The Punic Wars: Hannibal
by: Q. Claudius Locatus Barbatus
PARS I | PARS II | PARS III | PARS IV | PARS V | PARS VI | PARS VII | PARS VIII | PARS IX | PARS X | PARS XI
Hannibal was born in 247 BC, which was during the first Phoenician war (264-241). He was born in Sicily where his father was fighting against the Romans, on a mountain was the Eryx, and was besieged by the Romans. Hannibal spent his first years running and playing between soldiers and slaves, the mercenaries and captives of his father, Hamilcar, the famous Carthaginian commander.
The Carthaginians were originally Phoenicians. Carthago was a colony of the ancient city of Tyrus. Even in Hamilcar's time (some 500 years after the foundation of Carthago), the city of Carthago still donated a large sum of money to the temple of the predecessors in Tyrus. But the Barcas weren't of Tyrian origin, they were from Cyrene. The gens of the Barcas was, for a long time, not seen as a "full Carthaginian gens". But that was about to change in the following years...
Back to the first Phoenician war: When Hannibal was five, his father had to retreat because of the pact that had been made between the Romans and the Carthaginians. Some ships were sent from Carthago to collect Hamilcar and his men. At that time gens Hanno (an ancient Phoenician gens) held the reins of power in Carthago. They weren't very good friends of the Barcas. Once back in Carthago the problems began. The army of Hamilcar hadn't seen its money for ages and started a mutiny (238-237 BC). The African hinterlands soon followed. Carthago went through a major crisis, until Hanno was removed from power, and it was given to Hamilcar, who soon slaughtered his old "friends".
Rome saw this change and claimed another 1200 silver talents and the isles of Sardinia and Corsica. Carthago grumbled but, exhausted as it was, agreed. The power of Carthago in Northern Mediterranean Sea was gone. Hamilcar was furious and planned an expedition to the West, to regain and discover new lands. He departed with his family and some men in 237 BC. But before the departure Hannibal had to swear an oath, the oath "never to be a friend of the Romans". They passed Gibraltar and ended up in a city called Gades (Cadiz). They were welcomed heartily, as an official legate of the city of Carthago. Hamilcar's duty was to conquer Spain, and to turn it into a new base for Carthago.
The Barcas were already 9 years in Spain before they began the conquer. They marched into the hinterland through the valley of Betis. They came to the "Silver Mountains" (Sierra Morena). These mountains contained "the treasure of Spain", namely silver and gold ore. Hamilcar founded a city, to process the materials. But the arrival of Hamilcar had not been unnoticed. The Celts living there (the Iberians lived closer to the shores) raised an army and went into battle... Battle? Not exactly, because when Hamilcar sent some of his elephants for observation of the enemy, they fled! Their king was pursued and captured, his eyes were burned out and he was crucified. But his men soon joined the still growing Spanish forces of Hamilcar. But fate struck again. Nine years later Hamilcar was killed in an ambush by Celts of the neighbouring villages. They were slaughtered. Hasdrubal was granted the honour of becoming the commander. Eight years passed. Hasdrubal, a clever diplomat, left the war-path and started a politic of "moral conquest". He started to make friends with the Iberian chiefs. He also founded a new city (known to the Iberians as Massia) with a large port. But a city with a port of this size draws the attention of passing ships, and soon the rumours of a "Nova Carthago" reached Rome.
Rome sent some legates asking Hasdrubal not to cross the river Ebro "with weapons in his hands". Hasdrubal agreed and gained precious time. He made more and more friends. But 5 years later Hasdrubal was killed by a Celt. The elders of Nova Carthago chose the 26-year-old Hannibal as his successor.
Hannibal was chosen to be the successor of Hasdrubal. But Hannibal was an unknown man. Who was he at that time? The year was 221 BC, Hannibal was aged 26. He was a powerful man ("a worthy son of Hamilcar"), but he didn't drink or eat much. He wore normal clothing, had beautiful armour and was married with a princess of Castulo, Imilce (only her name is still known). However, Hannibal proved to be a splendid commander. The other tasks were given to his younger brother. Hannibal committed the Spanish chiefs to him "by violence and bribes". Within a year his army was marching through the Sierra Guadarrama, surprising the local rulers. Hannibal demanded money, provisions and recruits. The Spanish people were shocked, raised an army and attacked Hannibal. They were defeated in a most painful way, with the use of the elephants in a principal part.
In the middle of the plains there was a city, called Saguntum (Arse). This city lay on the Carthaginian side of the Ebro, but nevertheless Roman legates came to Hannibal, asking him not to conquer Saguntum. Hannibal ignored them and attacked Saguntum (219 BC). The city of Saguntum was important, because it was the separation between the influence of Carthago and the influence of Rome. After 8 months (!) the city of Saguntum was conquered. The Roman Senate was furious. Especially the gentes of the Claudii and the Cornelii wanted war against Carthago, but the Fabii insisted on a peaceful solution. A delegation of the Senate was sent to Carthago in 218 BC. They had only one question for the Carthaginian Council: did they agree with Hannibal's behaviour? The council said theydidn't want to disapprove the actions of Hannibal. Fabius rose and said: "I hold in my hands war or peace, what do you Carthaginians want?" The council deliberated, and came with a surprising answer: "you may choose."
"Then it will be war," Fabius replied. In Rome the temple of Janus was opened.