Hannibal (Carthaginian general)

Hannibal (hăn´əbəl), b. 247 BC, d. 183 or 182 BC Carthaginian general, an implacable and formidable enemy of Rome. Although knowledge of him is based primarily on the reports of his enemies, Hannibal appears to have been both just and merciful. He is renowned for his tactical genius.

Invasion of Italy

From his father, Hamilcar Barca, the defender of Sicily in the First Punic War (see Punic Wars), he learned to hate Rome. He succeeded as general in Spain on the death of his brother-in-law, Hasdrubal, in 221 BC After consolidating his position for two years, he besieged Rome's ally Saguntum (now Sagunto), which fell eight months later. Carthage supported him, and Rome declared war (the Second Punic War, 218–201 BC).

With a relatively small army of select troops, Hannibal set out to invade Italy by the little-known overland route. He fought his way over the Pyrenees and reached the Rhône River before the Romans could block his crossing, moved up the valley to avoid their army, and crossed the Alps. This crossing of the Alps, with elephants and a full baggage train, is one of the remarkable feats of military history. Which pass he used is unknown; some scholars believe it was the Montgenèvre or the Little St. Bernard.

He descended into Italy and with his superior cavalry overran the Po valley, winning recruits from the Gallic tribes. A Roman force tried to stop him on the Trebbia, only to be wiped out. In the spring of 217 he crossed the Apennines and marched toward Rome. At Lake Trasimeno he destroyed the main Roman army, but he avoided the strong walls of Rome and moved southward, hoping to stir up a general revolt. In 216 the Romans, having replaced Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (see under Fabius), attacked the Carthaginians at Cannae, but by brilliant cavalry tactics Hannibal managed to surround the entire force and cut it to pieces, killing some 50,000 Romans. Most of S Italy then allied itself with him, including the important city of Capua. Insufficiently supported from home, Hannibal could not assail Rome and had to content himself with ravaging and reducing smaller places.

Defeat and Death

Beginning in 212 BC the tide gradually turned against Hannibal. In 211 the Romans retook Capua, despite his rapid march toward Rome to entice them away. In 207 he fought his way for the last time into a position near Rome, but the defeat and death (207) of his brother Hasdrubal on the Metaurus (Metauro) River made his position hopeless, and he withdrew into the mountains of Bruttium. Recalled to Carthage in 203 to check the advance of Scipio Africanus Major in Africa, he was decisively beaten at Zama (202).

After the conclusion of peace (201), Hannibal became (probably in 196) a suffete, or chief magistrate, of Carthage. He reformed the government and reorganized the revenues in order to pay the heavy tribute imposed by Rome. Denounced to the Romans for allegedly intriguing against Rome, he fled (195) to Antiochus III of Syria. He took a small part in Antiochus's war with Rome, and after the Syrian defeat he fled again, this time to Bithynia. About to be delivered to the Romans, he poisoned himself.


See G. P. Baker, Hannibal (1930, repr. 1967); G. De Beer, Hannibal: Challenging Rome's Supremacy (1969); W. J. Jacobs, Hannibal: An African Hero (1973); E. Bradford, Hannibal (1981); R. L. O'Connell, The Ghosts of Cannae (2010); E. MacDonald, Hannibal (2015); P. N. Hunt, Hannibal (2017); J. Prevas, Hannibal's Oath (2017).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Hannibal: Selected full-text books and articles

Great Captains of Antiquity By Richard A. Gabriel Greenwood Press, 2001
Librarian's tip: Chap. 5 "Hannibal"
With Arrow, Sword, and Spear: A History of Warfare in the Ancient World By Alfred S. Bradford; Pamela M. Bradford Praeger, 2001
Librarian's tip: Chap. 25 "Hannibal: When Individual Genius Meets Collective Genius"
The Great Battles of Antiquity: A Strategic and Tactical Guide to Great Battles That Shaped the Development of War By Richard A. Gabriel; Donald W. Boose Jr Greenwood Press, 1994
Librarian's tip: Chap. 8 "The Campaigns of Hannibal: Trebia, Trasimene, Cannae, Zama"
A History of the Roman World from 753 to 146 B. C By Howard H. Scullard Methuen, 1961 (3rd edition)
Librarian's tip: Chap. IX "Hannibal's Offensive and Rome's Defensive"
The Story of Carthage By Arthur Gilman; Alfred J. Church Biblo-Moser, 1990
Librarian's tip: "Hamilcar and Hannibal" begins on p. 21
Cannae: The Experience of Battle in the Second Punic War By Gregory Daly Routledge, 2002
Librarian's tip: "Hannibal and His Staff" begins on p. 123
The Immense Majesty: A History of Rome and the Roman Empire By Thomas W. Africa Harlan Davidson, 1991
Librarian's tip: "The Roman Conquest from Pyrrhus to Hannibal" begins on p. 115
War Elephants By John M. Kistler Praeger, 2006
Librarian's tip: Chap. 18 "War Elephants of Carthage"
A History of the Roman People By Fritz M. Heichelheim; Cedric A. Yeo Prentice-Hall, 1962
Librarian's tip: "Hannibal" begins on p. 127
Looking for a topic idea? Use Questia's Topic Generator
Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.