The Hannibalic War would make an Excellent Movie

There are an infinite number of great stories to be found in history. Fantasy tales such as the hit series, Game of Thrones, can be incredibly popular, but fascinating accounts can be found by digging through history books.

Some historians view big budget historical films as trash as they tend to be inaccurate. Others, however, love seeing history presented in a fun way. A lot of historians, whether professional or armchair have a particular event that they wish was made into a movie, book or game. The Second Punic War certainly deserves to be made into a film; perhaps even a trilogy or series.

The characters and events of the Second Punic War have appeared in several films and documentaries, but there has not been a big budget film that solely focuses on that period of history. It is probably because the general public does not know of Hannibal and Scipio Africanus or even Rome as a Republic. It is an epic narrative with compelling characters just waiting to have its story presented to the world.

There are hundreds of fascinating intrigues and themes to be found throughout the war and plenty of epic movie moments, from dramatic speeches, political schemes, and massive, cinematic battles.

Engraving of the Battle of Zama by Cornelis Cort, 1567
Engraving of the Battle of Zama by Cornelis Cort, 1567


Hannibal of Carthage began the war in 218 BC when he crossed the Alps to invade Italy. He lost a lot of men in the process but won huge victories against the Romans. Marcellus and Fabius, known as the “sword and shield” of Rome fought back in Italy.

A young Roman General, Scipio, was sent to Spain when his father and uncle were betrayed and killed in two massive battles. Scipio eliminated the Carthaginians in Spain then invaded Africa.

Hannibal returned to Africa, and the two greatest generals of their era fought the ultimate Battle of Zama in which Scipio was victorious.

The Details

The first real battle at the Ticinus River featured the elder Scipio who was wounded and surrounded. His son, also Scipio, aged 18, rode in and risked his life to save his father; earning the equivalent of the Medal of Honor.

From there the Roman army was tricked and goaded into crossing a river to fight in winter conditions. They were ambushed and witnessed the might of Hannibal’s elephants. At the same time, the core of the Roman infantry fought their way through, giving the Romans hope for the next battle.

A map of the countless battles of the second Punic War. so many stories in each of these battles. Photo Source
A map of the countless battles of the Second Punic War. By Maglorbd – CC BY-SA 3.0

A confident and aggressive general then pursued Hannibal after the crafty Carthaginian cut through a marsh, losing an eye to disease in the process.

Hannibal executed one of the largest complete ambushes in history, perhaps greater in numbers than Teutoburg. Storming down hills, Hannibal caught the entire Roman army in marching order and pushed them into Lake Trasimene.

After a year of political maneuvering with the Roman General Fabius being frustratingly defensive, the Romans assembled the largest army they ever had. Cannae would be an incredible cinematic battle if it showed how the fight progressed so both historians and casual moviegoers could understand.


For dramatic effect picture the scenario: the Roman officers are stuck in hiding after Cannae. Many of them are contemplating selling their services to eastern Kings as Rome seemingly, has little hope left. The young Scipio enters, still junior to most of the officers present. He gives a bold speech pledging his undying loyalty to Rome and threatening death to those who would abandon her.

Within Rome, there is despair not seen since its earliest days. They have resorted to burying people alive as human sacrifices to the gods. Hannibal’s general is urging him to march on the city, and Hannibal refuses. His men are exhausted having partaken in slaughter on an unprecedented scale.

Scipio’s father and uncle are betrayed by their Spanish mercenaries who defect to the Carthaginians on the eve of two critical battles which take the lives of both. The young Scipio then gets special powers to take command in Spain despite his youth.

We see the fractured remnants of the Romans in Spain, desperately holding a northern riverfront against the Carthaginians. Scipio takes these men into his army and whips them into shape; a nice opportunity for a training montage. He then speeds down the coast to capture New Carthage (Cartagena) deep in enemy territory. He sneaks some men across a shallow lagoon to take a lightly defended wall that allows him to take the city.

While in Spain Scipio is presented with a beautiful native woman to have as his prize. Scipio frees the woman, who is the fiancé of an influential Spanish chieftain, giving him some much needed mercenary support. He is wary given how his father and uncle met their end by way of treacherous mercenaries.

There are a couple of massive battles, specifically Ilipa, and Scipio has won Spain.

Hannibal with an overflowing pot of rings taken from the elite of Rome who perished at Cannae. Hannibal could be protrayed as a hero, villian, or somewhere inbetween.
Hannibal with an overflowing pot of rings taken from the elite of Rome who perished at Cannae

Tense moments

An interesting side story would be Scipio sailing to what is modern Morocco to seek the allegiance of the Numidian King Syphax.

Syphax also meets with Hasdrubal, an influential Carthaginian general. While sailing to Syphax’s coastal city, Scipio’s small escort is spotted by Hasdrubal’s larger force. A chase ensues with Hasdrubal hoping to eradicate Scipio once and for all.

Scipio and his men look to be doomed, but they barely make it into the harbor, which is neutral as part of Syphax’s kingdom. Although coming close to deadly blows, Scipio and Hasdrubal then have a formal dinner with Syphax as they both try to influence the King.

It would surely make for an intriguing and unique scene.

Meanwhile, there is the incredible sacking of Syracuse by the Romans, complete with Archimedes and his many contraptions for the city’s defense. Within Rome, there is intrigue and politics involving the idea of invading Africa despite Hannibal still roaming Italy.

Once in Africa, Scipio wins enough battles to force Hannibal to return and fight at Zama. Scipio recruits Roman survivors from Cannae, so they can regain their honor through victory against the same men who defeated them. There is even a famed meeting between the two great generals the day before the battle.

Though a terribly unrealalistic representation, the "claw" was an invention of Archimedes that lifted Roman ships out of the water and crushed them on the rocks by the walls.
Although a terribly unrealistic representation, the “claw” was an invention of Archimedes that lifted Roman ships out of the water and crushed them on the rocks by the walls


Throughout the war, some Romans were unconcerned that Hannibal was in Italy and proposed taking a slow, methodical approach to wearing him down instead of throwing more Romans at him to be ambushed.

The Roman Army, though, never gave up, and fought through perils that would have made any other ancient power seek terms. The genius of Hannibal was constantly frustrated by that Roman resolve. The young Scipio sought strategies that would achieve a decisive victory for Rome and neutralize Carthage rather than simply survive Hannibal.

So much occurred throughout the war that Hollywood could certainly make a terrific film of it.

Vin Diesel, the guy most famous for The Fast and the Furious movies, is a lover of history and particularly Hannibal Barca. He hopes to make a trilogy entitled Hannibal the Conqueror, with Diesel himself eyeing the title role. Hopefully, the trilogy becomes a reality and brings the Second Punic War to the big screen.

William Mclaughlin

William Mclaughlin is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE