In 218 BC the North African empire of Carthage and the Roman Republic stood, as they often did, on the brink of war. But when war came, it came not from Africa but from Cartagena on the east coast of Spain.
WHEN Hannibal, aged twenty-six, inherited command of the Carthaginian army in Spain, he at once began harassing the town of Saguntum, which was friendly to Rome. Carthage ordered Hannibal to hold off, but his hatred of Rome burned so hot that he disobeyed the order.
What followed is the stuff of legend. In the late Spring of 218 BC, instead of sailing across the Mediterranean he gathered a force of nearly 50,000 men and thirty-eight elephants, and marched north, then east through the Pyrenees and the Alps, and south into Italy, aiming for Rome itself.
The bitter cold of the Little St Bernard Pass cost him all but seven of his elephants, half of his army, and one of his own eyes.
But he made it through, and was a thorn in Rome’s side for fifteen years, until his mortal enemy, Scipio Africanus, made a direct assault on Carthage. Hannibal was summoned home, where Scipio defeated him at the battle of Zama in 202 BC.