The Consolidation of Latium
While Marcellus was leading the Romans to success in Sicily, Hannibal still ravaged the southern Italian countryside. In 210 BC, Hannibal led another victory over the Romans at Herdonea, where the Romans supposedly lost another 16,000 men. Immediately thereafter, Marcellus crossed from Sicily and met Hannibal at the Battle of Numistro. Like before, when these two men met at Nola, a long bloody fight ensued that ended in a tactical draw. Hannibal withdrew and Marcellus followed. While technically a draw, the Romans could afford such engagements. Hannibal, despite his heavily favored ratio of victories in the overall campaign, was becoming more and more desperate for reinforcements after every engagement; victory or defeat.
209 BC was a year clearly marked to change the tides in Rome's favor. As Marcellus cautiously pursued Hannibal's army that was constantly on the move, the Romans recaptured the port base of Tarentum. Though the Carthaginian sphere of influence was shrinking fast, Hannibal wasn't ready to concede just yet. The following year, 208 BC, Hannibal continued to hold off the Romans. At Asculum he defeated a vastly superior Roman numerical advantage and shortly thereafter won a greater victory in a minor skirmish at Venusia. At Venusia, Marcellus was killed in battle and the "Sword of Rome," the only Roman general to give Hannibal a challenge, would no longer be an obstacle. The death of Marcellus though, provided little real improvement to Hannibal's fortunes. His army was dreadfully undermanned with poor moral and he had no choice but to call for more forces from Hispania.
In Hispania, his brother Hasdrubal still commanded the defense of Carthaginian interests. The war in Spain never went as well for Carthage as it did in Italy. With the assumption of overall command of all Roman forces there by Scipio the Younger (later Africanus) in 210 BC, Hasdrubal was constantly on the run. As the new Carthaginian Empire in Hispania seemed to be a lost cause, Hasdrubal marched his army along a similar route as Hannibal's march through the Alps some 10 years earlier. Arriving in northern Italy in the Spring of 208 BC, Hasdrubal immediately set out to join with Hannibal in the south and bolster his brother's flagging army. As Hasdrubal marched along the Adriatic, Hannibal was held in check in the south for fear of losing the loyalty of local allies and conquests he had gained in the region. Isolated along the eastern Italian coast, the Roman's jumped at the chance to crush Hasdrubal before he could reinforce Hannibal.
Two Roman armies, under the commands of the Consuls Gaius Claudius Nero and M. Livius Salinator, met Hasdrubal near the Metaurus River in 207 BC. The 30,000 Carthaginians were outmatched from the start by the 35,000 - 40,000 Romans lined up against them. While the battle hung in the balance for some time, the superior numbers of Nero allowed him to eventually outflank and envelop Hasdrubal. By the end of the day, 20,000 of the Carthaginian force, including a great many Gauls were killed. Hasdrubal himself was also killed in battle, and his head was soon to be thrown into Hannibal's camp to demoralize him. As the remaining Gauls fled the battle, the Romans allowed them to leave, to spread the word of the great Roman victory and the re-establishment of dominance in Italy. The Battle of Metaurus was the most pivotal battle of the entire war. Had Hasdrubal been victorious, a large enough force coming from north and south would have been able to move against the capital. The Roman victory assured that Hannibal would never be reinforced by a substantial force. Despite all his victories, Rome could persevere.
Two years later while Scipio pressed on, the last bastion of Carthaginian presence was removed from Hispania. Another brother of Hannibal, Mago, sailed with his remaining army from the siege of Carthago Nova, by way of the Balearic Islands, to Liguria in northern Italy. Attempting to re-inspire the Gauls who were devastated after Metaurus, Mago stayed in Celtic territories to recruit anew. Soon after his arrival, however, the Romans met him and crushed his army, along with any Carthaginian hope of ultimate victory. In the battle, Mago was wounded and another brother of Hannibal, Hanno, was killed. Mago took what little army he had left and joined Hannibal in Bruttium.
With the defeat of Hasdrubal and Mago, Rome was free to conduct operations against Carthage in retaliation for its invasion of Italy. While Hannibal managed to stave off his own defeat while being bottled up in Bruttium for 4 more years, Scipio was able to plan the invasion of Africa. Leaving a substantial force to bring Spain under Roman control, Scipio, recently elected Consul, moved to Sicily and organized the forces left there from earlier campaigns. By 204 BC, Scipio crossed the Mediterranean and invaded Africa. Roman success within a year forced Hannibal and Mago to be recalled for the defense of Carthage, though Mago would die en route. In 203 BC Hannibal sailed his remaining army of some 15,000 men back home and the war in Italy was over. The fate of Carthage rested in Hannibal's defense against Scipio Africanus.
Did you know...?
Cato ended every speech he made with the words "Censeo Carthaginem esse delendam - Carthage must be destroyed", regardless of what the rest of the speech was about.