Hannibal Biography

(Carthaginian General and Statesman)

Born: 247 BC

Born In: Carthage, Tunisia

Hannibal, also referred as Hannibal the Barcid was a Carthaginian general and statesman, noted for commanding the Carthaginian forces in second of the three Punic Wars fought between Carthage and Rome, the two main powers of western Mediterranean during early 3rd century BC. Hannibal was a distinguished military commander and tactician of classical antiquity compared with the likes of Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. According to a general belief, Hannibal made a pledge to his father Hamilcar Barca "to never be a friend of Rome" and kept his pledge till his last breath, emerging as perhaps the greatest and fiercest enemy of the Roman Republic. His crossing over the Alps with North African war elephants to invade Italy is counted among the most significant events of Second Punic War, and among the most celebrated feats achieved by any military force in ancient warfare. Initially, Hannibal won several battles in the Second Punic War including the famous Battle of Cannae, however lost the crucial Battle of Zama that ended the war with Roman victory. The political and financial reforms that he enacted as suffete (chief magistrate) of the Carthaginian state post-war led to quick economic recovery of Carthage, however was not well-received by the Carthaginian aristocracy and Rome following which he took voluntary exile. For some time, he served as military advisor to Antiochus III the Great, however after the Romans defeated Antiochus and compelled him to accept their terms, Hannibal fled again. He was eventually betrayed to the Romans in Bithynia following which he took his own life.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Hannibal Barca, Hannibal the Barcid

Died At Age: 64


father: Hamilcar Barca

siblings: Hasdrubal Barca, Mago Barca

children: Aspar Barca

Born Country: Tunisia

Military Leaders Male Leaders

Died on: 183 BC

place of death: Gebze, Turkey

Cause of Death: Suicide

Childhood & Early Life

Hannibal was born in 247 BC in Carthage, Ancient Carthage (present-day Tunisia) to Hamilcar Barca and an unknown mother, tentatively as eldest son of Hamilcar.

Rapid expansion of the Roman Republic into the Mediterranean Sea was posing a threat to mercantile power of Carthage, which till such time was the dominant power of the western Mediterranean. Eventually Carthage and Rome emerged as the two main powers of western Mediterranean during early 3rd century BC. The two powers, in their struggle for supremacy, fought a series of wars, known as the Punic Wars, against each other between 264 and 146 BC. Hamilcar, patriarch and leader of the Barcid family and a Carthaginian general and statesman, commanded the Carthaginian land forces in Sicily from 247 BC to 241 BC, during latter part of the First Punic War, which ended in 241 BC with Roman victory. The Barcids were counted among the most leading and notable families in Carthage and many members of the family earned repute as fierce enemies of Rome. Hamilcar made Hannibal swear a sacred oath upon an altar of the gods "to never be a friend of Rome" and Hannibal kept his pledge by opposing Rome till his last breath, becoming perhaps the greatest enemy of the Roman Republic.

Siblings of Hannibal included several sisters and two brothers, Hasdrubal and Mago. While the former served as a Carthaginian general during Second Punic War, the latter played an instrumental role during the war. Brothers-in-law of Hannibal included Carthaginian military leader, politician and founder of the Cartagena city, Hasdrubal the Fair, who succeeded Hamilcar in command of the army after the latter died fighting Iberian tribes in 228 BC.

Hannibal was eighteen when his father died. He served as an officer under Hasdrubal the Fair and following the latter’s assassination in 221 BC, Hannibal was proclaimed commander-in-chief by the army. His field appointment was immediately confirmed by Carthaginian government.

During his first two years as commander-in-chief, Hannibal focussed on consolidation of the Punic hold on Spain. He conquered different Spanish tribes, captured Althaea, the capital of the Olcades, and defeated the Vaccaei in the northwest. He completed his conquest of Hispania south of the Ebro (excepting Saguntum) in 220 BC after defeating a combined force of Carpetani, Vaccaei and Olcades at the battle of the River Tagus. Such feat not only marked his first major battlefield victory but also showcased his brilliant skills as military tactician.

In the meantime, threatened by Hannibal’s rising power in Iberia, Rome allied with Saguntum, one of the most fortified cities in the area, and claimed it as their protectorate. In 219 BC, Hannibal led a Carthaginian army in the siege of Saguntum and captured and sacked the pro-Roman city. Rome declared war against Carthage in early 218 BC, which saw beginning of the Second Punic War.

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Second Punic War & Thereafter

Hannibal made a short religious pilgrimage and then began his march towards the Pyrenees, the Alps, and Rome. He took Rome by surprise when he led his Carthaginian army, with sixty-thousand soldiers and thirty-eight North African war elephants, overland from Iberia, through Gaul and crossed the Alps to invade Italy thus tactfully avoiding land forces of Rome and its allies as well as Roman naval dominance. Meanwhile, he garnered his first major victory outside of the Iberian Peninsula in the September 218 BC Battle of the Rhône Crossing defeating an army of Gallic Volcae who attacked him to prevent his army from crossing the Alps and invade Italy.

Reaching Italy, Hannibal defeated the Romans at the Battle of Ticinus (late November 218 BC). His victory encouraged the Gauls and Ligurians to join him and with a reinforced army, in the next few years, Hannibal won several battles against the Romans inflicting devastating losses on them, including in the Battle of the Trebia (December 22 or 23, 218 BC), Battle of Lake Trasimene (June 21, 217 BC) and Battle of Cannae (August 2, 216 BC). The latter is counted among the major tactical feats achieved in military history as also among the worst defeats ever faced by Rome. Hannibal’s expertise in determining his own strengths and weaknesses as also that of his opponents gave him an upper hand in planning strategies to fight battles. Moreover his calculated strategies led him to occupy and ally with many of Rome's Italian allies, including Capua, who defected to Hannibal giving him control over much of southern Italy. He campaigned for the next twelve years and occupied most of southern Italy.

Faced by such disasters, the Romans gave full authority to their statesman and general Fabius Maximus as dictator. Maximus used a then-novel military strategy that became reputed as Fabian strategy, by waging a war of attrition against Hannibal avoiding direct confrontation and pitched battles with the latter, and instead resorting to harass Hannibal’s forces through constant skirmishes, targeting Hannibal’s supply lines, applying a "scorched earth" practice to prevent the Carthaginians from obtaining grain and other resources. Although Hannibal still managed to garner some notable victories, he gradually started losing ground. Much of his army was comprised of Spanish mercenaries and Gaulish allies who mainly looked for quick battles and raids for plunder and were neither suited nor had patience for long sieges and tactics. They thus started to desert Hannibal who gradually found it difficult to cope up with Rome’s resources. Moreover his government also abandoned him.

Hannibal was forced to return to Carthage to direct the Carthaginian forces after Roman General Scipio Africanus led a counter-invasion of North Africa. Hannibal’s defeat at the 202 BC Battle of Zama by Scipio marked end of Second Punic War. Being defeated on home land, led Hannibal to lose respect from his fellow Carthaginians. The Carthaginian senate had to sue for peace and accede to humiliating and punishing terms of the peace treaty imposed by Rome that included conditions that Carthage could no longer challenge Rome and battle for Mediterranean supremacy and would pay an indemnity of 10,000 silver talents over fifty years.

Post-war Hannibal was elected suffete (chief magistrate) of the Carthaginian state. An audit led him to realise that Carthage had resources to pay the indemnity sans any increase in taxation. He thus took action to reorganize state finances, eliminate corruption and recover embezzled funds. He made political and financial reforms and Carthage, under his leadership, witnessed a quick economic recovery. Members of the Carthaginian aristocracy were however not happy with such reforms which also startled the Romans for whom Hannibal remained a constant threat until he was alive. Pressure from enemies inside Carthage as well as from Rome led Hannibal to quit office. He then voluntarily went into exile.

During his exile, Hannibal travelled across the Mediterranean and offered to provide his service to those who wanted to wage war against Rome. In one such instance he served as military advisor to Greek Hellenistic King Antiochus III the Great at the Seleucid court in Ephesus. However after Antiochus faced defeat at the Battle of Magnesia he was compelled to accede to conditions imposed by Rome which included promise to hand over Hannibal as a hostage. Hannibal fled again. His endeavour to check Roman expansion finally remained unsuccessful and his fight against Rome came to an end in the court of Bithynia where tentatively sometime between 183 and 181 BC, he was betrayed to the Romans. As he was determined not fall into the hands of his enemy, Hannibal took poison and committed suicide.

Personal Life

According to Roman historian Livy, Hannibal married a woman from the powerful Spanish city of Castulo, an ally of Carthage. She was identified as Imilce by Roman epic poet Silius Italicus. Silius also suggested that the couple had a son although this was not attested by Livy, and Greek historians Polybius and Appian. The son’s name, also disputed, was probably Haspar or Aspar.


Hannibal emerged as a figure of terror to many in Roman society, so much so that the Roman senators cried out in fear "Hannibal ad portas" meaning Hannibal is at the gates! whenever any disaster occurred. With time this Latin phrase became some sort of an established expression used when met with a calamity or when clients arrive through the door. Statues of Hannibal were also built in the streets of Rome to display valour of the Romans in defeating their fiercest and dangerous enemy ever.

His profile has featured in works of early Roman writers like Livy, Frontinus and Juvenal. Other cultural depictions of Hannibal over the years includes in Dante's narrative poem Divine Comedy, Henry Bedford-Jones’ serialized novel They Lived By The Sword, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical The Phantom of the Opera, Basquiat's famous painting Jawbone's of an Ass and in the Italian epic silent film Cabiria. Hannibal also finds place in the book The Interpretation of Dreams authored by Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud. 

Hannibal is revered as a national hero in modern Tunisia and obverse of two Tunisian five-dinar bills features his profile. Tunisian television channel Hannibal TV, a Carthage Street and a station on the Tunis-Goulette-Marsa railway line are named after him.

See the events in life of Hannibal in Chronological Order

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