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Hannibal’s revenge plans

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Painting by Claudio Francesco Beaumont, Hannibal swearing hatred of the Romans (painting from 1730), Musée des beaux-arts de Chambéry, France
Painting by Claudio Francesco Beaumont, Hannibal swearing hatred of the Romans (painting from 1730), Musée des beaux-arts de Chambéry, France

The figure of Hannibal as Rome’s greatest enemy is fairly well known to that learning ancient history. Recognized as one of the greatest leaders of antiquity, the winner of Kann, Trebia or Lake Trasimeno, however, disappears from textbooks with the final defeat of Carthage in the Second Punic War and defeat at Zama in 202 BCE Sometimes it seems as if Hannibal died in this battle because in school notebooks it is often the last event related to a Punic chief.

Of course, from a military point of view, with the defeat at Zama, Carthage ceased to be a competitor to the Romans, but Hannibal himself tried to take revenge on his mortal enemies for almost 20 years. Let’s follow what Hannibal did until his death in 183 BCE, and what revenge plans he had against the Roman Republic.

After the peace of 202 BCE – Carthage

After making peace with the Romans, Hannibal was blamed by the reluctant Carthaginian aristocracy for the defeat in the war, for missing a chance to march on Rome, keeping the loot and lazy soldiers. Thanks to his popularity among the people, however, he managed to avoid heavy charges of command errors and was never found to be the main culprit of the defeat. Roman pressure deprived the outstanding commander of the office of strategist in 200 BCE.

In 196 BCE However, thanks to the dissatisfaction of Carthaginian merchants and artisans with the rule of the oligarchy, Hannibal managed to become a Sufi. So he became one of the two most senior officials governing the state. In this position, he turned out to be a reformer who wanted to rebuild the power of Carthage so that she could once again face Rome. Thanks to him, the finances of the state were healed, and the influence of the aristocracy on the country was limited – the Tribunal of One Hundred Four. There was a strong focus on agriculture and food self-sufficiency. It was a breath for the state, a recent power that now had to pay off war reparations despite the loss of all its overseas colonies.

Reluctant to Hannibal, the Carthaginian aristocracy turned to the Romans for help in the forcible removal of a recent enemy from office. Sent by the senate in 195 BCE the legates were tasked with killing or seriously injuring an outstanding leader. This one, however, warned early enough, fled eastwards – to – at that time, it seemed the only stronger than the Romans of the then monarch – Antiochus III the Great. The Roman legates immediately stated that Hannibal had long conspired with Seleucid against Rome. The House of Barkida in Carthage was burned down and its property confiscated.

After escaping Carthage – the court of Antiochus III the Great

Antiochus III was the ruler of the largest state built on the ruins of Alexander the Great’s empire – the Seleucid state. The unfortunate conflict with the Roman republic, which broke the power of the Syrian king, was the beginning of the end of the great Hellenistic monarchy in the East.

Antiochus III the Great received Hannibal with honours and invited him to join the group of his closest advisors. Punijczyk’s fame was also known in the east. There was disagreement between the winner of the of Cannae and Seleucid about how to wage war against the Romans. For Antiochus, the conflict was to be only a local war for the rule over Greece, Macedonia and Thrace, which, as part of the Hellenistic world, were to belong to the heir of the diadochi. The Carthaginian commander was to be only a military adviser who knew the strategy of the Roman legions. Hannibal, on the other hand, urged Seleucid to create a great anti-Roman coalition with Philip V of Macedon, the Ethols, Carthage, Celts and Ligurians from northern Italy, and the Spanish tribes against the Romans. The war, instead of waging in Greece, should start with the invasion of Italy. Hannibal understood that even one peripheral war lost by the Roman Republic would not inhibit Roman expansion and the desire to subjugate new territories.

Probably in 194 BCE. Hannibal presented Antioch with the famous war plan that involved the attack on Italy as the supply and human centre of the Roman army. Only such an invasion could shock Rome. He asked for 10,000 infantry, 1,000 horsemen, and 100 warships with which he intended to go to Carthage to trigger an anti-Roman uprising there. The next step was to carry out a landing in Italy – the war was to be waged on the basis of the Italian peoples who wanted to free themselves from Roman domination. The second war waged by Hannibal against the Romans in Italy would certainly be a spectacular event, and perhaps the inhabitants of the city on the Tiber would have to repeat fearfully: “Hannibal ante portas”.

These events did not take place: two hypotheses are known – Antiochus was jealous of the fame that Hannibal’s victorious campaign fought by the soldiers of Seleucid would bring him, and hence did not allow the expedition or postponed it with himself as the commander-in-chief. According to the second, Antiochus III was not interested in giving the Carthaginian army and waging the war in Italy, which was to be Hannibal’s personal rematch for defeat in the Second Punic War.

Instead of a large military coalition, it was limited to supporting the anti-Roman factions in Carthage, and Hannibal himself was probably only given 5 ships for a small subversive operation. Hannibal did not travel to Carthage with them, stopped at Cirene to test the mood, and then returned to Antiochus to take part in his expedition to Greece (191 BCE), only as an adviser, with no independent command. During the expedition to Hellas, the victor from Kann changed the invasion plans from the idea of ​​landing in the south of Italy to an attack by land from the north. At that time, however, it was not feasible to carry out such an operation, with the reluctance of Philip V of Macedon as well.

As a result of Antiochus’ unfavourable attitude towards Hannibal’s ideas, he no longer took part in the fighting in Greece or the Battle of Thermopylae. After Antiochus’ defeats at sea and on land, the Carthaginian commander continued to support the Hellenistic ruler: he contributed to the rebuilding of the Seleukid fleet in Phenicia, where he was highly respected. The so-called the Syrian fleet, built by Hannibal, was to help defend Asia Minor against the Roman invasion in 190 BCE Barkida, an excellent land-based commander, had little success operating as a fleet commander off the coast of Rhodes, Pamphylia, and Cilicia. An excellent cavalry commander, Hannibal, operated at sea, while Antiochus’ army was losing the the Battle of Magnesia in 190 BCE. It was an army that, after all, had four times superiority in cavalry over the Romans! How would history have turned if he had commanded, or had been at least a significant adviser under Magnesia, a victor at Cannae? How reckless and self-absorbed was Antiochus, who, in the event of a victory, did not want to share his fame with the Carthaginian, despite the fact that Hannibal’s help could change the tide of the war?

Battle of December 190 BCE it ended with the victory of the Romans and was the beginning of the end of the Seleukid monarchy.

After Magnesia – escape

In the conditions of peace with Apamea after the Battle of Magnesia, Antiochus undertook to hand over to the Romans “fugitives and warmongers”, that is, in fact, enemies of Rome – Hannibal was among them. However, he managed to escape. It is not known whether he did it with the consent of Seleucid or against his will. The winner of Kann first stayed in Crete for a year, then wandered around Asia Minor for a few more years: he stayed in Armenia, where he was building a new capital of this kingdom.

Under Roman pressure, he had to flee once again. He was sheltered by Prusjas, the king of Bithynia, where Punijczyk was the commander of his fleet in the war with Pergamon. The Romans continued their efforts to imprison the mortal enemy. Prusias bowed to the pressure and in 183 BCE Hannibal was imprisoned in the Lybiss Fortress, where he committed suicide, possibly with poison.

Author: Eligiusz Idczak (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Krzysztof Kęciek, Magnezja 190 p.n.e., Warszawa 2003
  • Jakob Seibert, Hannibal, Darmstadt 1993
  • Jakob Seibert, Forschungen zu Hannibal, Darmstadt 1993

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