Hannibal Barca is remembered for his ability to incite fear and out-think his opponents.
The greatest military leader was born in Carthage (now Tunisia) in 247 BC to Hamilcar Barca, the great general of the First Punic War (264-241 BCE).
Hannibal would later become the Carthaginian general during the Second Punic War.
These wars were fought between the cities of Carthage in North Africa and Rome in northern Italy for supremacy of the Mediterranean region.
When Hannibal’s father died, he assumed command of the army at the age of 26. He had, at a young age of nine, escorted his father to Spain, where he promised him that he would never be a friend to Rome.
In 218 BCE, Hannibal decided to bring the fight to the Romans and invade northern Italy by crossing the mountain range of the Alps.
The crossing of the Alps, according to history, was one of his significant achievements. Knowing that the journey would be difficult, Hannibal planned ahead by having scouts report to him on particular conditions.
On his way, he portrayed himself as a liberator freeing the people of Spain from Roman control just to be able to win people to his side.
By the time he reached the Alps, his army had increased with new recruits – 50,000 infantry and 9,000 cavalries.
Hannibal also had with him about 40 war elephants which he was going to use to terrorise the Roman army and their cavalry.
During their ascent of the Alps, Hannibal lost several of his troops as they had to battle not only the weather but attacks from hostile tribes who lived in the mountains.
By the time they reached the other side, Hannibal’s army had been reduced to about 26,000 men in total and a few elephants.
Still determined to get victory, Hannibal led his men down onto the plains of Italy.
As they arrived in Italy, Hannibal used the same strategy of presenting himself as a liberator to get a number of cities to side with him against Rome. His army joined these people who had now formed anti-Roman forces in northern Italy and the main assault on the Romans began.
Through this, Hannibal was able to destroy many areas in the Italian countryside and he won several significant battles as well, including the Cannae, Trasimene and Trebbia.
He had other strategies to keep himself from being assassinated by hired killers sent by the Romans or spies in his camp.
As Polybius puts it: Hannibal “had a set of wigs made, each of which made him look like a man of a different age. He changed these constantly, each time changing his apparel to match his appearance. Thus he was hard to recognize, not just by those who saw him briefly, but even by those who knew him well.”
Hannibal was eventually defeated at the Battle of Zama in 202 BCE by Scipio Africanus (236-183 BCE) and retired from service to Carthage. This brought an end to the Second Punic War.
He spent the rest of his life as a statesman and then in voluntary exile at the courts of foreign kings.
In 183 BCE, Hannibal in his 60s killed himself by drinking poison to avoid capture by the Romans.
Till date, Hannibal’s journey through the Alps is described as one of the greatest achievements of ancient warfare.
Even though he lost several of his troops and animals, he was still determined to make the journey, showing the strength of a leader who was on course to do anything at all to defeat the enemy.