Weird History Facts About Ancient Military Genius Hannibal Barca You Didn't Learn In School  

Christopher Myers
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If you've heard of General Hannibal (247-181 BCE), you're probably thinking of the guy who rode a bunch of elephants into Italy, and you'd be correct in envisioning this. In reality, though, there's so much more to Hannibal Barca's life story than his fabled crossing of the Alps with war elephants. This guy made it a habit of outright embarrassing the Roman Army, wiping the floor with them on multiple occasions. It wasn't until Rome drew upon the skills of another name from the list of notable generals—Scipio Aemilianus Africanus (AKA Scipio Africanus the Younger)—that they were finally able to defeat Hannibal.

Hannibal Barca's army was nearly unstoppable, unparalleled in the ancient world. He was the General of all the armies of the ancient Punic Empire, the capital of which, Carthage, rivaled Rome in strength and influence. The Carthaginian Army was augmented by barbarian tribes that Hannibal had enlisted to help in his fight against Rome.

Hannibal himself was the definition of toughness, and these lesser-known Hannibal Barca facts prove it. The timeline of Hannibal's life, from his early days to his ultimate defeat, tells the story of a man with a single purpose: to destroy the Roman Empire. None would ever come so close to achieving that goal as Hannibal—that is, until the breakup of Rome hundreds of years later.

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Photo: Barosaurus Lentus/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

Hannibal's Dad Was Undefeated In Battle

As a General during the first Punic War, Hamilcar Barca, Hannibal's father who was also known as "Barcas," fought on the side of Carthage against Rome in the 240s BCE. Though he never lost a land battle himself, ultimately, Carthage lost the war over Sicily. Hamilcar was understandably in poor spirits when he returned home to six-year-old Hannibal.

Hamilcar saw in young Hannibal what every loving father sees in his son: an opportunity to get revenge on his enemies. He raised Hannibal to be both a great general and the sworn enemy of Rome.

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Photo:  William Robert Shepherd/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

As A Child, Hannibal Moved To Spain

After the First Punic War (264-241 BCE), Hamilcar Barca wasn't about to give up just because Carthage surrendered. The crux of his plan was to take his troops over to Spain where Carthage had well-established colonies. Once there, he would draw upon Spanish manpower to build a new army capable of destroying Rome.

Hanibal was nine years old at the time, and the cute, little fellow begged his dad to go to work with him. Hamilcar obliged, and little Hannibal was off to war – but allegedly not before he swore over an altar in the temple of Baal that he would always be the enemy of Rome. Spending his remaining childhood in Spain, Hannibal became as Spanish as he was Carthaginian, if not more so.

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Photo: Heinrich Leutemann/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Hannibal Was Appointed General By His Soldiers

At the age of 25, five years after his father Hamilcar died in battle and shortly after the assassination of General Hasdrubal (his brother-in-law), Hannibal was named Supreme Military Commander of Carthage by the army. The appointment was quickly ratified by the civilian authorities in Carthage.

In Hannibal, the soldiers saw the image of a young Hamilcar. He was a soldier's soldier, one who had trained and fought with them for years. Throughout his time as General, Hannibal never put on airs and lived in the same conditions as his troops. He was known to be the first into battle and the last to leave it.

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Photo: Johnny Shumate/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Balearic Slingers Were Preferred Over Archers In Hannibal's Army

The sling is the weapon that David used to slay Goliath. It is basically a rope that was used to hurl a rock at enemies. The most skilled ancient slingers were more accurate and had greater range than their archer counterparts, making them an important part of any ancient army. Hannibal, in particular, used them to great effect in his battles against the Romans.

The most skilled slingers in the ancient world were from the Balearic Islands in the western Mediterranean. Trained from childhood, Balearic slingers wore a spare sling as a headband, carried a pouch of missiles on their side, and utilized three different sizes of slings for different ranges.

When Hannibal marched on Italy, he brought 1,000 of these Balearic slingers with him. They were used at the outset of battle as skirmishers. Having greater range than their Roman archer counterparts, they proved more effective at harassing the enemy in the opening salvos of battle.