Ancient Leaders: King Hannibal of Carthage

Born in 247 BC, Hannibal was a Carthaginian statesman and general who famously held command of Carthage’s main forces in the battle against the world-dominating Roman Republic. This stand took place during the time of the Second Punic War (218-201 BC). Hannibal is widely considered among historians to be one of the greatest military commanders that the world has ever seen.

Born the son of a Carthaginian leader named Hamilcar Barca, Hannibal hailed from what is known today as Tunisia. He was one of several brothers and sisters and boasted the likes of Hasburdal the Fair and Numidian king Naravas among his eventual brothers-in-law. Hannibal embarked on his career as a soldier at the tender age of nine, after begging his father to take him on the Catharnian crusade that eventually ended up with the now 26-year-old son taking his father’s place as commander in chief in 221 BC.

Little concrete evidence has ever been found to confirm the facts about Hannibal’s adult family life. Many believe that he married a princess from Castulo, at the time a Spanish city closely allied with Carthage. She was once named as Imilce by Roman epic poet Silius Italicus. So too exists some suggestion of a son being born from the marriage, with three possibilities of names being Livy, Appian and Polybius.

Though the exact details of Hannibal’s death remain unknown, there is a general consensus that he committed suicide by drinking poison upon discovering that his home had been surrounded by Roman soldiers and there was no possibility of escape. Hannibal’s death is reported to have occurred in 183 BC.

Some of the most prominent moments in the history of Hannibal’s life include:

  • Marching his massive army across the Pyrenees and Alps mountain ranges into central Italy to attack at the very heart of the Roman Empire. This is often regarded as one of the most famous military campaigns in history. Military academies across the globe continue to study his strategies to this day.
  • Hannibal celebrated this feat by passing into Europe on the backs of war elephants, and this is a detail that has remained strong in his legend and has been depicted many times in art over the centuries.
  • Most notably, Hannibal’s contribution and leadership in the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC is noted as one of the most remarkable victories in military history. With 30,000 fewer troops, Hannibal employed the two-pronged double development tactic to slaughter the Roman army. It remains one of the most lethal single days of fighting in history.
  • Leaving a legacy so fearsome that Roman his name became a well-known Roman phrase of impending disaster. It is said that Roman senators would shout “Hannibal ante portas”, or “Hannibal is at the gates” to express feelings of anxiety or fear.

For further reading and viewing on Hannibal, please see these sources:

Hannibal: Rome’s Greatest Enemy

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