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Hannibal

Invasion of Italy

From his father, Hamilcar Barca, the defender of Sicily in the First Punic War (see Punic Wars), he learned to hate Rome. He succeeded as general in Spain on the death of his brother-in-law, Hasdrubal, in 221 B.C. After consolidating his position for two years, he besieged Rome's ally Saguntum (now Sagunto), which fell eight months later. Carthage supported him, and Rome declared war (the Second Punic War, 218–201 B.C.).

With a relatively small army of select troops, Hannibal set out to invade Italy by the little-known overland route. He fought his way over the Pyrenees and reached the Rhône River before the Romans could block his crossing, moved up the valley to avoid their army, and crossed the Alps. This crossing of the Alps, with elephants and a full baggage train, is one of the remarkable feats of military history. Which pass he used is unknown; some scholars believe it was the Montgenèvre or the Little St. Bernard.

He descended into Italy and with his superior cavalry overran the Po valley, winning recruits from the Gallic tribes. A Roman force tried to stop him on the Trebbia, only to be wiped out. In the spring of 217 he crossed the Apennines and marched toward Rome. At Lake Trasimeno he destroyed the main Roman army, but he avoided the strong walls of Rome and moved southward, hoping to stir up a general revolt. In 216 the Romans, having replaced Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (see under Fabius), attacked the Carthaginians at Cannae, but by brilliant cavalry tactics Hannibal managed to surround the entire force and cut it to pieces, killing some 50,000 Romans. Most of S Italy then allied itself with him, including the important city of Capua. Insufficiently supported from home, Hannibal could not assail Rome and had to content himself with ravaging and reducing smaller places.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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