IN 221 BC, Hamilcar, Hannibal's father, made a peace with Rome that divided Spain north and south between Rome and Carthage. The latter got the larger "piece," the area shaded in green on the map below.

enter image description here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punic_Wars

Hannibal broke the peace only three years later, with disastrous consequences for Carthage.

Are there any comparative statistics for population, taxation, or military enrollment for Rome, Carthage, and Carhaginian Spain that suggest that if Hannibal had deferred war for another generation (till the early 200s BC), that the growth of Carthagian Spain would have put Carthage in a better position than she actually enjoyed in 218 BC? That is, should Hannibal have spent a generation "consolidating" instead of attacking?

On the other hand, the causus belli was the Roman protection of Sagentum in the Carthaginian "sphere of influence." Could this have plausibly threatened a "rollback" of Carthagian power that made it imperative for Carthage to strike at the level of her maximum power?

  • did rome ease into it? what law says that it was protection of spain and not annihilating hannibal?
    – user2296
    May 10, 2013 at 22:23
  • also, what should've he had waited for? he forages, and carthage was rich, so supply & procurement was no issue.
    – user2296
    May 10, 2013 at 22:49
  • @Joe Cod, yes, but the discrepancy may be due to some problem with the implementation of the forage silos. So, only one thing is for sure — apodictic — competition ensures that the costs of consequences make the war "a war for goods", Italian historians say.
    – user2237
    May 11, 2013 at 9:05
  • 1
    when he was foraging, he was cutting through roman armies. after he conquered southern italy, he became even richer than his carthaginian self already was. this was never the issue
    – user2296
    May 11, 2013 at 14:18
  • just to be clear, i think the current title Did Hannibal start the Second Punic War prematurely? is worth an answer considering the loss, but i' afraid someone might play the canonical card and force the limiting Why did Hannibal lose the 2nd Punic War?, at least, that's been my experience on other stacks
    – user2296
    May 13, 2013 at 1:46

1 Answer 1


According to the narration in this book and that one, Hannibal did not start the war prematurely. The mistake might have been to start the war at all, but the timing was not bad in itself: Hannibal had at his disposal a substantial army of hardened veterans, while Rome did not.

A lot of reasons have been advanced, explaining the ultimate failure of Hannibal despite his undoubted military genius; here are the main ones:

  • A lack of navy: this forced Hannibal to walk to Italy, hence to cross the Alps and lose half his troops (more deserters than deaths, though).

  • Poor political support from Carthage: Hannibal never got reinforcements worth that name, and was chronically undermanned. From a high strategy view, the main asset of Rome was a virtually unlimited supply of new soldiers.

  • The strategical miscalculation about the status of Rome's alliances: Hannibal wanted to pry loose these alliances to force Rome to sue for peace. In fact, Rome's allies, in particular Latin cities, turned out to be way more attached to Rome than what Hannibal expected.

  • Similarly, Hannibal underestimated the commitment of the Senate. With its republican system of elected consuls for one-year terms, Romans had a "no surrender" attitude.

  • Hannibal's refusal to march on Rome in the aftermath of Cannae has been regularly pointed out as his biggest mistake, although the underlying reason was for fundamental: Hannibal was not equipped for siege warfare, and did not actually possess the know-how.

Waiting for one or a few years would not have improved that situation. Within a few years, Hannibal might have built a navy, but this would most probably have been noticed by Rome, and deprived Hannibal from the advantage of surprise. You don't get competence in siege warfare by training but by attacking cities; extra years in Spain would not have granted that experience. Crucially, each passing year would have dwindled Hannibal's army of veterans: most were mercenaries that were expensive to maintain in peace time (when there is no loot, you need gold to keep them around), and even old age would have cleared his ranks. Meanwhile, Rome would have been free to engage in other battles elsewhere (e.g. in Greece or Illyria) and gain experience. In antique battles, the experience of individual soldiers was a huge advantage, more important for the outcome than the raw head count.

  • 6
    This bears repeating, with a modified lead-in: Throughout history, "the experience of individual soldiers was a huge advantage, more important for the outcome than the raw head count". Sep 8, 2014 at 22:43

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