Hasdrubal’s sudden assassination catapulted Hamilcar’s eldest son, the twenty-five-year-old Hannibal Barca, to power as Carthage’s supreme general in Spain. Raised to be a soldier by his father and trained in both the theoretical and practical arts of warfare, Hannibal quickly subdued most Spanish tribes southeast of the Ebro. Only Saguntum, an ostensible Roman ally, doggedly resisted Carthaginian sway. Ignoring Roman warnings to leave Saguntum alone, Hannibal besieged the city in 219 BC, a choice which would put Rome and Carthage on a collision course culminating in the Second Punic War.
Bust of Hannibal Barca from his later life. Livy gives a glowing description of the young Punic commander who was the spitting image of his father, Hamilcar. “In the features and expression of the son’s face, they saw the father once again, the same vigor in his look, the same fire in his eyes.” Livy, The War with Hannibal. Penguin Classics, 1965.
At the River Tagus, Hannibal confronted the Spanish host which had dogged his return to New Carthage. After a harrowing night crossing, Hannibal held the further bank guarding the difficult ford. Frustrated by his withdrawal, the Spaniards swarmed across in a disordered mob to attack the Carthaginians.
As the Spanish infantry floundered in the raging current, Hannibal released his horsemen. Seated high above the swollen river, the riders easily cut down the struggling Spanish footmen.
Bottled in the crossing and shoved on from behind by their comrades, the Spaniards in front had nowhere to go.
Attacked by the Carthaginian horse, many Spaniards lost their footing and fell into the river. Those who avoided drowning were picked off by the Hannibal’s skirmishers or crushed by his elephants as they swam ashore.
With the Spaniards in disarray, Hannibal withdrew his cavalry and sent forward his heavy infantry to deliver the coup de grace. His first major victory had been achieved.
Following his victory at the Battle of the River Tagus, Hannibal cowed or subdued nearly all of the Spanish tribes south of the River Ebro (labelled “Iberian Tribes” on the map). Only the lonely Saguntum held out, confident that their alliance with Rome would protect them.
Medieval castle near the site of Saguntum. A coastal city situated on rich, fertile plains, Saguntum alone held out against Carthaginian expansion below the River Ebro. Hannibal’s conquest of the city would ignite the Second Punic War. Original photo by Wikipedia User Pelayo2.
Recommended further reading:
Hannibal’s Dynasty by Dexter Hoyos
A Companion to the Punic Wars (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World) Edited by Dexter Hoyos
Carthage Must Be Destroyed by Richard Miles
Implacable Enemies: The Barcid Armies at War by Karwansary Publishers
Clash of the Colossi: The First Punic War by Karwansary Publishers
Episode 34 – The Die is Cast
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