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27. Hannibal - The Greatest Military Genius World Everseen

Updated: Jun 8, 2020

Who is Hannibal ?

Hannibal (between 183 and 181 BC) was a Carthaginian general and statesman who commanded Carthage's main army against Rome during the Second Punic War (218–201 BC). He is widely considered one of the greatest military commanders in world history. His father, Hamilcar Barca, was a leading Carthaginian commander during the First Punic War (264–241 BC). His younger brothers were Mago and Hasdrubal, and he was brother-in-law to Hasdrubal the Fair; all also commanded Carthaginian armies.

Hannibal lived during a period of great tension in the western Mediterranean Basin, triggered by the emergence of the Roman Republic as a great power after it had established its supremacy over Italy. Although Rome had won the First Punic War, revanchism prevailed in Carthage, symbolised by the alleged pledge that Hannibal made to his father never to be a friend of Rome. The Second Punic War broke out in 218 after Hannibal's attack on Saguntum, an ally of Rome in Hispania. He then made his famous military exploit of carrying war to Italy by crossing the Alps with his African elephants. In his first few years in Italy, he won a succession of dramatic victories at the Trebia, Lake Trasimene, and Cannae.

He distinguished himself for his ability to determine his and his opponent's respective strengths and weaknesses, and to plan battles accordingly. Hannibal's well-planned strategies allowed him to conquer several Italian cities allied to Rome. Hannibal occupied most of southern Italy for 15 years, but could not win a decisive victory, as the Romans led by Fabius Maximus avoided confrontation with him, instead waging a war of attrition. A counter-invasion of North Africa led by Scipio Africanus forced him to return to Carthage. Scipio eventually defeated Hannibal at the Battle of Zama, having previously driven Hannibal's brother Hasdrubal out of the Iberian Peninsula.

After the war, Hannibal successfully ran for the office of sufet. He enacted political and financial reforms to enable the payment of the war indemnity imposed by Rome; however, those reforms were unpopular with members of the Carthaginian aristocracy and in Rome, and he fled into voluntary exile. During this time, he lived at the Seleucid court, where he acted as military advisor to Antiochus III the Great in his war against Rome. Antiochus met defeat at the Battle of Magnesia and was forced to accept Rome's terms, and Hannibal fled again, making a stop in the Kingdom of Armenia. His flight ended in the court of Bithynia. He was afterwards betrayed to the Romans and committed suicide by poisoning himself.

Hannibal is often regarded as one of the greatest military tacticians in history and one of the greatest generals of Mediterranean antiquity, together with Philip of Macedon, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Scipio Africanus and Pyrrhus. Plutarch states that Scipio supposedly asked Hannibal "who the greatest general was", to which Hannibal replied "either Alexander or Pyrrhus, then himself". Military historian Theodore Ayrault Dodge called Hannibal the "father of strategy", because Roman armies adopted elements of his military tactics into their own strategic arsenal.

Hannibal's well-planned strategies allowed him to conquer several Italian cities allied to Rome. Hannibal became the nightmare of Rome.

Why Battle of Cannae so important in History ?

The Battle of Cannae was a key engagement of the Second Punic War between the Roman Republic and Carthage, fought on 2nd August 216 BC near the ancient village of Cannae in Apulia, southeast Italy. The Carthaginian army, led by Hannibal, surrounded and practically annihilated a larger Roman army under the consuls Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro.

It is regarded as one of the greatest tactical feats in military history and one of the worst defeats in Roman history.

How Hannibal reached Italy

Hannibal departed New Carthage in late spring of 218 BC. He fought his way through the northern tribes to the foothills of the Pyrenees, subduing the tribes through clever mountain tactics and stubborn fighting. He left a detachment of 20,000 troops to garrison the newly conquered region. At the Pyrenees, he released 11,000 Iberian troops who showed reluctance to leave their homeland. Hannibal reportedly entered Gaul with 40,000-foot soldiers and 12,000 horsemen.

Hannibal recognized that he still needed to cross the Pyrenees, the Alps, and many significant rivers. Additionally, he would have to contend with opposition from the Gauls, whose territory he passed through. Starting in the spring of 218 BC, he crossed the Pyrenees and reached the Rhône by conciliating the Gaulish chiefs along his passage before the Romans could take any measures to bar his advance, arriving at the Rhône in September.

Finally, Hannibal's army numbered 38,000 infantry, 8,000 cavalry, and 38 elephants, almost none of which would survive the harsh conditions of the Alps.

Battlefield - War Zone

Tactical Deployment :

1) The Carthaginian Army Size and Deployment

The Carthagians were a combination of warriors from numerous regions, and may have numbered between 40,000–50,000. Their infantry comprised an estimated 8,000 Libyans, 5,500 Gaetulian, 16,000 Gauls, mainly Boii and Insubres( 8,000 were left at camp the day of battle) and 8,000 of several tribes of Hispania, including Iberians,Celtiberians and Lusitanians.Hannibal's cavalry also came from diverse backgrounds.

The uniting factor for the Carthaginian army was the personal tie each group had with Hannibal.

2) Roman Army Size and Deployment

The Romans decided to engage Hannibal at Cannae, with approximately 86,000 Roman and allied troops. They massed their heavy infantry in a deeper formation than usual, while Hannibal used the double envelopment tactic and surrounded his enemy, trapping the majority of the Roman army, who were then slaughtered.

Typical Battlefield Attacks deployed by Armies :

I ) Formation - 1

At the begining of the battle, Carthigian army has been given a Formation as shown below :

II ) Formation -2

When war reached an advanced stage, Carthigian Formation has Tactically changed as given below, as an Encirclement Trapping, of Roman Army, then they slaughtered and annihilated the almost entire Roman Army a baring a few thousands.

3) Aftermath of War and Numbers :

Roman and allied infantry, 70,000 were killed, 10,000 captured, and "perhaps" 3,000 survived.

Around 7000-8000 of Carthigian army were killed .

The loss of life on the Roman side was one of the most lethal single day's fighting in history.


How Hannibal lead the Army of different sects , races and tribes against the highly disciplined and well trained unified Army of Romans, and defeated in such unpropotional scale is thing of a legend.

Thus, Hannibal was considered as Greatest Military Genius in the history, even one step ahead of Alexandar the Great , in Military Tactics.

MM Rao


Sources :

Marketing Management by Philip Kotler

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