Public Release: 

Hannibal Lost The War Because He Could Not Supply His Armies

Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

The great Carthaginian general Hannibal and his army of tens of thousands of Iberian and north-African soldiers was able to repeatedly defeat the Romans. However, Hannibal ultimately lost the Second Punic War (218-201 BC) and with it the struggle for hegemony in the Mediterranean. Historians at Nijmegen University have studied the supply and storage of goods during the war. They discovered that Hannibal lost because he was unable to supply his armies properly at critical moments. The master strategist was defeated by logistics. Funding for the study came from the NWO's GW.

The Nijmegen study has clarified why Hannibal's victories in battle did not ultimately lead to his winning the war. The Carthaginians did not campaign in Italy according to a strategic plan but according to a logistical pattern which involved plundering one fertile area after the other while on the move and overwintering in areas were the grain stores were full. In the early years of the war, this approach led to a string of successes, but it also meant that Hannibal was unable to exert any constant pressure on the Roman forces.

When the mighty city-state of Capua north of Naples went over to the Carthaginians, the nature of the war changed. Rome now had an area were it could switch to a system of delaying tactics designed to harass the enemy while avoiding a pitched battle. The army assembled around the rebel city and directed cargoes of grain to stores roundabout. While the Roman soldiers were well fed and built up their strength for the attack, Hannibal had serious problems with his supplies. His army plundered the hinterland of Capua, which he could only come to the aid of sporadically and for short periods. He was also unable to besiege Rome because his troops would have starved before its walls. By saving Rome and conquering Capua, the Romans eventually succeeded in winning the Second Punic War.

Further information:
Paul Erdkamp (Nijmegen University)
T +31 24 356 4067 or -361 2856, F +31 24 361 2807


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