Second Punic War

The Second Punic War was fought between Carthage and Rome from 218 to 202 BC. It was the second of three major wars fought between the Phoenician colony of Carthage, and the Roman Republic, then still confined to the Italian Peninsula. They were called "Punic" Wars because Rome's name for Carthaginians was Punici (older Poenici, due to their Phoenician ancestry).



After Carthage lost its holdings in Sicily to Rome in the First Punic War, Carthage moved to compensate for the loss by extending her territory in Hispania (the ancient Roman name for modern Spain and Portugal). This was begun by Hamilcar Barca, and continued by his son-in-law Hasdrubal and then his son Hannibal, meaning "Beloved of Baal". According to Roman tradition, Hannibal had sworn hatred to Rome, and he certainly did not take a conciliatory attitude when the Romans berated him for crossing the river Iberus (Ebro), which Carthage was, by treaty, required to stay south of. The truth to fairer historians, however, is that Hannibal swore at the alter to Ba'al "never to be friend to Rome" (according to the more objective Polybius), and feel that "Barcid Rage" is mere post-war Roman opinion. Hannibal did not cross the Ebro River (Saguntum was near modern Valencia - well south of the Ebro River) in arms, and the Saguntines provoked his attack by attacking their neighboring tribes who were Carthaginian protectorates, and by massacring pro-Punic factions in their city. Rome had no legal protection pact with any tribe south of the Ebro River. Nonetheless, when asked to hand Hannibal over, the Carthiginian senate promptly refused and so Rome declared war on Carthage.

The war in Italy

Battles of the second Punic war
Battles of the second Punic war
Hannibal took a combined army of 40,000 North Africans and Iberians across southern France and crossed the Alps over the winter. His invasion of Italia (Italy) came as a surprise to the Romans, for he had constructed no fleet, and it was believed his army could not possibly make it through the mountains. Indeed, it sustained very heavy casualties, including all but three of his 37 war elephants. Nevertheless, that spring he came into North Italia with a still-formidable force of 26,000 men. The Romans tried to attack him while he was still unready, but he defeated them in a skirmish at the river Ticinus, and then again at the Battle of Trebia, where both the Roman consuls were killed along with a quarter of their forces. The Romans then retreated, leaving Hannibal in command of Northern Italia. His support from the Gallic tribes and Italian cities was not what he had hoped for, and many Roman landholders burned their estates to prevent Hannibal's army from plundering them (indirectly later giving rise to the latifundia). Despite this resistance, Hannibal was able to strengthen his army to a force of 50,000 men.

The next year the Romans elected Gaius Flaminius consul in hopes that he could defeat Hannibal. Flaminius set up an ambush at Arretium. However, Hannibal was warned of the attack and so by-passed the army, allowing him a free march on Rome. Flaminius had to pursue him, but the Roman forces were ambushed and utterly defeated at the Battle of Lake Trasimene. However Hannibal, despite the urgings of his generals, did not proceed to besiege Rome, as he lacked siege equipment and he had no supply base in central Italia. Instead he proceeded to the non-Italian south in hopes of stirring up rebellion.

Meanwhile the veteran Fabius Maximus had been appointed Roman dictator, and he decided that it would be best to avoid any further field battles. Instead, Fabius tried to cut off Hannibal's supplies by devastating the countryside and harassing his army. Such operations are now called Fabian tactics after him, and earned him the nickname of the Cunctator (delayer). Fabius' tactics were hated at Rome, and the following year he was replaced by two consuls who promised to end the war quickly. These consuls jointly fielded the largest Roman army ever, which met Hannibal at Cannae (216). The Romans outnumbered the Carthaginians 70,000 to about 50,000, but by allowing his center to retreat Hannibal was able to encircle their forces, and completely annihilated them. Only 16,000 Romans escaped.

The battle of Cannae led to some of the support Hannibal had hoped for. Over the next three years Capua, Syracuse, and Tarentum went over to his side. Philip V of Macedonia also allied with Hannibal in 217 BC, starting the First Macedonian War against Rome. Philip's fleet, however, was unable to stand up to Rome's, so he was never able to provide any direct help in Italy.

However, Rome had come to understand the wisdom of Fabius' delaying tactics. Fabius Maximus was reelected consul in 215 BC and 214 BC. For the rest of the war in Italy, Rome employed Fabian tactics, dividing their army into small forces at vital locations, and avoiding Carthaginian attempts to draw them into field battles.

The war in Iberia

While all this was happening, the Romans had carried the war into Iberia. Over the years Rome had gradually expanded along the coast until in 211 BC it captured Saguntum. This prevented Hasdrubal from sending his brother any aid and also diverted Carthaginian reinforcements away from Italia. That same year Rome recaptured Capua and Syracuse, the second falling after what was now a two-year siege, made famous by the defense engines made by Archimedes, who was killed in the sack of the city. However, Hasdrubal was able to defeat the Romans in battle and the two Roman commanders, brothers named Publius and Gnaeus Scipio, were killed. Even so Hasdrubal did not feel confident enough to expel the Roman army after his other losses.

Next year the Romans sent out Publius Scipio's son and namesake, Scipio Africanus Major with the authority of a consul even though he had not held any offices. Vowing to avenge his father and uncle, he proceeded directly to what was effectively the capital of Punic Iberia, Carthago Nova. It fell in 209 BC, and Hasdrubal was deprived of his main port. He then decided to aid Hannibal in Italia. He abandoned Iberia to some relatively weak garrisons and set out to repeat his brother's crossing of the Alps. It did not work. This time, the Romans anticipated the Carthaginian army's arrival, and had two legions waiting for it when it arrived. Hasdrubal was defeated and killed at the Battle of the Metaurus River (207). The first news Hannibal received that Hasdrubal had left Iberia came when his head was flung into his encampment by a Roman horseman.

The Carthaginian forces that remained in Iberia were defeated a few years later, at Ilipa (206), and Iberia became a Roman province. In that time Rome had recovered Tarentum, and thanks to continual attrition and lack of support Hannibal's army had been confined to the southernmost part of Italia. Macedonia had also withdrawn its support, feeling that the Carthaginian defeat was now only a matter of time.

The attack on Carthage

Scipio returned to Rome a great hero, and, although he was technically ineligible, was elected consul in 205 BC. He resolved to end the war by attacking Carthage itself, and appealed directly to the Centuriate Assembly when he found the senate opposed this. Thus he was given command of the two legions in Sicily, plus 7,000 volunteers he had recruited, and the next year brought the war to North Africa when he landed at Utica, about twenty miles away from Carthage. Here he was counting on support from the Numidians, who resented Carthaginian control and so agreed to provide him with cavalry. Hannibal was recalled from Italia, and had to leave behind the Iberian and Gallic contingents that made up about two-thirds of his army. After the loss of Capua he had begun to lose influence, but he was still able to break off peace talks, and Scipio met him at Zama in 202 BC. The two men are said to have met face-to-face before the battle. Hannibal reminded Scipio of fate's role in the war, and how lenient Hannibal was to Rome when it was on the brink of destruction. Scipio replied that chance played a role in every decision every day, and would not give peace without battle. In the ensuing conflict, the infantry were evenly matched, and neither side was able to out-general the other. The Numidian cavalry chased the Carthaginian horsemen away from the battle. It is possible that Hannibal wanted this to occur in order to have to fight only an infantry battle. However, the Numidians did not give enough chase to completely leave and were able to attack Hannibal's infantry from the rear. For this victory Scipio became known as Scipio Africanus. Carthage immediately sued for peace.


Iberia was lost to Carthage forever, and she was reduced to a client state. A war indemnity of 10,000 talents was imposed, her navy was limited to 10 ships to ward off pirates, and she was forbidden from raising an army without Rome's permission. Numidia took the opportunity to capture and plunder Carthaginian territory. Half a century later, when Carthage raised an army to defend itself from these incursions, it was destroyed by Rome in the Third Punic War.

Hannibal survived the battle of Zama and continued to enjoy a leadership role in Carthage even after the end of the war. In 195 BC, after he was denounced to the Romans for plotting an attack with the help of the Seleucid king, Antiochus III, Hannibal fled to Antiochus's court in Syria. When Scipio was sent to meet with Antiochus in Ephesus, he talked to Hannibal, asking him to name the greatest general of all time. Hannibal said, "Alexander the Macedonian." Scipio then asked him who was the second. "Pyrrhus of Epirus," said Hannibal. Perhaps annoyed that Hannibal had not mentioned Scipio's name yet, Scipio pressed on and asked Hannibal who was the third. Hannibal said, "Myself." Scipio finally asked what would have happened if Hannibal had beaten him at the battle of Zama, and Hannibal said, "Then I would be the greatest general of all time." Rome feared Hannibal until the day he died, which was probably unwarranted. However, together with Philip of Macedonia's attack on Italia, Hannibal's presence in the East contributed to Roman suspicion of the Hellenistic kingdoms.

List of battles


es:Segunda Guerra Pnica fr:Deuxime guerre punique it:Seconda guerra punica nl:Tweede Punische Oorlog pl:Druga wojna punicka pt:Segunda guerra pnica sv:Andra puniska kriget zh:第二次布匿战争


  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (
    • Architecture (
    • Cultures (
    • Music (
    • Musical Instruments (
  • Biographies (
  • Clipart (
  • Geography (
    • Countries of the World (
    • Maps (
    • Flags (
    • Continents (
  • History (
    • Ancient Civilizations (
    • Industrial Revolution (
    • Middle Ages (
    • Prehistory (
    • Renaissance (
    • Timelines (
    • United States (
    • Wars (
    • World History (
  • Human Body (
  • Mathematics (
  • Reference (
  • Science (
    • Animals (
    • Aviation (
    • Dinosaurs (
    • Earth (
    • Inventions (
    • Physical Science (
    • Plants (
    • Scientists (
  • Social Studies (
    • Anthropology (
    • Economics (
    • Government (
    • Religion (
    • Holidays (
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (
    • Planets (
  • Sports (
  • Timelines (
  • Weather (
  • US States (


  • Home Page (
  • Contact Us (

  • Clip Art (
Personal tools