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This Week In History

The Battle of Trebia. December 18, 218 BC.

The Second Punic War (218–201 BC) was the second war fought between Carthage and Rome, the two main powers of the Mediterranean in the 3rd century BC. For 17 years, the two powers struggled for supremacy, first in Italy and Iberia, but also in Sicily and Sardinia and, facing the end of the war, in North Africa. After immense losses on both sides, the Carthaginians were defeated. MacedoniaSyracuse and several Numidian kingdoms were drawn into the war; and Iberian and Gallic forces fought on both sides. There were three main military scenaries during the war: Italy, where the Carthaginian general Hannibal defeated the Roman legions repeatedly, with occasional subsidiary campaigns in Sicily, Sardinia and Greece; Iberia, where Hasdrubal, a younger brother of Hannibal, defended the Carthaginian cities with mixed success until moving into Italy; and Africa, where the war was finally decided.

In 219 BC Hannibal besieged, captured and sacked the Iberian (and pro-Roman) city of Saguntum, prompting a declaration of war from Rome on Carthage in spring 218 BC. That year, Hannibal marched his army overland from Iberia, through Gaul and over the Alps to Cisalpine Gaul. Reinforced by Gallic allies, he obtained huge victories over the Romans at the battles of Trebia (218) and Lake Trasimene (217).

The Battle of the Trebia was the most important battle of the Second Punic War, fought between the Carthaginian forces of Hannibal and a Roman army under Sempronius Longus on 18 December 218 BC. It took place on the flood plain of the bank of the lower Trebia River, not far from the settlement of Placentia, and resulted in a great defeat for the Romans.

Moving to southern Italy in 216, Hannibal defeated the Romans again at the Battle of Cannae, where he crushed the largest army the Romans had ever put together. After the anihilation of more than 120,000 Roman troops in less than three years, many of Rome’s allies, most importantly Capua, surrendered to Carthage, giving Hannibal control over much of the south of Italy. When Syracuse and Macedonia joined the Carthaginians after Cannae, the conflict spread. Between 215 and 210 BC the Carthaginians attempted to capture Roman-held Sicily and Sardinia, but couldn´t do so. The Romans took drastic measures to raise new legions: enrolling slaves, criminals and those who did not meet the usual qualification and so vastly increasing the number of men they had in their armies. For the next ten years the war in the south of Italy continued, with Roman armies slowly but relentlessly recapturing most of the Italian cities that had joined Carthage previously.

The Romans established a settlement in north-east Iberia and the Carthaginians repeatedly attempted and failed to reduce it. In 211 BC the Romans took the offensive in Iberia and were decisively defeated, althought maintaining their hold on the north. In 209 BC the new Roman commander Publius Scipio captured Carthago Nova, the main Carthaginian base in the Iberian peninsula. In 208 BC Scipio defeated Hasdrubal, although Hasdrubal was able to withdraw most of his troops into Gaul and then Italy in spring 207 BC. This new Carthaginian invasion was defeated at the Battle of the Metaurus. At the Battle of Ilipa in 206 Scipio ended forever the Carthaginian presence in Iberia.

Scipio then invaded Carthaginian Africa in 204, trying that the Carthaginian Senate recall Hannibal’s army from Italy. The final confrontation of the war took place between armies under Scipio and Hannibal at the Battle of Zama in 202 and resulted first in Hannibal’s defeat and later in Carthage suing for peace. The peace treaty imposed on the Carthaginians took from them of all of their overseas territories, and some of their African territories also. A compensation of 10,000 silver talents was to be paid over 50 years. Carthage was forbidden from waging war outside Africa, and in Africa only with Rome’s permission. Many senior Carthaginians wanted to reject it, but Hannibal spoke strongly in the treaty´s favour and it was accepted in spring 201 BC. From then on, it was clear that Carthage was politically subordinate to Rome. Scipio was awarded a triumph and received the agnomen Africanus“.

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