Forbidding mountains reaching to touch the sky. Beyond them hostile, enemy armies. What to do? Where to go? Forward.
In 218 B.C. a Carthaginian general and his army cross the Italian Alps and entered the heartland of the Roman Republic. The general was Hannibal, a man considered by his peers and later historians to be one of the greatest generals of ancient history. During January 2015 our history posts on Fridays will be examining the leadership and historical account of this momentous undertaking.
You might have a lot of questions right now, so lets do some fast facts on the topic.
1. Exactly how long ago did this event happen? 218 BC is two hundred and eighteen years before Christ was born, so approximately 2,233 years ago. By the way, I’m old-fashioned and like to use BC (Before Christ) rather than BCE (Before The Common Era)
2. Where on earth was Carthage? In North Africa, modern day Tunisia. Carthage was founded by Phoenician exiles (more about that next week) and was the Roman Republic’s main rival in the Mediterranean region. Both Carthage and Rome wanted to destroy each other and they fought the Punic Wars. Hannibal crossed the Alps during the Second Punic War.
3. So if Carthage is in Africa, why was Hannibal in Europe? Great question! Carthage had colonies in Spain; Hannibal was the general in that region. He was fighting both native European tribes and the Romans. He actually went through the Pyrenees, crossed the Rhone River, and headed for the Alps with a Roman army on his heels.
4. What time of year was it when Hannibal got to the Alps? Late autumn. Snowstorms were a problem. (Understatement). However, the general knew if he delayed, the Roman provinces in Italy would have time to raise an army to oppose him. He wanted to be there and ready to fight in the spring, while the Romans were still squabbling about who should lead their army.
5. Why is this important in history? It’s the first time in known military history that an army crossed the Alps. And remember, these are the days before radios, tanks, and really warm uniforms; the Carthaginians had elephants, horses, and wood fires. (More on the elephants later!) Hannibal fought the Romans in their own territory, but, as we shall study later on, he was not ultimately successful. However, the invasion of their homeland, prompted the Roman Republic to organize a powerful military force which became their tool to conquer the Mediterranean world.
I’m excited to write about this topic. I enjoy ancient history…well, if you haven’t guess by now…I enjoy all eras of history.
I was thinking about the leadership challenges Hannibal faced today as I was struggling through a not fun editing project. At the moment it felt like the “insurmountable Alps” were looming before me. I was tired. (I needed a coffee break). But I was determined to get the project finished. And one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time, I was able to finish the task. Right now, it’s all good. The work’s finished, and I get a relaxing Friday evening (Huzzah!), but that wouldn’t have happened if I quit. And Hannibal wouldn’t have almost conquered Rome if he quit in the mountains.
So, just my thoughts as we introduce the Carthaginians and their trek across the Alps: Don’t give up. Remember why you’re “fighting.” And remember…the “plains of Italy” will be in sight, if you continue the upward climb!
Happy Friday and Weekend! Best wishes and encouragement for whatever “upward climb” of life you’re facing right now…go on, it’s worth the view of success from the top.
P.S. Your thoughts on Hannibal’s Crossing of the Alps and the metaphor to life’s challenges? Had you heard of Hannibal before? What challenges are you facing right now?