My usual reference for Hannibal’s campaign against the Romans (218-202) is The Punic Wars by Brian Caven, published in 1992. Of course, we also have Polybius and Livy who were closer to the action, but not contemporary to it. Polybius was born in 200 BC and was brought the Rome in 167 BC as a hostage. He lived there 17 years and was an eyewitness to the Third Punic War (149-146 BC). Polybius eventually published a history of all three Punic Wars, but most of his work is lost. Livy, starting in 30 BC, used Polybius and others in his own his own account of the time of Hannibal, looking backward 200 years.

Now we have a new biography of Hannibal by Patrick Hunt, archaeologist and historian from Stanford University. Dr. Hunt’s book equals and exceeds previous work on the subject. His scholarship is meticulous and thorough, and the story of Hannibal’s life is told as a straightforward narrative without unnecessary decoration.

Hannibal Barca was one of the greatest military commanders of all time, so his story is essential reading for anyone interested in military history. Son of one of the leaders of Carthage, and born after the Carthaginian defeat in the First Punic War, Hannibal came to power quickly. Accompanying his father Hamilcar and brother-in-law Hasdrubal on an expedition to Spain, he had to tolerate the drowning of his father and the assassination of Hasdrubal. Now commander and chief of the Punic Army at 26, Hannibal took control his own destiny and became the central player in the Second Punic War.

Most of us have heard the story of Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps in the fall of 218 BC which was a prelude to his attack on the Italian Peninsula. He defeated the Roman Army so soundly, in a series of battles, that the Romans were forced to fight a war of attrition instead of trying to defeat him head on head. Hannibal was loose in the Italian Peninsula for 15 years until he was recalled to Carthage in 203. He lost the Battle of Zama to a Roman army under the command of Scipio Africanus in 202 BC, and this defeat ended the second Punic War.

Professor Hunt documents Hannibal’s later years after he was exiled from Carthage in 195 BC. Hannibal acted as a military adviser to some heads of state in Asia Minor, but when betrayed to the Romans in 183 BC, he took poison to avoid captivity. The author goes to some length to lay our Hannibal’s legacy and influence, showing us why the general is one of the most significant figures during the age of the Roman Republic.

I enthusiastically recommend this book to anyone who wants to examine Hannibal’s life and his battles with the Romans. You will come away with a thorough perspective on the man and the general.
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