Profile of Hannibal, Rome's Greatest Enemy

Fresco of Hannibal crossing Alps, 218 BC
DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI / Getty Images

Hannibal (or Hannibal Barca) was the leader of the military forces of Carthage that fought against Rome in the Second Punic War. Hannibal, who almost overpowered Rome, was considered Rome's greatest enemy.

Birth and Death Dates

It's unknown, but Hannibal was thought to have been born in 247 BCE and died 183 BCE. Hannibal did not die when he lost the war with Rome—years later, he committed suicide by ingesting poison. He was at Bithynia, at the time, and in danger of being extradited to Rome.

[39.51]"....Finally [Hannibal] called for the poison which he had long kept in readiness for such an emergency. 'Let us,' he said, 'relieve the Romans from the anxiety they have so long experienced, since they think it tries their patience too much to wait for an old man's death....'"

Main Victories of Hannibal Against Rome

Hannibal's first military success, in Saguntum, in Spain, precipitated the Second Punic War. During this war, Hannibal led the forces of Carthage across the Alps with elephants and achieved surprising military victories. However, when Hannibal lost at the Battle of Zama, in 202, Carthage had to make heavy concessions to the Romans.

Fleeing North Africa for Asia Minor

Sometime after the end of the Second Punic War, Hannibal left North Africa for​ Asia Minor. There he helped Antiochus III of Syria fight Rome, unsuccessfully, at the Battle of Magnesia in 190 B.C. Peace terms included surrendering Hannibal, but Hannibal fled to Bithynia.

Hannibal Uses Snaky Catapults

In the 184 BCE battle between King Eumenes II of Pergamon (r. 197-159 BCE) and King Prusias I of Bithynia in Asia Minor (c.228-182 BCE), Hannibal served as commander of the Bithynian fleet. Hannibal used catapults to hurl pots filled with poisonous snakes into the enemy ships. The Pergamese panicked and fled, allowing the Bithynians to win.

Family and Background

Hannibal's full name was Hannibal Barca. Hannibal means "joy of Baal." Barca means "lightning." Barca is also spelled Barcas, Barca, and Barak. Hannibal was a son of Hamilcar Barca (d.228 BCE), the military leader of Carthage during the First Punic War in which he was defeated in 241 BCE Hamilcar developed a base for Carthage in southern Spain, which helps explain the geography and transalpine adventure of the Second Punic War. When Hamilcar died, his son-in-law Hasdrubal took over, but when Hasdrubal died, 7 years later, in 221, the army-appointed Hannibal general of the forces of Carthage in Spain.​

Why Hannibal Was Considered Great

Hannibal retained his reputation as a formidable opponent and great military leader even after Carthage lost the Punic Wars. Hannibal colors the popular imagination because of his treacherous trek with elephants across the Alps to face the Roman army. By the time the Carthaginian troops had finished the mountain crossing, he had about 50,000 troops and 6000 horsemen with which to face and defeat the Romans' 200,000. Although Hannibal ultimately lost the war, he managed to survive in enemy land, winning battles for 15 years.


  • "The Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare", by Philip A G Sabin; Hans van Wees; Michael Whitby; Cambridge University Press, 2007.
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Gill, N.S. "Profile of Hannibal, Rome's Greatest Enemy." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, Gill, N.S. (2021, February 16). Profile of Hannibal, Rome's Greatest Enemy. Retrieved from Gill, N.S. "Profile of Hannibal, Rome's Greatest Enemy." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 6, 2023).