Rome: The Punic Wars – The Second Punic War Begins – Extra History – #2


Welcome back! Let’s have some
more Roman history shall we? When we left off last time, Hamilcar’s
son Hannibal controlled a powerful army expanding the Carthaginian
territory in the Iberian Peninsula. Today, we begin the
second Punic war itself. Hannibal’s campaign in Iberia was
slowly taking his army ever northward. Eventually, his territory expanded
dangerously near to the Ebro River, which the previous Carthaginian ruler
in Spain had established as the border where Carthaginian influence ended
and Roman influence began. Obviously, the Romans were
not fans of this development… but here’s where it gets murky:
to this day, historians can’t agree on which river the Ebro River
referred to in the treaty actually is, which makes interpreting
what happens next simply a matter of deciding
who you believe. You see, there was a Greek colony
in northern Spain called Saguntum. It was a prosperous trading city and they
had recently signed a treaty with Rome. The Romans claimed that – according
to the Ebro River treaty – this city was sacrosanct and under
their protection, but Hannibal claimed it was on the wrong side of the river
and therefore part of his territory. The year is 219 BC, Hannibal is 26 years, and he remembers the oath
his father made him take: “Never be a friend to Rome”. So he attacks, laying siege to the city,
rebuking the Roman embassies that come to him for all the
wrongs Rome has done Carthage. For eight months, the Saguntines hold out,
all the while pleading to Rome for help, begging their ally to come save them from
what, without aid, is their certain doom. But Rome sent no troops. They had recently
become embroiled in a war in Illyria, the Balkan region north of Greece, so never sent the aid the
Seguntines were counting on, figuring that Saguntum could hold out on its
own until their own Balkan war was done. But Hannibal’s forces
were too much for them. At long last, with the Saguntum
population starving and the defenders falling back from outer wall to inner
wall to the citadel of the city itself, Hannibal emerged victorious
and his army pillaged the city, selling into slavery
everybody they didn’t kill. Now this is the point where Rome might have
been able to prevent the Second Punic War, might have nipped it in the bud, but – by not acting on their treaty
and not rescuing their ally – they brought twenty years of
unimaginable war upon the Mediterranean. When Saguntum fell, Rome sent an
emissary to Carthage to offer them a choice: surrender Hannibal to Rome or face war. The emissary stood before
the Carthaginian senate, surrounded by all the great men
of Carthage, and said to them: “I hold before you both peace and war.” The leader of the senate spat back:
“Choose what you will.” The envoy replied:
“I choose war.” And the entire chamber exploded
with shouts of: “We accept it!” And now it’s on. Hannibal’s off the leash.
The Second Punic War has begun. The Romans begin to prepare for war. They send an army down to Sicily
with one of their consuls to get ready for an invasion
of Carthage in North Africa and they send their other consul
off with an army to invade Iberia and capture Carthaginian holdings
there, leaving a small force of recruits to make sure that the Gauls in northern
Italy don’t take this as an opportunity to cause mischief while the
bulk of the military is away. And…Now’s probably a good
time to take a moment to talk a little bit about Roman politics, because it’s gonna become
very important in a second. You see, in Rome, each year they would
elect two Consuls to be the heads of state. These guys would function
more or less like the US President except that they each had veto power
over the other and, unlike the President who is supreme commander of the US Military
but doesn’t actually fight on the ground, these guys would also be the ones to
lead the Roman armies into battle. They were very much the
generals on the ground, choosing the strategies
and directing the battles. Of course, they weren’t amateurs in
this, you had to have 10 years of military service to even be eligible
for the lowest political office in Rome; nonetheless we’re gonna see how
politics effect this war pretty soon. For now, back to Hannibal…
Hannibal is a clever guy. He realizes that trying to defend
North Africa is a losing proposition, and he knows that fighting on his own turf
in Iberia will only result a slow defeat, so he plans to do the unthinkable and
invade Italy by crossing the Alps. Now, of course, that’s the one
thing the Romans didn’t plan for. The army they left in northern
Italy is nothing but raw recruits and the dregs of their former forces (all of their real soldiers are either heading
south to prepare for an African invasion or making the trek across what
is now France to invade Spain). And that’s where the first skirmish of the
war happens: that Spain-invasion force runs into Hannibal as he’s making his
way to the Alps and their scouts clash. A few hundred cavalry from
each side run into each other unexpectedly and come to blows. The Roman scouts manage to
push back the Carthaginians; it’s nothing decisive, the important thing is that they live to
report this news back to their commander: Publius Cornelius Scipio. You’re gonna wanna
remember that name: Scipio. You know how on the Carthaginian side you have the sons of the great
general Hamilcar from the last war, fighting together on a blood
oath they swore to their father to avenge the shame Carthage
suffered at the hands of the Romans? Well this guy is their Roman equivalent. This Scipio we just met will
eventually die on the field, slain by Hannibal’s armies, but his son will later crush Hannibal
and turn the tide of the war… and his great grandson will go on to sack
Carthage and wipe them out forever, seventy years after
the story we’re telling. See, that’s part of what makes
the second Punic war so epic, blood oaths and vengeance,
rivalry from two great houses, a war passed down from father to son, two bloodlines vying for
the fate of the world… it’s awesome. And this battle is their first meeting,
where the whole rivalry begins. Scipio, now aware of
Hannibal’s invasion force, tries to give chase but
Hannibal manages to slip away. Without the resources or the
logistics in place to do otherwise, Scipio makes the fateful decision to have
his army press on toward Spain as planned while he himself speeds back with all
haste to rally the forces in Northern Italy. Hannibal, meanwhile, continues
his march across France. The Romans expected him to be
slowed down by hostile tribes just like they always were
when they try to cross Gaul, but Hannibal’s planned ahead and he
already offered the tribes generous gifts and the promise that his fury
has only one target: Rome. The plan works. Mostly. He does still
get halted by the local forces once. At the Rhone River, a band of
Gauls with Roman allegiances assemble an army on the far side,
intending to prevent his crossing. However, unbeknownst to them, Hannibal has
already sent one of his officers, Hanno, known as Hanno son of Bomilcar, to
differentiate him from Hannibal’s own son, also named Hanno (just to be
perfectly confusing)… Anyway, Hannibal already sent Hanno with some
handpicked troops to cross the river upstream. So Hannibal makes to cross, the Gauls assemble on the opposite bank
to stop him and then, just as planned, Hanno comes bursting out of hiding
and assaults their forces from the rear, scattering the Gaul force and leaving the way
open for Hannibal’s army to continue their march. And haste was essential for
Hannibal as it was already September and he had to get his army across
the Alps before it got any colder. Even at this pace, the conditions
they faced in the Alps were brutal. There is a reason why this march is one of
the most famous events in military history and why its audacity caught
the Romans entirely by surprise, and that’s because everyone
thought it was impossible. There was no way you could march an army through the treacherous peaks of
the Alps in the beginning of winter. It simply could not be done.
And yet Hannibal went and did it. He dismissed the less reliable members
of his army at the foot of the Alps, and began his ascent. The weather was brutal,
men froze to death, mules fell from the frozen cliffs still
laden with the army’s food and supplies. Hill tribes attacked them, and rolled
boulders onto the narrow paths. Ice and snow beset them the whole way and at times men had to crawl to
make it along the tiny mountain track. But they did it. In the
end they made it to Italy… But the cost? By some accounts, Hannibal had
98,000 men when he started the climb, and only 26,000 when he set
foot into Italy on the other side. Upon reaching Italy, Hannibal gives his
troops time to rest from the arduous crossing and tries to recruit the
local Gauls to his cause, as they have no love for the
Romans either. Meanwhile, Scipio is racing towards them with whatever
handful of troops he can assemble, knowing full well what Hannibal intends. They meet and come to blows in a whirlwind
cavalry engagement by the Tincino. The larger, better trained
Carthaginian cavalry dances circles around the Roman infantry
and the few cavalry Scipio could muster. The engagement is small but a
decisive defeat for the Romans, a defeat in which Scipio is gravely
wounded and would have lost his life if it weren’t for a heroic rescue by his
then 18 year old son fighting by his side… a man we will later
know as Scipio Africanus. So Scipio withdraws to recover and regroup. This skirmish may not have been
a major victory for the Carthaginians but its an enormous boost to their
moral after such a grueling journey and the local Gauls,
upon hearing of the battle start to think Hannibal’s army might have
a chance and they begin defecting en masse. Now Rome is worried. The other consul,
Sempronius Longus, is recalled from Sicily, and he and his legions start marching
north to join Scipio’s battered command. When he arrives, Sempronius immediately
starts pressing for an attack. But Scipio, having already seen Hannibal’s
army in action, cautions against it. Sempronius is eager, though;
hot headed and looking to brawl. He believes Scipio’s caution
is born of his wounds, and thinks him cowardly to not attempt
to drive this invader from Roman soil. Scipio advises they use winter for
training (as you’ll remember the men left in north Italy were raw recruits or the
remnants of a previously defeated army), but here’s where the
Roman politics come in… the next year’s elections are drawing near
and Sempronius wants a glorious victory for his faction and his family
before this term’s done. He is not gonna be
denied this opportunity. Now, while each Roman consul is actually
the supreme commander of his army, when two consuls are together, they alternate
days for who is in charge of the whole thing; Hannibal knows this and he also
knows about Sempronius’ temperament, which he uses to bait a trap. Early one morning, after
sending his brother Mago with two thousand handpicked
men to hide behind a small hill, Hannibal sends out a detachment of
cavalry to harass the Roman army, who are camped just
across the river Trebia. It’s the winter solstice, one of
the coldest days of the year, sleet is pouring down
and the sun’s just barely beginning to rise when this
detachment is spotted. Sempronius orders the chase
and his men leap out of bed, throwing on their armor
and prepare to engage. The Carthaginian cavalry retreats across
the river and Sempronius gives chase. He orders his men to wade across the river. The men drag themselves to
the other side in full armor, sometimes up to their
necks in the freezing water. Once across, it’s clear that Hannibal
is willing to meet them in battle, so the troops are ordered to form up. Think about how long it would
take to get 50,000 men organized and in formation with nothing
but shouting and some flags… It takes hours, so here the
men are, standing in the sleet, soaked from head to toe with frigid water, roused before dawn and launched
into a chase without even time for meal… it’s probably been half a day
since any of them have eaten. Meanwhile, Hannibal let his men sleep
in and had them around big roaring fires eating a hearty meal before forming up. Now to add to that put yourself
in the Romans’ shoes for a moment. Imagine you’re a provincial Roman farmer.
The most you’ve seen of the world is maybe the length of Italy
if you’re really well-traveled. Now imagine that through
the sleet and the mist, you see a great Grey lumbering
bulk begin to emerge. Imagine you see this creature two
and a half times as tall as you, at least a chariot length long, with glistening
white tusks and a distended snout, its eerie trumpeting carrying
across to you faintly on the wind. This is probably the closest that human
beings ever got to legit fighting monsters, fighting something so alien and gargantuan
that there was no frame of reference for them. The average Italian had probably
never even heard of an elephant, much less seen one before, so imagine
lining up against that and knowing that you’ll have to fight such a thing
with just your short spear and your sword… Now despite all of those disadvantages, the
Roman infantry fared pretty well at first, more than holding their own against
the hodgepodge of Numidians, Celts and Spaniards that faced them, but the exhausted roman
cavalry is driven off the field. The Numidian cavalry then wheels
around and attacks the Roman flanks. At the same time, Mago’s forces (that
have been so patiently laying in ambush) spring onto the Roman rear and
everything starts to collapse. Though Sempronius escapes with his life, the Romans’ retreat leaves
more than 25,000 dead. For the first time, the Romans
see this is gonna be no easy war. Join us next time for the continuation
of the Second Punic War. Thanks for watching! Subtitled by: Louis Lenders

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Most of the research for these videos comes from:

Polybius’ The Histories

Livy’s History of Rome

…but if you just want an overview, here’s a wikipedia link:

Author: dhobson