THE LONG STRUGGLE, 216-201 BC

Though Hannibal can only have been disappointed by the Romans’ refusal to admit defeat, there was much to encourage him in the months after Cannae. Soon most of Southern Italy defected to him, including the great city of Capua, whose population enjoyed Roman citizenship although without voting rights. The Carthaginian army ranged around the area, attacking the towns which resisted and encouraging local factions to join them. The losses of these allies were further blows to Roman prestige, an open acknowledgement of her weakness and inability to protect her friends. They also represented further reductions in her available manpower. In the North, the Gallic tribes of the Po valley remained in a state of rebellion and near the end of the year would wipe out an army of two legions led by the praetor and consul-elect Lucius Postumius Albinus. The praetor was killed and, according to Livy, beheaded, his gilded skull being subsequently used by the tribe's druids in their rituals.14

Mago Barca returned to Carthage to announce his brother's successes. On the floor of the Carthaginians' Ruling Council his attendants poured out the rings taken from dead or captured Roman equestrians, till thousands were piled up in heaps. He reinforced this visible proof of the enemy's massive losses with detailed accounts and asked that Hannibal be supported with more men and supplies. Livy, who throughout his account maintains that there was a significant party at Carthage opposed to Hannibal and the Barcids, has one Hanno mock these grandiloquent claims, wondering how much aid their commander would have requested if things were not going well. In the event, Hannibal was only ever to receive one significant reinforcement from Africa, although in part this lack may have been caused by his failure to secure a major port.15

The war in Italy changed after Cannae, for from then on Hannibal had bases to act from, but also allies to protect. There was little or no unity amongst his new-found allies, who had little in common with each other apart from their former link with Rome. Few were willing to commit significant numbers of men to fight outside their own lands, and all were firm in their belief that Hannibal was obliged to protect them from Roman depredations. The Romans sometimes had as many, or even more, troops in the field in Italy after Cannae, but never again were so many concentrated in a single field army. Instead between four and six independent armies were usually operating, occasionally moving together to support each other. They tried to avoid pitched battle with Hannibal's main army, save in the most favourable of circumstances, but everywhere raided and attacked his allies. As the years went by, the area loyal to Hannibal steadily declined as the Romans captured one town after another. This was a long process, and more than once Hannibal was able to surprise Roman forces and soundly beat them, most notably in the two battles at Herdonea in 212 and 210. The Romans suffered other major blows, such as when the city of Tarentum was betrayed to the enemy in 212; when both of the year’s consuls were ambushed and killed (one actually dying of his wounds) in 208; and when some of her Latin allies declared themselves incapable of providing further soldiers and resources for the war effort in 209. Yet for all the pressure Hannibal put upon it, the Roman confederation did not collapse and continued to exert more and more of its massive power to regain losses.

Both Hannibal as a commander and his army as soldiers completely outclassed their Roman opponents in the early years of the war. This was not true of the other Punic leaders and their armies, who proved incapable of winning major battlefield victories over the Romans. During the war Roman military effectiveness steadily increased as soldiers and officers gained experience. This was to produce a generation when Roman commanders and their legions were of exceptionally high quality. When Hasdrubal and Mago Barca both led armies to join their brother in Italy, the former was swiftly overwhelmed and his army destroyed, the latter stopped and defeated in Northern Italy. However, at first the quality of the new Roman armies was demonstrated against opponents other than Hannibal. Even during the worst crisis in Italy the Senate continued to send resources to prosecute the war on other fronts, in Spain and Sicily and also, when Hannibal entered an alliance with King Philip V of Macedon, in Greece. In Macedonia the war, known today as the First Macedonian War, would end in stalemate and an unsatisfactory peace treaty (so much so that one of the first Roman acts after ending the war with Carthage was to enter a new bout of conflict with Philip). In Sicily and Spain the Romans would eventually win outright victories, expelling the Carthaginians from the regions.

The defections to Hannibal in the aftermath of Cannae. The most serious loss was Capua, whose population enjoyed most of the rights of Roman citizens, although they were not able to vote or stand for election in Rome. The new allies gave Hannibal food and other aid and provided him with some troops, but also became a burden as they demanded that he defend them from the vengeful Romans. A more serious problem was his inability to secure a sizeable port.

Finally, in 204, a Roman consul who had made his name in Spain led an invasion army from Sicily into Africa. This was Publius Cornelius Scipio, the same young man who had saved his father's life at Ticinus and assumed command of the survivors after Cannae. At the heart of his army were two legions formed from the fugitives of Cannae, and later reinforced by men from the disasters at Herdonea. From the beginning the Senate had decided to treat these men harshly, sending them to Sicily and refusing to allow them to return to Italy. It was one of the great ironies of the war that it was these legions under Scipio which faced Hannibal after the Carthaginians had recalled his army from Italy to protect their city. At Zama in 202 BC it was a well trained and highly experienced Roman army which faced a larger, but very mixed Carthaginian force, whose members had had little opportunity to train together. Also, unlike all Hannibal's earlier victories in Italy, the Carthaginians were outnumbered in cavalry. The resulting battle was a tough slogging match, but in the end Hannibal's infantry were attacked from the front by the Roman infantry and from the rear by Roman and allied cavalry, much of it drawn from the Numidian tribes. On this occasion Scipio employed no tactics as imaginative as Hannibal's at Cannae, but the result was the same, for the Punic army was utterly defeated. Carthage had few resources left. More importantly there was little will to continue the struggle. Unlike the Romans in 216, they soon opened negotiations for peace, accepting the terms imposed by the Romans upon them. The Second Punic War was over.

The battle of Zama.

Importantly Hannibal was outnumbered in cavalry. When the massed elephant charge failed to disorder the Roman line, both wings of Punic cavalry were swept away. The Romans advanced and ground through the first and second lines of Carthaginian infantry. The battle was decided in the end by the return of the Roman cavalry who took the Punic third line in the rear. Though Hannibal did not suffer as heavy losses as he had inflicted on the Romans at Cannae, the Carthaginians lacked Rome's stubborn will to continue in any circumstances and surrendered.

This pillar, erected in the nineteenth century by the Italian government to commemorate the battle of Cannae, stands near the ruins of the town on the hill overlooking the battlefield. The ruins of the town date to the Imperial period.

Hannibal survived the defeat of Zama. In the years after the war he won the high office of suffete at Carthage and did much to encourage the revival of his city's prosperity. Yet a combination of political rivals at Carthage and a growing desire for revenge amongst many Roman senators eventually forced him into exile. He became a mercenary commander, fleeing to the courts of a succession of monarchs in the Hellenistic East, especially those hostile to Rome. Eventually, hunted by Roman agents, he took his own life in Bithynia in 183.16

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