of maintaining the Carthaginian army in the field, meant that Rome had time on its side. [ citation needed ]

Rather than fight, Fabius shadowed Hannibal's army and avoided battle, [10] instead sending out small detachments against Hannibal's foraging parties, [11] and maneuvering the Roman army in hilly terrain, so as to nullify Hannibal's decisive superiority in cavalry. [12] Residents of small villages in the path of Hannibal's army were ordered to burn their crops and take refuge in fortified towns. [13] Fabius used interior lines to ensure that at no time could Hannibal march on Rome without abandoning his Mediterranean ports, while at the same time inflicting constant, small, debilitating defeats on the North Africans. This, Fabius had concluded, would wear down the invaders' endurance and discourage Rome's allies from going over to the enemy, without having to challenge the Carthaginians to a decisive battle. Once Hannibal's Carthaginians had been sufficiently weakened and demoralized by lack of food and supplies, Fabius and his well-fed legions would then launch the decisive battle and crush Hannibal once and for all.

Hannibal's second weakness was that much of his army was made up of Spanish mercenaries and Gaulish allies, whose loyalty to Hannibal was dubious, even though they disliked Rome. Being mercenaries, they were unsuited for siege-type battles, having neither the equipment nor the patience for such a campaign. The mercenaries desired quick, overwhelming battles and raids of villages for plunder, much like land-based pirates.

As such, Hannibal's army was virtually no threat to Rome, a walled city which would have required a long siege to reduce, which is why Hannibal never attempted it. Hannibal's only option was to beat Roman armies in the field quickly before plunder ran out and the Gauls and Spaniards deserted for plunder elsewhere. Fabius's strategy of delaying battle and attacking supply-chains thus hit right at the heart of Hannibal's weakness. Time, not energy, would cripple Hannibal's advances.

Political opposition Edit

Fabius's strategy, though a military success, was a political failure. His indirect policies, while tolerable among wiser minds in the Roman Senate, were unpopular, because the Romans had been long accustomed to facing and besting their enemies directly in the field of battle. The Fabian strategy was, in part, ruined because of a lack of unity in the command of the Roman army. The magister equitum, Marcus Minucius Rufus, a political enemy of Fabius, is famously quoted exclaiming,

Are we come here to see our allies butchered, and their property burned, as a spectacle to be enjoyed? And if we are not moved with shame on account of any others, are we not on account of these citizens. which now not the neighboring Samnite wastes with fire, but a Carthaginian foreigner, who has advanced even this far from the remotest limits of the world, through our dilatoriness and inactivity? [14]

As the memory of the shock of Hannibal's victories grew dimmer, the Roman populace gradually started to question the wisdom of the Fabian strategy, the very thing which had allowed them the time to recover. It was especially frustrating to the mass of the people, who were eager to see a quick conclusion to the war. Moreover, it was widely believed that if Hannibal continued plundering Italy unopposed, the terrified allies, believing that Rome was incapable of protecting them, might defect and pledge their allegiance to the Carthaginians.

Since Fabius won no large-scale victories, the Roman Senate removed him from command. Their chosen replacement, Gaius Terentius Varro, led the Roman army into a debacle at the Battle of Cannae. The Romans, after experiencing this catastrophic defeat and losing countless other battles, had at this point learned their lesson. They utilized the strategies that Fabius had taught them, which, they finally realized, were the only feasible means of driving Hannibal from Italy.

This strategy of attrition earned Fabius the cognomen "Cunctator" ('The Delayer'). [2]

During the Roman campaign against Persia prosecuted by Julian in 363 AD, the main Persian army under Shapur II let the numerically superior Romans advance deep into their territory, avoiding a full-scale battle at the expense of the destruction of their fortresses. As the Romans declined to take the Persian capital, they were lured into Persia's interior, where the Persians employed scorched earth tactics. Shapur II's army appeared later and engaged in continuous skirmishes only after the starving Romans were in retreat, resulting in a disastrous Roman defeat. [15]

The strategy was used by the medieval French general Bertrand du Guesclin during the Hundred Years' War against the English following a series of disastrous defeats in pitched battles against Edward, the Black Prince. Eventually du Guesclin was able to recover most of the territory that had been lost.

The most noted use of Fabian strategy in American history was by George Washington, sometimes called the "American Fabius" for his use of the strategy during the first year of the American Revolutionary War. While Washington had initially pushed for traditional direct engagements using battle lines, he was convinced of the merits of using his army to harass the British rather than engage them, both by the urging of his generals in his councils of war, and by the pitched-battle disasters of 1776, especially the Battle of Long Island. In addition, given his background as a Colonial officer who had participated in asymmetric campaigns against Native Americans, Washington predicted that this style would aid in defeating the traditional battle-styles of the British Army. [16]

However, as with the original Fabius, Fabian strategy is often more popular in retrospect than at the time. To the troops, it can seem like a cowardly and demoralizing policy of continual retreat. Fabian strategy is sometimes combined with scorched earth tactics that demand sacrifice from civilian populations. Fabian leaders may be perceived as giving up territory without a fight, and since Fabian strategies promise extended war rather than quick victories, they can wear down the will of one's own side as well as that of the enemy. [ citation needed ] During the American Revolution, John Adams' dissatisfaction with Washington's conduct of the war led him to declare, "I am sick of Fabian systems in all quarters." [17]

Later in history, Fabian strategy would be employed all over the world. Used against Napoleon's Grande Armée, the Fabian strategy proved to be decisive in the defense of Russia. Sam Houston effectively employed a Fabian defense in the aftermath of the Battle of the Alamo, using delaying tactics and small-unit harrying against Santa Anna's much larger force, to give time for the Army of Texas to grow into a viable fighting force. [18] When he finally met Santa Anna on the fields of San Jacinto, Houston chose the time for attack equally well, launching his forces while the Mexican Army was lounging in siesta. The resulting victory ensured the establishment of the Republic of Texas. With the victory at San Jacinto, Houston's detractors were able to see the validity of his delaying tactics. During the First World War in German East Africa, General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and General Jan Smuts both used the Fabian strategy in their campaigns. [19]

During the First Indochina War, the Vietnamese independentists used the Fabian strategy by utilizing delaying and hit-and-run tactics and scorched-earth strategy against the better-equipped French forces, which prolonged the war but later made both the French high command and home front weary against it, much worsened by the eventual Vietnamese victory at Dien Bien Phu.

Fabian socialism Edit

Fabian socialism, the ideology of the Fabian Society (founded in 1884), significantly influenced the Labour Party in the United Kingdom. It utilizes the same strategy of a "war of attrition" in the society's aim to bring about a socialist state. The advocation of gradualism distinguished this brand of socialism from those who favor revolutionary action. [20]

Scipio and Second Punic War General

Meanwhile, Scipio invaded North Africa. The Carthaginian Senate responded by recalling Hannibal.

The Romans under Scipio fought the Phoenicians under Hannibal at Zama. Hannibal, who no longer had an adequate cavalry, was unable to follow his preferred tactics. Instead, Scipio routed the Carthaginians using the same strategy Hannibal had used at Cannae.

Hannibal put an end to the Second Punic War. Scipio's stringent terms of surrender were to:

  • hand over all warships and elephants
  • not make war without the permission of Rome
  • pay Rome 10,000 talents over the next 50 years.

The terms included an additional, difficult proviso:

  • should armed Carthaginians cross a border the Romans drew in the dirt, it automatically meant war with Rome.

This meant that the Carthaginians could be put in a position where they might not be able to defend their own interests.

Watch the video: See It Played: Battleground - Historical Warfare - Second Punic War - Quick Start