Hannibal: Ancient Rome's Greatest Enemy
Part 3: Pressing the Advantage
Although he was eager to press his advantage, Hannibal knew when to rest his troops. Besides, the weather was horrible that time of the year. Knowing that the Romans couldn't do anything more than harass him, he settled down for winter quarters, content to live off the fat of the Italian land for awhile and await reinforcements. A handful of months later, he was ready to advance again. The Romans, meanwhile, had been busy, both attacking Spain and making sure that no Carthaginian forces arrived by sea. Both of these tasks the Romans achieved admirably, and Hannibal was forced to continue on without reinforcements from his homeland.
His ultimate goal was to get enough of Rome's neighbors to turn against Rome that a final victory before the gates of the Eternal City would force the mighty foe into submission. Hannibal devoted the next few years of his life to that goal, ranging up and down Italy in search of frustrated "allies" of Rome.
He began his southern march after the Trebia River massacre by choosing not to pick a fight with Flaminius, one of Rome's new consuls, who had set up camp in the road that led from the river to Rome. Hannibal instead chose to allow his troops to go sauntering around the fertile plains of Tuscany, living off the fat of that fat land. Flaminius was so angry that he vowed to defeat Hannibal wherever he could find him. Picking up his army, the hotheaded new consul marched his men at double speed right into the jaws of another Carthaginian trap.
Battle of Lake Trasimene
Despite the tremendous loss of life and honor, Rome continued to be able to put thousands of men into the field. This was a luxury that Hannibal never had. The fear that shook Rome to its core after the twin massacres of Trebia River and Lake Trasimene was eased somewhat by a new round of forced recruiting, with the result being that the following year, Rome could march 90,000 men into battle, compared to Hannibal's 50,000. Hannibal was outmanned, as always, and one can imagine his frustration at the continued lack of support from Rome's neighbors.
Those neighbors, it seemed were still hedging their bets, unwilling to risk reprisals in case Rome somehow prevailed. Such bet-hedging looked to be a good idea, too, as long as Rome could continue to send fresh troops into battle no matter how many times they were getting slaughtered at the hands of Hannibal's genius. Astonished at what he thought folly, Hannibal kept looking for the one big victory that would signal to everyone that Rome's demise was at hand. For years, he roamed up and down the length of Italy, as Roman armies avoided him while protecting the gates of the city of Rome itself. Small battles dotted the landscape as the two sides sparred with each other but avoided a huge engagement.
Hannibal got his wish for a knockout blow in 216, at a bump in the road called Cannae.
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