Rome: The Punic Wars – The Conclusion of the Second Punic War – Extra History – #4


Alright, it’s time we finish this… When we left off, Roman forces had
just been annihilated at Cannae. Rome’s allies began to defect and the
Macedonians declared for Hannibal. So what happened? How
come, episode after episode, we see Rome getting absolutely pummeled
when, because of the languages we speak, because of the legacy they left us,
we know that they win this war? Well the Romans had a saying
that basically goes something like “You aren’t defeated until you accept defeat” and Hannibal didn’t seem
to fully understand that. And so here, in this moment, right
after his greatest achievement, Hannibal does the one thing which
historians have debated for centuries, the one thing for which he’s criticized:
he doesn’t go for Rome. Now, the criticisms may be a little unfair,
Hannibal may have rightly assessed that – even with his victories – he could not
have overcome the walls of Rome, but it’s one of those great “what ifs”
of history, one of those great moments where the fate of the world hinged
on a single decision by a single man… What if he had chosen the other side,
what if he had marched on Rome? But we’ll never know, because instead
Hannibal offered the Romans terms. He expected them, like any other
civilization in the ancient world would, to accept peace terms after
such devastating losses and such a disastrous
reduction in men and material. But the Romans refused to admit defeat. In fact, they didn’t even accept an offer
from Hannibal to ransom their hostages. For Rome, the gates of Janus were
open: there is nothing but war. But this still doesn’t answer our question,
how on earth do the Romans come back? Well, while Rome was busy
losing everything in Italy, they were doing a bit better
on other fronts of the war. So let’s leave Italy for a while, and
talk about the rest of the theaters. First, what’s going on in Sicily? Well at first glance, it looks pretty
rough, it looks like the Carthaginians are gonna have yet another great
victory just fall into their lap. You see, Heiro the Second,
the king of Syracuse, had become an unswerving ally
of the Romans in the First Punic War, but in 215 BC he died and
his grandson took over… and promptly decided to
ally with the Carthaginians. And I’ve got to keep this short in order to cover everything we’re
trying to get through in this episode, but let’s just say this blessing
turned into a curse. This switch of allegiance got the
Carthaginians to commit forces to Sicily that perhaps could have
been better used elsewhere, and these forces ended up suffering
from disease and from not being commanded by Hannibal and so ended
up just weakened and tied down. Meanwhile Archimedes, who’s the ancient
world’s mad scientist super genius and one of the things that makes
the Second Punic War so awesome, held the Romans in Sicily at bay for
three years with super powered catapults, cranes that would lift ships out of the
sea and drop them back in again and, if tales are to be believed, a series of mirrors that formed a heat ray
that could ignite ships sitting on the water. Some of his insights into mathematics
and engineering are still taught today, and he’s totally a character
worth looking up, but alas for the world, despite
orders not to harm him, when the Romans finally captured
the city, he was slain in the sack. But in true intellectual-hero-of
-the-ancient-world fashion, when one of the roman
soldiers approached him, they found him working
on a mathematical proof; he turned towards the soldiers with their
swords drawn and simply said to them; “do not disturb my circles”, and
then turned back to his work… or at least so the story goes. Ok, so Sicily, ultimately a win for
the Romans. Now, let’s look to Spain. You’ll remember, Spain was
the home base for Hannibal and the whole Barcid family, and
Rome had initially sent an army there under Publius Cornelius Scipio. We haven’t heard from them in a while.
Well it turns out this entire time, Publius and his brother have been out in
Spain fighting Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal. They’ve been doing much better
than the Romans facing Hannibal, winning minor victories and otherwise stalling
out the Carthaginians in their home turf, but in 211 BC all that was about to change. While Rome was entirely tied up with
trying to replace its lost armies in Italy, Carthage began to reinforce
their armies in Spain. Seeing that the newly arrived
Carthaginian troops were split up and actually formed three relatively small
armies rather than a single large one, the Scipiones decided to divide their own
army and try to attack these pieces of the Carthaginian force before they could
become one united army too large to deal with. Unfortunately for them,
Hasdrubal had their number. In one case where the Romans
hoped to attack a small contingent of Carthaginians unnoticed,
their actions were spotted and they ended up facing two of
the smaller armies on different flanks rather than just taking on one as
intended, and they ended up being routed. In the other battle, Hasdrubal paid the
mercenaries on the Roman side to desert and so the Romans went from a numerical
advantage to an overwhelming deficit and, despite a heroic last stand behind saddles
and camp equipment, they were wiped out. “Ok, wait”
I hear some of you saying “I thought we were gonna
hear about Rome winning”. Well the situation in Hispania gets better. You remember Scipio, who led that original Roman force
out to attack Hannibal in Spain. Well here is where his son Scipio
Africanus really comes into our story. Now mind you he hasn’t actually
earned the title “Africanus” yet, but we’re just gonna call him
that because like his father, he’s also named Publius Cornelius
Scipio because of COURSE he is. So, Scipio Africanus pleads with
the Romans for command in Spain. He asks to be able to avenge his father
and uncle and to bring glory to Rome. And, despite his youth,
the Romans elect him to go. Livy tells us though that it’s not because they
had any special confidence in this 25 year old or because of the honor they gave
to his desire to avenge his father, but rather because everyone else
considered a command in Spain suicide and he was the only one who
volunteered to take it on. But it turns out they chose
the right man for the job. Without telling anyone except Gaius Laelius, his close friend and the commander of
the fleet that was to accompany him, Scipio did the unthinkable
and – with his inferior force – raced for the Carthaginian
capital in Spain: Carthago Nova. Because the action was unthinkable
and he hadn’t told anyone his plan (not even the sub commanders in his army), he was able to reach Carthago
Nova completely by surprise. He rapidly began to assail the city, with his first attack he tried to
lure the defenders out of the city and almost succeeded in forcing his
way in, but was beaten back. Later that day, he attacked again,
this time with a trick up his sleeve. He ordered his men to
attack from all sides, including an assault from the harbor which
Gaius Laelius and his marines had taken. He then ordered a
contingent of 500 of his men to wait near a lagoon that
abutted the wall of the city. And then a squall came in,
just as Scipio expected. His men hadn’t expected it,
so to them it looked like magic as the winds drained the lagoon
and allowed them to easily cross. They assaulted the section of the
wall that no one had thought to defend because the lagoon made it unassailable. With all the defenders tied
up with the other assaults, these five hundred men opened the city and
the Romans made short work of the garrison, brutally slaughtering anyone they found until
the commander of the garrison surrendered. With the fall of Carthago Nova, Scipio
gained the much needed supplies, valuables and allies that would fuel
the rest of his campaign in Spain. After this, he defeated Hasdrubal’s
army in the field and Hasdrubal made the fateful decision to abandon Spain and
cross the Alps to join his brother in Italy. With Hasdrubal and his forces off to Italy, the remaining Carthaginian
commanders in Spain decided to make one more attempt to retake
that Iberian Peninsula from the Romans and met them for battle
at a place called Ilipa. The Carthaginians had more
men than the Romans but, neither side wanting to make the first move, both forces assembled for battle each
day and then just sat there, looking at one another,
before retiring for the night. But Scipio, clever guy that he was,
decided to use this to his advantage. Each day he would assemble
his troops in the same fashion, with his strong troops in the center
and his lighter troops on the flanks. Until one day, before dawn, he order
his troops to eat and arm themselves and drew up his line incredibly
close to the enemy camp. Then he sent out his cavalry to attack the
Carthaginians, drawing them out to battle. And in their haste to respond, the
Carthaginian commander didn’t notice that – on this day – Scipio had
arrayed his men differently, his strong troops on his wings,
his weaker troops in the center. Scipio then ordered his
center to slowly fall back, refusing to do battle with the strong
Carthaginian troops that had been placed, as usual, in the center. At the same time, the Roman legions on
the wings crushed the weaker troops that the Carthaginians had placed there
and then wheeled in on their center. He had pulled a Hannibal.
It was utter destruction. It was a loss for the Carthaginians nearly
as bad as the Roman loss at Cannae. Never again would they hold
sway on the Iberian Peninsula. Meanwhile, getting back to Italy, things
had turned into a big game of Reversi: Hannibal would flip some towns and then the Romans would
follow after and flip them back, sticking to the Fabian strategy
of never directly engaging him… but Hasdrubal crossing the
Alps changed the rules. If Hannibal could just join
forces with Hasdrubal, he would finally have an army
large enough to take Rome. The Romans could not allow this. Unfortunately, the Roman
armies were divided, one was in the North, trying to
blunt Hasdrubal’s movements, another was in the south having just
fought a small skirmish with Hannibal. Neither army was able to face Hasdrubal
alone, so they decide on a desperate gamble. Gaius Claudius Nero, the consul in the
south would take a contingent of his army, slip out of his camp and link up with his
co-consul Marcus Livius Salinator in the north. If Hannibal ever realized what they
were attempting, they’d be screwed. If Hasdrubal decided to engage before
Nero got there, they’d be screwed. If either of the Carthaginian
armies moved, they’d be screwed. But they decided to try it anyway. Nero’s men slip out of the camp. With the rest of his army manning
around the clock watches and posting double guards to convince
Hannibal that nothing has changed, they forced march more
than 300 miles in seven days and successfully arrive unnoticed
in Livius Salinator’s camp at night. The next day, when the
battle lines are drawn up, Hasdrubal recognizes the difference
in army sizes and tries to withdraw but he’s betrayed by his guide and ends
up forced to fight with his back to a river. His army is utterly destroyed. It’s said
that when he realized that all was lost he charged out into the
middle of the Roman army, deciding to fight to the last
rather than be captured. With Hasdrubal dead, the Roman senate finally okayed Scipio’s
grand plan for an invasion of Africa. They were finally going to take
the war to the Carthaginians. Scipio began massing an army in Sicily and sent his friend Laelius with a few thousand
men to assess the situation in Africa. As Laelius would soon see, the political
situation there was in upheaval. Specifically, he found a conflict
between two of the Numidian princes, and one of them, Masinissa,
was loyal to the Romans. Laelius conveyed to Scipio the
need for haste and Scipio set sail to bring their combined forces to
assist the exiled prince Masinissa. Now you’ll remember from earlier episodes
how it was the Numidian cavalry that time and again bested the
Romans and turned the tide of battle. Well now, with Masinissa on their side,
Rome had their own Numidian cavalry, and the Carthaginians would
soon be the ones without. Soon Scipio and the Carthaginians found
themselves in a stalemate in Africa, each feigning diplomacy while
preparing for a preemptive strike. But Scipio got in the first blow, marching his
army to the enemy camp in the dead of night and sending his troops in to
set fires all over the camp, while Laelius and Masinissa’s cavalry
finished off any troops that tried to escape. Soon after, the Carthaginians suffered
ANOTHER defeat to the Romans, leaving them without an army in the field. They were as defenseless as Rome after Cannae. So, at last, with no options
remaining, they recalled Hannibal. Imagine what it must have been
like to be Hannibal at this moment. His entire life for nothing. All
those years, all those sacrifices, the loss of his brother, the loss of his
eye, made worthless in a moment. Knowing, in your heart of hearts
that the one thing you strove for, the one thing you dedicated yourself to,
that you swore to do in your oath, would never come to pass. That is the Hannibal that boarded
those ships to return his army home. And the irony of it all,
when he was recalled, he was the one who argued
not to fight the Romans, not to field the raw recruits
Carthage had, to at least delay. But he was ordered to take the field by
the Carthaginian senate, and so he did. In the end, all that brilliance,
all those years of work, came down to very typical ancient
battle, a brawl in the desert heat. It was close, Hannibal’s veterans held
strong against the Roman legions, but then Laelius and Masinissa’s cavalry drove
the now weaker Carthaginian cavalry from the field and wheeled into
the back of Hannibal’s troops. And just like that, it was done.
Carthage surrendered. Fifty years later, the adopted
grandson of Scipio would come back and reduce Carthage to nothing but myth,
history and some dry stones in the desert sand, but that’s a tale for another time… Once again, we want to give a big thank
you to the folks at Creative Assembly for making this possible. We hope you all learned something or at least found something in this
retelling of history that you could enjoy And if these events interested you, we hope
you decide to do some more research on them, because we have barely
touched the surface here. Our time talking Roman history
with you has been all too short, but as they say:
“Ave atque vale”. So long! Subtitled by: Louis Lenders

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Polybius’ The Histories

Livy’s History of Rome

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Author: dhobson