Was Hannibal’s Defeat Inevitable?

It probably was given the way he chose to conduct the war. Hannibal was spectacularly successful during the first two years of the Second Punic War, then he became ineffective. Why? Because the Romans having been burned several times finally got smart, and, under the leadership of Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucossus Cunctator, they largely stopped fighting Hannibal on his own terms and the war became one of attrition. They directed their energies at clawing back those territories and cities that went over to Hannibal’s side after the Battle of Cannae. Hannibal was simply spread too thin to protect them all, and most of them decided that it would be better to come back to the Roman fold rather than be destroyed by the Romans as Capua and Tarentum were. By 206 B.C. Hannibal was only holding onto a small area in Bruttium. An attempt by his brother, Hasdrubal, to bring an army of Reinforcements across the Alps and join him failed when the Roman brought him to battle at the Metaurus river in 207 B.C. and killed him and destroyed his army. His other brother, Mago, invaded northern Italy by ship in 205 B.C. and captured the city of Genoa. But the Romans controlled the passes to the south and he was never able to join up with Hannibal.

Military historians universally acknowledge that Hannibal was a brilliant general, but it takes more than one brilliant general to win a war, and the rest of the Carthaginian generals were less than brilliant. Eventually the Romans developed a brilliant general of their own, Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, who conquered Spain from the Carthaginians and went on to defeat Hannibal at the Battle of Zama in 202 B.C.

What could Hannibal have done to actually win the war? Rather than take his army across the Alps and lose fully half of his 70,000 men, perhaps he should have stayed in Spain and let the Romans come to him. he would have had 100,000 troops and all of the resources of southern Spain at his disposal. He would have very likely totally annihilated any legions the Romans sent against him. Once he thoroughly bloodied the Romans’ noses he could have built a fleet and conquered Corsica, Sardinia and, perhaps Phoenician Sicily. Having done that he might have made an alliance with one of the cities of Magna Graecia and persuaded them to allow him to use their harbor to land his forces for an invasion of Italy.

The Romans would not have been easy to conquer but I think that if Hannibal had taken this course the outcome of the war would have been much more in his favor.

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