Ancient History & Civilisation


After first fleeing to his base at Hadrumetum, Hannibal then travelled to Carthage for a crisis summit with the Council of Elders. His advice to the assembled grandees was typically blunt: the war was lost, and Carthage’s only hope of salvation was now to sue for peace. The Council acted quickly. Ten envoys, including the leaders of the propeace party, Hanno and Hasdrubal Haedus, were at once sent to the Romans in a ship decorated with olive branches (the traditional symbols of supplication) and with a herald’s caduceus fixed to its prow. Scipio, meeting the ship as his own fleet sailed towards Carthage, ordered the envoys to travel on to Tunes, where he was camped. The peace terms that he proposed there were understandably harsher than those that he had previously offered. In addition to the previous provisions, Carthage was now forbidden from fighting any wars outside Africa, and even on that continent it had first to seek permission from Rome. The indemnity was now set at 10,000 talents (26,000 kilograms) of silver, to be paid over fifty years–nearly ten times the amount demanded in the terms of the 241 treaty. Moreover, Carthage was to hand over all its war elephants, and its fleet was to be reduced to just ten warships.27

At Carthage the terms were accepted by the Council of Elders with only one exception. A certain Gisco had stood up to speak against the treaty, but Hannibal, clearly exasperated by this refusal to acknowledge the harsh reality of the situation, manhandled him off the stage. As an indication of the tensions that already existed between Hannibal and many of the elders, the general was forced to apologize for his behaviour. The Council nevertheless accepted Hannibal’s advice to accept these terms as relatively lenient. And so, towards the end of 202, Carthaginian envoys led by Hasdrubal Haedus travelled to Rome and declared to the Senate their agreement to the peace conditions, before returning to North Africa, where the treaty was ratified. Carthage’s fleet was then dramatically burnt in full view of its citizens, and Latin and Roman deserters were executed. Scipio then embarked his army, as well as 4,000 prisoners of war released by the Carthaginians, and set off for Rome, where he held a magnificent triumph. As a tribute to his extraordinary achievements, he would for ever after be known as ‘Africanus’.28

According to several Roman sources, Hannibal remained in charge of the remnants of his army and kept them occupied by organizing the planting of a huge number of olive groves.29 By 196 BC, however, he had apparently tired of semi-private life, and had decided to enter the political arena as a Carthaginian suffete. He would quickly prove himself to be as dynamic a statesman as he was a general.

By exposing and attacking the abuses and corruption that had for so long been a hallmark of Carthaginian political life, Hannibal quickly built himself a reputation as a champion of the common citizenry. He successfully proposed a new law which stated that the Tribunal of One Hundred and Four’s membership should henceforth be decided by annual election, and that no one should serve consecutive terms. Such a populist move was never likely to have endeared him to the Council of Elders, which he appears to have circumvented entirely.

Animosities were further heightened when Hannibal then announced an audit of public revenues, which he would personally oversee. After conducting a thorough investigation, he supposedly discovered that large amounts of state funds were being lost due to embezzlement by officials. He then declared in the Popular Assembly that if the duties collected on property and port duties were correctly collected there would be enough to pay the indemnity owed to Rome without recourse to extra taxation. Although this must have further boosted Hannibal’s popularity among the people of Carthage, the animosity directed at him by the corrupt officials commensurately increased.30

In adopting such a populist agenda, Hannibal appeared to be following the same political strategy that had so benefited Hamilcar and Hasdrubal Barca nearly forty years previously. Indeed, Hannibal’s deliberate use of the Popular Assembly to push his measures through and limit the powers of the broader elite placed him on the well-worn path of Barcid demagogy. It has been argued that Hannibal was also the driving force behind an ambitious new construction programme which witnessed the building of new residential quarters and the great improvement of the city in general.31Were some on the Council of Elders worried that these populist reforms were building to a bid for autocratic power? Such concerns would certainly explain the Council’s subsequent move, which was to send reports to Rome that Hannibal was secretly negotiating with Antiochus, king of the Seleucid Empire. Antiochus, whose realm stretched from south-eastern Asia Minor (Turkey) in the west to the kingdom of Bactria (modern Afghanistan) in the east, was now involved in a tense diplomatic confrontation with the Romans over Greece and the Greek cities of western Asia Minor.32 When Roman envoys subsequently arrived in Carthage to investigate the claims, in 195, Hannibal was forced to flee east, travelling via Tyre and Antioch and thence on to Ephesus, where Antiochus had his court. Paradoxically, accusations that Hannibal was in collusion with Antiochus left the Carthaginian with little option but to seek the king’s protection.33

At the court of Antiochus, Hannibal proposed a daring return to Carthage and a subsequent attack on the Italian peninsula.34 The dispatch of an agent to arrange a prior Carthaginian rebellion with the Barcids in North Africa spectacularly failed, however,35 and the Carthaginians, nervous of their new overlords’ potential reaction, quickly informed the Roman Senate of Hannibal’s machinations. Hannibal had grossly underestimated the degree of support which the once lone voice of Hanno now enjoyed at Carthage, and his attempts to secure an opportunity to make good the failures of the past looked increasingly desperate. Snubbed by his own people, the victor of Cannae now found himself on the fringes of Antiochus’ court. Indeed, Antiochus and his advisers must have had serious concerns about the strategy that Hannibal reportedly advocated. According to Livy, his plan was ‘always one and the same, that the war should be waged in Italy; Italy would supply both food and soldiers to a foreign enemy; if no disturbance was created there and the Roman people was permitted to use the manpower and resources of Italy for a war outside Italy, neither the king nor any people could be a match for the Romans.’36 When war between Rome and Antiochus did eventually break out, Hannibal’s strategic advice remained equally quixotic and was, unsurprisingly, politely ignored.37

Hannibal would, however, have one final fleeting taste of military glory. Recognizing that the general’s Punic roots would play well with the Phoenician cities of the Levant, he was dispatched by Antiochus to muster and prepare a small fleet of warships.38 This Seleucid naval force clashed with the Roman fleet off the coast of Pamphylia in Asia Minor, and for some time the left wing, commanded by Hannibal, managed to hold its own against far more experienced and skilful opponents. Eventually, however, the Seleucid ships were driven back and were effectively blockaded in the port of Side. One can only imagine Hannibal’s shock and sorrow to see Carthaginian ships among the Roman fleet.39

With the Seleucids eventually defeated at Magnesia in Asia Minor in 189, Hannibal spent the rest of his life wandering the courts of the Hellenistic East. Although his exact itinerary remains a matter of conjecture, anecdotal evidence places him variously on Crete and in Armenia (where he supposedly helped to build a new city).40 His final refuge, however, was Bithynia, a kingdom in north-western Asia Minor. Here he is said to have continued his career as an urban planner, by creating a new capital, as well as developing the tactic of hurling snake-filled pots on to the decks of enemy ships during battles at sea. Despite the services which he provided for the Bithynian king Pruisas, Hannibal was nonetheless a diplomatic liability. When, in 183, the Roman general Titus Quinctius Flaminius visited Bithynia, he upbraided the king when Hannibal’s presence was discovered. Pruisas, concerned about the repercussions of shielding so controversial a guest at a time when Roman power was growing in the region, immediately resolved to surrender Hannibal. When Bithynian soldiers blocked off all exits from his hideout on the coast, Hannibal, realizing that escape was impossible, took the poison that he always carried with him, thus avoiding the humiliation of capture. As he died, according to Livy, he condemned the Romans for their vindictiveness, impiety and lack of faith.41 Thus the life of Carthage’s greatest son reached its dramatic end.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!