“I will either find a way, or make one.” – Hannibal

Lessons Learnt: War is the opposite of commerce. Reckless ambition will get you somewhere, but in the end that somewhere will be under the ground. History is written by the victors.

Hannibal is one of the most remembered leaders of history. Every history textbook (at least in Europe) writes about his travels through the Alps, his attack of Italy (then the Roman Empire) and his subsequent demise. What many forget is the historical impact that Hannibal has had on the world, what the consequences of his battles have done for Italy, but even more for the Carthaginian empire (I bet you haven’t even heard of it). Jacob Abbott takes us, once again, on a journey through history and introduces Hannibal: Maker of History.

Hannibal Barca, son of Hamilcar Barca, was a brilliant strategist. As soon as he became of age he rose in rank within the army of Carthage and become one of its greatest generals. Carthage itself is an ancient empire that occupied the other side of the Mediterranean Sea from the Roman Empire. It lay in parts of countries now called Spain, Morocco, Liberia and Algeria. It was known for its commerce and found its origin from Tyre, the fortress city that almost successfully fought of Alexander the Great.

If Carthage was so known for its commerce, why then would Hannibal try and subdue the Romans? This hatred for the Romans originated from the first Punic War. In this 24 year war, the Romans almost completely defeated the Carthaginians and became the seed for Hannibal’s anger. In the following decades, he would go on to invade Italy (travelling via Spain and France) and almost crush the Romans.

Hannibal was a master of tactics. Even before I discuss his tactics in war, I would like to point out his savviness in politics. When opposed by Hanno for taking the command of the army he used his strength, youth and vigour to his advantage. He knew that great stories and promises do well and that in the end, even the best arguments can lose from passion (as illustrated by Cleopatra a small 200 years later).

In war, he knew even better what to do. When marching through part of nowadays France, he won the hearts of the local governments by making clear that he was only passing through and had no intention of hurting them. In the Alps, he received guidance from the locals and led his troops (including elephants) up into the mountains. And when he finally traversed the Alps, before meeting the Romans, showed his men the following. He gathered a few soldiers he had captured from traitorous mountaineers and let them fight one-on-one. He promised the victor freedom and kept to his word. After that, he told his men: We are these soldiers, the men that have to fight for victory. But it will be easy, we are brave and strong men who will face the weaker forces of Scipio, we will be the victors.

“I am not carrying on a war of extermination against the Romans. I am contending for honor and empire. My ancestors yielded to Roman valor. I am endeavoring that others, in their turn, will be obliged to yield to my good fortune, and my valor.“ – Hannibal

In subsequent battles, Hannibal conquered most of Italy but never succeeded to take Rome. In the battle of Cannæ, he won a battle of 50.000 versus 80.000 men by faking a half surrender and later attacking the Romans in the back. In the end, he was not defeated because his army was not strong enough (most of the time he had won with smaller armies, but better tactics). In the end, he lost the war because he faced a better strategist than himself, Scipio – the son of one he faced in the very beginning after crossing the Alps. After 17 years of war, Hannibal was defeated, the second Punic war ended, and Carthage was back to the way it was.

But the flame that Hannibal ignited stayed lid for 52 years, after which the third (and final) Punic War broke out. The Carthaginians lose the war and are to surrender. The Romans enforce their, very harsh, conditions for peace by taking the sons of the most prominent families of Carthage. The Carthaginians first resist but then comply with the demands. Scipio, however, had not made all his demands, he wanted to destroy Carthage itself. Again emotions win from reason and when the Carthaginians have already surrendered their weapons and are at a very strong disadvantage, they start to fight back. Every brick is turned into a stone to throw, hairs are bundled to make strings for bows, and the Carthaginians fight bravely for their city.

Alas, in the end, it goes down in flames. The conquests of Hannibal result in the downfall of the Carthaginian Empire. As was the case with Alexander the Great, Hannibal was responsible for many deaths, as much that in each Roman family a brother or nephew was most likely to have died because of him. In the end, it has costed not only lives, but an entire empire to perish from his actions. In yet another great book by Jacob Abbott the whole scene, spanning more than 200 years is described in detail. It provides enough stories to give a detailed look into the specific history, and at the same time describes the era and leaves enough room for philosophical reflections to which I am prone.