The Incomparable Hannibal — A Personal View
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Dennis Priceby Dennis Price, Netheravon, England
"For Jack and Tanith"
 

"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible."
T. E. Lawrence from "The Seven Pillars of Wisdom"

I was born in a Western country and raised in Western culture with Western values. I'm proud to be a Welshman and in case there is any doubt, or anyone feels it to be relevant, I'm a white Caucasian. I'm interested in and proud of my ancestry, and I'm naturally proud of my nation as a whole.

When I was a child and then a young man, I learned of an ancestor of mine who fought at Rorke's Drift, the almost legendary battle that took place on January 22nd 1879. In this engagement, 1,500 Welshmen, who were mainly from the Regiment of the South Wales Borderers, fought and defeated 4,000 Zulus. It was the greatest ever defeat inflicted on a native force by a colonial force, while 11 Victoria Crosses were won at Rorke's Drift, the most such awards won in any single action in British military history. I also learned of another ancestor who was the ship's carpenter on board Nelson's flagship the Victory. One of my grandfathers fought in and lived through the First World War, while another began his service in the Second World War by surviving Dunkirk.

"Both Dennis Price, the author of this piece, and Salim George Khalaf, the owner and originator of this website, fully endorse the inspired choice of Vin Diesel to portray the mighty Hannibal in the forthcoming film of the same name. They both also wish him every success with this venture and are completely confident that this enormously talented man will do full justice to the memory of the greatest warrior that's ever lived."

  Salim's endorsement (quoted herewith) appeared in an article by Steve Sailer, UPI National Correspondent, Published 7/17/2002: "Vin Diesel is the absolute best choice for playing Hannibal. He looks very Mediterranean."

I'm not a military historian, but such accounts naturally fascinated me. I later read of the Welsh archers who were instrumental in defeating the French at the famous Battle of Agincourt in 1415, where a vastly outnumbered and exhausted British army faced the flower of French chivalry and brought them low. Before that, Owen Glendower and his men fought a bloody rebellion against two English kings in an insurrection that lasted for fifteen years. The few people outside Wales who have read of Glendower's rebellion are given the impression by most history books that it was largely a guerrilla war, but Glendower fought and defeated King Henry IV in at least three pitched battles on Welsh soil. One of Glendower's detractors, William Shakespeare, grudgingly noted these victories when he put the famous speech into Glendower's mouth, in his play Henry IV.

"Three times hath Bolingbrook made head against my power. Three times, from the banks of the Wye and sandy-bottomed Severn, have I sent him bootless home and weather-beaten back."

Before Glendower's rebellion, King Edward I, Hammer of the Scots, fought a long and terrible campaign against the native Welsh Princes. He won, but at a great cost, while as a direct result of his need to subjugate the Welsh, Wales now possesses more castles per square mile of country than any other western European nation.

I was extremely fortunate to receive a classical education and so it was I came to study Latin, Greek and Ancient History. Through this, I learned that the famous King Caratacus fled from Kent and from the invading Romans to seek the assistance of the Silures, the ancient tribe that once lived in the region that is now my homeland. It took the Romans over 40 years to finally subdue the Silures, and this in a relatively small island, long after the other British tribes had been vanquished. I also learned that the greatest defeat ever inflicted on the Romans in Britain was when an entire legion under Manlius Valens was devastated by the Silures, who launched a massive counter offensive against the Roman invaders in around 55-53 AD. The XX Legion suffered a major defeat and the Silures broke out as far east and north as Gloucester.

The next governors of Britain, Gallus and Veranius, fought tirelessly against the Silures between 53-58 to redeem the situation. In 59 AD, the XX legion was removed to fight a campaign in North Wales, but the Silures, however, were far from beaten. When Paulinus was attempting to put down the revolt of Boudicca in 60 AD that threatened the entire province of Britain, the II Augusta legion remained in the south west. So wary were they of antagonising the Silures that not even an event of the magnitude of Boudicca's revolt could persuade them to offer assistance to their fellows.

I have no love whatever for war, but perhaps you can imagine the satisfaction I had as I learned of my military legacy against an invader? While studying history, I learned of Britain's other exponents of the art of war, men such as Wellington, Nelson, Cromwell, King Henry V, King Alfred the Great and of course the renowned King Arthur, whose true identity lies perhaps forever hidden by the mists of time. My study of Latin, Greek and Ancient History led me to Rome and to the terrible foes faced over the centuries by the Romans, men such as Attila the Hun, Mithridates, Pyrrhus, Spartacus, the Caledonian King Calgacus and of course the Warrior Queen Boadicea. I read of numerous Gallic, Germanic and Eastern warriors who had inflicted crushing defeats on the Romans, while I also read of the Greeks, the Persians and the mighty Alexander. I studied and marvelled over their exploits, but to my mind, no general who has ever lived can bear comparison to the awe-inspiring Hannibal of Carthage, a man who stands alone.

I shall leave it to others to examine, if they will, the precise record of Hannibal. For my part, I've made clear my background and loyalties, so what is it about Hannibal that has excited such admiration from me? My principal trade is as a writer of stories, so I am accustomed to trying to put myself into the place of other characters, whether they be fictional or historical. I make no pretence that what follows should be a cold, clinical examination of all the facts, so as such, I am happy to write in another vein entirely, to try to convey to a casual reader in an unashamedly personal account why it is that of all men in military history, Hannibal should receive my heartfelt and eternal admiration.

As Hannibal grew up as a young man, he would have learned of Rome, the brooding enemy of Carthage, lurking to the north across the Mediterranean. He would have discovered that the ingenious and determined Romans had countered the superior naval skills of the Carthaginians by equipping their ships with grappling hooks, or corvi, which enabled Roman marines to storm the fettered Carthaginian warships.

He would doubtless have been impressed by the succession of Roman naval victories against a natural maritime force such as Carthage and by the undoubted sheer resilience of the Roman army. He would have learned of the successful campaigns by the Roman army against Carthaginian forces in both Africa and Sicily, and he would certainly have studied previous Roman military achievements. He would have seen an emergent, highly disciplined force that had already had innumerable victories to its credit, while it had also sprung back from many grave defeats. For a young man such as Hannibal to even contemplate attacking such a formidable adversary in the light of the humiliating defeat and terms of the First Punic War was brave enough, but for him to actually embark on such an undertaking was truly heroic.

As everyone knows, he decided against sailing to Italy and instead decided to march his army through North Africa and across the Straits of Gibraltar. This would have been an ambitious enough scheme at any time for any military commander, but there was also the sheer logistical problem of how to transport not only men and horses across the sea, but also a troop of elephants and provisions for the beasts. Hannibal would presumably have outlined his plan at some point before his army set off, so consider the other problems. He would have had to utterly convince his men that he would succeed, and he would have had to prepare them for the terrible hardships ahead, a long, long way from their homes.

Aside from the issue of gaining their loyalty, there was the linguistic problem. He would have had to address a mixed army of Nubians, Carthaginians and Spaniards, then later Celts and insurgent Italians. Whether Hannibal was conversant with all these tongues and dialects, or whether he was assisted by translators, it was still in itself an astonishing feat to address and command such a mixed group. In modern times, the British commander Major Tim Collins made a famous & inspiring speech before the invasion of Iraq, but he was aided by addressing a far smaller number of troops who all spoke the same language. He was also greatly assisted by modern technology in spreading the words of his speech outside their immediate circle, but Hannibal had no recourse to tape recorders, radio or the internet.

Once he'd achieved the almost literally Herculean task of crossing his army into Spain, Hannibal faced even greater and escalating problems. He had to retain the loyalty of his men and ensure that they were fed and watered. At the same time, he was leading them ever further away from home, through hostile Gallic territory and unfamiliar terrain, towards an end they could not know. All that was certain was that if they ever completed their marathon trek into a hostile land, they would eventually be facing the massed ranks of the most disciplined and successful army the world had ever seen, on their home ground.

The details of Hannibal's march through southern Gaul is well-known, but I still marvel at his ability to fight against hostile tribes and cross difficult ground, which to many commanders would have been a successful and praiseworthy end in itself. Let us not forget that in Britain, we regard Dunkirk as a victory of sorts, inasmuch as a whole army was evacuated across the English Channel in the face of unrelenting attacks from German forces. To my mind, Hannibal achieved broadly the same thing with his march into Italy, but he was actually marching further into danger, whereas the British Expeditionary Force in 1940 was being taken away from combat.

My second edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary, a highly authoritative source, informs me that Hannibal left Carthago Nova in Spain in April 218 BC. He had under his command 35,000-40,000 men, but after crossing the Alps, this number had been reduced to 26,000 men, while his task was made more difficult by the early autumn snow of that year. There are few images that have a global and timeless resonance and fewer still that have been bequeathed to us from prehistory or antiquity. One perhaps, is the construction of Stonehenge, whose ruins sit just a few miles away from where I write this. Another might be the construction of the pyramids, while yet another could be Moses crossing the Red Sea. Our modern era, possessing as it does cameras and other technologies capable of recording instant images, has recorded countless memorable moments in the last century, many of them of a terrible nature, but few with a truly global resonance.

So it is that we have had to rely on our imaginations to provide us with an illustration of Hannibal's heroic journey across the Alps, but it is nonetheless one of the most powerful and enduring images known to man. We each of us see a different picture in our individual mind's eye, but whether you are a layman or a historian trying to envisage the terror and chaos of snowstorms, screaming elephants, landslides and hostile tribesmen hurling a deadly rain of missiles down from mountain crags, the fact remains that Hannibal lost something like 14,000 men and most of his elephants during the course of that terrible crossing. Whichever way you look at it, 14,000 men represents over a third of his original force, while he must have been counting on his elephants to make a huge difference in Italy, or else he simply would not have taken them with him. There must have been many moments when all seemed utterly lost, in a frozen wasteland a world away from home, but somehow Hannibal rallied his men, lifted their morale and retained their loyalty, a feat which eventually defeated even Alexander the Great at the end of his epic journey into the East. Alexander by this time had many victories and spoils to share, but Hannibal had less than nothing to offer his men, yet still he led them and still they followed him into the heartland of the enemy. Every time I think of this near-miraculous feat, I find myself shaking my head in silent wonderment and admiration.

Shortly after entering Italy, Hannibal defeated Publius Cornelius Scipio in a cavalry engagement at the Battle of Ticinus in northern Italy in November 218. To defeat the Romans on their home soil was impressive and satisfying enough, but the Romans must have been absolutely stunned to see their enemy emerging in numbers from literally the last place on Earth they expected to see him, from what they had always considered the natural and impassable barrier of the Alps. Again, I find myself cheering this innovation and success, while I find myself hard put to think of any comparable parallels. Just before the First World War, the Russian Fleet sailed around Europe and Africa and on into the Pacific, only to be severely defeated by the Japanese Fleet. Hannibal suffered no such humiliation at the end of his journey. T.E Lawrence, or Lawrence of Arabia, struggled through the southern desert of Palestine during World War I to take the strategic Turkish-held port of Aqaba from the rear, so perhaps this is a comparable feat. Incidentally, Thomas Edward (T.E.) Lawrence was born on August 16, 1888 at Tremadoc in North Wales.

After the Battle of Ticinus, Hannibal fought and defeated the combined forces of Scipio and Titius Sempronius at the Battle of Trebia in December 218. Again, to defeat the Romans on their home ground was no small achievement in itself, but the victory at Trebia came about as a result of vision, ingenuity and meticulous planning, not to mention bravery. The details of this battle are easily available elsewhere, so I'll simply deal with the bare bones.

Hannibal was aware that the Romans preferred to engage in set-piece battles on open ground and at the time of their own choosing. As a result, Hannibal ensured that his men were well fed and rested during the night, then he sent out a force to attack the Roman camp and provoke them into attacking. The Romans, alarmed by an almost unheard-of night offensive, hungry and bleary-eyed with sleep, unwisely forded a freezing winter stream in an attempt to engage their enemy. They were outflanked and cut to pieces, partly because Hannibal had possessed the foresight and artifice to make his cavalrymen lie their horses down among shrubs and bushes in ambush.

In 217 BC, Hannibal fought and destroyed the Roman army of Gaius Flaminius at the Battle of Lake Trasimene. Hannibal cut off the Roman force in a defile by the lake after having concealed his own men in the trees on the slopes and among the billowing fronds of mist. In an attack whose nature presaged the later destruction of a Roman army at the Teutoberger Wald in Germany, where three legions were destroyed in AD 9 by Arminius, Hannibal attacked on three fronts, leaving the hungry waters of the lake the only course of retreat open to the fleeing Roman legionaries. In this disaster for Rome, two Roman legions perished at the Battle of Lake Trasimene, but much worse was to follow.

In the following year, in 216, there took place what was to be Hannibal's crowning masterpiece, the Battle of Cannae in southern Italy. Again, much has been written about this pivotal engagement, so I'll confine myself to what I believe are some salient observations. After the first three defeats by Hannibal, the Romans had wisely withheld from giving battle on the advice of Fabius, the Cunctator or Delayer, but by 216, they had gathered a massive army of ten legions, or something in the region of 100,000 trained fighting men with which to finally crush the Carthaginian interloper.

Let us dwell for a moment on the matter of the figures. Many ancient sources provide notoriously unreliable figures, such as when Herodotus calculated the size of an invading Persian army to number in the millions, but the Romans were just as guilty of over-estimating the size of the enemy forces and under-estimating their own, so as to make victory smell all the sweeter. For example, Tacitus wrote that in AD 61, the Roman General Suetonius Paulinus led 10,000 men into battle against a force in excess of 100,000 commanded by Boadicea, or Boudicca. There is no question that Paulinus triumphed, but Tacitus claims that 80,000 Iceni and confederates under Boudicca's command perished, against a mere 400 Roman casualties.

This means that each Roman solider effectively killed eight Britons, while it took no less than two hundred and fifty Britons to kill a single Roman legionary. Now, stranger things have happened, for example at the Battle of Dupplin Moor in 1332, where there is no question that 1,500 English troops faced a Scottish army 40,000 strong and utterly defeated it in a pitched battle. It might not be a standard historical method, but I am going to give Hannibal the benefit of the doubt, for reasons that will become clearer towards the end of this piece.

So, at Cannae, Hannibal led an army of something in the region of 30,000 men, perhaps, against something in the region of 100,000 Romans, or ten legions and their support. There are many stories told about Cannae and it is even thought that Hannibal arranged matters so that the wind blew dust into the faces of the advancing Romans, to give himself every single advantage possible. What is certain is that during the night, Hannibal had planned the forthcoming battle down to the minutest detail, while the unsuspecting Romans could barely believe their luck.

The Roman army always preferred to face its enemy in a set-piece battle on open ground and to clearly defeat it, rather than engage in any long-running guerrilla war. So here at Cannae, the dreaded Roman legions with their disciplined infantry faced an adversary on open ground, an enemy that was outnumbered by as many as three to one. Furthermore, the Carthaginian forces were thought to be inferior in quality to the Roman infantry in almost every respect.

Hannibal's demonstrable genius at Cannae was to realise that it did not matter so much how many men you brought to the battlefield, but how many of your men you could get to actually engage the enemy. Firstly, he ensured that his superior cavalry under the command of his brother Hasdrubal destroyed the opposing Roman cavalry and drove it from the field, which is what happened. However, cavalry have always been notoriously unreliable in warfare because of their tendency to lose their heads, disperse and chase a retreating and beaten foe. One of the miracles of Cannae was that Hasdrubal not only defeated the Roman cavalry, but then rallied his entire force and returned to the battle to execute his brother's precise orders, while it was to be over eighteen hundred years before any cavalry force would show such iron discipline. Oliver Cromwell, tired of seeing his Parliamentarian horse routed as a matter of course by Prince Rupert's Cavaliers in the First English Civil War, welded his cavalry into the now infamous Ironsides and crushed the Royalists at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644. Cromwell's horse troops went from being the whipping-boys of England into the most effective and feared cavalry on the continent of Europe, and so it was at Cannae.

Major Battles:

- Ticinus 218
- Trebia 218
- Lake Trasimene 217
- Cannae 216
- 1st of Nola 216
- 2nd of Nola 215
- 3rd of Nola 214
- Capua 212
- Silarus 212
- 1st of Herdonia 212
- 2nd of Herdonia 210
- Numistro 210

Hannibal invaded Italy in 218 BC and left in 202 BC. During those 16 memorable years in a hostile foreign country, the homeland of the world's mightiest empire and most formidable army, Hannibal was never once defeated.

Another miracle took place at Cannae, when Hannibal placed what were arguably his most unreliable troops to the fore, to face the relentless Roman juggernaut. The Iberian and Celtic swordsmen were fantastically brave but extremely unpredictable, yet Hannibal induced them to face the Roman steamroller in a convex arc. Rather than break before the machine-like onslaught from the Roman legions, the Celts and Spaniards simply gave ground, against their nature, and retreated into a concave bow. The Romans were successfully advancing, but the Carthaginian army was also successfully enveloping them. The formidable heavy Libyan infantry and remaining cavalry of Hannibal's flanks stood fast and overlapped the advancing Roman line, which was by now more of a tight mass that had been deliberately funnelled together by the press from the sides and by the seeming retreat of the Celts and Spaniards at the front.

The Libyans then moved to encircle the tightly-packed Roman legions, while Hasdrubal completed the manoeuvre by smashing into the helpless formation from the rear. Thus, with a vastly inferior force, Hannibal had succeeded in surrounding a numerically superior enemy and effectively nullified its fighting ability. Of the 100,000 or so Romans in this compact mass, only the comparatively few on the outside could engage the enemy, while the Carthaginians could bring all their forces to bear and outnumber the entire Roman perimeter. Not only that, but they could hurl stones, javelins and any weapon to hand into the static and largely impotent throng before them, certain that they could not miss.

It would be wrong to say that the Romans were anything but brave, yet there must have been tens of thousands of them who could do nothing more than stand still, packed together like sardines in a tin for literally hours while the outside of their formation was gradually hacked away. These men must have heard the screams of their dying fellows and would have had no choice other than to wait for death to strike from above, in the form of a missile, or from the side in the form of a bloodied sword or spear. They must each have died a thousand deaths before the final one mercifully arrived.

Cannae was the greatest defeat the Romans had ever known, but it is only with the passing of long centuries that its true significance has become known, illuminating in the process Hannibal's genius for warfare. It was undeniably the first ever battle of annihilation and as such, military commanders have striven through the ages to emulate Hannibal's stunning success, but to no avail. The reason for this will become apparent when we put the death toll at Cannae into some kind of historical perspective.

Given the Romans' known propensity for frankly lying about figures, many of those who have studied Hannibal believe that it is entirely possible that somewhere in the region of 100,000 Romans died that day, certainly enough to earn the site of the engagement the notorious title of 'The Field of Blood'. Given the size of the Roman forces in the field and given the undeniably overwhelming victory that Hannibal won, a figure of 100,000 Roman dead is not out of the question. What can we compare this to?

In the First Gulf War, the American General Norman Schwarzkopf admitted to trying to emulate Hannibal's success at Cannae when he attacked the Iraqi ground forces, but there is not the remotest suggestion that anything remotely like 100,000 men died, let alone in a single day. I must emphasise that it is not a pleasant procedure to compare lists of dead, but it is my purpose here to demonstrate just how lethal and effective this Carthaginian was, over eighteen hundred years ago, long before the advent of weapons of mass destruction such as machine guns and cluster bombs.

The Eastern King Mithridates ordered the death of every Roman citizen in Asia Minor and it is said by some sources that 70,000 Romans were killed in a single day as a result. The total American casualties in Vietnam amounted to 58,202 dead, according to official government sources. Even in the titanic Battle of Chalons in 451 AD, not even Attila the Hun with his vast army came close to killing as many of his Roman and allied adversaries as did Hannibal. The first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 claimed something in the region of 30,000 casualties and this was as a result of British soldiers wading through knee-deep mud for hundreds of yards towards waiting German machine-gun emplacements.

Again, comparisons in such a grim affair may be invidious, but the official American government figures for the initial death toll at Hiroshima was 65,000, although that figure varies greatly. Seen in this context, Hannibal's strategy at Cannae was more deadly than even a nuclear bomb; no military figure has ever exceeded the terrible toll he exacted from his enemy back in 216 BC.

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In most histories of the Punic Wars, the story of Hannibal versus Rome pretty much ends there, although every authority admits that Hannibal remained undefeated in Italy for a further fourteen years, or sixteen years in total. Again, I find this absolutely stunning, that Hannibal was able to wander Italy, the heartland of the Roman Empire, unbeaten for sixteen years until he decided to return home. However, this is far from being the whole story and so I feel it's worth quoting once more from my Second Edition of the Oxford Classical Dictionary.

"In 216 at Cannae (q.v.5) he inflicted on the Romans the worst defeat they had known. Capua and many towns in Campania and south Italy went over to him, but as the Romans refused to acknowledge defeat and central and northern Italy remained loyal to them, he had to devise a wider strategy to force them to dissipate their strength (see Punic Wars), while in Italy he vainly tried to provoke another pitched battle."

The italics at the end are mine. History is written by the victors or by those sympathetic to the victors and of course, the Roman Empire survived for many long centuries after Hannibal's death. However, I was always puzzled to read that after the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC, there should have been no further significant battles on Italian soil while Hannibal remained there. The truth emerged after some research, while the reader is welcome to look up the facts and sources for themselves. After all, I've stressed from the start that this is a personal account and not an attempt to pen an academic document.

To put it bluntly, the truth is that in 216 BC, after the Battle of Cannae, the Roman general Marcus Claudius Marcellus held off an attack by Hannibal in the First Battle of Nola. None of the accounts actually state that Hannibal was defeated, so I'd personally be inclined to read this Roman version of events as Hannibal winning and the Romans narrowly escaping an utter massacre. In 215 BC, we learn the bare details that during the Second Battle of Nola, Marcellus again repulsed an attack by Hannibal. If after Cannae, a Roman general again repulsed an attack by this mighty warrior, then I'd have expected to read details of the Carthaginians being put to flight with great swathes left dead, but it doesn't seem to be the case. Again, I'm personally inclined to give Hannibal the benefit of any doubt and conclude that he secured another victory.

In 214 BC, we read that during the Third Battle of Nola, Marcellus fights an inconclusive battle with Hannibal. At the risk of repeating my views about Roman historians, I'm truly inclined to think that the only inconclusive thing about it was the scale of the Roman defeat, because the account doesn't state that the Romans actually won, something they'd have trumpeted from the rooftops if it had been the case.

In 212 BC, it is recorded that Hannibal defeated the Consuls Q. Fulvius Flaccus and Appius Claudius in the First Battle of Capua, but that the Roman army escaped. Call me biased, but it sounds like yet another resounding Carthaginian victory to me, although again, the Romans must be given all credit for their sheer resilience and bravery against such a terrifying adversary. I've discovered that in the same year, in the Battle of the Silarus, Hannibal destroyed the army of the Roman Praetor M. Centenius Penula, but I've not been able to find any reliable figures for Roman casualties. Still, who's counting?

Also in 212 BC, I've ascertained from the written histories (Roman, of course), that Hannibal destroyed the army - not the legion, but the army - of the praetor Gnaeus Fulvius, leaving at least 16,000 Romans dead on the field after the Battle of Herdonia. In 211 BC, Hannibal's brother Hasdrubal fought the Romans at the Battle of the Upper Baetis, killing both Publius and Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio, but as this wasn't one of Hannibal's battles, it doesn't really count. On to 210 BC, and we discover that in the Second Battle of Herdonia, Hannibal killed Fulvius Centumalus and destroyed yet another Roman army, while at the later Battle of Numistro, Hannibal defeated Marcellus once more. I suspect that a true and full contemporary account of this campaign would add even more superlatives to Hannibal's reputation, but for the time being, the bare bones are enough for me. Never forget that Hannibal's victories were no shallow affairs, but they were full engagements with the greatest, most disciplined and most determined army the ancient world had ever known.

Such a list of achievements would surely be enough for any man, but the story still doesn't end there, far from it. After his eventual defeat at Zama by Scipio, Hannibal fought on, always keeping faith with the vow he had made to his father never to be a friend to Rome. He was betrayed by his political enemies in Carthage and fled to King Antiochus of Syria, where he tried to raise another army to invade Italy. Had he succeeded, I have little doubt that the Romans would have suffered another sixteen years of continuous defeats at the hands of this utterly unique man.

As it was, Hannibal took a small part in some wars in Asia Minor and fought a small naval engagement off Side, where he was defeated by a Rhodian fleet commanded by Eudamus in 190 BC. In the process, Hannibal is credited with another first in military history, inventing biological warfare, due to his idea of hurling baskets and pots filled with venomous snakes at opposing ships.Image of Hannibal's tomb in modern day Turkey.

The mighty Hannibal was relentlessly pursued by the Romans until he was finally surrounded and cornered in Bythinia. At the very end, he denied the Romans their triumph, as he chose to take his own life. Livy writes that he had poison in readiness and states that Hannibal's final words were as follows: "Let us ease the Romans of their continual dread and care, who think it long and tedious to await the death of a hated old man." Despite a life of extreme hardship and personal danger in battle, Hannibal lived from 247 BC to 182 BC, a truly astonishing age for anyone in those times, let alone for a person who had risked and endured so much. It is my personal belief that he took his own life simply because he was bored, yet centuries later, Roman mothers would still frighten their badly-behaved children with what were still the ominous words "Hannibal ad portas" or " Beware! Hannibal's at the gates!" Has the world ever seen his like? I think not.

As we know, Hannibal could ultimately trace his ancestry back to what is now modern Lebanon. All things change in time, but it never ceases to fascinate me how certain parts of the world flourish and bloom in different seasons and for different reasons, then retreat quietly back into history, content that they have contributed to the immutable way of things in some great, small or else ongoing way. The rise and fall of empires continues to this day and when we study the empire, we often forget the humble hearth and home that once gave birth to the Emperor or Warrior King.

Attila emerged from somewhere out of the Russian steppes, while Alexander the Great was born in the hills of Macedonia. Genghis Khan rose up from the bleak wastes of what is now modern Mongolia, while Napoleon Bonaparte was born in a poor part of Corsica, not a place that immediately springs to mind as possessing a vast empire. Owen Glendower fought two English Kings to a standstill for fifteen blood-ravaged, fiery years and advanced further into England with an invading army than anyone has done since 1066, yet he was born in a humble farmhouse in North Wales. And so it is that whenever my children or anyone else asks me who the mightiest warrior in history was, and where the Land of his forefathers lay, I shall immediately name the incomparable Hannibal, produce a map and unhesitatingly point out to them the shores and groves of the Lebanon.

Hannibal (247 - 182 BC)
by Mary Holtby

He'll be coming down the mountain when he comes
In the bitter wind that batters and benumbs
He'll be coming down the mountain and I see the vultures counting,
They'll be counting up the corpses as he comes.

He was born a Carthaginian and his Dad
Was anxious to indoctrinate the lad
So he took him into battle and informed his offspring : 'That'll
Show you something of the hassle that we've had.

Here's an altar and before I let you go,
You must swear undying hatred to the foe!'
So for all the Roman nation he declared his detestation
Which in later life he had the chance to show:

Fought bravely under Hasdrubal in Spain
And himself at last conducted the campaign.
To restore some sort of order Rome set Ebro as a border,
For a peaceable division of terrain;

But Saguntum, on the Carthaginian side,
The Romans in their arrogance denied.
This Hannibal found shocking, so he gave the town a knocking
And began to plan his celebrated ride.

For the Romans had declared the Punic War,
And Hannibal remembered what he swore.
'Now that Rome has tried to burke us we shall treat her to a circus
Of a kind she's not experienced before.'

So he settles on the Alps for his Big Top
Where his elephants go dancing till they drop;
At sour wine his clowns may grumble but it makes the rockface crumble
And in Italy the hissing has to stop.

He beat Scipio, the first upon the scene;
Lured Flaminius to his fate at Trasimene;
And at Cannae (somewhat later, thanks to Fabius Cunctator)
Threw a spanner in the Roman war machine.

But alas! This was the highlight of the show;
His country is in trouble - he must go,
And the end of all the drama is the battlefield of Zama,
Where he can't escape the scourge of Scipio.

Defeated, he still rules his native state,
But the Romans want his blood and will not wait;
He flees and raises forces, but exhausting his resources
He eventually fixes his own fate.

Though for cruelty the Romans curse his name
And palpitating pachyderms may claim
That they hold the same opinion, this ingenious Carthaginian
Was a hero who deserves eternal fame.

— Dennis Price, Netheravon, England
Dennis Price is a classical scholar and writer

In August 1990, in what he very much hopes is a Hannibalic parallel, Dennis Price became the first western knight (in centuries?) to cross Europe and Scandinavia to take part in a mediaeval jousting tournament, in the city that was at the time named Leningrad, but which is now St Petersburg.

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