Quora Question: What did Hannibal Think of the Romans

Hannibal was indoctrinated by his father, Hamilcar Barca, to hate the Romans. There is a story that, before taking Hannibal with him to Spain, Hamilcar took him to the Temple of Elissa at Carthage and made him swear an oath:

“When I come to age, I shall pursue the Romans with fire and sword and enact again the doom of Troy. The Gods shall not stop my career, nor the treaty that bars the sword, neither the lofty alps, nor the Tarpeian Rock. I swear to this purpose by the divinity of our native god of war, and by the shade of Elissa.”-From Punica, book 1, by Silius Italicus.

I doubt that the oath was quite this dramatic, but he did mention in later years to King Antiochus the Third, that he had sworn an oath to his father that he would never be a friend to the Romans.

Hannibal considered the Romans to be ruthless and greedy and he saw himself as a liberator in the non-Roman territories of Italy that he conquered. At the time when Hannibal crossed the Alps, the Romans were in the process of trying to conquer and subdue cis-alpine Gaul, and had recently set up Roman colonies at Placentia and Cremona. Hannibal exploited the friction between the Romans and the Gauls and recruited thousands of Gauls to his ranks. The Boii and the Insubrians, in particular allied themselves with Hannibal.

After the Battle of Cannae, Hannibal was able to alienate many of the tribes of southern Italy from Rome, as well as Rome’s ancient ally Capua and a number of the cities of Magna Graecia. When he captured non-Romans in battle, he treated them much better than captured Romans and usually sent them home without ransom, telling them to urge their countrymen to ally with him.

After several successful battles against the Romans, Hannibal probably thought that they were markedly inferior to him in military competence-they seemed to have no sense of strategy or maneuverability or flexibility. They were surprisingly easy to beat on the battle field.

Was Hannibal determined to destroy Rome? It appears not. After the battle of Cannae, where 55,000 Romans and their allies died on the battlefield, Hannibal sent an emissary to Rome with peace terms. He had no siege equipment and he realized that he could not maintain a siege in hostile territory for the time it would take to starve the city out. His men would have also starved. The Romans would have none of this, however. They wouldn’t even let the emissary enter the city. The Roman Senate made it a crime to even mention the word “peace.”

Hannibal clearly underestimated Roman resolve. After Cannae the Romans got smart and, under the leadership of Quintus Fabius Maximus they largely stopped fighting Hannibal on his terms. The war became one of attrition. Unwittingly, Hannibal also tutored the Romans in military science and the necessity for strategy, flexibility and maneuverability. His prime student was Publius Cornelius Scipio, who conquered Spain from the Carthaginians, and ultimately defeated Hannibal himself at the battle of Zama.

Hannibal and Scipio seem to have respected each other as fellow military geniuses. Hannibal never came to like or admire the Romans but he might have resigned himself to the status quo after the war and remained a businessman and politician in Carthage, but a combination of intrigue by his political rivals and Roman interference impelled him to leave Carthage and offer his services to Antiochus III of the Seleucid empire. After Antiochus was defeated by the Romans under Lucius Scipio at the Battle of Magnesia, one of the terms of the treaty was to surrender Hannibal, but Hannibal fled to Crete. His final abode was that the palace of King Prusius of Bithynia. The Roman proconsul Titus Quinctius Flamininus caught up with him and made King Prusius an offer he couldn’t refuse. Rather than be taken to Rome in chains, Hannibal committed suicide by ingesting a poison he kept in a ring.


  1. Kane Brolin says

    Have any Carthaginian documents written in their own language, or at least by their own scholars, been recovered in the last few decades? I get that the Romans eventually burned Carthage to the ground at the end of the third Punic War. But has a treasure trove of docs written from the point of view of Carthage been recovered from anywhere? Or are the Romans our only source of info about what that culture was like?

  2. Little or nothing in the way of literature survived Rome’s destruction of Carthage in 146 B.C. Cato the Elder did have Mago’s book On Agronomy preserved and translated into Latin because he had a strong interest in the subject and wrote his own treatises on the subject. This, however, has been lost over time. The only extant writings we have from Carthage are those carved into Stellae and grave markers. The Carthaginians used the Phoenician alphabet, and their spoken language was very similar to spoken Hebrew.
    Greeks as well as Romans left commentaries concerning Carthage, in fact, Plato expressed an admiration of their system of government, which was a republic.

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