Hannibal Barca was a general who led the North African city of Carthage against Rome during the second Punic War. A charismatic leader and an excellent military strategist, Hannibal is considered one of the greatest generals in history. The son of Hamilcar Barca, another Carthaginian general who fought against Rome in the first Punic War, Hannibal swore never to be a friend of Rome. As a young man, Hannibal accompanied his father on his military campaigns. By the age of 25, Hannibal was named the supreme commander of the Carthaginian army.
In 218 B.C., within a few years of taking command of the army, Hannibal mounted a famous attack against Rome at the beginning of the second Punic War. Starting from Spain with tens of thousands of professional soldiers and dozens of elephants, Hannibal marched across the Alps to invade Italy from the north during the early winter. Thousands of men and many of the animals did not survive the 15-day march across the mountains, and those who did survive endured great hardships.
Despite these losses, Hannibal and his army won several important battles in Italy. Hannibal’s greatest victory took place in 216 B.C. at Cannae, in southern Italy, where Rome lost 50,000 troops in a single day—the worst defeat in its history. Hannibal hoped his success in Italy would convince Rome’s allies to withdraw their support and force Rome to surrender. He also believed additional troops from Spain and Carthage would join him once he reached Italian soil. Hannibal was wrong on both counts, and he and his army were forced to live off the land in southern Italy, where they fought for another 14 years.
In 202 B.C., Hannibal returned to Africa to defend Carthage against the Roman general Scipio Africanus, who defeated Hannibal at the Battle of Zama, which ended the war. After his defeat, Hannibal gave up military life and turned to civic affairs. As the chief official of Carthage, he led a movement to reform the government, making him unpopular with the aristocracy*. Forced to flee into exile in 195 B.C., Hannibal attempted to rouse Carthage’s old allies into another campaign against Rome, but this quickly failed. In 182 B.C., to avoid surrendering to the Romans he had sworn never to befriend, Hannibal ended his life by drinking poison. (See also Wars and Warfare, Greek; Wars and Warfare, Roman.)
* aristocracy privileged upper class