Carthage, a historic city on the north coast of Africa, traditionally was founded in 814
Carthage, a historic city on the north coast of Africa, traditionally was founded in 814
The land and naval expeditionary forces of Carthage ranged widely in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, resulting in the occupation of Corsica, Spain, Sardinia, Sicily, and territories of North Africa. This first phase of Carthage’s expansionism (264-237
During the twenty-three years of the
The second phase of Carthaginian expansionism occurred from 237 to 202
The end of the First Punic War found Carthage without sufficient bullion to pay its mercenary army adequately, which revolted and attacked Carthage and its surrounding provinces. Hamilcar Barca was appointed by the Council of Elders to put down the revolt and moved quickly to defeat the rebellious mercenary forces. In the summer of 237
In late 218
However, the military achievements of Hannibal and Carthage came to a final end with his military defeat by Scipio Africanus at the Battle of
Battles of the Second Punic War, 218-202
The weapons, armor, and uniforms of Hannibal’s infantry reflected the rich diversity of its fighting soldiers. The famous African heavy infantry were formidable, tenacious, and highly trained fighters from northern and western Africa. They wore a variety of colorful uniforms and clothing and were heavily armed with long and short battle swords, bows and arrows, and lances, as well as an assortment of other exotic weapons, which they used with deadly efficiency in battle. The African heavy infantry, which proved itself at the Battle of Cannae (216
Hannibal recruited the courageous and tough-fighting
The heavy and light cavalry forces in Hannibal’s army were also a polyglot mixture of nationalities, races, and languages. The cavalry corps were Hannibal’s strategic strike force and implemented his orders on the battlefield with both precision and decisiveness. The elite heavy cavalry were composed of a small number of Carthaginians and Libya-Phoenicians, highly expert fighters on or off their battle horses and drilled in every conceivable cavalry maneuver. The Spanish heavy infantry comprised the bulk of Hannibal’s heavy cavalry force, and they dressed in helmet and mail armor and were armed with short and long lances, short swords, buckler-shields, and greaves (armor for the leg below the knee).
The magnificent light cavalry force comprised the
The battle-hardened Carthaginian army constantly changed its weapons systems, military uniforms, and body armor after each successful battle with the Romans. This exchange of military technology and weapons systems was an integral component of Hannibal’s war in Italy and proved decisive in allowing his forces to fight against Rome.
The military organization of the Carthaginian army stands unique in the history of the ancient world. Carthaginian leaders had decided early on that a standing professional army recruited from the general population of eligible men would ensure neither national security nor the worldwide advancement of Carthage’s foreign economic policy interests. After enduring a period during which Punic generals and admirals sought to control the state’s political policy, Carthage’s Council of Elders ruled that the recruitment of trained
The traditional military organization of the Carthaginian army was the Greek
The importance of decisive battlefield communications, rapid logistical support, accurate military intelligence, and sound battlefield leadership was constantly communicated to officers and soldiers. As the historical record indicates, Hannibal tried to maximize surprise and shock against the enemy, attacking the enemy in difficult geographical areas, making the enemy fight up hilly terrain, or driving the enemy cavalry from the field of battle in order to launch attacks against the remaining enemy on his front or rear. In this context, Hannibal developed and trained an effective corps of officers, known for their toughness, wisdom, bravado, and discipline.
The strategic political doctrine of the Carthaginian Empire was based both on satisfying its national security interests and on maintaining its worldwide commercial relations and trade routes. After the negative outcome of the
Hannibal’s army crosses the Rhone River in 218
For this reason, the Barcid clan reasoned that any future war with Rome would have to be fought in Italy, in order to break the wills of the Roman Senate and the Roman people. This position, advocated by Hannibal, argued that Carthage could prevent Rome from launching major invasions of Carthage, Spain, or other important overseas territories only by launching aggressive combat operations in the heart of the Roman state. The Barcid clan also reasoned that Carthaginian military land forces executing a major land war against Rome and contiguous territories could not expect military reinforcements from the sea while facing overwhelming Roman land armies. In this specific context, the Carthaginian forces would need to inflict serious manpower losses on the Roman army while minimizing their own losses until military reinforcements could arrive from either Carthage or Spain.
At a deeper level, Rome’s increasing land and naval power operations in the western Mediterranean region proved a challenge to Carthaginian military strategy. Carthage could no longer adequately control sea lanes for military and commercial purposes; transport troops to danger spots; supply, reinforce, or extradite troops from overseas bases; or protect Carthage and Africa from Roman raids and invasion. For the Punic military and naval planners, the lack of robust naval forces to deter the powerful Roman navy had a profound impact on subsequent strategic military planning and tactical operations.
The implementation of Carthage’s strategic military doctrine in the light of Rome’s military resources and manpower preponderance was not easy. Hannibal’s rise to power injected a new strategic dynamic factor, namely Hannibal’s military genius and leadership capabilities, into Roman and Carthaginian foreign security relations. On the ground, Hannibal’s offensively oriented strategy was based on the following principles: to win battlefield victories and encourage the defection or the neutrality of Rome’s allies and, if militarily decisive in battle, to force Rome to negotiate a compromise peace on Carthaginian terms.
On the battlefield, Hannibal’s operational doctrine was to execute the war against Rome using Rome’s own material resources, instead of those of Carthage. Hannibal’s decision to engage Rome in its own territory and use its resources was consistent with Punic strategic military doctrine against fighting wars of attrition. The objective was to fight a war for victory in Italy and, at the very least, to achieve a negotiated settlement, which would leave Carthage and its territories free of Rome. The implementation of this tactical doctrine required Hannibal to utilize a variety of military factors to engage, fight, and defeat the much larger and better-equipped Roman army in Italy for more than fifteen years. Among the tactics he employed were successful battlefield maneuvers, strategic and tactical surprise, psychological warfare, mastery of the geographical terrain, and military intelligence.
However, Hannibal’s war strategy was ultimately unsuccessful. Rome’s military manpower and preponderance of material resources, combined with its improved military generalship, very powerful battle fleets, and large land forces, proved strategically overwhelming. The direct result was the inevitable dissolution of the Carthaginian Empire.
Ab urbe condita libri (c. 26
A more modern work that provides an interesting analysis of the origins of the First and Second Punic Wars using ancient sources exclusively is B. D. Hoyos’s Unplanned Wars: The Origins of the First and Second Punic Wars (1997). Hoyos uses Roman historical writers such as Polybius, among others, to look deeply into the origins of the conflict between Carthage and Rome. The tightly argued historical analysis reexamines both ancient evidence and recent findings about the origins of the Punic Wars and the major personalities and events of the great struggle.
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