Many historians aver that Hannibal was the most unselfish of all ancient leaders, being more concerned about his culture than individual glory or his family. The legend of Hannibal lives on in the modern world and his crossing of the Alps remains one of the most storied feats in modern history. Hannibal is still studied in military academies around the world along with Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Erwin Rommel, Napoleon Bonaparte and Fredrick the Great. General Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of the coalition forces in the First Gulf War, said that the principles he used in the war were applied in Hannibal’s time too.
Finally, after years of waging war against the Romans, Hannibal escaped from the battlefield at Zama after he had done everything he could. This was the first time he ever left a battlefield in defeat. He now had to decide on his future course of action. He knew that he could be a valuable leader in Carthage even after his days as a commander were over. He could help Carthage negotiate the terms of surrender with Scipio and Rome and help rebuild Carthage. Rome was now dictating the peace terms which required Carthage to destroy its navy and surrender all its war elephants.
From 202 BC to 195BC, Hannibal served his country in various ways but he was aware of his many enemies in Carthage. He played a valuable role in restraining the warmongers in Carthage, mostly old men who could not accept that they had lost to Rome and wanted to wage war to the last soldier.
However, the Roman senator Cato was consistently stirring up suspicions about the danger of Hannibal rising again and Hannibal’s well wisher in Rome, Scipio, was no longer powerful enough to keep the warmongers, who were clamouring for Hannibal’s head, at bay. Hannibal now believed that his enemies in Carthage were powerful enough to sell him out. He had the choice of remaining in Carthage and being captured by the Romans or fleeing.
He sailed for Tyre with his family, worried more about the future of his beloved Carthage than about the fate of his loved ones. He went to Antiochus III, king of Seleucia, ruler of an empire of what is now Syria who put Hannibal in charge of his navy. When the Romans defeated Antiochus in the battle of Magnesia in 190 BC, Hannibal fled to Crete where he settled in a villa with his family. Then Prusias, the ruler of a country named Bithynia in Asia Minor, asked Hannibal to help him fight a war against Rome.
Prusias fought the Romans from 187 BC to 183 BC and then surrendered. The terms of his surrender required him to hand over Hannibal to the Romans so that they could take their prized trophy back to Rome.
When Hannibal saw that Roman guards had surrounded his villa, he knew that there was no escape. He would not be paraded through the streets of Rome in mock triumph. He chose to swallow poison. His last words were, “Let us now put an end to the life that has caused the Romans so much anxiety”.
Rome erupted in celebrations on the news of his death while much of Carthage mourned. Hannibal was 64 years old.
Thirty seven years after the death of Hannibal, Carthage was wiped from the face of the earth in the Third Punic war (149-146 BC). The city was under siege for three years and was burned to the ground by fires that lasted 17 days. Its massive city walls were completely destroyed and every trace of civilisation was buried. The jewel of the Mediterranean was pulverised. Legend has it that Romans even scattered salt around the city walls so that nothing would grow there again.
Historians say that Rome tried to destroy the very idea of Carthage. However, they could not decimate the legend of Hannibal.
For historians, the movies and military strategists, the story of Hannibal will fascinate for eternity.
References Hannibal by Clifford W Mills