Sources for this article include mostly Nepos as well as some Livy and Eutropius. These were all read in the original Latin.
If you are familiar with my very early works, you will know my position on the nature of the supposedly extinct Punic and Canaanite religions (which I have found some evidence still exist within Levantine diasporas, and no, this does not mean specifically Jews. Please see here for more details). Chiefly, that they seem to be born of some evil animus or deity which I would simply refer to “cornufer” or horn-bearer, as I have found connections spanning many cultures and religions on this evil — a topic which will be covered in a massive article which I hope to be prepared to release this month. Indeed, our evidence for the burning of live infants is best found in the Tophets found in the old city of Carthage, and our ancient sources seem to confirm this — though they are surely to be trusted slightly less than what one can willfully view with their own eyes. Again, check out the article I linked above to get more information on this if you are unfamiliar.
The Romans, quite literally by all accounts, despised the Carthaginians surely as much as the Carthaginians despised the Romans. For the Carthaginians however, this hatred was birthed at their defeat in the first Punic War, where they were humiliated and edged out of their supremacy over Mediterranean trade. One family in particular, was particularly humiliated by these events, this was the infamous “Barcid” family, the progenitors of the even more infamous Hannibal.
Its not particularly difficult to find sources on Hannibal’s genius. He was surely a man who saw matters of military with very clear eyes. He understood everything that the Romans did, and even understood that without some support, Fabius’ strategy of delaying Hannibal was destined to be victorious. Yet, until he was driven to Africa, he was never outright defeated (though he had many close calls and indeterminate skirmishes) on the field of battle, and in fact in all of his engagements Italy were very one-sided. And thus, he was lauded by some later Roman authors who recognized his supreme skill in commanding soldiers who were mostly a scrappy band of mercenaries against a professional, albeit hastily organized, standing army.
So, in this period of his life, he had achieved ultimate glory. We are told by Roman historians that he was raised from a child to be made to believe that it was indeed his destiny to become the ruination of Rome. After the battles of Trebia, Trasimene, and Cannae, it is hard to imagine the pride that he felt, as he surely exceeded the expectations of the Romans (this we know for a fact), and very likely the Carthaginians as well. Despite this, however, he likely had an inkling that he was in trouble, as political support from the Carthaginian senate was very poor and indeed some contemporary historians have postulated that had he had greater help provided by the Carthaginian senate, he would have conquered Rome outright. Whether this is true or not, only the muses can say, but what destiny he awaited was one of defeat.
He was forced to leave Italy, and soon thereafter Scipio Africanus defeated him at Zama. Carthage folded to Roman demands. The Romans demanded that all but 35 ships be burnt, and this sight of the entire Carthaginian fleet (which had been the greatest in the world, so much so that the Romans had given up on trying to compete at sea) burning was seen by the Carthaginians as if it was their own city, and indeed Livy reports great weeping and wailing coming from the crowds of the Carthaginian populace.
After this capitulation, the Carthaginian senate was dominated by those who were simply not interested in further conflict, and indeed felt that it was an impossible task. So, Hannibal, believing in his destiny, sought help elsewhere, and managed to flee to Tyre — the once great capital of the entire Phoenician empire, now conquered by Alexander and left to the Seleucids. Antiochus III, the largely successful king of the Seleucid empire at this time, having recently restored his kingdom to its former glory with a set of large territorial gains in the East, was surely now sizing up the now victorious and locally supreme Roman Republic for which he competed with for influence over largely Greek city-states — lucrative for their trade. The Romans, likewise, were already suspicious of Hannibal’s potential treachery under Carthaginian custody. Indeed, at the first sign that Hannibal had left the city, the Romans and Carthaginians (under Roman influence) formally declared him to be exiled.
He was formally accepted by Antiochus, who had by this time already been preparing for a war with Rome. They planned further together, and though it is rumored that Hannibal was largely doubtful of Antiochus’ prospects, Hannibal more likely goaded Antiochus on rather than be openly opposed to such a conflict. At this point, despite whatever evident weaknesses in Antiochus’ military situation there may have been, Hannibal was certainly not opposed to open war with Rome. The sources do not disagree whatsoever here.
Macedonia and much of the rest of the various Greek polities had been recently suffered great defeats at the hands of the Romans, and thus the Romans were able to exercise a great deal of control over the entire region. Indeed, they garrisoned troops in various Greek cities in order to maintain hegemony over the wily Greeks who had their dignity crushed by the Macedonian wars which ended any hopes of Greek independence or sovereignty. In particular, the Aetolian League could see their power diminish greatly, with the Romans imposing garrisons, laws, and other various sanctions on the region. The Aetolian League could never become a great power at this stage in their history, and thus, I would consider them a petty state.
Sparta, having not associated itself with Macedonia at any real time in history (even under Alexander they were largely ignored and considered insignificant, as their fame and power had largely waned away at that time, and this was even more so the case when the Romans subjugated the Macedonians a little over one hundred years later), was soon invaded by Rome. Sparta, at this time, could be considered the pettiest of all petty states. This, however insignificant Sparta was, triggered great unrest in the region as they appealed to the nearby Aetolians for help, creating a situation of rebellion in Greece which was swiftly utilized by Antiochus and Hannibal to justify crossing the Hellespont and marching on the Thermopylae as the Persians had done almost 300 years prior (and the Seleucids once again lost this particular battle), with the claim of “liberating the Greeks”. The Seleucids were by no means a petty state, but once again Rome and another “great power” had been brought into a confrontation over the influence exerted upon a small set of cities in the Mediterranean.
At a massive naval battle off the coast of the city of Side in Southern Anatolia, Hannibal commanded the greater part of the Seleucid fleet against the Rhodian (who were under the influence of Rome at the time) fleet. Hannibal was forced to flee, but managed to save most of the ships. However, he was unable to immediately regroup with the rest of the Seleucid fleet. This would eventually result in a catastrophic defeat of the Seleucid fleet, giving the Romans naval supremacy in the Aegean. Hannibal, seeing that defeat was imminent, made an escape to Crete where he managed to smuggle a great deal of money, according to Nepos, by hiding it in some bronze statues he had. He apparently also “donated” some number of amphorae of what he claimed to be gold to a temple of Diana which pleased the Cretan princes, though these amphorae were in fact filled with lead rather than gold. This, apparently, allowed him to keep his assets and whereabouts quite secret for a time before he fled for the Kingdom of Bithynia, another petty state, in Northern Anatolia which was entangled in a war with one of Rome’s client petty states: Pergamon.
Hannibal had great success helping the Bithynians, and after a great number of victories, the Romans intervened and sought Hannibal’s location. According to Livy and Nepos, he was in a castle with only a few servants. When the Romans surrounded this castle, he apparently poisoned himself, and was buried not far away.
Nepos gives us a tantalizing detail: that during his time in this castle hideaway, a Spartan loyal to Hannibal by the name of “Sosilius” (presumably, “Σοσίλιος”) taught him in the use of the Greek script (Hannibal could already speak Greek, but could not write it). He apparently produced some unknown number of books or letters. None of these have ever been found or are likely to be found.
This was the life of a man who sought all the world in search of vengeance for his fatherland, fought valiantly in all his pursuits, came impossibly close to an impossible victory a great number of times, and finally poisoned himself in a fortified yet encircled position. Poesis ebbs and flows, and in doing so, it resonates throughout the passage of history.
So, remember Hannibal’s religion, then think of other such strange sacrificial religions endemic only to the 20th century. Remember that this particular poetic harmony consistently produces tragedy.