Unflinching from his objectives, Hannibal, in the years 216 and 215 BC maintained his course of avoiding the siege of Rome. The primary theatre during this period of the war took place mainly in Campania. Whether he considered the march itself too exhausting, allowing the Romans time to organize a defense, lack of supplies, or simple shock over his complete victory at Cannae. Hannibal refused to move on Rome.
Of supplies, Hannibal only received support directly from Carthage once, in 215 BC. Opposition to his war from the Carthaginian Senate, mainly from Hanno, along with Roman superiority at sea, prevented Hannibal from ever securing the resources needed to complete his conquests. The victory at Cannae, however, began to take a toll on the Italian allies of Rome. The Samnites, an old foe of Rome, some Apulian towns and many in the south switched sides to Hannibal. Only the Greek influenced cities along the coasts seemed to hold their loyalty firmly with Rome. Late in 216 BC, Hannibal moved on Neapolis but his attempts to take the city were repulsed. With winter approaching, the Carthaginians instead moved to the north and the town of Capua. Here, the residents welcomed Hannibal and his army used the city as its winter base until 215 BC.
At this time, Rome had placed Marcus Claudius Marcellus in command of its southern army and he waited for Hannibal at the town of Nola. During the winter months, Hannibal made his move. Up to this point, Hannibal was able to use his superior tactical leadership to his advantage, but for the first time he faced an able Roman commander. Marcellus lured the Carthaginian army into believing he was occupied suppressing a revolt and Hannibal engaged the Romans in a full assault. Severely outnumbered, Marcellus' trick worked and with an inferior force, was able to fight Hannibal to a terribly bloody draw. Hannibal disengaged, neither victorious nor defeated, but for the first time, a Roman army proved that Hannibal was not unbeatable. Despite Marcellus' good showing, Carthage was able to capture Acerrae, Casilinium and Arpi furthering his influence in central Italy.
After repulsing Hannibal at Nola, the Romans didn't have the power to take the offensive. An attempt to bottle the Carthaginians up at Apulia, under Fabius, resulted in the escape of Hannibal's army using oxen with burning sticks tied to their horns. Sent at night, the oxen confused Fabius into believing an attack was imminent and Hannibal was able to avoid a potential disaster. Hannibal needed reinforcements badly and the Romans, well aware of this issue took up the original plan used by Fabius. They were to defend the loyal allied towns, recapture those towns that were within access and keep Hannibal on the move without engaging him directly.
215 BC proved to be a fateful year for Rome. In Sicily, Heiro II of Syracuse a longtime Roman ally, died and his pro-Carthaginian son Hieronymos succeeded him. To the north, in Cisalpine Gaul, a Roman force was crushed by the Celts. In Macedonia, Philip V moved against Illyricum and Roman interests in Greece in open alliance with Hannibal. In Italy, Carthage finally sent at least a small force of reinforcements that joined Hannibal at Lucri. To counter these set backs, Marcellus was sent to Sicily, an alliance with the Aetolian league of Greece was established to counter Philip, and Fabius maintained the status quo with his avoidance tactics in Italy.
While Marcellus moved to Sicily in 214 BC, the Carthaginian senate chose to make another grab for that island which was once theirs, rather than reinforce Hannibal. Still desperately short of an army large enough to do more than capture small towns and wreak havoc on the countryside, Hannibal was forced to move south. Casilinum and Arpi were recaptured by Rome, but Hannibal looked to Tarentum as a long sought after port to receive reinforcements and supplies. Meanwhile, Hannibal's brother Hanno was kept busy suppressing a revolt against Carthage near Bruttium.
In 212 BC, through an act of treachery by local Tarentine nobles, Hannibal was able to capture Tarentum bloodlessly. Roman citizens were butchered while Tarentine locals were untouched, and Hannibal finally had his port. His brother Hanno, however, was defeated at Beneventum further depleting the overall Carthaginian force. Despite the success of Hannibal at Tarentum and the resistance of a Roman at Herdonea, the tide was slowly beginning to turn in Rome's favor. By the following year, Samnium and Apulia would both be back under Roman control and the path was open for the Romans to besiege Capua, Hannibal's former winter base.
In 211 BC, Hannibal desperately tried to relieve Capua by feigning an attack on Rome itself. Completely unmolested during the war Rome was prepared, however, and Hannibal could do little more than camp outside the Colline gates. He was hoping that his feint on Rome would force the siege of Capua to be lifted, and draw the army out into the open where Hannibal could work his strategic magic. The defenses of Rome were too great and the besiegers knew it, so they maintained their position. Hannibal was forced to march back south empty-handed and shortly after Capua fell to the Romans. In the aftermath, a great number of the Capuan citizenry was sold into slavery for punishment and the land of the town was auctioned off to Roman citizens.
Meanwhile in Sicily, the King of Syracuse, Heironymos was murdered by Roman operatives for fear of his allegiance to Carthage. The effort backfired, however, and a civil war ensued with pro-Carthaginian forces eventually taking control of the city. Marcellus was sent to Sicily to restore Roman order with several legions, while the Carthaginians tried to re-establish themselves with an army of their own. The Carthaginian senate sanctioned an army of 25,000 infantry, 3,000 cavalry and 12 elephants that landed in Sicily in support of Syracuse, but they were to prove to be no match for Marcellus. By 210 BC, Syracuse would fall through siege back into Roman control and any remnants of Carthaginian resistance were gone. Marcellus was able to cross back into Italy and put more pressure on Hannibal.
Did you know...?
Hanno's political popularity at Carthage rested on his domination of the North African tribesmen, from whom he exacted high taxes.