Hannibal was a Carthaginian general who fought against the Roman Republic during the Second Punic War (219 B.C.E. to 203 B.C.E.).


5 - 8


Anthropology, Archaeology, Social Studies, World History


Carthage Merchants

This illustration depicts merchants in Carthage doing a lively business buying and selling wine, pottery glass trinkets, and precious metals.

National Geographic Creative
This illustration depicts merchants in Carthage doing a lively business buying and selling wine, pottery glass trinkets, and precious metals.

Hannibal was born in 247 B.C.E. in Carthage, a powerful city in North Africa that was a threat to the Roman Republic in the Mediterranean. Hannibal’s father, a Carthaginian general, made his son swear everlasting hostility to Rome. Hannibal kept his oath and devoted his life to defeating Rome.

A successful officer in Carthage’s army, Hannibal was proclaimed its leader when he was only 26. In 219 B.C.E., Hannibal led his army to attack Saguntum, a city in the middle of the eastern Spanish coast. Saguntum, however, was an ally of Rome, so Hannibal’s attack and siege on the city led Roman Senate to declare war on Carthage.

Hannibal’s physical bravery and outstanding leadership skills created great loyalty among his troops. He assembled a massive army of 90,000 foot soldiers, a cavalry of 12,000, and at least 37 war elephants to march on Rome. Roman armies blocked the coastal route to Rome. Hannibal, determined to succeed, decided to march his men and elephants over the Alps in an amazing military campaign. The trip was difficult, and Hannibal lost many troops, as well as some elephants. Nevertheless, Hannibal’s army penetrated the Italian peninsula and advanced slowly on Rome, spending the next 15 years fighting with Roman armies before having to retreat to Carthage.

After Hannibal’s retreat, Rome and Carthage engaged in a final battle, known as the Battle of Zama in 202 B.C.E. It was a decisive Roman victory and soon after, Carthage sued for peace. The terms of the peace negatively affected Carthaginians. They permanently lost their overseas empire and were also forced to surrender their fleet. Hannibal was very unhappy with this and strongly resented Rome. Hannibal spent the next few years participating in politics but ended up fleeing Carthage because his opponents denounced him to Rome for violating the terms of their peace treaty. Facing capture by the Roman army, Hannibal took his own life around 183 B.C.E.

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National Geographic Society
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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