The second great conflict between Rome and Carthage is the most well-known because of the famous Carthaginian general, Hannibal Barca. While this war, like the first Punic War, ended in victory for Rome, it is Hannibal and his elephants, crossing the Alps into Italy, which has captured people’s imaginations.
After the end of the first Punic War, and after defeating the rebellious (and unpaid) mercenaries in Carthage, Hamilcar, father of Hannibal and father-in-law of Hasdrubal, trained a new army, consisting mostly of Numidians (Berbers from the area near Carthage in North Africa), and traveled to Iberia (modern Spain) in 237 BCE seeking to conquer additional territory to replace Sicily and Sardinia. According to legend, he took nine-year old Hannibal with him. Before embarking, he made young Hannibal swear an oath to “never be a friend to Rome.”
Hamilcar was killed in battle in 229 BCE, after conquering many towns in Spain. His son-in-law Hasdrubal took over, and founded a “New Carthage,” Cartago Nova (modern Cartagena). This made the Romans anxious for their own settlements in Spain, and they entered a treaty with Hasdrubal in 226 BCE under which Hasdrubal agreed that the Carthaginians would not expand north of the River Ebro in the northeast of the Spanish peninsula. Hasdrubal was assassinated in 221 BCE, and Hannibal, took over the Carthaginian military leadership at age 25.
Although the city of Saguntum (Modern Sagunto) was south of the Ebro, the inhabitants of the city had come under the protection of Rome sometime around 225 BCE. Hannibal used this situation as a pretext for asserting that the Ebro Treaty had been violated, and he proceeded to besiege the city for eight months. In addition, Hannibal refused the demands of Roman emissaries to leave Saguntum, and it fell to the Carthaginians in 219 BCE. Shortly after Saguntum fell, Rome declared war.
Hannibal then did something unexpected. Leaving his brother, also named Hasdrubal, in charge in Spain, he marched along north along the coast. Instead of attacking by sea, he crossed the Alps into the Italian peninsula, taking not only his army but approximately 37 elephants.  However, due primarily to desertions and fighting with local tribes, as well as extreme late autumn conditions in the mountains, he arrived in Italy with only 20,000 of his original 90,000 infantry, and only 6,000 of his original 12,000 cavalry. Some elephants had survived, but it is not clear how many. Hannibal’s plan was to take the war to Italy, and to recruit discontented Gaulish tribes to fight in his forces, and to convince people controlled by the Romans to switch sides.
After arriving in northern Italy, Hannibal won a series of battles. The first, a relatively minor engagement, occurred in December, 218 BCE, on the banks of the Ticinus River (modern Ticino River, south of modern Milan). The Roman consul, Publius Cornelius Scipio, had been busy with attacks by Celtic tribes, but eventually took troops to intercept Hannibal at the Rhone River. Hannibal, however, had already gone on. Scipio sent his brother, and the majority of the troops, to Spain, and returned to Italy. He caused a bridge to be built across the Ticinus, and set up camp. Hannibal was surprised at Scipio’s return, but determined to engage him. There followed a cavalry battle in which Hannibal used the tactic of charging the center of the enemy, cutting off escape, and then attacking the enemy’s flanks and rear. Although not a major battle, the engagement was important because the Romans were routed, and Scipio injured.
At the end of December, 218 BCE, the Carthaginians won a larger battle on the banks of the River Trebia, near the settlement of Placentia (modern Piacenza), where the Roman army had retreated after their defeat at Ticinus. The second Roman consul, Tiberius Sempronius Longus, had been assembling an army in Sicily with the intent to invade Africa, but changed plans and joined Scipio’s forces in Italy. Hannibal was joined by another brother, Mago.
As the battle commenced, Hannibal kept Mago and Mago’s troops concealed. The Roman infantry had initial success, but the Carthaginian cavalry, with superior numbers, put pressure on the Roman cavalry. Eventually, Hannibal deployed elephants to the Romans’ left and the Carthaginian cavalry attacked the flanks of the infantry. Then Mago and his troops emerged from hiding and attacked the rear, completing the encirclement of the Roman army, who panicked and began to flee. Although the exact numbers are not clear, the Romans suffered heavy casualties, with survivors retreating to Placentia, while Carthaginian casualties were much less. After the battle, Hannibal obtained another 40,000 men from Gaulish allies, but sadly, all but one of his elephants died due to the cold.
Hannibal won another important victory in June, 217 BCE near Lake Trasimene (modern Trasimeno, north of Perugia and east of Cortona in north central Italy). Hannibal again had done the unexpected by forcing a march through the nearly impassible late spring Arno marshes and into the rough terrain of the Apennine mountains. He moved 50,000 troops over this challenging landscape in just four days, but lost many men and pack animals. It is said Hannibal led this march by riding the sole surviving elephant. He got an eye infection, but could not attend to it, and eventually lost sight in the eye. In the meantime, Rome had elected two new consuls, Caius Flaminius and Gnaeus Servilius Geminus. Hannibal hoped to lure Flaminius into battle before Geminus could arrive by burning and pillaging Etruria (generally modern Tuscany), which he proceeded to do.
On June 24, 217 BCE, Hannibal set campfires near Lake Trasimene to make the Romans think his army was camped there. Instead, he had stationed his troops in the hills above the lake. The Romans, believing this ruse and visually hampered by thick morning fog, marched right into the ambush, at which point the Carthaginians descended and annihilated them. According to Polybius, Rome suffered approximately 15,000 deaths, some of whom drowned trying to swim in the lake in their heavy gear.
This disaster led to panic in Rome, and the Roman Assembly elected Quintus Fabius Maximus dictator in 217 BCE. Flavius was later called “cunctator” (delayer) because of his tactics of avoiding major battles and relying on skirmishes to harass and wear down the enemy. For his part, Hannibal marched through Apulia, ravaging the countryside at will. In 216 BCE, Gaius Terentius Varro and Lucius Aemilius Paulus were elected consuls. Varro advocated an aggressive strategy, while Paulus was more cautious.
In spring of 216 BCE, Hannibal seized Cannae, an abandoned Roman supply depot located on a hill above a plain. Also in 216, the Roman Senate had taken the unusual step of mustering eight legions, four for each consul. This force may have numbered as many as 80,000 infantry (Romans plus allies) and 6,000 cavalry. The two consuls and these large armies advanced towards Cannae, but Varro and Paulus disagreed on battle plans. Varro wanted to attack on open ground to allow the superior Roman infantry room to maneuver. Paulus, the grandfather of Scipio Aemilianus, Polybius’s sponsor, wanted to attack in the hills, to thwart the Carthaginian cavalry.
The Romans eventually set up two camps on either side of the Aufidius River. At this point, Hannibal, leaving a garrison to guard Cannae, descended on to the plain. On August 1, 216 BCE, Paulus was in command. He decided not to engage Hannibal directly, and Hannibal’s Numidian cavalry spent the day harassing Roman foraging parties.
This reluctance did not sit well with the Roman troops, and on August 2, Varro decided to fight, arranging his troops in battle order, leaving 10,000 men in the camp. The battlefield, although located on a plain, was nonetheless narrow, hemmed in between the hill of Cannae and the river. Hannibal also took the field, with approximately 40,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry. Adrian Goldsworthy notes:
It must have taken hours for both the armies to reach their positions and deploy into battle, the tribunes scurrying about to join the two Roman armies together and jostle the men into place. When they were ready, over 125,000 men and 16,000 horses were gathered into an area no larger than 5 or 6 square miles, whilst more soldiers, and tens of thousands of slaves, servants and camp followers looked on from the three camps. . . .So many feet and hoofs threw up clouds of dust which swirled in the strong gusts of the hot Volturnus wind which blows from the south-east.
Hannibal arranged his infantry in a double line, bulging in the center to form a cresent, with slingers to the sides. He put 8,000 of his best Libyan infantry in two columns on each side of the plain to the rear. Rome, on the other hand, used a tighter formation of four lines of infantry, planning to advance and overwhelm Hannibal’s center. According to Polybius, the Romans faced south with the Aufidius River on their right flank, while the Carthaginians faced north with the river on their left flank.
At midday, after some skirmishing, the Romans advanced, driving into the Carthaginian center. Hannibal and Mago were with the Carthaginian infantry, and Paulus was with the Roman infantry. According to Polybius, Paulus commanded the right wing of the Roman forces, and Varro the left, with the center led by former consuls Marcus Atilius and Gnaeus Servilius. Hasdrubal (a different Hasdrubal from Hannibal’s brother, who was still Spain) commanded the Carthaginian left wing cavalry (next to the river) and a general named Hanno commanded the Numidian cavalry on the right. Hasdrubal and Hanno’s cavalry attacked, causing chaos among the Roman cavalry. The Carthaginian infantry was being driven back by the relentless Roman onslaught, and eventually the crescent collapsed. However, as the Roman infantry advanced, they became less organized, and suddenly found themselves trapped between the columns of the crack Libyan infantry on either side. To make matters worse, it was difficult to tell who the Libyans were, as they were dressed in Roman gear looted from dead legionaries from previous battles.At the same time, Hasdrubal’s cavalry, which had regrouped, attacked Varro’s cavalry near the hills, and they, and Varro, fled the field.
The battle turned into a slaughter. By the end of the day 50,000 Roman infantry and 2,700 Roman cavalry lay dead or dying, including Paulus and Servillius and at least 80 senators, as well as many other Roman officials. The Carthaginians lost 5,700 infantry and 200 cavalry. Thus, Hannibal used an encirclement maneuver which became influential in military tactics for the next two millennia.
Following this stunning victory, Hannibal did not march on Rome, as some commentators both ancient and modern think he should have done. Indeed, historians continue to debate whether Hannibal could have won the war with an attack on Rome.
Instead, Hannibal sent an emissary to the Senate, together with representatives of Roman prisoners, to arrange ransom and begin peace negotiations, since “by the standards of the day he had very clearly won the war.” However, the Senate refused to see the emissary and refused to ransom the prisoners taken at Cannae or allow private ransom of them. The Romans sent the emissary and the prisoners back to Hannibal, and began to rebuild their legions through conscription. Moreover, although many communities in southern Italy did defect to Carthage after Cannae, as Hannibal had hoped, the majority of Rome’s allies remained loyal. The war dragged on for another sixteen years.
In Italy, the Romans followed the strategy of Quintus Fabius Maximus, avoiding pitched battles and harassing the Carthaginians in skirmishes. In 215 and 214 BCE, Fabius was again elected consul. In 213 BCE his son, also named Quintus Fabius Maximus, was elected. The senior Fabius held the post again in 209. “During these years, the rival armies marched and counter-marched across much of southern Italy, frequently passing over again the same areas, both sides struggling to control the important cities and towns.” For example, the city of Capua defected to Carthage after Cannae. Hannibal took the port of Terentum with the help of conspirators within the city but did not manage to dislodge the Roman garrison in the citadel. By 209 BCE Rome had recaptured both these cities
At the same time, the Romans controlled the north and west of Sicily, while their ally from the First Punic War, Heiro, governed Syracuse. However, Heiro died in 216 or 215 BCE, and two of his successors, Hippocrates and Epicydes, rebelled against Rome. The Romans, led by consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus, besieged Syracuse from 214 to 212 BCE. However, Syracuse had weapons designed by the famous Greek mathematician, Archimedes, including catapults, hooks which lifted Roman ships from the water before dropping them, and, perhaps, a mirror device which used the sun to set the ships on fire.
The Carthaginians tried to help Syracuse but did not succeed, and eventually the Romans took advantage of the city’s celebration of a feast of Artemis to scale the city walls at night and open the gates. The Romans then sacked the city. Despite Marcellus’s orders that Archimedes should be spared, tradition has it that he was slain while working on a mathematics problem.
In 210 BCE, Publius Cornelius Scipio (later “Africanus”) who had reportedly saved his father (also named Publius Cornelius Scipio) at the Battle of Ticinus, took command of a Roman expedition to Spain. Both his father and uncle had fallen earlier at the Battle of the Upper Baetis (modern Guadalquivir) in southwest Spain. The younger Scipio landed at the mouth of the Ebro River and captured the city of New Carthage in 209 BCE. In 208 BCE, the Romans defeated the Carthaginians at the Battle of Baecula (modern Santo Tome). Other Carthaginian defeats followed, such as the Battle of Ilipa (believed to be near modern Seville) in 206 BCE.
In 207 BCE, Hasdrubal (not the one at Cannae) traveled to rejoin his brother in Italy. Upon arriving, Hasdrubal sent messengers to Hannibal, but they were intercepted by one of the consuls for that year, Caius Claudius Nero. Nero then marched to connect his forces with the troops of the other consul, Marcus Livius Salinator. Seeing he was outnumbered, Hasdrubal attempted to retreat to Gaul, but he was betrayed by his guides and he and his army were trapped against the banks of the Metaurus River. As the Romans attacked, Nero assaulted the Carthaginians’ flank, resulting in a rout of the Carthaginians and the death of Hasdrubal.
In 205 BCE, Scipio began plans to invade Africa. After successful campaigning in Spain, he went to Sicily to recruit troops. While it is difficult to know for certain how many men comprised his army, he may have had approximately 28,000.
Scipio set out in 204 BCE and landed in North Africa near the city of Utica, where he was soon joined by the Numidian leader Masinissa, who supported Rome. Scipio won two initial battles and besieged Utica during the winter of 204—203 BCE. Carthaginian forces led by Gisco and Masinissa’s rival Numidian king Syphax, arrived at Utica and the two sides built separate camps and watched each other through the winter. In the spring of 203 BCE, the Romans engaged in some half-hearted peace negotiations, but these soon broke down.
Eventually, Scipio seized Utica by means of a trick. He placed some of his troops on a hill to give the impression he was about to attack the city. However, other troops attacked Gisco and Syphax and set fire to their camps. During the confusion, the Romans attacked and utterly defeated the Carthaginians and their allies.
The Carthaginians suffered another defeat in the Battle of the Great Plains. Carthaginian leadership still favored war, and sent additional troops to Gisco and Syphax, some recruited from Spain. Scipio left Utica and defeated this renewed Carthaginian force on the plains near the Bagradas River (modern Medjerda River in Tunisia).
Following this defeat, the Carthaginian Senate recalled Hannibal from Italy. In October 202 BCE, Hannibal and Scipio met in person to discuss peace, but Scipio refused Hannibal’s proposals. The Battle of Zama followed. This final engagement of the war saw Hannibal lose both of his cavalry wings early in the fighting, and his war elephants stampede in response to volleys of javelins thrown by the Romans. After much indecisive hand-to-hand fighting, the cavalry of the Romans and their Numidian allies attacked from the rear and wiped out the Carthaginian infantry. The Carthaginians lost approximately 20,000 men, while the Romans lost only 5,000.
After the battle, Carthage sued for peace, and submitted to harsh terms imposed by the Romans. Carthage lost its entire fleet except for ten ships, and all its overseas possessions. Further, they owed Rome reparations of 10,000 silver talents to be paid annually over 50 years. Finally, in the spring of 201 BCE, the war was over.
Previous in this series: The Punic Wars | part I
 Polybius, Histories 1.88, 2.1. available at perseus.tufts.edu. available in English translation at gutenberg.org.; Adrian Goldsworthy, The Fall of Carthage: The Punic Wars 265-146 BC (London: Cassell Books, 2000), 168, Kindle.
 Titus Livius (Livy), 21.1. The Complete Works of Livy, trans. B. O. Foster and William A. McDevitte. (Hastings, East Sussex: Delphi Classics, 2014).
 Polybius, 2.1.
Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 168.
 Polybius, 2.13.7.
 Ibid., 2.36.
 Ibid., 3.30.1
 Ibid., 3.17; Lazenby, John Francis, Hannibal’s War (Norman, Okla.: Univ. of Okla. Press, 1998), 26.
 Polybius, 3.33. Polybius reports the Roman ambassadors sent to Carthage listened to the Carthaginians defend their actions at Saguntum, and then the oldest Roman pointed to the fold of his toga, stating it held peace or war, whichever the Carthaginians chose. The Carthagenian suffete (senator) told him to let the matter fall as he wished, to which the Roman said he chose war. Members of the Carthaginian senate then shouted, “We accept it.” See also Goldsworthy, 177; Lazenby, 27.
 Polybius, 3.42—3.47; see also, Lazenby, 31. Lazenby suggests the Roman naval superiority at this time (so different from this situation at the beginning of the First Punic War) dissuaded Hannibal from attacking by sea.
 Polybius, 3.51—3.56; Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 194-204.
 Polybius, 3.41.4-3.41.6.
 Ibid., 3.49.4, 3.64.1.
 Ibid., 3.65; Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 208-212. Polybius and Livy state Scipio was saved by his son, the younger Scipio, who would go on to invade Africa and win the war, gaining the epithet “Africanus.” See, Polybius, 10.3.3—10.3.7 and Livy, 21.46.7—21.46.8.
 Polybius, 3.66.9, 3.71.3–3.71-7.
 Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 220—221; Lazenby, 57.
 Polybius, 3.71—3.74; Livy, 21.55—21.56.
 Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 226; Lazenby, 61.
 Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 226—227; Lazenby, 61.
 Polybius, 3.75.5.
 Ibid., 3.80; Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 227.
 Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 229—232.
 Polybius, 3.83.6-3.83.7.
 Ibid., 3.87.6; Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 240; Lazenby, 67-68.
 Polybius, 3.85.8—3.85.11.
 Polybius, 3.106.1; Adrian Goldsworthy, Cannae (London: Cassell Books, 2001), 61.
 Polybius, 3.107.
 Polybius 3.109.9, 3.113; Goldsworthy, Cannae, 66.
 Polybius, 3.110.1—3.110.3; Goldsworthy, Cannae, 77—80.
 Goldsworthy, Cannae, 81.
 Ibid., 82.
 Polybius, 3.112.5; Goldsworthy, Cannae, 95.
 Goldsworthy, Cannae, 102—103.
 Polybius, 3.114.5; Goldsworthy, Cannae, 1087.
 Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 255-256.
 Polybius, 3.113.
 Goldsworthy, Cannae, 103.
 Polybius, 3.113.
 Polybius, 3.114.—3.115; Goldsworthy, Cannae, 114, 140.
 Polybius, 3.114.
 Ibid., 3.115.1—3.115.4; Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 256.
 Polybius, 3.115.5—3.115.6; Livy, 22.47.7—22.47.10.
 Polybius, 3.114.1.
 Ibid., 3.116.10—3.116.13.
 Ibid., 3.116—3.117; Livy, 22.49.
 See, Goldsworthy, Cannae, 180; Lazenby, 85. This battle influenced such 20th century military commanders as Rommel, Montgomery, and Schwartzkopf.
 See, Livy, 22.51.1—22.51.4; Montgomery, Bernard (Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein), A History of Warfare (London: Collins, 1968), 97.
 See, Livy, 22.51.2—22.51.4; Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 265 et seq.; Lazenby, 85 et seq. Both Goldsworthy and Lazenby think an attack on Rome would have failed, as the distance from Cannae to Rome was great (400km/250mi) and Rome still had forces to defend the city. But see, McCabe, Michael (2019) “Hannibal Barca: For Carthage: The Right Man for the Wrong Time,” The Histories: Vol. 10 : Iss. 1 , Article 3, p. 65. Available at: https://digitalcommons.lasalle.edu/the_histories/vol10/iss1/3. “Hannibal had once again displayed military brilliance in his victory; however, his actions after Cannae showed his fatal flaw. His general Maharbal urged Hannibal to march on the capital as the entire Roman state would be in complete disarray. Hannibal chose to rest his troops instead; a decision that would save Rome.” McCabe goes on to point out Hannibal’s request for reinforcements was met with insufficient troops to lay siege to Rome. Ibid.
 Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 267.
 Lazenby, 88—89.
 Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 268-270; Lazenby, 90—91.
 Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 273.
 Ibid., 279.
 Ibid., 273.
 Ibid., 275, 282—286.
 Goldsworthy, Cannae, 170—171.
 Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 321—323.
 Ibid., 323.
 Ibid., 324.
 Ibid., 327; Lazenby, 116-117.
 Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 328—329; Lazenby, 119.
 Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 335—340; Lazenby, 130—131, 138—139.
 Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 342—345.
 Ibid., 293—298; Lazenby, 185—190.
 Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 355—357. Scipio had been given control of Sicily, with the understanding he could invade Africa if he deemed it to be in the interests of Rome.
 Lazenby, 203, citing Polybius, 3.107 and Livy, 22.36. For this conclusion, Lazenby proposes 10,000 Roman infantry and 16,000 allied infantry, and 600 Roman cavalry and 1,600 allied cavalry.
 Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 360—361.
 Ibid., 360—363.
 Lazenby, 207.
 Polybius, 14.3—14.4; Livy, 30.4—30.5.
 Polybius, 14.8; Livy, 30.8.
 Ibid., 15.6—15.8.
 Ibid., 15.5. This battle has been called the Battle of Zama because Hannibal camped at Zama during his march.
 Ibid., 15.12; Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 378.
 Goldsworthy, Fall of Carthage, 380—381.
Sébastien Slodtz (French, 1655–1726): Hannibal Barca counting the rings of the Roman knights killed at the Battle of Canna
Photo: Jastrow, public domain via Wikimedia Commons
Heinrich Leutemann (1824–1905): Hannibal Crossing the Alps (picturebook illustration from Münchener Bilderbogen)
public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
A modern memorial on the site of the Battle of Trebia
Photo: Florival. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license via Wikimedia Commons
Battle of Cannae, Initial Attack and Defeat of Roman Cavalry
Hogweard, 2020. Department of History, United States Military Academy, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
The Battle of Cannae—The Destruction of the Roman Army
Frank Martini. Cartographer, Department of History, United States Military Academy. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.
John Trumbull (1746-1853). The Death of Aemilius Paulus at the Battle of Cannae
Source: The Athenaeum, The Yale University Art Gallery. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Giulio Parigi (1571-1635). Wall painting showing the Greek mathematician Archimedes’ mirror being used to burn Roman military ships 1600. Uffizi Gallery, Stanzino delle Matematiche, in Florence, Italy
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Kelly Lambert is a member of Kosmos Society.