Born in Carthage c. 247 BC, Hannibal – of the great Barca (meaning “thunderbolt”) family – would give the Romans nightmares for decades and great generals inspiration for centuries. Eldest son of Hamilcar, hero of the First Punic War, at the age of 26 Hannibal was elected to command in Iberia. He soon married Imilce, an Iberian princess, and conquered or allied with most of the Iberian tribes. In 219, he attacked the fortified town of Saguntum, allied to Rome … and the Second Punic War erupted.
The following spring, with an army of 100 thousand men (and 40 elephants), Hannibal marched through the Pyrenees into Gaul, cowed or beat all the Roman allies in his path, sidestepped the army of Publius Cornelius Scipio, and crossed the Alps. Facing inclement weather and attacks from indigenous tribes, the crossing is one of the most remarkable military feats in history. Although by the time he exited the mountains into northern Italy after 15 days, he was down to some 20 thousand infantry, 6000 cavalry and 37 elephants.
For the next three years, Hannibal rampaged across Italy, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy at Trebbia, Trasimene, and Cannae. He was within miles of Rome itself but – given his own accumulating losses – was unable to push Scipio out of the way, and Scipio didn’t have the forces to decisively win either. That’s because the Roman Senate had dispatched legions to attack Carthaginian cities in Iberia and North Africa. Hannibal abandoned his pillaging and returned to defend his homeland. In 202, at the epic battle of Zama, Scipio decisively defeated Hannibal.
After the war, Hannibal spent several years in politics in Carthage, but in 195 the Romans demanded he retire from office. Joining the Seleucids in their hopeless fight against Rome, after defeat he fled to Bithynia. Rome demanded he be turned over, and he fled again to Libyssa, where he took his own life in 183 BC.