Hannibal betrayed by his own


Coins found in Spain of Hannibal's brothers Hasdrubal Barca (above) and Mago.

While events were ufolding in Italy, Publius Cornelius Scipio’s brother Gnaeus had not been idle. He had landed in Spain in the late summer of 218 with two legions. His orders were to deny the wealth of resources and manpower to Hannibal in Italy and his colleague in Spain, confusingly another Hasdrubal. With his limited force, Gnaeus advanced south from Emporiae (Ampurias) as far as the Ebro, where his tiny fleet destroyed a larger Punic naval force in 217. Later in the year, Publius Scipio brought reinforcements, and together the brothers drove the Carthaginians back.

Carthage also reinforced Spain, with armies under Hannibal’s brothers Mago and Hasdrubal. With three armies in the field, the smaller Roman legions were eventually cornered and both Scipios’ forces were destroyed in 211. Their loss was not in vain, for it had prevented reinforcements reaching Hannibal. Further, the Carthaginian generals failed to follow up the victories by co-operating with each other, preferring to exploit success on their own.

In Italy, Rome’s fortunes sank lower with news, shortly after the battle of Cannae, that two more legions had been cut to pieces in Cisalpine Gaul by Hannibal’s tribal allies. The ‘Fabian tactics’ of Maximus now looked sound; to keep as many troops in the field as possible, and harass Hannibal and wear him down, rather than risking direct confrontation. Before a pitched battle could be fought, a general of military genius was needed – and found.

Who better to avenge the deaths of the Scipio brothers in Spain than the son of Publius? Aged 25, young Publius Scipio arrived in Spain in 209 BC. Responding to a temporary withdrawal of Carthaginian troops, young Scipio made a dash for Carthago Nova (New Carthage, now Cartagena), seizing the city with a combined land and sea assault. In the following year, he defeated Hasdrubal Barca at Baecula (Bailén). By 206, Scipio had driven the Carthaginians from Spain. Hasdrubal, however, made a masterly retreat from Baecula, and slipped away north to cross the Pyrenees intending to join Hannibal in Italy.

He followed his brother’s example and marched through the Alps without coming under attack, but communications broke down when he reached Italy. The Romans fielded four legions against him to prevent any link up with Hannibal, and Hasdrubal died in 207 in battle at the River Metaurus. Hannibal’s prospects now turned sour. He had been reduced to an irritant rather than a threat to Rome, impotent in the heel of Italy and a long way from home and support. Not that any was forthcoming from Carthage. The city elders feared his adventurism would result in worse retaliation, and some even made it plain to the Roman Senate that this was Hannibal’s war, not theirs.

Publius Scipio returned from Spain in 205 and was elected consul. With his new powers, he now swore to take the conflict to Africa – only to be blocked in the Senate. Few senators were willing to reduce domestic defences with Hannibal still prowling around the peninsula, but this changed in 203, when Hannibal was recalled to of Carthage. He could have ignored the demand, but discouraged by his future chances, Hannibal embarked his force and left Italy.

Scipio reached North Africa in 204 with an expeditionary army and joined up with King Massinissa, a Numidian ally who had been harrying Carthaginian interests for some time. Hannibal squared up to Scipio in the battle of Zama (202), hoping his elephants would wreak havoc. In fact it was the legionaries and the Numidian cavalry whose presence really counted. Hannibal was comprehensively outflanked, surrounded and had little realistic option but to sue for peace.

In 201 Carthage was heavily fined, stripped of its defences and permitted to keep just ten ships of its once mighty navy. Publius Scipio was lauded for his achievements and awarded the honorific ‘Africanus’.

One cautious ally might have swung the balance for Carthage, but King Philip V of Macedon had waited and watched. Had he intervened more promptly on the side of the Carthaginians it might have altered the course of the war. As it happened, Philip was himself beaten by Rome three years after Hannibal's defeat.


Publius Cornelius Scio the Younger, later given the honorific 'Africanus' for his final defeat of Carthage. He was the decisive general Rome so desperately needed. His war in Spain against Hannibal's brothers Hasdrubal and Mago pushed teh Carthaginians from SPain and helped weaken Carthage's uneasy alliance with Philip V of Macedon, the rising power in the Aegean.


Coin of Massinissa, the cunning king of Numidia. He was a supplier of cavalry to Carthage, who had traditionally relied heavily on the Numidian horse as mercenaries. He was also one of several petty rulers of the time who saw Rome's star rising and became an ally. His harrassment of Carthaginian interests in Africa bwould become the catalyst that finally ensured the utter destruction of Carthage.


Coin of Philip V of Macedon.

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