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Latin Book Club — Livy | The Death Of Hannibal

This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.


You have prob­a­bly heard about Han­ni­bal and his ele­phants, bat­tles, tri­umphs, defeats, and the absolute ter­ror he invoked in the Romans. But do you know how his sto­ry ends?

A masterpiece

Dur­ing the reign of Augus­tus, a mas­sive work, a mon­u­men­tal mas­ter­piece on Roman his­to­ry, was writ­ten that was to span over 142 books. Begin­ning with the foun­da­tion of Rome in 753 B.C., it con­tin­ues on all the way through to Augus­tus him­self. The work is known as Ab Urbe Con­di­ta

The man who wrote this mas­ter­piece was none oth­er than Titus Livius or Livy. And though his work gives us great insight into Roman his­to­ry or Roman his­to­ry as it was seen through the eyes of a Roman author dur­ing the reign of Augus­tus, we know very lit­tle about the author himself.

A celebrity

He was born in Patavi­um, mod­ern Pad­ua in north­ern Italy, in 59 or 64 B.C. but spent a large part of his life in Rome. Although at the time of his death, he was back in Pad­ua. He held no gov­ern­ment posi­tions but seems to have been quite a famous writer even in his own time. He is pri­mar­i­ly known as a his­to­ri­an but also pro­duced rhetor­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal works, dia­logues, and advice in the form of a let­ter to his son. None of these oth­er works have sur­vived to our time—as far as we know :). 

So famous was Livy, if we are to believe a let­ter from Pliny (Ep. 2.3.8) that an admir­er of Livy’s trav­eled all the way from Cadíz in Spain to Rome (that would be about 2500 km or 1550 miles) only to see his idol. 

This is rough­ly what we know about the author of Ab Urbe Con­di­ta, a work that every Latin stu­dent is con­front­ed with at one point or another. 

So why all this? What has this to do with Hannibal?

Out of the 142 books which make up Ab Urbe Con­di­ta, only books 1–10 and 21–45 have sur­vived history’s harsh treat­ments. We have a few sum­maries and frag­ments from the rest, but, alas, the rest is sad­ly lost to time: vae tem­po­ri libro­rum edaci!

In one of the sur­viv­ing books, nr 39, chap­ter 51 to be exact, we find the sto­ry about Hannibal’s final hours. 

Before The End

We shall not go into details of all the bat­tles of gen­er­al Han­ni­bal Bar­ca, nor how close he came to destroy the city of Rome. Instead, to give you some con­text to the pas­sage we’re con­cerned with today, we shall briefly focus on where he was and why he was there, at the brink of his own death.

At the end of the Sec­ond Punic War, Han­ni­bal returned to Carthage. How­ev­er, the Romans were not ready to for­get and want­ed him arrest­ed. Han­ni­bal thus left Carthage for Tyre on the coast of Lebanon, then to Anti­och and lat­er onwards to Eph­esus (on the west coast of mod­ern Turkey), to be the coun­selor of King Anti­ochus II. After hav­ing suf­fered defeat in sev­er­al naval bat­tles against Rhodes and the Romans, Han­ni­bal feared that he would be turned over to the Romans and fled. 

Han­ni­bal now found him­self in Bithy­nia (north­west­ern Turkey) and under the pro­tec­tion of King Pru­sias, who at the time was fight­ing one of Rome’s allies, King Eumenes II of Perg­a­mon. Han­ni­bal thus went to fight against Eumenes on behalf of his protector. 

This is where we are at when the end draws near for Hannibal:

The Romans stepped into the war between Pru­sias and Eumenes, and as they were still hunt­ing Han­ni­bal, they threat­ened king Pru­sias so that he might give him up. 

And here begins Livy’s sto­ry, which we shall now treat. Below you will find a video in which Daniel Pet­ters­son recites Livy’s Latin text. Below you will also find the writ­ten Latin text and an Eng­lish translation.

Latin Video

You can down­load a PDF and the Audio here: Get a down­load­able audiofile of this episode and a print-friend­ly PDF of the text and trans­la­tion: Latin Book Club: the Death of Han­ni­bal, Livy liber 39.51.

Audio only

Lis­ten to the audio only here or in your pod­cast app.

Latin text

Mors Han­ni­balis, Ab Urbe Con­di­ta (Liv., 39, 51)

Ad Prūsi­am rēgem lēgā­tus T. Quīnc­tius Flāminīnus uēnit, quem sus­pec­tum Rōmānīs et recep­tus post fugam Anti­ochī Han­ni­bal et bel­lum aduer­sus Eumen­em mōtum faciēbat. 

Ibi, seu quia ā Flāminīnō, inter cētera, obiec­tum Prūsi­ae erat hominem omni­um, quī uīuer­ent, īnfēstis­si­mum pop­ulō Rōmānō apud eum esse, quī patri­ae suae prī­mum, deinde frāc­tīs eius opibus Anti­ochō rēgī auc­tor bel­lī aduer­sus pop­u­lum Rōmānum fuis­set; seu quia ipse Prūsiās, ut grāti­ficārē­tur prae­sen­tī Flāminīnō Rōmānīsque, per sē necan­dī aut trā­dendī eius in potestātem cōn­sil­i­um cēpit; ā prīmō col­lo­quiō Flāminīnī, mīl­itēs extem­plō ad domum Han­ni­balis cūstō­di­en­dam mis­sī sunt.

Sem­per tālem exi­tum uītae suae Han­ni­bal prōspex­er­at ani­mō et Rōmānōrum inex­piā­bile odi­um in sē cernēns, et fideī rēgum nihil sānē cōn­fī­sus: Prūsi­ae uērō leuitātem eti­am exper­tus erat; Flāminīnī quoque aduen­tum uelut fātālem sibi horruerat.

Ad omnia undique īnfēs­ta ut iter sem­per aliquod praeparā­tum fugae habēret, septem exitūs ē domō fēcer­at, et ex iīs quōs­dam occultōs, nē cūstōdiā saepīren­tur. Sed graue imperi­um rēgum nihil inex­plōrā­tum, quod uestīgārī uol­unt, efficit.

Tōtīus cir­cui­tum domūs ita cūstōdiīs com­plexī sunt, ut nēmō inde ēlābī pos­set. Han­ni­bal, postquam est nūn­tiā­tum mīl­itēs rēgiōs in uestibulō esse, postīcō, quod dēuium max­imē atque occultissimī exitūs erat, fugere cōnā­tus, ut id quoque occursū mīl­i­tum obsaep­tum sēn­sit et omnia cir­cā clausa cūstōdiīs dis­positīs esse, uenēnum, quod multō ante praeparā­tum ad tālēs habē­bat cāsūs, poposcit. 

‘Līberē­mus’ inquit ‘diu­turnā cūrā pop­u­lum Rōmānum, quandō mortem senis exspec­tāre longum cēnsent. Nec mag­nam nec mem­o­rā­bilem ex iner­mī prōditōque Flāminīnus uic­tōri­am fer­et. Mōrēs qui­dem pop­ulī Rōmānī quan­tum mūtāuerint, uel hic diēs argū­men­tō erit. Hōrum patrēs Pyrrhō rēgī, hostī armātō, exerci­tum in Ital­iā haben­tī, ut ā uenēnō cauēret praedīxērunt: hī lēgā­tum cōn­sulārem, quī auc­tor esset Prūsi­ae per scelus occī­dendī hos­pi­tis, mīsērunt.’ 

Exse­crā­tus deinde in caput rēgnumque Prūsi­ae, et hos­pitālēs deōs uiolā­tae ab eō fideī testēs inuocāns, pōcu­lum exhausit. Hic uītae exi­tus fuit Hannibalis.Join our Newslet­ter because we send out tips, updates and learn­ing material.

English translation

Pru­sias had for some time fall­en under sus­pi­cion in Rome, part­ly owing to his hav­ing shel­tered Han­ni­bal after the flight of Anti­ochus and part­ly because he had start­ed a war with Eumenes. T. Quinc­tius Flamin­i­nus was accord­ing­ly sent on a spe­cial mis­sion to him. He charged Pru­sias, amongst oth­er things, with admit­ting to his court the man who of all men liv­ing was the most dead­ly foe to the Peo­ple of Rome, who had insti­gat­ed first his own coun­try­men and then, when their pow­er was bro­ken, King Anti­ochus to levy war on Rome. Either owing to the men­ac­ing lan­guage of Flamin­i­nus or because he wished to ingra­ti­ate him­self with Flamin­i­nus and the Romans, he formed the design of either putting Han­ni­bal to death or deliv­er­ing him up to them. In any case, imme­di­ate­ly after his first inter­view with Flamin­i­nus he sent sol­diers to guard the house in which Han­ni­bal was living.

Han­ni­bal had always looked for­ward to such a fate as this; he ful­ly realised the implaca­ble hatred which the Romans felt towards him, and he put no trust what­ev­er in the good faith of mon­archs. He had already had expe­ri­ence of Pru­sias’ fick­le­ness of tem­per and he had dread­ed the arrival of Flamin­i­nus as cer­tain to prove fatal to himself.

In face of the dan­gers con­fronting him on all sides he tried to keep open some one avenue of escape. With this view he had con­struct­ed sev­en exits from his house, some of them con­cealed, so that they might not be blocked by the guard. But the tyran­ny of kings leaves noth­ing hid­den which they want to explore. The guards sur­round­ed the house so close­ly that no one could slip out of it. When Han­ni­bal was informed that the king’s sol­diers were in the vestibule, he tried to escape through a postern gate which afford­ed the most secret means of exit. He found that this too was close­ly watched and that guards were post­ed all round the place. Final­ly he called for the poi­son which he had long kept in readi­ness for such an emergency.

“Let us,” he said, “relieve the Romans from the anx­i­ety they have so long expe­ri­enced, since they think it tries their patience too much to wait for an old man’s death. The vic­to­ry which Flamin­i­nus will win over a defence­less fugi­tive will be nei­ther great nor mem­o­rable; this day will show how vast­ly the moral of the Roman Peo­ple has changed. Their fathers warned Pyrrhus, when he had an army in Italy, to beware of poi­son, and now they have sent a man of con­sular rank to per­suade Pru­sias to mur­der his guest.”

Then, invok­ing curs­es on Pru­sias and his realm and appeal­ing to the gods who guard the rights of hos­pi­tal­i­ty to pun­ish his bro­ken faith, he drained the cup. Such was the close of Han­ni­bal’s life.

Trans­lat­ed by Rev. Canon Roberts (1912).

Amelie Rosengren

Amelie Rosengren

Amelie Rosengren, M.A. and co-founder of Latinitium, is a published author, illustrator and historian. She specializes in daily life, has a soft spot for historic curiosities, and works as a museum educator at the world’s oldest open air museum, Skansen.
Written by Amelie Rosengren

Written by Amelie Rosengren

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