Hannibal Barca and Phoenician Carthage


The god Baal Hammon

The Punic Wars


Although his name wasn’t directly associated with it, Hannibal was a faithful worshipper of Melqart. The Carthaginian Cronus, Baal Hammon according to Greek and Latin sources required offerings of children by fire in the Phoenician colony. Many including Plutarch mention burning of children as an offering to Cronus or Saturn, that is to Phoenician Baal Hammon—the chief god of Carthage.

Plutarch writes: “…but with full knowledge and understanding they themselves offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds; meanwhile the mother stood by without a tear or moan; but should she utter a single moan or let fall a single tear, she had to forfeit the money, and her child was sacrificed nevertheless; and the whole area before the statue was filled with a loud noise of flutes and drums that the cries of wailing should not reach the ears of people.”

Hannibal Barca

He is a man who should be associated, perhaps, with the war elephants which he used against Rome. They must have been terrified. It would be a praise to both Hannibal, and to elephants. Shortly after the start of the Second Punic War, Hannibal crossed into Italy by traversing the Pyrenees and the Alps during summer and early autumn of 218 BC. He quickly won major victories over the Romans at Trebia and Lake Trasimene. At this time the Romans appointed a dictator to handle the threat. When he came to the end of his term, however, the Senate did not renew his dictatorial powers and command was given to two consuls instead. In 216 BC when elections continued, Varro and Paullus were installed as consuls and placed in command of a newly raised army of unprecedented size.

In the spring of 216 BC took the initiative and seized the large supply depot at Cannae, placing himself between the Romans and their crucial source of supply. The Roman consuls, resolving to confront Hannibal, marched southward in search of him. Varro, in command on the first day, is presented by contemporary sources as a man of reckless nature and hubris, who was determined to defeat Hannibal.

While the Romans were approaching Cannae some of Hannibal’s light infantry and cavalry ambushed them. Varro repelled the attack and continued slowly on his way to Cannae. This victory may have bolstered the confidence of the Roman army; perhaps leading to overconfidence on Varro’s part.

Paullus, however, was opposed to the engagement as it was taking shape. Unlike Varro, he was prudent and cautious, and he believed it was foolish to fight on open ground, despite the Roman’s numerical strength. Hannibal held the advantage in cavalry, both quantity and quality. According to Polybius, Hannibal’s cavalry boldly rode up to the edge of the Roman encampment, causing havoc and thoroughly disrupting the supply of water to the Roman camp.

The Battle of Cannae

Took place in 216 BC during the second Punic War, in Apulia which is located in southeast Italy. The army of Carthage, under command of Hannibal, surrounded and decisively defeated a larger army of the Roman Republic under the consuls Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro. It is regarded both as one of the greatest tactical feats in military history and as one of the worst defeats in Roman history. Carthage was allied with Numidian, Spanish, and Gallic tribes. Hannibal and his brother Hasdrubal commanded about 50,000 men, to Varo and Paullus’s roughly 86,400 men. Having recovered from their losses at Trebia (218 BC) and Lake Trasimene (217 BC), the Romans decided to engage Hannibal at Cannae. Hannibal used the double envelopment tactic and surrounded his enemy. The loss of life on the Roman side was one of the most lethal single day’s fighting in history. Following the defeat, Capua and several other Italian city-states defected from the Roman Empire to Carthage. Gripped in panic, when news reached Rome buried four people alive in tribute to their gods. In order to raise two new legions, the authorities lowered the draft age and enlisted criminals, debtors and even slaves. With grim determination the Romans fought for 14 more years until they achieved victory at the Battle of Zama. In modern times Cannae has developed a kind of mythic quality, and is often used to describe a perfect defeat of an enemy in battle.

On the morning of the battle, as the forces drew up, a Carthaginian officer named Gisgo reportedly remarked to Hannibal that the size of the Roman army was astonishing. “There is one thing, Gisgo, yet more astonishing,” Hannibal cooly replied, “which you take no notice of.” He then explained, “In all those great numbers before us, there is not one man called Gisgo”, provoking laughter that spread through the Carthaginian ranks. The uniting factor for the Carthaginian army was the personal tie each group had with Hannibal.

Varro knew how the Roman infantry had managed to penetrate Hannibal’s center at Trebia, and he planned to recreate this on a an even greater scale. The ‘principes’ were stationed immediately behind the ‘hastati,’ ready to push forward at first contact to ensure the Romans presented a unified front. Even though they outnumbered the Carthaginians, this depth-oriented deployment meant that the Romans lines had a front of roughly equal size to their numerically inferior opponents.

Hasdrubal led the Spanish and Gallic cavalry on the left, and by placing the flank of his army on the Aufidus, his brother Hannibal prevented this flank from being overlapped by the more numerous Romans. Hasdrubal was given about 6,500 cavalry, and Hanno had about 3,500 Numidians on the right.

The Romans were in front of the hill leading to Cannae and hemmed in on their right flank by the river Aufidus, so that their left flank was the only viable means of retreat. In addition, the Carthaginian forces had maneuvered so that the Romans would face East. Not only would the morning sun shine low into the Roman’s eyes, but the southeasterly winds would blow sand into their faces as they approached the battlefield. Hannibal’s deployment of his army, based on his perception of the terrain and understanding of the capabilities of his troops, proved decisive.

As the Roman heavy infantry attacked Hannibal stood with his men in the weak center and held them together in a controlled retreat. The crescent of Hispanic and Gallic troops buckled inward as they gradually withdrew step by step. Knowing the superiority of the Roman infantry, Hannibal had instructed his infantry to withdraw deliberately, creating an even tighter semi-circle around the attacking Roman forces. By doing so, he had turned the strength of the Roman infantry into a weakness. This also gave the Carthaginian cavalry time to drive the Roman cavalry off on both flanks and attack the Roman center in the rear.

The Roman infantry now stripped of protection on both its flanks formed a wedge that drove deeper and deeper into the Carthaginian semi-circle, driving itself into an alley formed by the African infantry on the wings. At this decisive point Hannibal ordered his African infantry to turn inwards and advance against the Roman flanks, creating an encirclement in one of the earliest known examples of a ‘pincer movement.’


For a brief period the Romans were in complete disarray. Their best armies in the peninsula were destroyed, the few remnants severely demoralized, and the only remaining consul, Varro, was no completely discredited.

Philip V of Macedon pledged his support to Hannibal following the Carthaginian victory. Within these three campaign seasons Rome had lost one-fifth of the entire population of male citizens over 17 years of age. Most of southern Italy joined Hannibal’s cause after Cannae.

“Before that fateful day, their loyalty remained unshaken, now it began to waver for the simple reason that they despaired of Roman power…” noted the Historian Livy. That same year the the Greek cities in Sicily were induced to revolt against Roman political control, while the Macedonian King Philip V, pledged his support to Hannibal initiating the First Macedonian Wars against Rome.

The battle of Zama

Occurred in 202 BC, in ‘Zama’ or Tunisia, marked the end of the Second Punic War. A Roman army led by Scipio Africanus, with crucial support from the Numidians, defeated the Carthaginian army led by Hannibal Barca. This battle resulted in a decisive victory for Rome.

The Carthaginians broke the armistice with Rome. Confident in Hannibal’s forces, they recalled their great general out of Italy while under peace terms negotiated by Scipio Africanus. Scipio and Hannibal confronted each other near Zama Regia. Hannibal had 36,000 infantry to Scipio’s 29,000.

Hannibal also employed 80 war elephants. The elephants opened the battle by charging the main Roman army. Defeated on their home ground the Carthaginian ruling elite sued for peace and accepted humiliating terms, ending the 17 year war.

Scipio’s soldiers avoided the elephants by opening their ranks, driving them off with missiles.

The Roman and Numidian cavalry subsequently defeated the Carthaginian cavalry and chased them from the battlefield.

Hannibal’s first line of mercenaries attacked Scipio’s infantry and were defeated.

The second line of citizen levies and the mercenary’s remnant assaulted and inflicted heavy losses on the Roman first line.

The Roman second line joined the struggle and pushed back the Carthaginian assault. Hannibal’s third line of veterans, reinforced by the citizen levies and mercenaries, faced off against the Roman army which had been redeployed into a single line.

The combat was fierce and evenly matched. Scipio’s cavalry finally returned to the battle and attacked Hannibal’s army from the rear, routing and destroying it.

The terms Carthage acceded to were so punishing that it was never able to challenge Rome for supremacy of the Mediterranean again. The treaty bankrupted Carthage and destroyed any chance of its being a military power in the future. However, it’s economic recovery was quick, and when Rome waged war on Carthage again about 50 years later they had little power and could not defeat the by-then very aged Masinissa in Africa.

After an extended siege their home city was captured and completely destroyed in 146 BC.

Scipio had ordered his cavalrymen to blow loud horns to frighten the beasts, and several rampaging elephants turned toward the Carthaginian left wing and disordered it completely.

Seizing this opportunity Masinissa led his Numidian cavalry and charged the Carthaginian left wing, which was ‘also’ composed of Numidian cavalry, and was unknowingly lured off the battlefield.

Meanwhile the elephants were carefully lured through the lanes and were funneled to the rear of the Roman army, where they were dealt with…

Scipio’s plan to neutralize the threat of the war elephants had worked. His troops then fell back into traditional Roman battle formation. Laelius, the commander of the Roman left wing charged against the Carthaginian right.

The Carthaginian cavalry, under instruction of Hannibal, allowed the Roman cavalry to chase them in order to lure them away from the battlefield so that they wouldn’t attack the Carthaginian armies in the rear.

Scipio now marched with his center towards the Carthaginian center, and Hannibal then moved forward in two lines, and a third line of veterans were kept in reserve.

After a close contest, his first line was pushed back by the Roman ‘hastati’. Hannibal now charged with his second line where a furious struggle ensued and the Roman ‘hastati’ were pushed back with heavy losses. Scipio reinforced the ‘hastati’ with the second-line ‘principes.’


The son of Enlil and Ninlil, along with siblings Nanna and Ninurta, Nergal was a god of war, plague, and death. There are relief carvings of Nergal as far forward as the first or second century AD from Hatra in Iraq, preserved in modern times.

According to the Talmudists his emblem was a cockerel and Nergal means a “dunghill cock.”’ He is also pictured as a lion.

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