Hannibal: Victories of the Great Hero from Ancient Carthage


Claims that after Cannae Hannibal did not win any more battles because the Romans fought a war of attrition avoiding major clashes, and that his army was softened by wintering among the luxuries of Capua, are incorrect. Hannibal did achieve further victories every time some Roman general grew arrogant enough to think he could take on the Barcid. For instance, in 212 BCE, he defeated consuls Q. Fulvius Flaccus and Appius Claudius at Capua, although the Roman army escaped. The same year he was the victor at the Silarus, where he destroyed the army of the praetor M. Centenius Penula in Campania, and at the first battle of Herdonea, wiping out the forces of Gnaeus Fulvius in Apulia, with casualties comparable with those at Lake Trasimene. In 210 BCE the second battle of Herdonea took place, where Hannibal destroyed the army of Fulvius Centumalus, who was killed. And there were more. Hannibal remained undefeated during his 16 years in Italy.

Hannibal’s genius shone even in the final battle, the one he supposedly lost, at Zama, in 202 BCE, against Publius Cornelius Scipio the younger. The information in the classical sources indicates that he almost won that one, too, despite having an inferior army and lacking the cavalry forces he had in Italy, for he managed to lure the superior enemy horse from the battlefield and was in the process of crushing the Roman infantry when Massinissa and his cavalry returned to the field to turn the tables in favor of the Romans. Recent research by Abdelaziz Belkhodja and others has raised a number of questions concerning the authenticity of this final battle and of the treaty that allegedly ended the Second Punic War. Archeological evidence recently uncovered suggests that the Battle of Zama is an invention of pro-Roman historians writing after the destruction of Carthage, in 146 BCE, and that Hannibal was never actually defeated by the Romans. It seems likely that the myth of the “Battle of Zama” was perpetrated to erase the shame and dishonor experienced by the Romans as consequence of their catastrophic defeat at Cannae, which is why the fictitious engagement was presented as a Cannae in reverse.

After the end of the second war with Rome, Hannibal served as a Carthaginian magistrate (suffete) and was able to eliminate corruption and restore the city’s shattered economy. During his years of exile that followed, he assisted Antiochus III of Syria, Artaxias of Armenia, and Prusias of Bithynia, and remained true to his ideals, steadfastly refusing to become a vassal of Rome. Some have called Hannibal the last hero of the free world of Antiquity. In 183 BCE, following his betrayal by King Prusias of Bithynia, he died by taking poison in order to prevent the Romans from capturing him and parading him in chains in Rome. Nothing could now stand in the way of the expansion of what would become the predatory Roman Empire.

Hannibal won, during his entire military career, no less than 21 battles, seven times more than the three he is usually credited with in most history textbooks! His first victory, in Spain at Carteia, took place the same year he was elected Commander in Chief of the Carthaginian army at the age of 26, and his final victory, a naval battle, took place in 184, a year before committing suicide and thus defeating the Romans one last time--this would have been his 22nd victory!

Here is a list of Hannibal’s known victories (there may be more, for example, we could add his two victories against mountain Gauls during the crossing of the Alps, in 218), together with the BCE dates when they occurred:

TAGUS, 220
CAPUA, 212
EURYMEDON (or SIDE), 190 (naval battle)
EUMENES, 184 (naval battle)

It should be noted that the naval battle of Eurymedon took place between a Rhodian fleet and the Syrian fleet of Antiochus III. Hannibal was given command only of the Syrian left, which was victorious, while the Syrian right, commanded by Apollonius, was defeated. The Syrian fleet was forced to flee as the result of the collapse of its right side, and some historians incorrectly regard this as a defeat for Hannibal, ignoring the fact that Hannibal was actually victorious on the left and had no overall command of the fleet. The naval battle against King Eumenes’s fleet in ca. 184 was the confrontation during which Hannibal had clay pots filled with poisonous snakes thrown or catapulted onto enemy vessels, thus defeating a much larger enemy force that fled in disarray. This was perhaps the first instance of biological warfare in history.

Hannibal was never defeated, despite claims of Roman propagandists to the contrary. Unlike the other great commanders in history, from Alexander the Great to Napoleon, he did not wage war for personal aggrandizement or to enrich himself, he did not seek power or glory, or try to become a ruler or a dictator. His unselfish struggle was for the survival of Carthage and for the liberation of subjugated peoples. Hannibal’s moral integrity, undaunted courage, and sheer genius mark him as an inspiration and example for future generations in the annals of world history.

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Belkhodja, A. Hannibal Barca: L’histoire veritable et le mensonge de Zama. Tunis: Apollonia, 2014.
Belkhodja, A. Zama, l’introuvable bataille. Tunis: Apollonia, 2015.
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Goerlitz, W. Hannibal. Eine politische Biographie. Stuttgart, Germany: W. Kohlhammer, 1970.
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Livy (Foster translation). History of Rome, Books XXI-XXII (Loeb Classical Library). Harvard.
Mosig, Y. and Belhassen, I. ‘Revision and reconstruction in the Second Punic War: Zama--whose victory?’ The International Journal of the Humanities, 5(9), 2007, pp. 175-186.
Mosig, Y. ‘The Barcids at war: Historical introduction.’ Ancient Warfare, 2009, 3:4, pp. 6:8.
Polybius (Patton translation). The Histories (Loeb Classical Library). Harvard.
Seibert, J. Hannibal. Darmstadt, Germany: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1993.

© 2019 by Yozan Mosig

yozan-mosig-miniAbout The Author

Yozan Mosig is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Nebraska-Kearney and has a deep interest in Ancient History, particularly the period of the Punic Wars, which he has been researching for the last 20 years. His Hannibal Library contains over 10,000 items. Read more about Yozan »