Hannibal is famous for two things: elephants, and not winning a war.  Hannibal was born in Carthage in 247 BC.  Carthage and Rome were natural enemies, due to being neighbours with only the Mediterranean to separate them.  Hannibal’s father Hamilcar was a Carthaginian general and undoubtedly the source of Hannibal’s elephant fetish.  Hamilcar thought that a war without elephants wasn’t a war worth winning, and proved it by losing the First Punic War with Rome.  Things were going all right until the conflict shifted to the sea, and it proved difficult to convince elephants to serve in the navy.

After Hamilcar suffered an elephant-related death in 228 BC, Hannibal took up the family tradition.  He decided that if taking elephants across the sea to Rome could lose one war, than taking them across the mountains to Rome could lose another.  Hannibal brought 46 000 men and thirty-seven elephants to the Alps, but lost half of the men and most of the elephants crossing them.  He still had a few of the animals, though, and that kept his spirits up.

Hannibal was quite successful in his early battles in Italy, and kept finding more elephants.  Some argued that he was winning despite the elephants and not because of them.  The elephants tended to panic and trample their own side during battle, and the critics pointed out that he won more often when they weren’t underfoot.  Hannibal would have none of it, though.

Historians say that Hannibal could well have marched into Rome itself and won the Second Punic War right there.  They puzzle over why he marched around the countryside for eleven years instead, knocking over farms and small fortresses.  It’s simple: the inevitable happened, and Hannibal had run out of elephants.  He was lost without them, and was hoping that a few more would turn up somewhere.  Hannibal kept on hoping until the Romans got their wind back and pushed him into the sea in 203 BC.  This is why Hannibal has gone down in Western military history as “the father of strategy.”

After the war, Hannibal mainly drifted around Asia Minor.  He made an act of trying to drum up another war to lose against Rome, but you could tell his heart wasn’t in it.  Hannibal committed suicide in 183 BC.  He could lose all the wars in the world, but there was an elephant-shaped hole in his life that he just couldn’t fill.

The moral of this story is that you shouldn’t let elephants determine your self-worth.  You are the same person whether you have elephants or not.

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