Hannibal: Ancient Rome's Greatest Enemy

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• An Introduction to Ancient Rome
Map of Hannibal's Invasion Route
• Ancient Rome Glossary

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The Battle of Trebia River

The first major clash between the two major powers in this war was at the Trebia River. Roman forces under a consul named Sempronius had marched up the length of Italy—from Sicily, in fact. They were determined to turn back the Carthaginian invaders, along with the Gauls and other peoples who were siding with Hannibal in their longing to deal Rome a blow or two. Another army was there, under a consul named Scipio, who was ailing. These troops weren't as much of a factor in the long run. In fact, it was the troops that had marched north under Sempronius, so eager to prove their mettle, that found the sword as a result of the genius of Carthage's greatest commander.

Withdrawing his forces to a spot of flat land that was near the Trebia River and north of a marshy area, Hannibal lay in wait. Realizing that the Romans weren't about to attack him unprovoked, he sent out a cavalry force (led by his younger brother Mago) to harass the Roman main camp. Sempronius, incensed that the enemy would dare attack his own encampment, responded with a fierce counterattack, which just happened to include his whole army and the vast majority of Scipio's as well. On a day that dawned cold and sleeting and turned worse as sunlight faded, the Romans crossed the freezing swollen river and then waded through the marshes in search of Carthaginian blood. Hannibal's javelin-throwers and sling-wielders picked off enough Romans wading out of the water to make a sizable difference in the force that eventually charged the Carthaginian line. As the Carthaginians held their lines, Mago and his forces, hidden in the tall reeds of the marshland, fell upon the Roman troops from the rear, driving them through the center of the Carthaginian forces and on into retreat to a nearby Roman town. It was a full rout, even though Hannibal had started with a smaller force of tired men. His strategy was a stroke of genius, but it was just the beginning.

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