Ever since the First Punic War tensions between Rome and Carthage were boiling. Hannibal at last pushed them to a breaking point at the city of Saguntum, a Hellenized Iberian coastal city with diplomatic contacts with Rome.
There had been political storms in the city for some time. They ended at last when the Carthaginian supporters within the city were assassinated. Hannibal besieged the city and took it.
The story goes that envoys came to Rome, demanding Carthage back down. So goes the story, the Roman envoy asked the Carthaginian Senate “Do you want peace or do want war?”
“You decide for yourself.”
“I choose war.” And so war it would be.
It is a rule of thumb in warfare that you do not want to fight in your own front yard, but rather in your enemies’. Hannibal decided to invade Italy, hoping to gain Rome’s allies to his side. There were two ways, along the coast, where there was a Roman army, and through the Alps. He had about forty thousand men, and about forty elephants. He disappeared, and finally showed up again in Italy.
Hannibal, like Napoleon later, had one great asset, himself. He was a great leader. His story shows what can be accomplished when brothers work together. According to some, he lost nearly half of his force in crossing the Alps. But he had accomplished the impossible. They had to deal with natives within the passes, freezing cold, and getting men in full armor up rock walls. There is even a story of using vinegar to aid in getting through, mixed with fire. Showing up for the battle is half of winning. Hannibal had shown up, and now it was time to fight.
The thunderbolt had fallen, but it was not thunder that got things done, it was lightning. The Second Punic War was in its second year, it had about fifteen more to go. Back in Carthage, the Senate was determined to leave him hanging. Hannibal was determined to destroy Rome. The outcome of the battle would determine the history of the world.
Andrew C. Abbott