Hannibal: The Military Genius Who Almost Conquered Rome

Hannibal The Military Genius Who Almost Conquered Rome


While ancient history is full of larger-than-life figures, the famed Carthaginian military commander we know as Hannibal has taken on a particularly mythic quality. His story is woven together with hearsay, embellishment, and extremely limited source material. Nevertheless, Hannibal defined a critical period in Roman history—and ancient history, more broadly—plowing across the Italian peninsula with a cadre of foot soldiers, elite cavalry, envoys, and even elephants. His army laid waste to many strategically important cities; utilized intelligence networks to deter powerful Roman allies along the route; and triumphed in key skirmishes against formidable Roman generals and the impressive armies they commanded, triggering wave after wave of public outcry and panic back in Rome.

But when we peel back the legend, what’s left? What do we know and what can we accurately say about the famed Hannibal Barca? Where did he and his family come from, and why did they and their fellow Carthaginian countrymen war repeatedly with Rome? How did the Carthaginian army manage to devastate the Italian peninsula so thoroughly in the Second Punic War? And—perhaps most importantly—why did Hannibal and his army ultimately fail in their long and impressive fight against Rome?

Answer these questions and more in the 15 lectures of Hannibal: The Military Genius Who Almost Conquered Rome, which detail the legendary Carthaginian commander’s historic conquest of Rome from Italy to Iberia. Eve MacDonald, Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at Cardiff University, will be your expert guide. Together, you will travel back to antiquity and explore a time during which the future of the Roman polity was increasingly unclear, and the Barcid family commanded politics in the powerful port city of Carthage. You will survey the world that Hannibal was born into and came of age in, paying close attention to politics, culture, and society in Carthage and Rome in the age of the Punic Wars. Then, you will turn to the conquest itself, tracking Hannibal and his impressive army across the Alps and into the Roman heartland. And, finally, you will assess the aftermath: What became of the famous Hannibal, his once-powerful homeland, and Rome after the dust of combat and conquest had settled?

Hannibal’s World

While the course centers on Hannibal and his remarkable incursion into Italy and Iberia, it also deals with his world—a complex social and political ecosystem both like and unlike our own. You will begin with the rise of Carthage, a powerful port city-turned-empire that dominated the Mediterranean. From there, you will:

  • Learn about the founding of Carthage by the Phoenicians and study its later ascent;
  • Get to know the prominent local figures that came before Hannibal, such as his father, Hamilcar Barca, a skillful military tactician and fighter in his own right;
  • Understand the factors that led to Carthage’s initial collision and conflict with Rome;
  • Reconstruct the first of three Punic Wars, a military conflict that would shape the young Hannibal’s life; and
  • See how Carthage contended with Hannibal’s many victories on the Italian Peninsula alongside grave and sustained losses in Iberia and North Africa.

You will also head west to explore Rome before Caesar and Augustus, zeroing in on the state of its military and its politics in the age of Hannibal. As you study the First and Second Punic Wars from the Roman point of view, you will dive into how ordinary and elite folk alike reacted to one particularly skilled Carthaginian’s threats to Rome’s control of the Italian Peninsula. You will venture on an exploration of wartime culture and way of life in the Roman capital and be introduced to the cast of characters involved in Rome’s war against Carthage, including commander Flaminius and the influential Scipiones family.

That’s not all, though. In tracking Hannibal’s movements across Italy and Carthage’s incursion into Iberia, you will also get to explore the city-states that dotted the ancient world from Capua to Syracuse. This tour will help you paint a picture of each polity’s culture, politics, military, and way of life. As you investigate the fragile allegiances that connected each to Rome or to Carthage, you will also see how partnerships broke down and how war between two great Mediterranean powers remade life wherever it reached. Ultimately, you will emerge with a much fuller and more detailed picture of what Hannibal’s world was truly like.

The Man, the Myth, the March

You will spend the most time, however, getting to know Hannibal himself—how he grew up, what he is most famous for, and what became of him and his homeland after the conclusion of one of the most impressive and important military conquests in history. In Hannibal: The Military Genius Who Almost Conquered Rome, you will dive into many facets and events of Hannibal’s life, including:

  • Childhood. Hannibal grew up in a city at war with Rome, and, as a teenager, he even accompanied his father and brothers on military expeditions westward. See how Hannibal’s childhood and upbringing primed him for a life of not only military service, but also long-term conflict with Rome.
  • Family. Hannibal’s father and brothers were important military strategists and commanders in their own right. Get to know the Barcid family and their important contributions to the First and Second Punic Wars.
  • Politics. Legend says that Hannibal’s hatred of Rome often blinded and ultimately betrayed him in the Second Punic War. Determine how true that was and examine how Hannibal navigated fragile political partnerships with former Roman allies, tense political situations within Carthage, and peace negotiations with an increasingly desperate but very stubborn Rome.
  • Military Leadership. Hannibal’s army—a diverse cadre of foot soldiers, cavalry men, and even elephants that triumphed against so many odds—is legendary. Explore what it was like to be a foot soldier in Hannibal’s army and see how the group weathered the challenges that faced them.
  • March across the Alps. Hannibal’s march defined his military career. Track the young Carthaginian general as he moved across treacherous terrain to get a better sense of what the famed march looked like and what it came to represent.
  • Reputation. At this point, Hannibal is more myth than he is man. Evaluate what Hannibal’s contemporaries thought of him in his own time and see how fact often blended with fiction to create Hannibal Barca’s now-legendary reputation.

In just 15 lectures, you will understand why Hannibal was able to win great victories and control parts of the Italian peninsula for so long, yet eventually he lost the war with Rome. Along the way, you will become familiar with the ancient world and its customs, politics, notable figures, and way of life. And you will emerge with a greater, more nuanced, more informed portrait of one of the most important military figures in world history.

Released 3/2023

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