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General Hannibal Defies Understanding

Updated on May 15, 2017
A diagram of the Pincer
A diagram of the Pincer | Source

Hannibal Barca's Temperament Defies Understanding

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One of the most racking and puzzling questions in history is why Hannibal refused to advance on Rome and seize power after the Battle of Cannae.

The battle pitted General Barca’s remaining 40,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry soldiers against the Roman Empire’s army of 86,000 soldiers. This resulted in the loss of 50,000 Roman soldiers credited to his pincer movement tactic.

The pincer is a tactic that enables an army to surround their opposition as it advances into the center of its military formation.

A temperament such as Hannibal Barca's defies understanding. But one can gather an inkling of what may have motivated his character by looking at: (1) The Phoenician Empire which provided the foundation for Carthage’s wealth, (2) Princess Elissa of Tyre (Also known as Dido), (3) Hannibal Barca and his family, and (4) Hannibal the soldier.

The Phoenician Empire

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Modern Lebanon is where the Phoenician Empire (1200 B.C. to 146 B.C.) was located. Some historians include sections of Syria and Israel as part of the empire. Phoenicia consisted of many independent city-states. The governmental system for the city-state was decentralized and composed of a king along with affluent merchant families and a council.

Map of Ancient Phoenicia
Map of Ancient Phoenicia | Source

Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos were the most influential city-states within Phoenicia. Its colonies included Carthage, Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, Iberia (Spain), and a collection of coastal cities.

Phoenicia was recognized throughout the ancient world for: (1) Shipbuilding and seafaring, (2) Changing the Egyptian alphabet to a more flexible script for use in commerce and trade, (3) Creating a practical numbering system, (4) Bookkeeping skills, and (5) The purple dye produced in Tyre. Also, the glassware, pottery, woodwork, carved ivory work, and metalwork created by its artisans were prized too.

Thus the economy of Phoenicia was centered on building and repairing ships, manufacturing goods for export, trading gold, amber, and slaves as well as providing services to sailors and merchant crews. The society at large encompassed a citizenry bursting with fierce self-determination.

Phoencians bringing treasure to King Solomon
Phoencians bringing treasure to King Solomon | Source

According to Dr. David Warmflash's internet article, "The Phoenicians: First in Celestial Navigation, Using Polaris, the North Star," the Phoenicians' discovery of how to use Polaris as a tool for seafaring navigation enabled them to venture beyond the confines of the Mediterranean region. The following is an excerpt from said article:"...Once navigators realized that they could keep Polaris directly in front or in back of their ship at night, ships began crossing the Mediterranean along direct north-south routes..."

On page 149 of Introduction to African Civilizations by John G. Jackson, Mr. Jackson indicates Phoenicians crossed the Atlantic Ocean: "...The ships of the Phoenicians traded with ports on the shores of the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean, the Black Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean. The Phoenician seafarers and traders worked tin mines in Cornwall and traded with ancient Britons; and their ships circumnavigated Africa and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to America..."

Polaris aka the North Star
Polaris aka the North Star | Source

The Purple People

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Interestingly, some historians report that the people of Phoenicia identified themselves by the name of the cities they lived in. While others claim the Phoenician populace preferred recognition as Canaanites.

Yet, the historians of that day embraced the Greek identification of the inhabitants as Phoenicians. It appears that the Greek word for purple was applied to them. Because individuals manufacturing purple dye had stained purple skin. Over time the Greek term, Phoenicians, prevailed.

Royal Puple dye from Murex Trunculus
Royal Puple dye from Murex Trunculus | Source

Human and Animal Sacrifices

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The Phoenicians worshipped three main gods, El, Ba'al, and Astarte, the wife of Ba'al as well as other deities. Sacrificing babies, little children, and animals as blood offerings to their gods was a customary practice.

The following is an excerpt from page 37 of the book, Carthage Uncovering the Mysteries and Splendors of Ancient Tunisia by David Soren, Aicha Ben Abed Ben Khader, and Hedi Slim, "...Sacrifices might be carried out in times of national emergency or perhaps as part of the normal order of religious practice. This rite, along with sacred prostitution, was passed on to the Phoenicians and then found its way to Carthage, perhaps with the early Phoenician settlers..."

Statue of Baal Hamon (Bardo Museum-Tunisia)
Statue of Baal Hamon (Bardo Museum-Tunisia) | Source
Tyre, Lebanon (Ancient Ruins)
Tyre, Lebanon (Ancient Ruins) | Source

What’s more, owning a fleet of merchant ships, expertise in shipbuilding and ship repair, ship crew experience, and artisan skills were extremely valuable commodities in the ancient world.

These trades enabled individuals to live and survive in other lands if the government of their country was overthrown.

The Phoenician Empire was defeated in 539 B.C. by Cyrus the Great from Persia which resulted in the independence of Carthage, Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, and Spain (Iberia) from Phoenician rule.

Princess Dido Fled Tyre and Established Carthage

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Queen Elissa also known as Queen Dido was the first queen of Carthage and founded the state around 814 B.C. She was a princess from Tyre, a seacoast city in ancient Phoenicia known for its purple dye. The dye was produced from murex, large tropical sea snails, that consume clams, starfish, oysters, scallops, and mussels.

Murex Sea Shells
Murex Sea Shells | Source

The circumstances that led to her departure from Tyre are somewhat sketchy. It's often mentioned that King Pygmalion of Tyre (831 B.C. to 785 B.C.), her brother, was responsible for killing her husband, Acherbas, who was also her uncle. He was a high priest in the Temple of Hercules, wealthy, and a powerful force in Tyrian affairs. Apparently, King Pygmalion desired Acherbas’s buried gold and realm of influence.

After finding out that King Pygmalion was responsible for killing Archerbas, she fled Tyre along with his gold and her supporters. Ending up in Northern Africa, the princess decided to reside there. She purchased some choice land from the Libyan king that governed the region and renamed it Carthage.

Once Carthage began to flourish, the Libyan king, Iarbas, asked for Queen Elissa's hand in marriage. Also, he threatened to attack Carthage if she refused. Feeling hard pressed under the circumstances, the queen committed suicide rather than go through with the marriage. As a side note, archeologists indicate the ancient state of Carthage would be near Tunis, Tunisia today.

Some Carthage Ruins
Some Carthage Ruins | Source

The Aeneid - Book IV

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Queen Elissa was immortalized by Virgil, a Roman poet, in his epic poem The Aeneid– Book IV. In the poem, Queen Dido via a dream is informed by the spirit of her deceased husband, Acherbas, that her brother, King Pygmalion, stabbed him to death. He pleads for her to leave Tyre and discloses the location of his buried treasure. Long story short, she finds the treasure, gathers her allies and sails away. Landing in Northern Africa, the princess buys some land called Bursa from King Larbas and renames it Carthage. Subsequently, Queen Dido falls madly in love with Aeneas, a wandering Trojan prince that fled the downfall of Troy. He settles in Carthage and later on decides to leaves for Italy. Queen Dido becomes despondent over his decision and commits suicide.

Aeneas visiting Queen Elissa (public domain, wikipaintings)
Aeneas visiting Queen Elissa (public domain, wikipaintings) | Source

Hannibal Bacar and His Family

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This native son of Carthage was born in 247 B.C. His family was part of Carthage's nobility. Information about Hannibal’s immediate female relatives is practically non-existent. Some sources cite his mother’s name as Didobal, but that cannot be verified. It is noted that he had three sisters; however, their names have been erased from the pages of history.

It’s speculated they were older than Hannibal and were married when he was a child. Some historians mention his eldest sister was married to Hadrusbal the Fair and that they had a son, Hanno. And that another sister was married to the Numidian King Naravas.

On the other hand, many sources cite that Hannibal Barca was married to Imilce, an Iberian Princess from Castulo, Spain, and that they had a son. Information about what happened to his wife and son is lost. The Fountain at Baeza is said to be a tribute to Hannibal's wife, Imilce. The original head of the statue was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War.

The Fountain of Baeza (Statue of Imilce Barca)
The Fountain of Baeza (Statue of Imilce Barca) | Source

Also, Hannibal had three brothers, Hasdrubal, Hanno, and Mago.Their father, General Hamilcar Barca called them the “lion’s brood.” Incidentally, Hamilcar Barca was a renowned general in his own right. And he took great pride in the foursome's doggedness that included his son-in-law, Hasdrubal the Fair, under his military tutelage.

Hannibal's schooling entailed tutoring in Greek poetry and philosophy during his youth. Sosilos, a Greek writer, taught Hannibal the Greek language while covering his foray into Rome.

Hannibal the Soldier

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It's well documented that Hannibal was aware of his father's loathing of Rome because of Carthage’s defeat that ended the First Punic War (264 B.C. to 241 B.C.). More than likely, he probably overheard General Hamilcar Barca mention Rome’s imminent control over the Mediterranean Sea.

Between 238 B.C. and 239 B.C., Rome made an attempt to invade Northern Africa but was driven back. Consequently, General Hamilcar Barca was ordered by the Carthaginian government to shore-up Carthage’s colony, Iberia, which is known as Spain today.

At this point in Hannibal’s life, it's alleged his father made him promise on the altar of Baal to always be an enemy of Rome. Likewise, it's claimed that Hannibal begged his father to accompany him to Iberia and Hamilcar Barca consented.

Thus at 9 years of age, Hannibal was exposed to: (1) Military strategic planning, (2) Warfare, (3) The placement of Carthage's enemies on crucifixes, (4) The use of elephants in battle, and (5) Hamilcar tossing around the idea of invading Rome by land.

General Hannibal Barca crossing the Alps
General Hannibal Barca crossing the Alps | Source

According to Leonard Cottrell the author of Hannibal Enemy of Rome, Hannibal had great physical stamina and incredible control over his body and mind. The following is an excerpt from page 15 of said book:"...His physical powers were formidable."His body could not be exhausted, nor his mind subdued, by any toil. He could alike endure either heat or cold.The quantity of his food or drink were determined by the wants of nature, and not pleasure." And like Napoleon, he could sleep whenever he wished..."

In light of Hamilcar Barca’s death, Hasdrubal the Fair, Hannibal's brother-in-law, received appointment as Carthage’s new military head and Hannibal continued his military training with him.

After the assassination of Hasdrubal the Fair, Hannibal was unanimously nominated as the new military commander by Carthage’s army and his selection was ratified by the Carthaginian Senate.

Shortly thereafter, Hannibal shattered Carthage’s treaty with Rome by attacking Saguntum, which resulted in Rome declaring war on Carthage.

When 30 year-old General Hannibal Barca reached Cannae in the spring of 216 B.C., the Pyrenees and Alps Mountains had been successfully navigated. The Gaul and Celt opposition outmaneuvered and conquered. Victory against the Romans at the Ticinus River and Lake Trasimenes achieved. But at a price, his military campaign incurred the loss of 50,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry soldiers.

His inaction to advance on Rome after the Cannae victory remains mystifying. Did the magnitude of his military feats and the fulfillment of the oath to his father, Hamilcar Barca, overwhelm him? Or perhaps he’d seen enough violence and bloodshed for one day.

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After 17 years of battling Rome, General Hannibal Barca was defeated by the Roman General Scipio at the Battle of Zama circa 201 B.C. The terms of peace required Carthage to hand over Iberia, disassemble the army, destroy the naval fleet except for ten ships, and make a substantial payment to the Roman Empire.

Hannibal shifted his efforts to the political arena. And he was elected to Carthage's Senate. His reformist views against political corruption made scores of enemies. Several years later, he left Carthage because of the hostile political climate. In due course, he resurfaced from a self imposed exile and resumed battling the Romans.

Many books, articles, essays, and research papers have been written about Hannibal Barca. Even the sphere of documentary filmmaking and made for television movies have paid homage to him. Such as The History Channel’s documentary, Hannibal Barca, The African Warrior (2011), Hannibal the Conqueror (2008), the BBC’s dramatized documentary, Hannibal: Rome’s Worst Nightmare (2006), and the National Geographic’s Hannibal v Rome (2005).

The ongoing interest about General Barca is quite remarkable given his life came to an end circa 183 B.C. At 70 years of age, he committed suicide rather than surrender to the Romans.His act of defiance was similar in fashion to another Carthaginian, Queen Elissa.


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Cottrell, Leonard, Hannibal Enemy of Rome, United States of America, Da Capo Press, 1992

Brooks, Philip, Hannibal Rome's Worst Nightmare, New York, Scholastic, Inc., 2009

Soren, David, Aicha Ben Abed Ben Kader, and Hedi Slim, Carthage Uncovering the Mysteries and Splendors of Ancient Tunisia, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1990

Jackson, John G., Introduction to African Civilizations, New Jersey, Carol Publishing Group, 1970

http://, Dr. David Warmflush, The Phoenicians: First in Celestial Navigation, Using Polaris, the North Star, Date of Publication Unknown, Researched: Circa November 2013, Arthur Cline, Sacred Prostitution in Phoenicia:Did Phoenician Temples Employ Prostitutes to Fulfill Religious Function?, Publication Date Unknown, Researched: Circa November 2013, Joshua J. Mark, Carthage, 28 April 2011, Researched: Circa November 2013, Arthur Cline, Phoenician Ritual Sacrifices and Phoenician Religion, Sacrificing Innocent Children for the Sins of the Community in Phoenicia, Publication Date Unknown, Researched: Circa November 2013, Sisyphus, Hannibal Bacar's Wife, February 2012, Researched: Circa November 2013

© 2013 Irma Cowthern


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    • ponder profile imageAUTHOR

      Irma Cowthern 

      4 years ago from Los Angeles,CA

      Thank you so much for the wonderful advice....


    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Dear Ponder -

      I love history, so I loved your Hub and all the pictures and visuals. I greatly appreciate that you provided links to your sources. Very impressive, especially to me because I am a historian and teach on the university level.

      Now, some constructive criticism...because I want you to be successful and enjoy HP like I do. (1) Your Hub is way too long for the average HP reader--most of whom have an hour and they are trying to read and respond to 8-12 hubs. I sympathize as I tend to write longish pieces, but still you could have broken this into 3 -5 shorter hubs, with slightly different titles. Then post them about a week apart.

      (2) The best way to get known is by following people whose writing you like, and by making generous comments on their work. Most will eventually reciprocate. But be wise in your choices, for example, when you posted the first (of four) hubs on Hannibal, you should have found and read and commented on twenty different history hubs. Some of those individuals will probably comment on your work.

      (3) It also helps to have a niche or 2 or 3. Your hubs seem to be all over the place, which is fine once you are well established, but at the beginning, not so good. Pick a few areas you want to write about and get busy making connections with other people who write on the same or similar topics.

      Good luck. Let me know if you have questions. Theresa


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