Ancient Rome and Carthage had a long history of conflicts that lasted for more than a century. All this tension culminated in a series of three wars fought between the two states from 264 BC to 146 BC. These wars were called the Punic wars. The second Punic war was fought from 218 BC to 201 BC and is most remembered for the huge battles fought between the Carthaginians under Hannibal and the Romans under different generals. Even though Hannibal’s army invaded Italy from the north and resoundingly defeated the Roman army in several battles, he could never achieve the ultimate goal of causing a political break between Rome and its allies. There were three main fronts in this war – Italy, where Hannibal defeated Romans in repeated battles; Hispania, where Hannibal’s younger brother defended Carthaginian colonial cities with gusto; and Sicily, where Roman never lost their supremacy. Those 17 years of war nothing else but eventful. Here is a list of top 10 biggest events that of the 2nd Punic war.
10. Gallic uprisings
At a time when Hannibal was marching unfathomable distance along with his infantry, cavalry and war elephants, the Romans also faced a stiff uprise among the Gallic tribes – further worsening the situation for them. The Gallic population mainly constituted of the Boii and Insubres. These two had previously established diplomatic contacts with the Carthaginians. Even though these tribes despised the Romans, they were never able to do much about it because of their limited power.
But when the Carthaginians started their campaign against ancient Rome, the Gallic tribes readily struck an alliance with them to fight the Romans in the front. They started by occupying the Roman colonies of Placentia and Cremona. And soon, the entire north of Italy was declared insurgent, with both Gallic and Ligurian troops bolstering Hannibal’s army back by an additional 40,000 men.
9. Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps
Without a doubt one of the biggest events during the second Punic war, this is the event when Hannibal crossed the Alps to catch the Romans off-guard. In fact, Hannibal’s route while crossing the Alps is has been a matter of debate among the historians with many of them giving their own records on the matter. Regardless, the march of Hannibal and his army is a stuff of legends to this day.
Hannibal had always been well informed of the situation in Rome, fed with secret information by his Gallic spies all over Rome. He soon decided on the most opportune time to pull off a surprise attack and started his army’s march across the Alps, which used to be feebly habituated at that time. From the siege of Saguntum to the march through the Pyrenees and Rhone and then the death defying ascend and descend on the alps – Hannibal’s crossing of Alps one of his major achievements in the 2nd Punic war, and one of the most celebrated achievements of any military force in ancient warfare.
8. Extensive use of Intelligence
Throughout the conflict, intelligence played a pivotal role in shaping the direction the war took from time to time. With the unprecedented support he received from his Gallic allies, he was always fed with important information about the ongoing in Rome. In fact, he had his spies all over Rome; they had even infiltrated the Roman senate. Hannibal had mastered an intelligence service that led to some of his outstanding victories.
The famous Roman general Scipio Africanus took a leaf out of Hannibal’s book to strengthen the Roman intelligence. His major victories that came later in the war were entirely dependent on intelligence information. When the spies were caught, they would get punished rather harshly. The same happened to a Carthaginian spy in Rome, who might as well have been a Roman citizen. He got caught and had his hands cut off as a punishment.
Fought in Italy in 218 BC, it was a major battle between the Carthaginians led by Hannibal and the Roman military under Sempronius Longus. Earlier, the Carthaginians smartly captured a supply depot that served as a diversion luring the Romans into battle at theTrebia. They were drawn into battle after a tiring travel and no food, the result being most of them were unable to put up a good fight.
Sempronius Longus’ 40,000 infantry positioned themselves in a triple line, with 4000 cavalry on the side. Hannibal, on the other hand, had a mixture of African, Celtic, and Spanish infantry, 10,000 cavalry, and his notoriously efficient war elephants in the front. Hannibal’s cavalry broke through the lesser numbers of the enemy and then attacked the bulk of the Romans from the front and sides. To further enforce the Carthaginian attack, the Romans were also attacked in the rear by a hidden detachment led by Hannibal’s younger brother. All in all, the Romans suffered heavy losses with only 20,000 men out of 40,000 able to retreat to safety.
6. Battle of Lake Trasimene (217 BC)
After repeated failed attempts at luring the Roman army under Flaminius into the battlefield, Hannibal came with a new strategy and had men marched around his opponent’s around the enemy’s flank to cut them off from Rome. Then by the shore of lake Trasimene, he was all prepared for the enemy with his ambush. It was a complete success – the battle which went on to be known as the battle of Lake Trasimene saw an effective Carthaginian attack upon Roman consul Flaminius and his army of about 25,000 men between the hills at Cortona and Lake Trasimene.
Hannibal dealt a huge blow by decimating most of the Roman army at the cost of minimal loss to his side. Roman general Flaminius was also killed in action. Some 6,000 infantry, who were able to escape from the battlefield were caught by the Numidians and then were forced to lay their arms and surrender. This defeat had a huge psychological effect on the Romans – for it sent ripples of panic in Rome, and they started having doubts on the very future of their city.
5. Battle of Cannae (216 BC)
216 BC saw one of the biggest victories for Hannibal and his allies in the Punic war at Cannae on the banks of the river Aufidus. The Roman forces were led by consul Lucius Aemilius Paullus. The Punic allied cavalry attacked much weaker right wing Romans in the battle, and then raced to the rear line to attack Rome’s Latin allies from behind, who were already engaged with Hannibal’s Numidian horse cavalry. Historians say that at the end of battle, 45,500 Roman infantry along with 2700 cavalry had died, with additional numbers taken as prisoners.
This result sent chills of doubts to Rome and its allies, and boosted the confidence of Carthaginians and other rival tribes. Polybius even noted “How much more serious was the defeat of Cannae, than those which preceded it can be seen by the behaviour of Rome’s allies; before that fateful day, their loyalty remained unshaken, now it began to waver for the simple reason that they despaired of Roman power.”
4. Fabian Strategy
Two huge defeated at the hands of Carthaginians sent the rang a huge alarm among the Romans, and they decided it was time for immediate emergency actions to ward off any further loss to the state. So Quintus Fabius Maximus was appointed as the temporary dictator cum commander in chief. To fight off Hannibal’s so far quite successful skills in the battlefield, the Roman’s deployed the Fabian strategy – they did not engage in open battle with the opponent, but dueled with rather small detachments of enemy on repeated occasions.
This rather cowardly act was of course not so popular among the Roman soldiers who gave Fabius the nickname of Cunctator which meant “delayer” since he seemed to avoid battle at a time when Italy was getting all beat up by enemies. But this turned out to be a masterstroke. Fabius’ persistent poke at Hannibal’s force marred the latter’s command abilities and gained many prisoners for the Romans. But soon, Fabius became unpopular in Rome, since his tactics did not lead to a quick end to the war and he was removed from his post in the 216 BC election in Rome.
3. Battle of Zama (202 BC)
By the time of 206 BC, the war had reached a decisive point. The Romans military under Scipio had taken a lot of lessons from Hannibal’s tactics and were battle ready to outwit and beat the Carthaginians in the final showdown. The biggest boost to the Romans was the support of Massyli tribe, who had originally fought along with the Carthaginians but sided with the Romans after the battle of Ilipa. Their support at the battle of Zama proved most pivotal to Roman success.
Unlike most battles of the Second Punic War, the Romans fared better in cavalry and the Carthaginians had a larger number of infantry. The Roman army constituted a force that was superior both in terms of arms and skills, when compared to the Carthaginians. Hannibal probably foresaw this, and he was also convinced that his men won’t be able to pierce the Roman defense. So he refused to lead his army into battle.
The battle of Zama became the occasion of Hannibal’s fall and dealt a decisive blow to the Carthaginian forces.
2. Rise and fall of Hannibal
For those who covered the entire events of second Punic war, the biggest spectacle was the rise of Hannibal as a competent leader and a cunning tactician as well as his eventual fall that became more and more inevitable as the war neared its decisive period. He was little known among the Romans in the beginning of the war, and had he not marched across the Alps – one of the bravest and cunning acts in that war, he may not have been able to send blows after blows into the Roman defense especially towards the beginning of the war. His strategies saw him lure the Romans into traps, and beat them at their own game.
But despite all this advantage, the Carthaginians could not avoid the ultimate defeat in decisive fronts. The question remains to this day – Did Hannibal carelessly squander the power of Carthage? Were the ingenious strategist’s legendary victories also the reason for the downfall of this once incredible empire? That he refrained from attacking the city of Rome at the height of his successful campaign still surprises the historians. Even though the military genius Hannibal was, he had to face the eventual fall that led to a massive loss for the Carthaginians in the second Punic war.
1. The aftermath
By the end of the war, Hispania was now no longer under Carthage, and Rome had grasped its control over a large area that was previously within Carthage. Furthermore Rome imposed a number of sanctions upon the Carthaginians to handicap them from causing any further uprisings. They imposed a war indemnity on them, limited the their navy to 10 ships (those 10 ships were spared so that Carthaginians could ward of possible pirate attacks) and forbade Carthage from assembling any sort of army without the permission of Rome.
But eventually, Carthage ignored these sanctions and did raise an army about half a century later, which led to the third Punic war. But without a strong leadership and the grand scale of resources they had in previous war, Carthage could only put a fight for a mere three years. The Romans completely destroyed it by 146 BC, thus taking a step forward to the ultimate domination of the ancient Mediterranean world.
The 2nd Punic war was one of the bloodiest wars fought in the ancient world. Until the decisive moment arrived, the fate of the war hung in balance throughout a number of battles. In fact, it would not be an overstatement to say that the Carthaginians were the favorites to win this war from the beginning, only to falter in the later and more decisive stage of the war. The war was the talk of legend among the then historians. So much so that according to Livy, it was “the most memorable of all wars that were ever waged – the war which the Carthaginians, under the conduct of Hannibal, maintained with the Roman people. For never did any states and nations more efficient in their resources engaged in contest; nor had they themselves at any other period so great a degree of power and energy. They brought into action too no arts of war unknown to each other, but those which had been tried in the first Punic war; and so various was the fortune of the conflict, and so doubtful the victory, that they who conquered were more exposed to danger.”