The Punic Wars: The Hunt for 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 went for Rhegium, a small city close to Messina, the last port at the south coast, a gateway to Sicily. But Rhegium was prepared for an attack, and as he did at Napoli, Hannibal went soon. At the same time Capua surrendered to the Romans. Many patricians of Capua chose suicide above capture. Capua lost all its rights, and was doomed to become a storehouse for Rome. This was the end of the dream of a 'magna Graecia', but more important: Marcellus was now ready to launch an attack on Hannibal.
The Carthaginian army was no longer what it had been. In 209-208 BC it had been fighting for more than 9 years. Many soldiers now had children old enough to carry a weapon themselves. The number of soldiers had grown, but the quality had diminished. Marcellus pursued Hannibal, but every time when he tried to attack him Hannibal ran away. Marcellus' impatience was growing, and the senate would like to see some results.
Hannibal retreated behind a hill. Marcellus gave the order to occupy that hill, so the Carthaginians couldn't fortify it. Marcellus; the second consul; 2 squadrons of cavalry and 5 lictores went to the hill. While riding through a forest they were suddenly attacked by the Numidian cavalry. One squadron of Roman cavalry ran away, they were the only survivors; both Marcellus and the other consul were killed. The Roman army quickly retreated. The Carthaginians buried Marcellus with great honour. They buried him on the hill he tried to occupy. Consternation in Rome. Two consuls killed. In 9 years every attempt to do something about Hannibal turned out to be a disaster. But just in time the news of the conquest of Nova Carthago came. Scipio sent loads of silver and a lot of precious jewelry.
After three years, the citadel of Tarentum was again in Roman hands. A strong Carthaginian naval force came to surround the citadel on sea, but when some Roman vessels showed up, Bomilcar and his fleet rushed away as quickly as possible. Fabius was closing on the city of Tarentum. Treachery helped Fabius, as it had helped the Carthaginians some years before. While a Roman squadron launched a fake attack on the other side, a Bruttian officer opened the gate for the Romans. Carthalo was killed, as well as the most of the Carthaginian and Bruttian soldiers. 30 000 people were captured and sold as slaves, 3080 pounds of gold and loads of silver and precious art were sent to Rome. Hannibal heard of the conquest of Tarentum when he was more than 250km (150 miles) of the city. There was nothing he could do.
Hannibal was furious, he wanted revenge. So he set up a ruse. Fabius was passing the city Metapontum at that time. Hannibal sent a Carthaginian army to that city. Metapontum sent out (fake) legates to Fabius, asking him to conquer the Carthaginian army, that would be small and easy to beat. But Fabius wasn't Marcellus. He saw through it as a ruse, and marched on towards Rome. Hannibal said to his commanders: "We have lost the war in Italy, unless we can gain forces." Why did he say that? The Carthaginian army had been invincible for more than 9 years.
But Hannibal showed he had a forward-looking mind. Hannibal quickly sent messenger to ask Hasdrubal to pass the Alps with his men. Scipio was still in Spain. He played the role of a chosen leader, not that of an emperor. He released his Spanish prisoners, and gave the Iberians full rights. He gained trust of the Spanish tribes. Scipio used his time in Spain to train his army and to recruit some of that excellent Spanish cavalry. He also recruited Numidian cavalry, from the other side of the Mediterranean. In the meanwhile the silver mines were working flat out to produce silver for the Romans, silver they surely needed.
Hadrubal tried to fulfill the request of his father, Hannibal. Hasdrubal had three armies under his command. He engaged the Romans with one of his armies on the side of the Ebro. Scipio knew his enemy was a cunning man. The Roman army crossed the Ebro without being seen by the Carthaginians and managed to surround the Carthaginians. The fight was terrible, but the Romans won. 8000 Carthaginians were killed, and the camp was ransacked by the Romans. But Hasdrubal managed to get away with his strongest soldiers in the direction of the Pyrenees. He was heading to Italy, and Scipio couldn't follow him, because he didn't know where the two other armies were.
Hasdrubal met Mago (another brother of Hannibal) before reaching the Pyrenees. They agreed to go to Italy. Hasdrubal would depart immediately, Mago a bit later, after recruiting new hurlers. As said, Hasdrubal went for Italy immediately. He crossed the Pyrenees through the pass of "Roncevaux" (famous from "le chanson de Roland", a middle age story about Charlemagne) and headed for Massilia. At the same time in Italy Etruria broke the alliance with Roma, and the Gauls in the North started a rebellion. Elections in Roma were held: the new Consules were Claudius Nero; he became head of the Southern army and had to combat Hannibal; and Marcus Livius, who became the commander of the Northern army. Nobody expected them to be able to stop Hannibal, Hasdrubal and the Gauls.
Hasdrubal crossed the Alps at a tremendous speed. In the Po plains many Gauls joined his army. Hasdrubal sent his brother, Hannibal, a message with the place of the ‘reunion’ marked (a river, called Metaurus). His riders went to Southern Italy to meet Hannibal. But Hannibal was just advancing towards the river Aufidus, breaking through the Roman lines. Thus the Romans were able to capture the messagers with valuable news. Nero immediately warned Livius where the meeting should take place, and then took 7000 of his men and travelled as quick as he could to Metaurus. He left 30 000 men behind to guard Hannibal.
Husdrubal saw there were Romans waiting for them. He stopped his army and tried to find a way out of there. But Nero arrived at night and cut off Hasdrubals’ way to the South. Livius attacked, and Nero did the same, but from behind. The battle was going on in all its violence, when Hasdrubal was killed. The Carthaginian army collapsed all of a sudden; the Gauls fled. It was the last time the united people of Italy stood up against Rome. 4 500 captured Romans were freed. Nero forced his army to march back to the Aufidius, bringing his troops, some Carthaginian prisoners and the head of Hasdrubal with him. He ordered to throw the head of Hasdrubal before the feet of the Carthaginian guards and to release the Carthaginian prisoners, so they could tell Hannibal what had happened. Hannibal retreated immediately after hearing the bad news. The two consules were allowed to enter Rome with a triumphal procession. The Romans started a festival that lasted several months, the senate proclaimed three days of official festivities.