During the second Punic war, Hannibal Barca fought in Italy for 14 years, and yet the Romans managed to bring the war to Africa.

How is that possible, especially after battles such as Cannae? If Carthage had sent more troops/material to Hannibal, they would probably have defeated Rome.

Is there any explanation for that lack of action?

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    There is no obligation to explain downvotes. I believe this question deserves a downvote because it demonstrates no research, and in fact as Mr. Durden points out, the premise is flawed. The question also relies on presumptive counterfactualos "probably would have defeated Rome".
    – MCW
    Commented Dec 4, 2014 at 12:50
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    Perhaps because Carthage had no standing army, and relied almost entirely on mercenaries? Carthage was an oligarchy/plutocracy; those forms of government traditionally find it challenging to wage foreign wars. According to myth, the conflict was between Hannibal and Rome, not Carthage and Rome. Did Carthage believe that reinforcing Hannibal was a strategic objective? or was Hannibal a rogue actor?
    – MCW
    Commented Dec 4, 2014 at 12:52
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    Carthage was also stretched pretty thin as it was fighting the war on multiple fronts. The weakness of their navy in particular was quite crippling. And yeah, the whole premise is wrong.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Dec 4, 2014 at 12:57
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    @MarkC.Wallace : Thanks for your comments, however I must say that the reason for asking this question is my last read of the second novel of Santiago Posteguillo "Africanus" (good writer and better historian). In such novel, it is described how Hannibal is not even provided all the ships he needed to move his troops to the battle of Zama, letting many troops (specially horses) in Italy, and how afterwards, the Carthage senate claims to have plenty of money to continue the fight. Commented Dec 4, 2014 at 22:06
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    By helping Hannibal to defeat Rome they were also helping Hannibal to defeat Carthage's senate. Remember that is too dangerous for a goverment to have a powerful army with an ambitious general in charge. Same fear had Roman senate centuries later with Caesar.
    – Santiago
    Commented Dec 20, 2016 at 19:52

7 Answers 7


It comes down to two issues: no army to send and no navy to get it there.

The war of Hannibal and the Barcas against Rome was more or less a personal project by that family, who controlled Spain and its resources and built up their armies there. Hannibal's initial thrust across the Alps and into Italy needed to be done because Rome had complete control of the seas.

Rome sent the forces intended to stop Hannibal in Gaul on to Spain, and raised new forces to fight him in Italy. They faced Hannibal's brother Hasdrubal there for some years.

In Carthage proper, there were essentially no troops at all. There was also not much of a navy, or shipping to carry troops to Italy. So when Hannibal's march ended up in essentially a stalemate, there was no way to get more than a trickle of help through the blockade, although it was a constant concern, especially when King Philip of Macedon allied with Hannibal.

After some years, Hannibal's brother faced a deteriorating situation in Spain himself and marched to join Hannibal, as while he had an army there was no other way to get to Italy. He was caught and his army destroyed by the consuls of the year in North Italy.

When Scipio Africanus invaded Africa some years later, there was still no real army in Africa to face him. Hannibal had to be recalled for the final battle at Zama.


They did send more aid. Hasdrubal, Hannibal's brother, came with a whole new army which miraculously made it all the Italy, but then was unfortunately wiped out at the Battle of the Metaurus.

  • True, but still, why not send ships via the Mediterranean sea? Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 22:43
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    @JuanAntonioGomezMoriano Not enough ships. The whole Carthaginian navy would have been less than 100 ships and you would need thousands of ships to move the entire army all at once. Moving it piece meal would be too dangerous, because once the Romans found about it, they would have attacked the ships with their superior naval force. Commented Dec 3, 2014 at 23:33
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    why "unfortunately"?
    – sds
    Commented Dec 4, 2014 at 19:52
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    @sds That's the way war is. When you win it is because you are are a military genius, but when you lose it is because of bad luck. Commented Dec 4, 2014 at 19:56
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    @JuanAntonioGomezMoriano The Carthaginian navy was essentially wiped out in the First Punic war. By the time of the second, you had a situation where Carthage had a badass army, but Rome ruled the seas.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Dec 4, 2014 at 22:18

Carthage did send some troops to Hannibal in Italy, just not very many. I remember reading that ships did make it into either Tarentum or Lucri but I am having trouble finding the original source I read that from. I was able to find these sources below:

" In Italy, Carthage finally sent at least a small force of reinforcements that joined Hannibal at Lucri." (1)

" Therefore, he turned his attention to southern Italy, where he captured Tarentum and several other ports (213), facilitating the supply of new soldiers from Macedonia and Carthage." (2)

"...Carthaginian authorities... sent reinforcements and subsidies to Hannibal in Italy, and to Mago in Spain, with orders to rekindle the war..." (3)

  1. http://www.unrv.com/empire/after-cannae.php
  2. http://www.livius.org/articles/person/hannibal-3-barca/
  3. http://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/rome/3-06-war-hannibal-cannae-zama.asp?pg=76

Carthage’s Senate never wanted to send reinforcements to Hannibal.
There - I said it.

At the least, they were never sufficiently motivated to do so.

There was a strong contingent in its Senate opposed to war with Rome. Some even claim they were bribed by Rome to dissuade them (based on cryptic language in letters between Roman Senators). This can likely never be proven or disproven.

Those aligned against the Barca faction preferred instead to give all overseas trading posts and ports to Rome or Greece or whomever, and to expand farming and pastoral developments on the African continent — which itself would have led to large scale conflict with long-term allied Berber tribes on whose land they would have encroached. In that conflict, Carthage would have been easily outnumbered, deprived of its Numidian cavalry, and would likely have ended no differently for Carthage empire, culture, and society.

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    This would be greatly improved with the inclusion of some supporting references for your assertions.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Aug 6, 2022 at 19:10

No, Hasdruabal went, not by the order of Carthage, but because Hasdruabal and Hannibal were talking and making their own agenda on how to win the war behind the Carthaginians backs. Hannibal and Hasdruabal were both loyal to Carthage but realized Carthage was not as into this war as they were due to their long-standing hate of Rome, and decided to win on their own terms. It might have worked if Hasdrubal was not cut off as Hannibal was only 2 miles away from Rome lying in wait.

Carthage did not send more troops to Hannibal because Hannibal had failed to secure a port for the Carthaginian reinforcements to dock in. This, coupled with the tiring of Hannibal and the Carthaginians resulted in defeat.

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    Welcome to History.SE. A few issues with this answer: A) First part seems to contradict the second one (if Carthage did not want to send troops, why was securing a port important?) B) It lacks any citations of references and C) This sounds more like a comment to Tyler Durden's answer that a complete answer by itself; please improve those points.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Aug 29, 2015 at 22:22
  • Well I never said that Carthage did not want to send troops, they just tired of the war effort over time, and coupled with the inability to help Hannibal, resulted in the waning of the Cathaginian war effort, eventually leading to Hannibal having to resort to his own measures to win the war. Furthermore, all of these facts are relatively well known, but if you insist on some form of citation, there is well known History of Rome podcast series by Mike Duncan that I took some of this info from. Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 23:00

Also, in addition to my previous answer, Hannibal was never allowed to capitalize off of his battle at Cannae as every time he flipped the allegiance of a Roman city, Rome would follow and flip the allegiance back. Also, Rome employed a famous strategy of avoiding conflict with the Carthaginians led by Hannibal which, coupled with Carthage's inability to help, led to Hannibal's forces being "stuck" in Italy. Many historians are perplexed at why, when Hannibal was at his highest power, immediately following Cannae, he did not march for Rome. We may never know if Hannibal could have taken Rome if he chose to at this time. But, over time, Rome slowly gained the upper hand and soon Hannibal was too weak to strike for Rome, even when he wanted to.

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    It would be better if you edit your previous answer to include this, rather than post something new.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Sep 1, 2015 at 6:23

The Second Punic War was not really between Carthage and Rome but between the Barcid and Rome. Iberia was essentially a capitalist venture owned by the Barcid. The notion of a central Carthaginian state is a bit anachronistic. Don't forget Carthaginian were merchants, used to moving to new land for trade and resources. The Barcid did it in Iberia, not so much for Carthage but for their own benefits. Even their "rule" over Iberia doesn't really ressemble any concept of colonisation, not even Roman colonisation. Ultimately this explains de long term demise of Carthage; they never really fully controlled large LOYAL populations with plentiful resources to have a constant supply of armies, nor did they have a political system that prioritized the interest of the state over that of mercantile families like the Barcids. Trade based economies are more vulnerable than producers with a hinterland.

Iberia's silver and manpower meant the Barcids were essentially the only ones able to raise large armies, Carthage proper couldn't, and anyway didn't have the navy required to project any hypothetical power across the sea. So, Carthage couldn't really help Hannibal and we can also debate whether it was in the interest of the poorer and weaker Carthaginian Senate to provoke a war with Rome.

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