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Facts About Ancient Military Genius Hannibal Barca, Rome's Greatest Adversary

Updated May 21, 2021 15.5k views13 items

If you've heard of General Hannibal (247-183 BCE), you're probably thinking of the guy who rode several elephants into Italy, and that would be correct. In reality, though, there's more to Hannibal Barca's life story than his fabled crossing of the Alps with war elephants. This general made it a habit of outright embarrassing the Roman Army, defeating them by a landslide 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 team was nearly unstoppable, unparalleled in the ancient world. He was the General of all the teams 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 strong willed, 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.

  • Photo: Barosaurus Lentus / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

    Hannibal's Father 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 battles over Sicily. Hamilcar was then in poor spirits when he returned home to his young son Hannibal.

    Hamilcar saw in young Hannibal what many fathers see in their sons: an opportunity to get revenge on his enemies. He raised Hannibal to be both a great general and the sworn enemy of Rome.

  • Photo: Benjamin West / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    As A Child, Hannibal Swore An Oath To Never Be A Friend To Rome

    After the First Punic War (264-241 BCE), Hamilcar Barca wasn't ready 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 just a young fellow who begged his dad to go to work with him. Hamilcar obliged, and a young 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.

  • 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 was slain in battle and shortly after the killing of General Hasdrubal (his brother-in-law), Hannibal was named the leader of the Carthaginian army. 

    Although he was young, Hannibal was well-respected by his army. He is known for having a relatively peaceful tenure, as the varied group of men he led never attempted to overthrow him. He was also kind to the animals, like elephants and horses, that he used in battle.


  • 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 bothering the enemy in the opening salvos of battle.