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Hannibal lived during a period of tension in the Mediterranean, when the Roman Republic established its supremacy over other great powers such as Carthage, the Hellenistic kingdoms of Macedon, Syracuse, and the Seleucid empire. One of his most famous achievements was at the outbreak of the Second Punic War, when he marched an army, which included war elephants, from Iberia over the Pyrenees and the Alps into northern Italy. In his first few years in Italy, he won three dramatic victories — Trebia, Trasimene, and Cannae — and won over several allies of Rome. Hannibal occupied much of Italy for 15 years, but a Roman counter-invasion of North Africa forced him to return to Carthage, where he was decisively defeated by Scipio Africanus at the Battle of Zama. Scipio studied Hannibal's tactics and brilliantly devised some of his own, and finally defeated Rome's nemesis at Zama having previously driven Hasdrubal, Hannibal's brother, out of the Spanish peninsula.
After the war, Hannibal successfully ran for the office of suffete. He enacted political and financial reforms to enable the payment of the war indemnity imposed by Rome. However, Hannibal's reforms were unpopular with members of the Carthaginian aristocracy and Rome, and he fled into voluntary exile. During his exile, he lived at the Seleucid court, where he acted as military adviser to Antiochus III in his war against Rome. After Antiochus met defeat and was forced to accept Rome's terms, Hannibal fled again, making a stop in Armenia. His flight ended in the court of Bithynia, where he achieved an outstanding naval victory against a fleet from Pergamum. He was afterwards betrayed to the Romans.
Often regarded as the greatest military tactician and strategist in European history, Hannibal would later be considered one of the greatest generals of antiquity, together with Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Scipio, and Pyrrhus of Epirus. Plutarch states that, when questioned by Scipio as to who was the greatest general, Hannibal is said to have replied either Alexander, Pyrrhus, then himself, or, according to another version of the event, Pyrrhus, Scipio, then himself. Military historian Theodore Ayrault Dodge once famously called Hannibal the "father of strategy", because his greatest enemy, Rome, came to adopt elements of his military tactics in its own strategic arsenal. This praise has earned him a strong reputation in the modern world, and he was regarded as a "gifted strategist" by men like Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington.
Prusias agreed to give him up, but Hannibal was determined not to fall into his enemies' hands. At Libyssa on the eastern shore of the Sea of Marmara, he took poison, which, it was said, he had long carried about with him in a ring. Before dying, he left behind a letter declaring, "Let us relieve the Romans from the anxiety they have so long experienced, since they think it tries their patience too much to wait for an old man's death".
The precise year of Hannibal's death is unknown. In his Annales, Titus Pomponius Atticus reports it occurred in 183 BC, and Livy implies the same. Polybius, who wrote nearest the event, gives 182 BC. Sulpicius Blitho records it under 181 BC.
The material of legend: in "Snow-storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps", J.M.W. Turner envelopes Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps in Romantic atmosphere.
Hannibal is usually ranked among the best military strategists and tacticians. According to Appian, several years after the Second Punic War, Hannibal was a political advisor in the Seleucid Kingdom and Scipio was sent there on a diplomatic mission from Rome.
It is said that at one of their meetings in the gymnasium Scipio and Hannibal had a conversation on the subject of generalship, in the presence of a number of bystanders, and that Scipio asked Hannibal whom he considered the greatest general, to which the latter replied, "Alexander of Macedonia".
To this Scipio assented since he also yielded the first place to Alexander. Then he asked Hannibal whom he placed next, and he replied, "Pyrrhus of Epirus", because he considered boldness the first qualification of a general; "for it would not be possible", he said, "to find two kings more enterprising than these".
Scipio was rather nettled by this, but nevertheless he asked Hannibal to whom he would give the third place, expecting that at least the third would be assigned to him; but Hannibal replied, "to myself; for when I was a young man I conquered Hispania and crossed the Alps with an army, the first after Hercules. I invaded Italy and struck terror into all of you, laid waste 400 of your towns, and often put your city in extreme peril, all this time receiving neither money nor reinforcements from Carthage".
As Scipio saw that he was likely to prolong his self-laudation he said, laughing, "where would you place yourself, Hannibal, if you had not been defeated by me?" Hannibal, now perceiving his jealousy, replied, "in that case I should have put myself before Alexander". Thus Hannibal continued his self-laudation, but flattered Scipio in a delicate manner by suggesting that he had conquered one who was the superior of Alexander.
At the end of this conversation Hannibal invited Scipio to be his guest, and Scipio replied that he would be so gladly if Hannibal were not living with Antiochus, who was held in suspicion by the Romans. Thus did they, in a manner worthy of great commanders, cast aside their enmity at the end of their wars.
Hannibal's exploits (especially his victory at Cannae) continue to be studied in military academies all over the world.
Hannibal's celebrated feat in crossing the Alps with war elephants passed into European legend: detail of a fresco by Jacopo Ripanda, ca. 1510, Capitoline Museums, Rome.
Maximilian Otto Bismarck Caspari, in his article in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, praises Hannibal in these words: