Hannibal: Ancient Rome's Greatest Enemy

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Part 4: Rome Fights On

Total losses that day exceeded 50,000 for Rome and 5,000 for Carthage. It was the single largest death toll ever suffered by Rome, and it looked to be the nail in the coffin of Roman influence throughout the Mediterranean world.

Yet it was not. Despite this hammer and anvil blow into the heart of Roman military might and boastful pride, Rome was not defeated. More soldiers were called up, and more were called in from other parts of the Republic. Seeing this, Rome's neighbors continued to refuse to give in to Hannibal's pleas to join him. He was still on his own. No matter how many victories he won, it seemed, he was still a man alone, on a mission that was becoming increasingly more frustrated despite its resounding and historically devastating and penetrating successes.

The simple fact was that Hannibal was about a generation too late to really make a difference in the fortunes of war. Had his father enjoyed a similar knack for military genius and for inspiring men into fierce battle, things might have been different. By Hannibal's time, however, Rome was just too big, with too many resources and too many men and too many friends and too many military successes already under its belt. Viewed with the hindsight of history, the outcome was never in doubt. Try telling that to the Romans of Hannibal's day, however, and you'd get a much different viewpoint.

Hannibal went ranging through Italy unopposed, sacking towns and settlements, still in search of allies and reinforcements. He found plenty of the latter but none of the former. He finally decided to march on Rome itself. The terror and panic felt throughout the Eternal City must have been enough to smell. Yet despite the size of Hannibal's remaining army and the relative lack of size of the army defending Rome itself, Hannibal had no siege equipment or other means of breaking through what at that time were the strongest city walls in all of Europe. The Carthaginians might have been able to rattle the gates and rattle the confidence of the defenders, but they were not able to breach the walls or in any other way defeat the army and the citizens of the great city of Rome.

And despite the string of defeats, embarrassments, and massive losses of life, Rome remained stubborn and aloof, confident in its ability to weather any storm and defeat any foe. Unable to defeat the enemy in face-to-face combat, Rome turned to another weapon of war—hitting the enemy where he was weak. A Roman force stormed Carthaginian positions in Spain, and the whole Carthaginian empire in Spain collapsed, mainly because most of the best troops were already in Rome. A relief force under Hasdrubal, Hannibal's brother, managed to recover much of what was lost, but the result was more deaths and more resources pulled away from the main objective.

Another Roman force set sail for Africa itself, with the intent to harass Hannibal where it most—at home. Rome still ruled the seas at this point, and it was rather easy to transport a sizable force across the narrow waterway from the southern trip of Italy to the northern tip of Africa. The trap was then set.

As Rome no doubt predicted, Carthage, seeing such a large force of Roman armies outside its gates, screamed out for Hannibal to come home. Mysteriously, the message got all the way through to the general, behind enemy lines and across the Mediterranean. Also mysteriously, he was allowed to sail across the water with the majority of his forces. (This didn't Rome at all, since the main goal of getting all those invading troops out of Italy was the main goal anyway, even if it did mean that the army that Carthage would be able to bring to bear in defense of its capital city would be larger than it would have been otherwise.)

The man behind this new Roman strategy was a man named Scipio (not the same one that Hannibal had defeated earlier). He it was who argued, successfully as it turned out, that the way to beat Hannibal was to take the fight to his homeland. This time around, it was Hannibal and his troops who were tired and had to hurry into battle. The Romans were rested and ready. They also had some tricks up their sleeve.

Battle of Zama

Next page > The End of an Era > Page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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