Why did Hannibal not Besiege and Conquer Rome after his Victory at Cannae.

After the battle of Cannae one would have thought that Hannibal had Rome on the ropes. It is believed that one in five Roman or allied men of military age died at Cannae, Trasimene or Trebia.

The story goes that Hannibal’s cavalry chief, Maharbal offered to take his cavalry to Rome and besiege the city, saying that he would meet Hannibal there in five days. When Hannibal rejected the suggestion he said “So the gods don’t grant all gifts to one man! You know very well how to win a battle, Hannibal, but you don’t know how to use your win!”

However. Hannibal had had some experience at sieges, and realized that there would be some significant logistical problems. The Siege of Saguntum had lasted eight months and Hannibal had had siege machines and he could draw upon all the resources of southern Spain to sustain his army. He had had a hundred thousand soldiers at his command.

How long would a siege of Rome have lasted? How many of his remaining forty thousand soldiers would have died in the attempt? How would he have fed these forces in hostile territory for the months a siege might take? It is believed that Hannibal’s army was running out of food before Cannae and he would have to place his army in an area with abundant food and a friendly populace. This is why he made a treaty with the leaders of Capua.

It was the general custom in the ancient war that when a city suffered such great loss in battle as the Romans had at Cannae, they would sue for peace, and Hannibal expected the Romans to do that. He sent his deputy Carthalo to Rome to offer peace terms. The Romans wouldn’t even let him into the city. Hannibal must have known that Rome would now be governed by Quintus Fabius Maximus, the wily dictator who had confounded him during the months after the battle of Trasimene and that Fabius would take measures to starve Hannibal’s troops out and refuse battle on Hannibal’s terms.

Weighing the logistical problems of a siege of Rome, Hannibal decided against it, and instead, sought to make alliances with Capua, and the Greek cites of southern Italy, as well as the natives tribes such as the Samnites, Lucanians, Apulians and Marsi. This way he was able to deprive the Romans of part of their pool of manpower and keep his army fed. Unfortunately for him, none of the towns of Latium were willing to ally with him, so the Romans still had substantial manpower resources to rely upon.

Under Fabius’ leadership the war became one of attrition and the Romans generally shied away from confronting Hannibal directly on the field (there were still some disastrous battles to come, however). Gradually the Romans clawed back Hannibal’s territorial gains and, by 206 B.C. Hannibal found himself confined to a small territory in Bruttium. The Romans conquered Capua by siege and Tarentum and Arpi by ruses. Rome went on the offensive in Spain and later in North Africa under the leadership of Publius Cornelius Scipio. Hannibal was called back to North Africa to defend Carthage. By this time he had a much depleted army and Scipio defeated him at the Battle of Zama in 202 B.C.

I don’t believe that, under the circumstance, a siege of Rome after Cannae would have been successful. I think that Hannibal might have forced Rome into a stalemate if he had received substantially more troops and material assistance from Carthage in the two years that followed, but the Carthaginians were more interested in keeping their investments and silver mines in Spain. In the end they lost both Spain and Hannibal’s sphere of influence in Italy.

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