By Simba Jama
HANNIBAL BARCA was a black man of African descent who lived in a North African country called Carthage between 247 and 181 BC.
Carthage was derived from Cart Hardus which meant new town. This land can be found in modern day Tunisia.
Hannibal was from the Barca family and his father Hamilcar Barca was the man who founded the city named Barcelona in Spain.
The Barca family had a reputation of being fierce warriors and thus they were known as ‘the lion’s brood’.
In Hannibal’s time, the whole world had fallen to Greek domination. Rome was the new devouring force and was steadily winning over Greek territory.
After the fall of Alexander North Africa was under the Ptolemy dynasty but Carthage under the Barca family had managed to regain their land and authority.
Greek influence in Carthage had waned and the Romans had become the new threat.
The Romans were ambitious and saw Carthage as a strategic trade point as it touched the Mediterranean Sea.
It was also a crucial part of the Phoenician sailing routes that allowed contact with southern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Thus the Romans sought to wipe out the indigenous population of Carthage to take over their land.
The Romans made several attempts to colonise the land and the people of Carthage lost many lives in the process.
They also lost their peace of mind because they were constantly persecuted.
The persecution was so extreme that Hannibal at the young age of 13 swore undying hatred for the Romans at a public ceremony.
The people of Hannibal’s country were Africans whose ancestors had come from Asia.
They were black and Hebrew.
Hannibal’s ancestors were from Tyre which was in the territory of Israel until the dispersal of the northern kingdom of Israel into North and West Africa.
It was from this stock that Hannibal descended and there are records which confirm that Hannibal spoke and commanded his armies in Hebrew.
Before his death Hamilcar, Hannibal’s father, had expanded the territory of Carthage into Iberia (Spain). Hannibal’s brother-in-law, Hasdrul succeeded Hamilcar.
Hasdrul was later assassinated but before his death he had treaties with Rome which prevented further Roman invasion to the south and also Carthaginian expansion to the north.
The agreed border was made the Ebro River and thus the region of Iberia (Spain) remained under Carthaginian control.
At 21, Hannibal was made commander and chief of the army of Carthage.
He was popularly accepted and was seen as Hamilcar returned as he resembled his father in bravery and looks.
He would eventually become one of the greatest military commanders in history and would be remembered in the West as the man who taught Rome the meaning of fear.
After a breach of the above mentioned treaty by Rome, Hannibal began plans to invade the Romans and fight them at their door step.
He had successfully led military conquests in Iberia and further consolidated the Iberian territories. Thus the Romans felt threatened by Hannibal’s growing influence.
The Romans then made alliances with the city of Saguntum which was a considerable distance south of the Ebro River.
Hannibal captured Saguntum in less than eight months and the Romans perceived this an offence as the Romans had allied with Saguntum with hopes that Hannibal would back down in fear.
Hannibal saw this as an opportunity to pledge a fully fledged war against Carthage’s long time enemies, the Romans.
He was determined to take the war to the very heart of Italy and it was Hannibal’s war to Rome that defined his legacy.
It was known as the 2nd Punic War. The 1st Punic War had been led by Hamilcar.
Hannibal marched from Iberia with an army using war elephants, over the Pyrenees and the Alps and into northern Italy. In a few years, he won three victories and captured Trebia, Trasimene, and Cannae.
Hannibal was distinguished for his superior military strategies.
On one occasion at Trebia, where after wearing down a superior Roman infantry, Hannibal then cut it to pieces with a surprise attack and ambush from the flanks.
During the battle for Cannae, Hannibal with much inferior numbers, managed to surround and destroy all but a small remnant of his enemy forces. It is estimated that 50 000-70 000 Romans were killed or captured.
Throughout Hannibal’s conquests, he tactfully played the battle to his strengths and the enemy’s weaknesses. Hannibal also won over many allies of Rome.
He occupied much of Italy for 15 years and for a greater part, the Romans could do nothing but defend their borders because one way or the other, Hannibal kept out-smarting them.
Hannibal’s military knowledge was largely derived from the experience he gained fighting alongside his father.
Hannibal’s genius was in planning the invasion of Italy by land across the Alps.
This was a grand strategy of conquering Rome by opening a northern front and subduing allied city-states on the peninsula rather than by attacking Rome directly.
The task involved the mobilisation of between 60 000 – 100 000 troops and the training of war-elephants, all of which had to be acquired along the way.
The Alpine invasion of Italy by Hannibal in 218 BC had repercussions on the Mediterranean World which lasted more than 20 years.
In the end, almost every Roman had lost family members in the war brought on them by Hannibal and his Carthaginian armies.
Hannibal was fearless and determined. He was also witty and charismatic as he managed, not only unite the other North African tribes against Rome, but also consolidated the people of the lands which fell to him.
All Hannibal’s people were loyal and this frustrated and disadvantaged the Romans greatly. This was due to Hannibal’s great qualities of leadership.
Much of Hannibal’s military tactics were unknown to the Romans at the time.
The Romans had been known as fierce warriors until Hannibal came on to the scene.
The era of the Spartan (Roman warriors) was no match for General Hannibal.
Rome’s arrogance was brought down and the inhabitants of Rome were filled with fear. It is said that just the mention of Hannibal shook their hearts in terror and thus for generations after Hannibal, the statement ‘Hannibal is at the Gates’ would mean ‘trouble is coming’.
Even Roman mothers used tales of Hannibal to stop their children from misbehaving.
They would say, “See that you behave, or else Hannibal will come for you”, and the children would fearfully make the necessary amends.
Eventually, a Roman counter-invasion of North Africa forced Hannibal to return to Carthage. A Roman general named Scipio had studied Hannibal’s tactics and devised some of his own, and finally defeated Hannibal’s army at Zama.
Hannibal’s army had been exhausted by long years of war. The Romans prevailed because of their greater numbers and application of persistent pressure.
Hannibal eventually went into exile and spent the rest of his life making allies with Rome’s enemies. At one point Hannibal became a military advisor in the Seleucid court because they were at war with Rome.
Hannibal also fled to Crete and then Tyre (the homeland of his forefathers). However, the Romans hunted him down and insisted on his surrender.
When he was finally sold out to the Romans, he swallowed poison from his ring which he had kept for a long time.
Before dying, he left a note declaring, “Let us relieve the Romans from the anxiety they have so long experienced, since they think it tries their patience too much to wait for an old man’s death.”