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Second Punic War

(218 - 201 BCE)

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Battle of Cannae
Battle of Cannae

Humiliated after the First Punic War Carthage was still thinking about revenge on the Romans. After losing the campaign, Carthage sought to expand its spheres of influence and establish a base in the event of a war with Rome. It directed its expansion to the Iberian Peninsula. It conquered its south-eastern part, and the loot and income from new lands allowed to pay back a huge contribution to the Romans in record time.

The immediate cause of the new conflict between states was the siege and capture of Saguntum, a city allied with Rome, by Carthaginian forces. The Romans, who had been preparing for the conflict for a long time, demanded the release of a chief provocateur, Hannibal, Carthaginian leader. Failing to fulfil his obligation, Rome threatened to declare war on the Carthaginian state. However, the ultimatum was refused.

The plan, prepared in detail by Roman command, assumed a simultaneous attack on Carthage in North Africa and Spain (with the help of a strong fleet), which was the granary of the African state. However, these plans could not come into force because Hannibal took over the initiative. He was aware of the weakness of the Carthaginian fleet and was counting only on his perfectly trained land army, supported by war elephants. His plan was to quickly transfer military operations to Italy. Unable to transport troops directly by the sea, he decided to reach Italy by land through Spain and the Alps. He also hoped that he would bring south-Italian tribes, Greek cities and Celtic tribes to his side. Hannibal knew that the loss of southern Spain to Rome would mean the definitive defeat of Carthage. This was certainly the weakest point of the Carthaginian state, which, as it turns out, will be completely exploited by the Romans.

Hannibal’s expedition to Italy during the Second Punic War.
Author: Abalg | License Creative Commons Recognition by - On the same terms 3.0.

Hannibal’s expedition

In 218 BCE, Hannibal, at the head of his great army of nearly 60,000 soldiers, set out across the Pyrenees and Gaul towards the Alps. This trip became legendary for posterity. Both the Romans and Carthaginians did not have much contact with the mountains. This is how Hannibal’s expedition describes Livy:

Hannibal, a brilliant Carthaginian commander. After losing the Second Punic War, Hannibal took refuge in the Seleucian palace. After the defeat of Antiochus in the war with Rome, he committed suicide in order not to be put in a cage during the triumph in Rome.
Na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa - Na tych samych warunkach 3.0.

From the Druentia, by a road that lay principally through plains, Hannibal arrived at the Alps without molestation from the Gauls that inhabit those regions. Then, though the scene had been previously anticipated from report, (by which uncertainties are wont to be exaggerated,) yet the height of the mountains when viewed so near, and the snows almost mingling with the sky, the shapeless huts situated on the cliffs, the cattle and beasts of burden withered by the cold, the men unshorn and wildly dressed, all things, animate and inanimate, stiffened with frost, and other objects more terrible to be seen than described, renewed their alarm. To them, marching up the first acclivities, the mountaineers appeared occupying the heights over head; who, if they had occupied the more concealed valleys, might, by rushing out suddenly to the attack, have occasioned great flight and havoc. […]
On the ninth day they came to a summit of the Alps, chiefly through places trackless; and after many mistakes of their way, which were caused either by the treachery of the guides, or, when they were not trusted, by entering valleys at random, on their own conjectures of the route. For two days they remained encamped on the summit; and rest was given to the soldiers, exhausted with toil and fighting: and several beasts of burden, which had fallen down among the rocks, by following the track of the army arrived at the camp. A fall of snow, it being now the season of the setting of the constellation of the Pleiades, caused great fear to the soldiers, already worn out with weariness of so many hardships. On the standards being moved forward at daybreak, when the army proceeded slowly over all places entirely blocked up with snow, and languor and despair strongly appeared in the countenances of all, Hannibal, having advanced before the standards, and ordered the soldiers to halt on a certain eminence, whence there was a prospect far and wide, points out to them Italy and the plains of the Po, extending themselves beneath the Alpine mountains; and said “that they were now surmounting not only the ramparts of Italy, but also of the city of Rome; that the rest of the journey would be smooth and down-hill; that after one, or, at most, a second battle, they would have the citadel and capital of Italy in their power and possession.

Titus Livy, Ab urbe condita, XXI, 32-35

It was a complete surprise for the Romans, who were already prepared to implement their own plan. In this situation, the Romans were forced to defend Italy in the north. In pursuit of Hannibal, Roman troops were sent, which, however, failed to stop the Carthaginian leader’s march. The commander-in-chief of the Roman army, Publius Cornelius Scipio, sent his brother Gnaeus to Spain to cut off the way back to the great Carthaginian army. In this way, he wanted to force Hannibal into a major battle, knowing that Carthaginian troops suffered enormous losses as a result of a hard march. Hannibal supported by die-hard rivals of the Celts managed to win reinforcements. He managed to achieve small victories over the Ticinus River and Trebia. This forced the Roman army to leave the defence line on the River Po. However, the lands where Roman legions were located turned out to be a perfect area against Carthaginian driving. Consul, Gajus Flaminius, wanted to take advantage of this advantage, but he suffered defeat in the narrow passage between the mountain range and Lake Trasimeno.

Battles of the Second Punic War.
On Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

The defeats of the Roman army forced the Senate to act violently. It was decided to appoint the dictator of Quintus Fabius Maximus. He adopted a new way of fighting, avoiding direct clashes. It was generally aimed at rebuilding the morale of soldiers and gathering strength for the decisive battle. However, this tactic did not like the aristocracy, which as a result of looting Carthaginian soldiers lost their property. Forced by the powerful, Maximus decided to fight a battle. On August 2, 216, the battle of Cannae took place in Puglia, Italy. southeastern Italy. The Romans suffered a defeat that they have not experienced in their history so far. Their huge army, with 55,000 soldiers, was completely destroyed by half the smaller army of Hannibal. Despite the great victory, Hannibal could not use it in a strategic sense. He was too weak to continue his warfare and, above all, he was unable to conquer Rome, the heart of Italy. The Romans, realizing that they could not stand up to the enemy in an open fight, began to harass the enemy with short driveways and light infantry attacks, provoking the enemy into bolder moves. This tactic proved to be very beneficial at the time of events when Roman legions were “morally in decline” after a series of defeats.

After the Canaries

Attack of the Hannibal elephants.
On Creative Commons Attribution license - On the same terms 3.0.

Despite the difficult situation in which Rome found himself, no one thought about giving up. Looking for reserves, it was even decided to enlist slaves who were guaranteed freedom. Rome’s position deteriorated when an alliance between Carthage and Macedonia was concluded. He forced the Romans to send an additional contingent to Greece and to fight also outside Italy. Through this operation, Hannibal sought to entangle the Roman state in various conflicts, and thus reduce its combat strength. The economic situation has also deteriorated. The devastated Italia was unable to produce enough food. In turn, the main source of obtaining grain, Syracuse was dominated by Carthage. This situation forced Rome to import grain from Egypt. It is also worth mentioning the dramatic decrease in the number of citizens capable of carrying weapons. The financial system was shaken, which forced the Senate to increase taxes.

Defensive actions were carried out mainly in Italy. The involvement of the main Carthaginian forces on the Apennine Peninsula enabled the Romans to launch an offensive in Sicily. In two years, from 214 to 212 BCE, Syracuse was captured, which allowed the expulsion of Carthaginian troops from the island.

Fragment of the Servisius Wall. It was this wall that led Hannibal to reject the idea of ​​an immediate attack on Rome.
On Creative Commons Attribution license - On these same conditions 3.0.

The situation of the Romans in Spain was less favourable. Roman armies were crushed and two Roman chiefs were killed. As a result, the command over Spanish troops was entrusted to the young Publius Cornelius Scipio, who appeared as proconsul in 210 BCE This decision turned out to be a brilliant solution for the remainder of the war. First, the young commander trained and disciplined soldiers rebuilding their belief in their own combat value. His goal in the war was to expel Hannibal from the Iberian Peninsula, or rather his brother Hannibal Hasdrubal. He managed to occupy the main settlement of Hannibal in Spain – New Carthage in 209 BCE, from which Carthaginian commander drew his supplies. In addition, he managed to win the friendship of the Iberian tribes, who were ready to support Roman troops. Hannibal’s brother left Spain, marching to Italy. Scipio, chasing one of the major Carthaginian armies, captured Capua in 211 BCE, then Tarent was captured in 209, which allowed Hannibal to be pushed south.

The Romans gradually began to take the initiative during the Second Punic War. The Carthaginians then decided to take a bold step to support Hannibal’s troops stationed in Italy. After the fall of New Carthage and the actual victory of the Romans on the Spanish front, it was decided to send support to Italy. Hasdrubal – Hannibal’s younger brother became the head of the expedition.

He set off with the troops by land, defeating the Alps along the path previously marked by Hannibal. However, the Romans took over the letters Hazdrubal sent to his brother and learned his plans. He was beaten in the summer of 207 on the Metaurus River in Umbria. On his way stood the Roman army under the command of two consuls: Gaius Claudius Nero and Marcus Livy Salinator. The Carthaginian leader was killed in the fight. His body was found on the battlefield and his head was cut off. Then she was thrown in for encamping Hannibal’s camp. According to Florus, Hazdrubal’s brother was then to utter prophetic words: “I see Carthage’s doom.”

Eventually, the Carthaginians were expelled from Spain after the victorious battle of Ilipa in 206 BCE, where Scipio defeated his brother Hannibal. The advantage of the Carthaginian commander did not bring him victory, who had to flee to his brother after the battle.

Titus Livy mentions that Scipio Africanus and Hannibal apparently they met in Ephesus. Then Scipio asked Hannibal who he thought was the best leader in history. Hannibal replied that Alexander the Great because he had conquered all of Persia with a much smaller army. The Roman asked who he would name second. Carthaginian replied that Pyrrusa. After this question, Scipio asked whom he would see in 3rd place. Hannibal exchanged himself. Scipio laughed and asked him what he would say if he had defeated him. Hannibal replied that he would place himself in the first place.

Thanks to the decisive successes, Scipio was granted to Sicily by the Senate in 205 BCE, which was to serve as a base for invading North Africa. Elected consul and recognized as the main commander of the expedition, he went to Africa in 204 BCE. Scipio’s victories in Africa forced the Carthaginian authorities to dismiss Hannibal and bring him to his homeland in 203 BCE Immediately after his arrival in Africa, the invincible Carthaginian leader gave the young Roman consul a battle. This battle was the battle of Zama in 202 BCE, in which Scipio also won. He used tactics almost identical to those used by Hannibal in the battle of Cannae. Using the help of the Numidian Prince, Masinissa, in the form of Numidian cavalry, managed to flank the Carthaginian army and then knock it out.


Humiliated Carthage had to give up all possessions except North Africa. In addition, she was obliged to pay huge war reparations, amounting to 10,000 talents. Only 10 fleets were to remain at Carthage’s disposal, and Carthage’s military policy was to be approved by Rome.

Important battles of the Second Punic War

Larger battles of the Second Punic War.

218 BCEbattle of the Ebro River
218 BCEbattle of the Rhone
218 BCEBattle of Marsala
218 BCEbattle of Cissis

  • The Romans of Gnaeus defeated the Carthaginians

218 BCEbattle of the River Ticinus

  • Carthaginian victory over the Romans Publius Scipio

218 BCEbattle of Trebia
217 BCEbattle on Lake Trasimeno
217 BCEnaval battle at the mouth of the Ebro

  • Gnaeus Kornelius Scypion defeated the Punic fleet capturing several ships

216 BCEbattle of Gerunium

  • Hannibal ambushed Rufus’s army, inflicting great losses on her

216 BCEbattle of Cannae

  • great victory for Hannibal

215 BCEbattle of Grumentum

  • Longus’s Romans won the Carthaginians

215 BCEbattle of Nola

  • The Marcellus Romans beat up the Hannibal Carthaginians

215 BCEbattle of Cagliari

  • 22,000 Roman infantry and 1,200 cavalry led by Torquatus defeated
    Hasdrubal’s Carthaginians who were captured

215 BCEbattle of Iberia

  • Hasdrubal Barkid defeated by Scipions

218 BCEbattle of Iliturgi

  • 16,000 Romans won 60,000 Carthaginians

218 BCEbattle of Intibili

  • Roman victory over Carthaginians

214 BCEBattle of Beneventum

  • Romans of Gracchus beat Carthaginians of Hanno

214 BCEbattle of Nola

  • Romans of Marcellus won the Carthaginians of Hannibal

213 BCEbattle of Munda
213 BCEbattle of Aurinks

  • The Romans of Gnaeus Scipio defeated Carthaginians

212 BCEBattle of Kapuwa

  • Carthaginians beat the Romans

212 BCEbattle of Herdonea

  • Carthaginians of Hannibal won 18,000 Romans of Fulvius

211 BCEbattles of Himera, Lorca, Porta Collina
210 BCEnaval battle of Sapriportis
210 BCECarthaginian massacre in Akragas
210 BCEbattle of Herdonea

  • Hannibal’s Carthaginians defeated the Romans of Gnaeus Fulvius Centumalis who was killed

210 BCEbattle of Numistro
209 BCEbattle of Canusium

  • Carthaginians of Hannibal defeated the Romans of Marcellus

209 BCEThe Romans conquer New Carthage
209 BCEcapture of Caulonia
208 BCEbattle of Petelia

  • 5000 Carthaginians killed 2,000 Romans in ambush and 1,500 were captured. Short
    then in the same area, two consuls ambushed during a reconnaissance, which
    was accompanied by only 220 horse riders. Claudius Marcellus died, seriously injured Quintius
    Cryptus was ambushed but died of wounds.

208 BCEbattle of Baecula

  • defeat of Hasdrubal

208 BCEbattle of Venosa

  • Numidians defeated Romans Marcellus (died) and Crispinus (wounded)

208 BCEnaval battle of Kelibia

  • The Romans of Valerius beat the Carthaginians

207 BCEnaval battle of Aspis

  • the largest naval battle during the war. 100 Roman ships under Lewinus defeated 83 Carthaginian units.

207 BCEbattle of Metaurus
206 BCEbattle of Ilipa

  • defeat of Hasdrubal Giskon’s troops

206 BCEnaval battle of Carteia

  • Laelius Romans defeated Adherbal Carthaginians

204 BCEbattle of Itike

  • Scipio’s Romans beat up the Hanno Carthaginians who died

204 BCEbattle of Croton

  • pending clash of Carthaginians Hannibal and Romans Sempronius

203 BCEbattle of Bagradas
203 BCEnaval battle of Itike

  • Carthaginians won the Romans

203 BCEbattle in the Great Fields (Souk-el-Kremis)

  • defeat of the Punicians

202 BCEbattle of Zama

  • the final, great victory of Scipio Africanus over Hannibal

Third Punic War

  • Lancel Serge, Hannibal, 2001
  • Lazenby John, Wojna Hannibala. Historia militarna drugiej wojny punickiej
  • Kęciek Krzysztof, Dzieje Kartagińczyków, Warszawa 2007
  • Historia Powszechna t. 4. Konsolidacja hellenizmu. Początki Rzymu i przemiany świata klasycznego, kons. prof. dr hab. E. Papuci-Władyka, prof. dr hab. J. Ostrowski
  • Matyszak Philip, Wrogowie Rzymu. Od Hannibala do Attyli, króla Hunów, Warszawa 2007
  • Nowaczyk Bernard, Kartagina 149-146 p.n.e., Warszawa 2008

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