Merely being defeated by Rome wasn't enough to take the fight out of Hannibal. His journeys after the surrender of Carthage eventually brought him to Bithynia, where he was put in charge of a fleet to take on a rival navy. Hannibal is outnumbered though, and things seem hopeless until he comes up with a plan. He orders his men to gather all the snakes they could find. Where could he be going with this?
The Legacy of Hannibal
Hannibal of Carthage, son of Hamilcar Barca, who was sworn to defeat Rome as a young child. He went as far as to cross the Alps in 218 BCE, despite losing most of his 37 elephants and nearly half of his 40,000 men, in order to launch a surprise attack against the Romans from the north, where they'd least expect it. He was a man of many surprises, as well as highly skilled, capable of taking a mish-mashed army he had gathered in Spain and turn it into a deadly force capable of taking down legion after legion of Roman infantry. But alas, due to Rome threatening his homeland of Carthage in North Africa, Hannibal was eventually routed out of the Italian Peninsula after 15 grueling years of pillage and battle. Carthage was soon defeated and Hannibal fled under Roman pursuit, although one could say he still had a slithering surprise up his sleeve for his next combatants.
So What Next?
The year was 190 BCE and Hannibal has gained refuge with Prusias I of Bithynia (in modern-day Turkey) after several years of fleeing the Romans. He is put in command of a fleet as Prusias I is at war with Eumenes II of Pergamon. Seeing that he is heavily outnumbered in ships and men, Hannibal is forced to think unconventionally if he is to ever win the battle.
Preparing for Battle
Hannibal ordered his men to gather all the snakes they could find and put them into pots. His men managed to store hundreds of venomous and aggravated snakes aboard ship in their vessels. Hannibal then had to locate Eumenes II's ship in the enemy fleet. He sent a messenger to his foes, bidding them to speak with their King, and was promptly led to Eumenes II. The message wasn't the expected plea to peace, but rather more like a slew of insults - more of a slap to the face than anything else. Eumenes II disregarded this message and continued off to face Hannibal's fleet. But one thing he was not aware of was that the messenger allowed Hannibal to know exactly which ship the King was on, and Hannibal had his target set.
The Battle Begins
Hannibal's fleet is measly compared to the might of King Eumenes II's navy, but that doesn't frighten off Hannibal, because he knows he has something which the enemy are sure not to expect. Hannibal commands his ships to go on the defensive and to hold themselves against enemy ships. Meanwhile, they close in on the ship that they know contains Eumenes II, and begin to launch their pots of snakes at it. At first, the Pergamons find this to be humorous, thinking that Hannibal must be joking by hurling mere pots at them as a last ditch attempt. But it wasn't long before countless venomous and enraged snakes begin to flood the ship, exploding out of the pots and attacking the men aboard. Laughter was soon replaced with fear, and Hannibal's men soon began to board the ship. The soldiers of Pergamon stood no chance with fighting off both the infantry slashing at them and the snakes snapping from below. Many fled and those who fought were overwhelmed and perished.
Hannibal had defeated Eumenes II and won the naval battle for Prusias I of Bithynia. His use of throwing snakes in warfare is rarely rivaled for the sheer oddity of It. That, however, is why it worked, by taking his enemy completely by surprise and overwhelming them. If not by number of men, then by number of serpents. Despite the Romans eventually catching up with Hannibal, resulting in his self-poisoning, Hannibal goes down in history as one of the most inventive leaders of war the world has ever seen.