Segunda Guerra Púnica (Second Punic War)

Friday, April 3, 2009

La Segunda Guerra Púnica fue el segundo conflicto armado entre Roma y Cartago, el cual tuvo lugar entre los años 218 y 201 antes de Cristo. De las tres guerras disputadas entre estas dos potencias, la Segunda Guerra Púnica fue la más intensa y feroz y en la cual Roma vió amenazada su existencia ya que Aníbal había llevado la guerra a la península Itálica donde las legiones romanas a pesar de su bravura sufrió varias derrotas. El gran héroe de esta contienda fue el general romano Publio Cornelio Escipión, quien derrotó definitivamente al ejército de Aníbal en la Batalla de Zama del año 202 aC.

La Segunda Guerra Púnica se inició por una disputa por la hegemonía de la ciudad griega de Sagunto, ubicada en la costa española del mediterraneo, y la cual tenía lazos diplomáticos con Roma. Luego de controlar la sublevación de los mercenarios que habían sido contratado por Cartago para luchar en la Primera Guerra Púnica, Amílcar Barca se traslado al sur de España para crear ahi una base de operaciones. Pero Amílcar murió en el año 229 aC luchando contra los pueblos íberos. Le sucedió su yerno Asdrúbal, y a este, quien fue asesinado, Aníbal Barca, hijo de Amílcar, quien consolidó el dominio cartagines en el sur de la península Ibérica y, para controlar la costa, sitió la ciudad de Sagunto, aliada de los Romanos, la cual cayó luego de ocho meses de asedio.

Roma envió a dos senadores a Cartago para exigir la entrega de Aníbal y la reparación de los daños causados, pero no se llegó a ningún acuerdo y así empezó la Segunda Guerra Púnica en el año 218 aC.

Aníbal, luego de dejar en el gobierno de España a su hermano Asdrúbal Barca, inició por tierra una larga marcha sobre Roma con un gran ejército al que sumó veintiún elefantes. Salió de Cartagena, atravesó los Pirineos, cruzó el río Rodano en la actual Francia, traspuso los Alpes y entró en Italia por el norte. Ante el peligro, las tropas romanas salieron a su encuentro en las riberas del ríoTesino, pero estas fueron derrotadas. Aníbal prosiguió su marcha victoriosa y volvió a vencer en las batallas de Trebia y Trasimeno.

En lugar de dirigirse hacia Roma, el general cartaginés optó por desviarse hacia el mar Adriático para sublevar contra Roma a los pueblos vecinos y poder de ese modo engrosar las filas de su ejército. Para enfrentar a los invasores saqueadores cartagineses, los romanos organizaron un gran ejército y lo pusieron a las órdenes del cónsul Paulo Emilio. La batalla se libró en la llanura de Cannas del año 216 aC, pero Aníbal venció nuevamente. Después de la batalla, los cartagineses decidieron descansar en la ciudad de Capua.

Durante quince años Aníbal y su ejército se mantuvo en Italia pero sin poder apoderarse de Roma ni dominar el valor de sus habitantes. El general romano Publio Cornelio Escipión, para lograr alejar a Aníbal de Roma, resolvió atacar directamente a Cartago. Pero antes de desembarcar en Africa, debía iniciar una campaña militar en España para aniquilar primero las fuerzas cartaginesas allí estacionadas y evitar que estas salgan a reforzar al ejército de Aníbal en Italia. Luego de derrotar a los cartagineses en la península Ibérica en las batallas de Baecula e Ilipia en el 206 aC, Publio Cornelio Escipión se traslado a Sicilia para reclutar voluntarios y engrosar su ejército vencedor en España. En el año 203 aC, el general romano desembarcó en Africa con 30.000 hombres, hizo una alianza con el rey Masinisa de Numidia, y se dirigió a las puertas de Cartago, cuyo gobierno se vió obligado en llamar a Aníbal.

En el año 202 aC los dos ejércitos chocaron en Zama, una árida planicie cerca de Cartago. Los romanos vencieron definitivamente a las hordas cartaginesas. De ese modo, el general Publio Cornelio Escipión, íntegro y tenaz, derrotó táctica y militarmente al psicópata Anibal. De ese momento, el general Escipión adquirió el sobrenombre de "el Africano." Cartago se rindió y tuvo que reconocer en las duras condiciones de paz el dominio romano en España, entregar su flota, y comprometerse a no participar en ninguna guerra sin la autorización de Roma.





Second Punic War

The Second Punic War was the second of the three major wars fought between the Roman Republic and Carthage from 218 to 201 BC. Carthage was a city-state that had been founded in the 8th century BC by the Phoenicians in North Africa on the Mediterranean coast. All three wars are known in history as the Punic Wars, which were marked by the geopolitical rivalries between the two powerful cities. The Second Punic War was caused by Hannibal's invasion of Italy with his army of elephants and mercenaries in an attempt to destroy Rome and impose Carthaginian hegemony on the Mediterranean coastal areas. Despite the Carthaginian victories over the Romans at ferociously-fought battles, such as Cannae, Hannibal, the Carthaginian General, was finally and thoroughly defeated at the Battle of Zama, in northern Africa, by the Roman legions under the command of Publius Cornelius Scipio after his long campaign in Spain. Hannibal had been forced to lift the siege of Rome and march down into northern Africa to protect Carthage from this powerful Roman Army, which had been organized and built up by Scipio in Spain.

The cause of the Second Punic War was the growing Carthaginian military presence and interests in the Iberian peninsula. In 237 BC, the Carthaginian General Hammilcar Barca landed in southern Spain and conquered the territories occupied by the Tartesians in the east for Carthage. But Hammilcar was killed in combat during a siege and was replaced by his son-in-law Hasdrubal, who founded the city of New Carthage (today's Carthagena) and signed a boundary treaty with Rome, establishing the Ebro River as the border of the Carthaginian territorial interests in Spain. Hasdrubal was killed and was replaced by Hammilcar's son, Hannibal, who had sworn eternal hatred to Rome at the altars of the gods.

The Second Punic War broke out when Carthage sieged and took Saguntum in 219 BC, which was a Greek Iberian coastal city with diplomatic ties with Rome. Following a bloody struggle in which Hannibal himself was wounded and the army practically destroyed, the Carthaginians finally took control of the city. Many of the Saguntians chose to commit suicide rather than face the subjugation by the Carthaginians. Rome sent two senators to Carthage to demand that Hannibal be handed over and compensation for the damage done. But they were expelled.

For the Second Punic War, Hannibal organized a big expeditionary force which numbered as many as 75,000 foot soldiers and 9,000 horsemen, including 36 war elephants. Hannibal departed with this army from New Carthage northwards along the coast in late spring of 218 B.C. He went with his army through the Pyrenees, made his way into what is today France, crossed the Rhone River, then the Alps. Hannibal's army poured into Italy. The Gallic tribes in norther Italy joined Hannibal's forces against Rome. The first objective of the insurgents were the Roman colonies of Placentia and Cremona, causing the Romans to flee to Mutina, which the Gauls then besieged. In response, Praetor L. Manlius Vulso marched with 2 Roman legions and allies, 1,600 cavalry and 20,000 infantry, to Cisalpine Gaul. This army was ambushed twice on the way from Ariminium, lost 1,200 men. The Carthaginians were intercepted by a newly raised Roman force under Publius Cornelius Scipio, whom Hannibal had evaded earlier in the Rhone River Valley, and who had not anticipated such an early arrival on the other side of the Alps. In the ensuing Battle of Ticinus, the cavalry forces of Hannibal's army defeated the cavalry and light infantry of the Romans in a minor engagement. Scipio, severely injured in the battle, retreated across the River Trebia with his heavy infantry still intact, and encamped at the town of Placentia to await reinforcements.

As a result of Rome's defeat at the Ticinus, all the Gauls except the Cenomani were induced to join the Carthaginian cause. Then the Roman Senate ordered the consul Sempronius Longus to bring his army back from Sicily, where it had been preparing for the invasion of Africa, to join Scipio and face Hannibal. Roman forces under the command of Sempronius Longus were defeated at the Battle of Trebia when a hidden detachment led by Hannibal's brother Mago attacked them from the rear, losing half of his men. Sempronius Longus and Publius Cornelius Scipio, who were still wounded, left the Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy)in the aftermath.

In 217 BC, Hannibal advanced southward, crossed the Apennines, and arrived at the uplands of Etruria. There the Carthaginian provoked Flaminius into a hasty pursuit without proper reconnaissance. Then, in a defile on the shore of Lake Trasimenus, Hannibal sprang an ambush on the Romans. The ambush was a complete success: in the battle of Lake Trasimene Hannibal destroyed most of the Roman army and killed Flaminius with little loss to his own army.

The defeat at Lake Trasimene put the Romans in an immense state of panic, fearing for the very existence of their city. The Senate decided to resort to the traditional emergency measure of appointing a dictator. The man appointed was Quintus Fabius Maximus, who invented the Fabian strategy: refusing open battle with his opponent, but constantly skirmishing with small detachments of the enemy. This course was not popular among the soldiers, earning Fabius the nickname "delayer", since he seemed to avoid battle while Italy was being ravaged by the enemy. Fabius' constant harassment of Hannibal's force handicapped the latter's command abilities and gained many prisoners. But Fabius became unpopular in Rome, since his tactics did not lead to a quick end to the war. As a result, at the elections of 216 BC, the Senate elected as consuls Caius Terentius Varro and Lucius Aemilius Paullus, both of whom advocated pursuing a much more aggressive war strategy.

Battle of Cannae

In 216 BC, Hannibal took the initiative and seized the large supply depot at Cannae in the Apulian plain. Thus, by seizing Cannae, Hannibal had placed himself between the Romans and their crucial source of supply. Consuls Aemilius Paulus and Varro resolved to confront Hannibal and marched southward to Apulia. After a two days' march, they found him on the left bank of the Aufidus River, and encamped six miles away. Hannibal capitalized on Varro's eagerness and drew him into a trap by using an envelopment tactic which eliminated the Roman numerical advantage by shrinking the surface area where combat could occur. Aemilius Paulus and his legions were defeated at the Battle of Cannae. Then Hannibal sent a delegation to Rome to negotiate a peace and another one offering to release his Roman prisoners of war for ransom, but Rome, despite the heavy losses, rejected all offers. Nevertheless, the Carthaginian General did not march strait onto Rome, for he considered that he did not have enough forces to lay a long siege.

Roman Victory at the Battle of Zama

Meanwhile, the Roman General Publius Cornelius Scipio had been sent to the Iberian peninsula in a campaign against Hannibal forces there. His plan was to raise a big army there and attack Carthage,in order to force Hannibal to leave Italy and engage him in battle in northern Africa. Scipio had arrived in Iberia in 210 BC. In a brilliant assault Scipio succeeded in capturing the center of Punic power in Iberia, Cartagena, in 209 BC, winning three important battles, the Battle of Carthagena, the Battle of Baecula (208 BC), and the Battle of Ilipa (206 BC), where he defeated a combined army under the command of Mago Barca, thus bringing to an end the Carthaginian hold in Iberia.

Within a year of his landing in Africa with his powerful legions, Scipio twice routed the regular Carthaginian forces under Hasdrubal Gisco and his Numidian allies. The main native supporter of the Carthaginians, king Syphax of the Massaesylians (western Numidians) was also defeated and taken prisoner. Masinissa, a Numidian rival of Syphax and an ally of the Romans, seized a large part of his kingdom with their help. These setbacks forced Hannibal and Mago, who were still fighting the Romans in Bruttium and Cisalpine Gaul respectively to leave Italy and move back into Africa.

The two armies engaged at the Battle of Zama. In contrast to most battles of the Second Punic War, the Romans had superiority in cavalry and the Carthaginians had superiority in infantry. The Roman army was generally better armed and a head taller than the Carthaginian. At Zama, which was the decisive battle of the Second Punic War, Scipio wisely countered an expected Carthaginian elephant charge that caused some of Hannibal's elephants to turn back into his own ranks, throwing his cavalry into disarray. The Roman cavalry was able to capitalize on this and drive the Carthaginian cavalry from the field. However, the battle remained closely fought. But Scipio's cavalry returned from chasing the Carthaginian cavalry and attacked Hannibal's rear. This two-pronged attack caused the Carthaginian formation to disintegrate and collapse. After their defeat, Hannibal convinced the Carthaginians to accept peace.