published on 13 March 2012
Hannibal Barca, general of Carthage during the 2d Punic War with Rome, 218-202 BC, has few peers in the annals of military history. He invaded the homeland of his enemy and remained there, undefeated, for fifteen years. He soundly defeated every Roman army that dared to risk battle with him while in Italy. The military historian Trevor N. Dupuy named Hannibal, the “Father of Strategy.” Carthage, however, lost the 2d Punic War decisively and survived less than a century more; Hannibal was a strategic failure. If so, why did he fail? The failure was certainly not at the tactical or operational level of war. Hannibal won every major battle against the Romans in Italy. He formed and reformed successful armies without reinforcement from his strategic base. Hannibal’s lone failure on the tactical battlefield occurred at Zama after he had already been forced to leave Italy and no longer threatened Rome.
In the final analysis Rome’s national level strategy was superior to that of Carthage. What were the strategic factors that allowed Rome to absorb repeated body blows and to endure an enemy army in its homeland for more than a decade without succumbing? The answers to these questions provide the key to understanding Carthage’s failure in the 2d Punic War.
A close examination of the 2d Punic War reveals many lessons at the strategic level of war that endure to this day. Hannibal and Carthage failed when their inherent strategic weakness was confronted by the more robust and resilient Rome. Roman strategy effectively combined all elements of national power into a coherent, war winning strategy.
Research Paper, U.S. Army War College, 2001