Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘battle of Zama

Hannibal is the greatest and youngest military leader who commanded an invincible small army to defeating the most powerful military empire, Rome. It is recorded that Alissa of Tyr (an ancient City-State in Lebanon) established Carthage in current Tunisia.  The emerging Roman Empire clashed with Carthage in the first Punic war (Punic for Phenician since this first war was mainly maritime).  The war ended with a peace treaty against the will of Carthage commander-in-chief Hamilcar Barca (father of Hannibal).   Hamilcar was practically exiled after the truce.

In the meantime, Carthage had over 20,000 mercenaries on hand and didn’t feel paying them their full dues.  The mercenaries were in the city of Carthage and could have occupied it if they had a leader.  Carthage paid a portion of the salaries with promises to pay the remaining sum if they vacate the city, which the mercenaries did. Carthage then ordered Hamilcar back to subjugate the mercenary army. Hamilcar waged war against the mercenaries for 40 months before finishing the job.  By then, Carthage was exhausted with empty treasury.

Hannibal was 9 years old when his father died and he spent the next 16 years in the military.  By the age of 25, Hannibal was commanding the troops in Spain and had occupied most of Spain.  Rome started touting Carthage for another round of military engagements.  Carthage was still very weak and exhausted and its oligarchy avoided another confrontation.

 Rome then declared war on the ground that Hannibal broke the treaty. This is the second Punic war.  Carthage still hoped for a negotiated settlement on Spain and declined any military movements.  Hannibal disobeyed and got his small army marching on Rome.

Hannibal marched quickly with 50,000 in infantry, 9,000 in cavalry, and a few elephants and crossed the Rhone River in France before the Roman army could intercept him.  Hannibal climbed the Alps mountain peaks as snow was falling.  This is considered the boldest and craziest endeavor in history.  By the time Hannibal reached the Po River in Northern Italy his army was reduced by half.

Even with this tired and much reduced army, Hannibal crushed two Roman armies in two encounters (each Roman army at least double Hannibal’s.  The route to Rome was wide open but Hannibal refused to march on Rome.  One of Hannibal cavalry commanders asked Hannibal permission to advancing to Rome saying: “Rome is five days away.  By the time your infantry arrives I will offer you Rome.”  This cavalry commander was beside himself as Hannibal declined the offer and he replied: “Hannibal, you are an excellent tactician but a very lousy strategist.” 

The first question is: “Why Hannibal had to cross the Alps when Carthage had a capable navy?  There are many reasons, most of them interconnected.  First, Carthage was inclined not to accept the war: it already had a bad experience with hiring mercenaries.  Second, the aristocracy in Carthage feared that this young and hot-blooded commander might use the navy to enter Carthage and then resume the war according to his plans.  Third, Hannibal wanted to occupy all the lands leading to Italy to safeguard his rears and rob Rome of any future wealth and supplies in men and horses.  If Carthage was agreeable to waging war then Hannibal could have occupied the lands and then board the navy to Italy.

The second question is: “Why Hannibal failed to march on Rome?”  The one who dared to cross the Alps with elephants could logically dare to attempt to march on Rome and negotiate an advantageous deal even without putting a serious siege on Rome; assuming that Hannibal had no siege equipments.  The most plausible answer is that Hannibal was not in Italy to destroying Rome but to even-out the odds for the supremacy of an empire.  Hannibal was not in Italy to strengthen Carthage oligarchic structure which he loathed.  He preferred a Republic system.

Some say that Hannibal wanted to enter Rome with the least casualties by occupying the country side and depriving Rome from any supplies.  This reasoning might be valid but I have another alternative opinion.  Hannibal wanted to emulate Alexander by winning the heart and mind of the Romans. Hannibal was a military man and admired the Roman military spirit and would have rather be a commander in Rome than a commander in this rotten mercantile State of Carthage that feared him and refused him aids, even when he was about to defeat Rome completely.

Hannibal marched on to the Adriatic Sea and then south and captured many Roman territories. In 216 BC, Rome had assembled a fresh army of 80,000 infantry and 8,500 cavalry and advanced to Canna.  Hannibal had barely 23,000 infantry and 10,000 o veteran cavalry.  Hannibal cavalry destroyed the young Roman cavalry within an hour and then encircled the Roman infantry on all sides.  Only 4,000 Roman soldiers escaped this massacre; most Romans died trampled.  Rome learned to care better for its cavalry; that is what it did in the battle of Zama 13 years later.  Again, Rome was wide open for the take; Hannibal declined this petty temptation to marching on Rome, grab power, and ending up administering an empire that would certainly be fighting Carthage again.  Hannibal wandered for another 12 years in Italy.

Apparently, Hannibal loved Italy and this new civilization; he enjoying roaming in Italy; he enjoyed being his own boss; a wandering king with no fixed palaces; no stuffy ceremonials; no mean political maneuvering.  Hannibal was young (only 28); he is young and having a blast and had all the time ahead of him before taking on boring responsibilities.  Hannibal was the ultimate Corporal: first in battle and last to quit the battle field.  Hannibal had all his time:  Either Rome comes around and negotiate a settlement or he will check any Roman resurgence of military might.

By then, the Roman General, Scipio the Younger, had advanced in Spain and defeated the army of Carthage sent to relieve Hannibal in Spain.  Why Hannibal didn’t return to his home base in Spain and cut-off any Roman military adventure through Spain?  The second Punic war would have been settled quickly.  Probably, Hannibal feared that he would be acclaimed King in Spain and be pressured to start an empire; this idea was not within the calling of this all-time gentleman soldier.

Scipio marched on to Carthage.  Hannibal was summoned to Carthage; how could Hannibal and his army reach Carthage unless by sea?  Hannibal could not decline facing the more powerful empire, even if he loathed oligarchic systems:  He was to be coming to the rescue of the weaker party and prevent the establishment of a single superpower.

Hannibal was defeated at the battle of Zama and was exiled.  Superpower Rome ended up an oligarchy.  Give time, every superpower invariably consolidates in an oligarchic system.  Wise Hannibal lived to be 2,300 year-old; and counting.

Hannibal stayed at the Greek/Syrian Seleucid King and they fought the Roman again and were not lucky.  Hannibal fled up north and then committed suicide by poison in order not to be made prisoner by the Romans.  The all time gentleman soldier.

It was never reported that Hannibal’s army burned villages or massacred civilians. If he did then, even once, the population would have rallied behind him in fear and apprehension; he would have won the war instead of playing the gentleman soldier.  The greatest feat of Hannibal is that during these 15 years of wandering with a mercenary infantry, far away from home base, his army never experienced any mutinies.

Only another military warrior emulated Hannibal geo-political strategy:  Tamerlane or  Timorlenk in the 14th century.  Tamerlane defeated every major empire at the time (even the most powerful Ottoman army) but never lingered in one place to establishing an empire.  The difference is that Hannibal never terrorized civilian populations, never harassed, killed, or maimed innocent civilians; he never piled up high skulls in pyramid shape; he never made civilian prisoners to shipping to Carthage or Spain.  Hannibal the enemy of superpowers and the all-time gentleman soldier. Hannibal, the unchallenged all time gentleman soldier, reporting to “duty”, defending the weakest party against bullies.

Note:  There are detailed accounts of Hamilcar Barca war against the mercenaries in Carthage (the famous French author Flaubert described it in “Salambo”).  Why there are no accounts of Hannibal peregrinations in Italy? Surely the Roman kept tabs on Hannibal’s whereabout with minute details; then, did the Romans decided that these pieces of intelligence are State secrets until Carthage is physically annihilated in the third Punic war?  Carthage and Hannibal should be erased from the Roman memory?  Physically yes, but never in history.  For 2,300 years Hannibal’s war tactics have been emulated as the most effective war engagements. 




June 2023

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