Highly revered as one of world history’s best military commanders, Hannibal was born in 248 B.C. and became General and Commander-in-Chief of Carthage’s armies. The son of Hamilcar Barca, a Carthaginian general during the first Punic War, Hannibal is most remembered for “teaching the Romans fear” and for being Rome’s worthiest adversary according to ancient sources like Livy and Juvenal. He is still regarded as one of the best military strategists and tacticians in history. He was famously credited as saying to his army, “we either find a way or make a way.”
One of the earliest stories of Hannibal’s life depicts an exchange between him and his father where his father exacts a promise from his son that he will never be a friend to Rome. After the First Punic War, Hannibal followed his father to Iberia. After Hamilcar was killed in battle, he was succeeded by his son-in-law Hasdrubal and Hannibal served under his command. When Hasdrubal was assassinated in 221 B.C. Hannibal was appointed commander-in-chief by the Carthaginian government. As Hannibal consolidated his power in Iberia, he was thwarted by the Romans from advancing to the city of Saguntum despite a treaty with Rome that acknowledged Carthage’s claim to lands south of the Ebro River. Hannibal besieged the city nonetheless and the Second Punic War began in 218 B.C.
Hannibal achieved immense fame during the Second Punic War as Rome’s greatest enemy. Surprising the Romans, Hannibal traveled from Iberia eventually crossing the Alps into Italy where he out-maneuvered and conquered an army of greater numbers. Hannibal’s victories at the Battle of Lake Trasimene and the Battle of Cannae showed him as far superior to any force that Rome could produce. He marched through Italy and set up his base at Capua, Italy’s second largest city. Hannibal did not march on Rome and cement his victory because, essentially, he did not have the backing of Carthage and required more men and money to attempt taking the Roman capital. After several years in Italy and failing to take Rome, Hannibal lost the momentum of his early victories and the fight came to a stalemate.
After fifteen years of fighting in Italy, Hannibal was recalled back to Carthage to defend his city from Roman invasion. After failed peace negotiations, the Battle of Zama ensued and was declared a Roman victory. Carthage lost much of its empire, but Hannibal became a popular statesman and fostered a new era of Carthaginian prosperity. Carthage’s growing power alarmed Rome and they demanded Hannibal’s surrender at which point he went into voluntary exile traveling to Tyre and then Ephesus. Eventually he was received by Antiochus III of Syria who was preparing to go to war against Rome. Although Antiochus employed Hannibal, he did not listen to the general’s advice and was summarily defeated.
However, Rome was determined to hunt down Hannibal and the general was forced to seek refuge traveling to Crete, Asia Minor, back to Tyre. At Libyssa, in present-day Turkey, the leader Prusias had decided to give Hannibal up to the Romans. Instead of falling into the hands of his enemies, ancient sources say that Hannibal took poison that he kept in a ring, but the exact day and year of his death is unknown.
Hannibal’s legacy as a general is still famous today. He became known as the Father of Strategy because his methods were ultimately adopted by his enemies. His victories over a greater foe marked his military genius and his particular strategies achieved his lasting fame ranking him alongside some of the greatest generals of the ancient world like Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.