Background and Early Career
Hannibal was one of the sons of Hamilcar Barca, a Carthaginian leader. He had several sisters and two brothers, Hasdrubal and Mago. His brothers-in-law were Hasdrubal the Fair and the Numidian king Naravas. He was still a child when his sisters married, and his brothers-in-law were close associates during his father's struggles in the Mercenary War and the Punic conquest of Iberia. In light of Hamilcar Barca's cognomen, historians refer to Hamilcar's family as the Barcids. However, there is debate as to whether the cognomen Barca (meaning "thunderbolt") was applied to Hamilcar alone or was hereditary within his family. If the latter, then Hannibal and his brothers also bore the name 'Barca'.
After Carthage's defeat in the First Punic War, Hamilcar set out to improve his family's and Carthage's fortunes. With that in mind and supported by Gades, Hamilcar began the subjugation of the tribes of the Iberian Peninsula. Carthage at the time was in such a poor state that its navy was unable to transport his army to Iberia (Hispania); instead, Hamilcar had to march it towards the Pillars of Hercules and transport it across the Strait of Gibraltar (present-day Morocco/Spain).
According to Livy, Hannibal much later said that when he came upon his father and begged to go with him, Hamilcar agreed and demanded that he swear that as long as he lived he would never be a friend of Rome. There is even an account of him at a very young age begging his father to take him to an overseas war. In the story, Hannibal's father took him up and brought him to a sacrificial chamber. Hamilcar held Hannibal over the fire roaring in the chamber and made him swear that he would never be a friend of Rome. Other sources report that Hannibal told his father, "I swear so soon as age will permit...I will use fire and steel to arrest the destiny of Rome." According to the tradition, Hannibal's oath took place in the town of Peñíscola, today part of the community of Valencia, Spain.
Hannibal's father went about the conquest of Hispania. When his father drowned in battle, Hannibal's brother-in-law Hasdrubal succeeded to his command of the army with Hannibal serving as an officer under him. Hasdrubal pursued a policy of consolidation of Carthage's Iberian interests, even signing a treaty with Rome whereby Carthage would not expand north of the Ebro River, so long as Rome did not expand south of it. Hasdrubal also endeavoured to consolidate Carthaginian power through diplomatic relationships with native tribes. As a part of his deals Hasdrubal arranged the marriage between Hannibal and an Iberian princess named Imilce.
Upon the assassination of Hasdrubal (221 BC), Hannibal was proclaimed commander-in-chief by the army and confirmed in his appointment by the Carthaginian government. Livy, a Roman scholar, gives a depiction of the young Carthaginian:No sooner had he arrived...the old soldiers fancied they saw Hamilcar in his youth given back to them; the same bright look; the same fire in his eye, the same trick of countenance and features. Never was one and the same spirit more skillful to meet opposition, to obey, or to command...
After he assumed command, Hannibal spent two years consolidating his holdings and completing the conquest of Hispania, south of the Ebro. However, Rome, fearing the growing strength of Hannibal in Iberia, made an alliance with the city of Saguntum, which lay a considerable distance south of the River Ebro and claimed the city as its protectorate. Hannibal perceived this as a breach of the treaty signed with Hasdrubal and so he laid siege to the city, which fell after eight months. Rome reacted to this apparent violation of the treaty and demanded justice from Carthage. In view of Hannibal's great popularity, the Carthaginian government did not repudiate Hannibal's actions, and the war he sought was declared at the end of the year. Hannibal was now determined to carry the war into the heart of Italy by a rapid march through Hispania and southern Gaul.
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