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Why Did Hannibal Not March On Rome?

Shouldn’t Hannibal Have Marched On Rome After His Victory At The Battle Of Cannae?

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Why Did Hannibal Not March On Rome? After Hannibal Barca’s epic victory at Cannae, one of the greatest military triumphs in world history, many wonder why Hannibal didn’t march on Rome? 

Was Hannibal intimidated by Rome? 

This is the same man who said, “I will either find a way, or make one.“

By deciding not to march on Rome, Hannibal may have ultimately lost the war for Carthage. In addition, it changed the course of human civilization, culture, and language forever.

Hannibal’s advantage lay in mobility. Hannibal’s crossing the Alps with his elephants is probably the single-most famous image of him in today’s world.

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Furthermore, Hannibal could strike and move; choosing his ground. His victory at Cannae stemmed from brilliant mobility within the battle. Moving his forces that were half the strength of the Romans into tactically advantageous positions. 

Destruction of the Roman army (red), courtesy of the Department of History, United States Military Academy.

A protracted siege would have nullified this strength. 

It would have left him vulnerable to the Roman armies already in the field.

In addition, there is no assurance that capturing Rome would have ended the war. Rome had been sacked before and endured. It fell into many hands during its many internal struggles yet “Rome” went on.

Battle of the Port of Carthage

Furthermore, Hannibal (and Carthage) could never hope to match Rome’s sheer manpower. Rome simply had a much deeper well of citizens to call upon.

Plus, Hannibal wanted to break Rome’s alliances! Hannibal said, “I have come not to make war on the Italians, but to aid the Italians against Rome.“

Unfortunately for him, it failed. Rome’s political system proved too strong.

Lastly, Hannibal was following the age-old Hellenic ideals of war. 

Wherein, often a single victory or a small number of victories was enough to force one’s enemy to either concede defeat or bring them to the bargaining table. 

Rome was different from others in the sense that they believed in either total victory or total defeat. Absolute dominance or absolute downfall.

Rome’s population at the time is estimated to be around 400,000. Assuming Rome put even 25% of them under arms to defend the city, that would still be more than 3x the infantry available to Hannibal after Cannae.

In addition, Hannibal’s fantastic cavalry isn’t very useful when assaulting a city. 

Even if you repurposed the cavalrymen as infantrymen, the Romans would still have a 2:1 advantage.

quarter shekel of Carthage, perhaps minted in Spain; the obverse may depict Hannibal with the traits of a young Melqart; the reverse features one of his famous war elephants.

Moreover, there is a large reason why Hannibal never besieged Rome.

Rome had a harbor which allowed provisions to flow in, so a land siege alone would not have been enough to break the Romans. 

Hannibal could not besiege Rome from both land and sea. 

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Carthage had already lost the first punic war and most of its navy in it, not that Carthage would have sent a navy had Hannibal requested one for the siege. Again, Hannibal did not have great support back home in Carthage. 

Marching on Rome would have only pinned his army down until Rome would raise new Legions within its walls. And then reinforcements from Roman allies would come to attack Hannibal from his rear, and he would have found himself surrounded. 

At the end of the day Hannibal didn’t have the numbers to besiege or the logistics to build a siege that could penetrate Rome’s great walls. His only hope was to get all the Greek cities to change sides. 

Plus, Hannibal wanted the love of the people, not their destruction, Hannibal said “I am not carrying on a war of extermination against the Romans. I am contending for honour and empire. My ancestors yielded to Roman valour. I am endeavouring that others, in their turn, will be obliged to yield to my good fortune, and my valour.“

However, looking at history from the flip side. Hannibal fought many battles outnumbered so taking Rome may not have been a numbers game as many people believe it waa. 

Rather, Hannibal didn’t have any siege equipment!

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In addition he also had followers all over Italy that he didn’t want to anger by laying siege to Rome. 

Carthage might have been able to sack Rome as there was not a better military commander alive at the time than Hannibal. But, Hannibal had little to no support back in Carthage. With that support Rome might have been crushed?

Battle of Varna

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Why Did Hannibal Not March On Rome?