Sunday, 29 April 2012

Hannibal Crosses the Ebro (218 BC)

The first stage of the invasion of Italy was to cross the Ebro river, leaving Carthaginian territory in Spain.

This was the last time Hannibal would see Spain, the country where he grew up.

Hannibal had spent the winter of 219-218 at Carthago Nova in active preparations for carrying the war into Italy.

He first provided for the security of Africa and Spain by leaving an army of about 16,000 men in each country. The army in Africa consisted principally of Spanish troops, and that in Spain of Africans. He had already received promises of support from the Gauls who inhabited the north of Italy, and who were anxious to deliver themselves from Roman domination. late in the spring of 218, with an army of 80,000 foot and 12,000 horse.

Early in the spring of 218 having thus made every necessary preparation, Hannibal set out from Carthago Nova, with an army that consisted of, according to Polybius, 90,000 infantry, 12,000 cavalry and a number of elephants. Hannibal left Spain ahead of the Roman army he knew would be arriving so he left about 20,000 troops with his brother, Hasdrubal, to fight in Spain.

To assume the mantle of command in Spain in his absence he selected his brother, Hasdrubal Barca, the second son of Hamilar Barca who was then probably about 25-years-old. Having campaigned across Iberia from an early age, he knew the lay of the land and the temperament of its people. Unfortunately for Hasdrubal, other than his immediate deputy Himilco, he had no subordinate commanders worthy of mention. The entire veteran officer corps of the Carthaginian army in Spain accompanied Hannibal on his march to Italy.

Hasdrubal's primary mission was simply to maintain control of Carthaginian Spain. Next he was to defend the province against the expected Roman invasion. Finally, he was to raise and train additional forces and, when conditions permitted, lead another army into Italy. Initially Hasdrubal's army was almost exclusively African. His infantry consisted of 11,850 Libyan spearmen, 300 Ligurian mercenaries and 500 Balearic slingers, while his mounted force included 1,800 Numidian light cavalry, 450 Libyan-Phoenician heavy cavalry, 300 Spanish horse of the Illergete tribe, and 21 war elephants. His fleet numbered 32 quinqueremes and five triremes.

After crossing the Ebro in April or May of 218 Hannibal conducted a rapid campaign to subdue northern Spain, less the Greek coastal cities. Hanno was left with 10,000 foot and 1,000 horse to control the area.

In his march from the Iberus to the Pyrennees he was opposed by a great number of the native tribes, but these were quickly defeated, though with loss. Before crossing the Pyrenees, he left Hanno to secure his recent conquests with a detachment from his own army of 11,000 men. He sent back the same number of Spanish troops to their own cities, and with an army now reduced to 50,000 foot and 9,000 horse.

Hannibal then moved on to cross the Pyrennees to cross the Rhone and reach Transalpine Gaul.

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