Hannibal at the Gates On Hannibal's Trail


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Hannibal at the Gates

As they complete their journey, the Woods make a sacrifice to the gods at Lake Averno, come face to face with Hannibal in Rome and cross the Med to Tunisia.


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We're on a ten-week journey, cycling 3,500 kilometres

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on the trail of the great Carthaginian warrior, Hannibal.

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Over 2,000 years ago, Hannibal marched his army

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from the south of Spain,

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across the Alps, and into Italy.

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He launched a spectacular assault on the heart of Roman power.

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Hannibal's brothers, Hasdrubal and Mago, were his generals.

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I'm Danny Wood. I'm a journalist.

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And, like Hannibal, I'm travelling with my brothers -

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Ben, a computer expert, and Sam, an archaeologist.

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Hannibal marched with over 100,000 soldiers armed with swords, spears

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and 37 elephants.

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We're armed with three bikes, three tents and a bike cam.

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We've been on the road six weeks and we've cycled 2,700 kilometres

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up Spain's east coast, through France, across the Alps, and into Italy.

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We are now on the final leg of our journey,

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following Hannibal's trail all the way to the gates of Rome.

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Day 43 of our journey.

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Cannae, southern Italy.

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Here in August 216 BC, Hannibal annihilated the Roman army.

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Everybody was expecting him to march on Rome,

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but at this crucial moment, the great commander hesitated.

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Hannibal's master of cavalry Maharbal, was growing impatient.

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He urged him to build on his triumph and take the city of Rome.

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Maharbal said that, within just five days, Hannibal could be feasting

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at the capital, Rome's great centre of power.

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But Hannibal said he needed time to reflect.

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Maharbal got angry and replied, "You know how to win a battle, Hannibal,

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"but you don't know how to win the war."

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Hannibal finally decided not to march straight on to Rome.

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Historians through the ages have tried to explain this decision.

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First of all, Rome is a long way from Cannae.

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For us, it would take three long days of cycling.

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For an army, it would be more like a three-week march, and Hannibal knew the value of surprise.

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Some historians have calculated that, in order to carry enough food

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to sustain his army on such a long march,

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Hannibal would have needed something like half a million pack horses.

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Even if he'd made it to Rome, he knew it was one of the best defended cities in the world.

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His army just wasn't large enough to force its way

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through the city walls,

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and Hannibal knew the Romans wouldn't surrender.

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This would be a fight to the death.

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Instead of marching on Rome, Hannibal terrorised the whole of southern Italy.

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For the next four years, he conquered new territories.

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And the great conflict between Carthage and Rome spread to Sicily, Sardinia and Spain.

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Then, King Philip of Macedonia, now part of Greece,

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joined Carthage in an alliance against the Romans.

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This was turning into the first war in history that engulfed the known world.

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After Cannae, Hannibal took Capua, the second most powerful city

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in the whole of the Italian peninsula.

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But he was desperate for reinforcements and supplies

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from his brothers, Hasdrubal and Mago, who were now back in Carthage and Spain.

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For that, he needed a harbour.

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Hannibal had his eye on Naples.

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He attacked the city three times, and every time he was driven back by the Neapolitans.

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After the third attempt, he turned to the gods for help.

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Lake Avernus, one of the most sacred places of the ancient world.

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According to Greek mythology, this is the entrance to the underworld.

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Hannibal had been educated by a Greek tutor so he was familiar

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with the rituals described by Homer.

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"With my drawn blade, I dig the votive pit.

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"And pour libations upon it to the unnumbered dead.

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"Milk...

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"..and honey.

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"Then sweet wine...

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"Last, clear water."

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"And I scatter barley down,

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"then I address the blood of breathless dead."

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That's the last of the offerings, so I guess we have to think of what we want to ask the gods for.

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I think we should thank the gods.

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-We haven't had a serious accident the whole time we've been riding.

-True.

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And perhaps ask them to keep us safe until the end.

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Yeah, that's a good idea.

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Soon after making his offering to the gods,

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Hannibal's prayers for a harbour seemed to be answered

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when some noblemen from the city of Tarentum came looking for him.

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Tarentum, now called Taranto was the largest and richest port in the deep south of Italy.

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And the Tarantines wanted to break free from Roman domination.

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They offered to help Hannibal liberate their city.

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So after days are riding through olive groves

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and vineyards, we arrived at a very busy city of Taranto,

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apparently one of the most polluted cities in southern Italy.

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Tons of factories and belching chimney stacks,

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and a lot of traffic too.

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In Hannibal's time, Tarentum was defended by strong city walls.

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All that remains from those days is the maze of narrow streets in the old town.

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Hannibal was marching on Taranto, but this time there would be no need to lay siege.

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The Tarantines would help him break into the city to liberate it from the Romans.

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There were two stages to the scheme.

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It's the story of Hannibal's careful planning combined with trickery and deception.

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Hannibal approached the city from the east in darkness,

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and at midnight he lit a fire outside the city walls.

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This was the signal for the Tarantine collaborators

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to kill the Roman sentries at one of the gates.

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Hannibal and his men swarmed into the city.

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Another Tarantine, who left the city every day to go hunting,

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turned up at a different gate along with 30 Carthaginian troops.

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The Roman guards recognised his whistle and opened the gates as usual.

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In he came, along with Hannibal's men, who slaughtered the sentries.

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Hannibal quickly took the town, killing anyone who resisted.

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But many of the Roman soldiers retreated to the citadel,

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a fortress that controlled the sole access channel to the harbour.

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Hannibal's failure to capture the citadel meant that the port of Tarentum was still closed to him.

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Even though he'd taken the city, he still had no major port

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to bring in reinforcements from Carthage and finish off Rome.

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After 54 days on the road, we're finally making our triumphal entry into Rome.

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The city of Hannibal's dreams.

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We've only just arrived but we've already come face-to-face with the enemy.

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-Are people called Hannibal in Rome?

-There are a lot of Caesar but not any Hannibal.

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-Was Caesar as good as Hannibal?

-No, as a general.

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I prefer Caesar because he's my boss!

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So are you still afraid of Hannibal?

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We're here to defend Rome.

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-He can come but...

-You're prepared.

-Yeah, sure!

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THEY CHANT

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We're on our way to the Palazzo del Quirinale,

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the official residence of the Italian president.

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But we've come to meet someone much more important than the President of Italy.

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This is one of the few images of Hannibal.

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Nobody knows for sure exactly when the bust was made,

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it was probably in the 16th century so it's not a real likeness.

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But it's the closest we'll ever get to meeting Hannibal face-to-face.

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-That's not how I imagined him really.

-Yeah, it's true.

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-He's got a bit of a weak chin.

-Did you imagine him looking like you?!

-Well...

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He seems quite content to be here.

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This is the man who once posed a greater threat to Rome

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than any other enemy during its whole history.

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Over 2,000 years later, Hannibal has finally made his way to the heart of Roman power.

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But Hannibal was still only dreaming of marching into the Roman capital.

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In 211 BC, Hannibal set up camp just outside the walls of Rome.

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Inside the city, there was chaos.

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People were in a frenzy of panic.

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It's said that to mock the Romans' impotence,

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Hannibal hurled a javelin into one of the gates to the city.

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But Livy assures us that the Romans didn't refuse to fight.

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No battle took place.

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But only because the gods sent violent hailstorms that went on for two days.

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Deeply troubled by this omen, Hannibal decided to retreat from Rome.

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We're heading out of Rome on the Via Appia and it's starting to rain.

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This ancient road is all cobblestone so it's getting slippery.

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So we're getting out of Rome as quick as we can.

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It's a bit like Hannibal's sign from the gods, when he had violent hailstorms and he retreated.

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By now the Romans' power and influence in the world was growing.

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They were beginning to test their Imperial muscles in Sardinia, Sicily and Spain.

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Only Carthage stood in their way.

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But in 210 BC, Carthage lost the war for Sicily and Sardinia to the Romans

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and within five years, Philip of Macedon had signed a peace treaty with Rome.

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The odds were turning against Hannibal.

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The Roman advances in Spain were the hardest blow for Hannibal.

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Even his home city, Cartagena,

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the city he set out from on his long march to Rome, fell to the Romans.

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The rest of Spain soon followed.

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Hannibal was also losing ground in Italy, first Capua then Taranto.

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He now needed reinforcements simply to hold his position.

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His brothers, Hasdrubal and Mago, were coming to the rescue.

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In 207 BC, Hasdrubal, marched from Spain.

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When he arrived in Italy, he sent despatches telling Hannibal

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to meet him at an agreed point on the River Metaurus in central Italy.

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But Hasdrubal's messages were intercepted by the enemy.

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And instead of Hannibal, the Roman army was waiting.

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Trapped alongside a river, the situation for Hasdrubal's Carthaginians was hopeless

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but they fought a desperate battle.

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When he could see that all was lost,

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Hasdrubal turned his horse towards the Romans and rode into them, to die in battle.

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Some nights later, a Roman horseman galloped up to Hannibal's camp.

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He threw something in that landed with a thud.

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When Hannibal saw it he said, "This is the fate of Carthage".

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It was Hasdrubal's severed head.

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Two years later, Hannibal's youngest brother, Mago, arrived with reinforcements in northern Italy.

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He too was hunted down by the Romans and wounded in battle.

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He managed to escape in a boat to Carthage, but died before reaching home.

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Isolated, and with a dwindling army, Hannibal was running out of options.

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He retreated to Calabria, the most southern region of mainland Italy.

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He became almost a prisoner here.

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And by 203 BC, 14 years after Hannibal had first invaded Italy,

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the Romans had finally found a military commander to match

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the legendary Carthaginian general...

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Scipio the Younger.

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Scipio had been studying Hannibal's strategy for many years.

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As a young man, he'd witnessed Hannibal winning a victory against his own father.

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He'd also witnessed the carnage at Cannae.

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Now he was heading for the capital of the Carthaginian empire,

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the city of Carthage in northern Africa.

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Scipio landed in Africa with a big army -

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his aim, to achieve exactly what Hannibal had failed to do in Italy.

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To defeat the enemy on their own turf.

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Now Hannibal's recalled to Carthage to defend the homeland.

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We've been in Italy for five weeks and we're now following Hannibal's

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trail across the Mediterranean to Tunis, formerly Carthage.

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It must have been a terrible homecoming for Hannibal.

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Hannibal was on campaign in Italy for 15 years, continuously waging war.

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He was obviously an amazing motivator and brilliant with his men.

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His sense of disappointment and the failure of his ambition must have been just enormous.

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In the autumn of 203 BC, Hannibal arrived in northern Africa.

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He'd left when he was just nine years old.

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It must have seemed like an alien place.

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Carthage is now buried beneath modern day Tunis.

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But after 2,000 years, the legend of Hannibal lives on.

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One of the TV stations is called Hannibal TV and Hannibal's face is even on the currency.

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-Do you know Hannibal?

-Hannibal, yes.

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Yes.

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Hannibal! Coffee mug.

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A few hours in the souk and we already feel like locals.

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Well, almost!

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It's beautiful weather, perfect for cycling.

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Sunny and a cool breeze.

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And every Tunisian we've come across has been happy and friendly,

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so we're hoping that will continue.

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It was time for the two great rivals, Hannibal and Scipio,

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to face each other in battle.

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The armies met at a place called Zama, in a region today known as the Tell.

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Zama is about 150 kilometres south-west from Tunis,

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a very long day's ride by a bike, but a good six-day march for an army from Carthage.

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Hannibal sent scouts to spy on the Roman army.

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They were captured.

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But instead of killing them, Scipio proudly showed them all around his camp.

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He wanted them to report every last detail of his mighty army to their leader.

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Hannibal was curious about the young general.

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When his scouts reported back he decided to arrange a meeting with Scipio.

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He was 13 years younger than Hannibal but he'd also

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won some great victories and Hannibal respected him.

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When they met for the first time, it's said that mutual admiration

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struck them dumb for almost a minute.

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They just looked at each other in silence.

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Hannibal spoke first.

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He offered peace terms to spare both their armies bloodshed but Scipio refused.

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He was ready to test himself in battle against the great Hannibal,

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the legend who'd defeated every Roman general, including Scipio's own father.

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The next day, battle commenced.

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Scipio had formed a mirror image of Hannibal's legendary battle formation -

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infantry at the centre flanked by cavalry on each side.

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Hannibal had 50,000 men - almost twice as many as Scipio.

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And while Scipio had stronger cavalry, Hannibal had 80 warrior elephants.

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Hannibal made the first move.

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He attempted to break the Roman lines with a terrifying elephant charge.

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They thundered down on the Roman infantry.

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But Scipio had trained his men well.

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As the elephants approached, they opened lanes in their ranks

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to let them thunder into great valleys of death.

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Some were killed under a deadly hail of javelins,

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but most turned and stampeded back, crushing Hannibal's own cavalry underfoot.

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Now the infantry clashed and for a time,

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the contest seemed evenly matched, but Scipio was using Hannibal's own trademark tactics against him.

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His cavalry surprised the Carthaginians with a pincer movement from the rear.

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Hannibal's men were surrounded and slaughtered.

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At the end of the day, the Romans had lost barely 2,000 men.

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On Hannibal's side, 20,000 lay dead or dying.

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As many again were taken prisoner.

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Scipio was triumphant. The pupil had eclipsed the master.

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After the slaughter at Zama, Hannibal returned to Carthage, where our journey will end.

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Now all we've got to do is survive our last 40km back to Tunis,

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which is turning into a bit of a challenge.

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PHONE RINGS

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Allo...

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Bonjour... Au revoir.

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For Hannibal and Carthage, the 17-year war with Rome was over.

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Historians call it Hannibal's War.

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It was the closest Rome had come to destruction.

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If Hannibal had won, Rome might be now only a half remembered city-state.

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No Caesars, no empire.

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But in the end, it was Hannibal's civilisation in Carthage that would be obliterated.

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On the outskirts of Tunis are the last remains of the great city of Carthage.

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But these aren't the ruins of the city where Hannibal walked.

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This was the Roman city built on its ashes.

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As for Hannibal, he never gave up.

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He fled Carthage and settled in a place called Bithynia in modern-day Turkey.

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He went on trying to raise an even mightier army to one day have his revenge on Rome.

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Many years later, in 183 BC, the Romans finally hunted him down and surrounded his home.

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Rather than allow himself to be captured, Hannibal committed suicide by taking poison.

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He was 65 years old.

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The Greek historian Plutarch gives us Hannibal's dying words:

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"Let us now put an end to the life that has caused the Romans so much anxiety."

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After 71 days, 3,500 kilometres, 23 punctures,

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more campsites than we'd care to remember,

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our journey is coming to an end in the old harbour of Carthage.

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It's amazing, I can't believe we've reached the end of our journey.

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We've been looking at this place on maps for so long.

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And Cartagena seems like ten years ago, like a lifetime we've been riding.

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Part of me wants to keep riding, but a bigger part of me wants to lay in bed for the next week.

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-It'll be nice to get home, see everyone and not get the bike out for a few months.

-I agree.

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Let's go!

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail [email protected]

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History and travel series in which three Australian brothers - Danny, Ben and Sam Wood - set out cycling on the trail of Hannibal, the Carthaginian warrior who marched from Spain to Rome at the head of an invading army accompanied by elephants.

As they come towards the end of their epic journey, the Wood brothers make a sacrifice to the gods at Lake Averno, come face to face with Hannibal in Rome and cross the Mediterranean to Tunisia, once the centre of the Carthaginian Empire, where they visit the site where the fate of an entire civilisation was decided in one final battle. On the way, they meet a Roman centurion and discuss Hannibal's legacy with the souk merchants of Tunis.