The Italian Wars (178-176 BC) were a series of campaigns launched by the Carthaginian General Hamilcar the Young, the eldest son of Hannibal Barca, against various Italian tribes and cities which had divided Italy amongst themselves following Rome's destruction. The Italian Wars were specifically launched in order to prevent all of Italy from falling into Greek hands. The Greeks had established a few settlements in the extreme south of Italy and had begun to expand their sphere of influence by making allies with or conquering towns. The Carthaginians were determined not to let Greece take Italy uncontested. The reasoning behind this was that Italy was located directly between Greece and Carthage, thus making it the perfect place from which to launch an invasion of either side. As relations between Hellenistic nations and Greece soured and war loomed, both sides struggled to gain an advantage over the other, and he who controlled Italy would have a significant advantage.
Following Rome's destruction it left a sizeable power vacuum behind which was quickly filled by tribes and cities no longer under Roman domination. The peninsula had become the home to many local independent tribes, such as the Samnites, Latins, and various other cities. Gauls had also poured in from the north, overrunning much of Etrusca and claiming it for their tribes. These tribes were commonly referred to as Etruscan Gauls and had become a new force in Italy. The Greeks also had begun pushing northward from their settlements in the South, threatening to take all of Italy lest Carthage intervene. Carthage indeed decided to intervene and put Hamilcar, son of the famed Hannibal Barca in charge of the conquest.
First Expedition: Campaign against Etruscan Gauls
Hamilcar decided first to start in the north of Italy and grind down south to meet the Gauls. He raised an army in the province of Magna Iberia (where the Barcas had built their powerhouse) and made a plan to march north to the southern coasts of Gaul and into northern Italy. He recruited an army of 57,000 men; 40,000 infantry, 15,000 cavalry, and 80 elephants and their handlers. Hamilcar utilized his father's strategy of an overland campaign, however he, for obvious reasons, chose to avoid the costly trip over the Alps. As he marched through Gaul his ranks swelled with recruits; nearly 10,000 Gauls flocked to his banner. His march into northern Italy went largely uncontested and he first encountered the Etruscan Gauls at the Battle of the Po River, in which Hamilcar's loyal Gauls proved their worth after charging fearlessly into the thick of battle and rescuing Hamilcar's second-in-command, Hiram, after he had been surrounded by enemies. Hamilcar's respect for the Gauls rose greatly after the battle and he included the Gauls in more decisive roles in his battles.
Next Hamilcar moved down the Po Valley, which was still allied to Carthage as they were not in mainland Italy, which was Carthage's target. The Etruscan Gauls, led by their Chieftain Arvitorix, summoned a massive Gallic army, composing of nearly 70,000 men. He also married one of his daughters to a Germanic King, which sent an additional 40,000 warriors and was marching down through Gaul. Hamilcar sought to defeat each force individually before letting them combine and strengthen their numbers. Hamilcar won a decisive victory against Arvitorix at the Battle of Mediolanium, killing the Gallic chieftain and routin his entire army. The Germanic warriors, seeing their Gallic allies had been defeated, turned back without a fight.
Second Expedition: War against the Samnite-Latin Alliance
Following the victory at Mediolanium Hamilcar spent the winter in Ciscapline Gaul and the newly conquered region of Etrusca. He set his sights now on the Samnites and the Latins, two peoples which were very similar to Rome and to each other. As they had been one of the first subdued by Rome they were heavily Romanized and following Rome's destruction they had adopted Roman military tactics and strategies. They had even taken in several Roman military officials and politicians. The Samnites and the Latins also adoped Rome's fear and hatred of Carthage so when Carthage arrived in northern Italy they levied troops and raised massive armies to combat the new threat. Both sides spent the winter preparing for the coming conflict
Finally, after preparations were finished, the Carthaginian army marched down south and attacked a Samnite force at Ariminum. At the subesequent Battle of Ariminum the Samnite forces were pushed back while suffering and inflicting heavy losses. Hamilcar pursued them however he was informed that a second force of Latins had launched an invasion of Carthaginian lands and were threatening the major city of Genoa. Hamilcar made a foolish error and turned his back on the Samnite force he had been pursuing, which immediately turned and began pursuing him and harassing his rear guard. However before he could engage the Samnite force the Latin force which had been making its way to Genoa suddenly turned to engage him and Hamilcar found himself trapped between two enemy armies.
Hamilcar decided to utilize some of his father's trickery he had inherited and set up a camp facing the pursuing Samnite army. As night fell he marched his army out of the camp, leaving 2,000 soldiers and non-combatants behind to maintain the illusion the main army was still there. He then moved and decisively defeated the Latin forces at the Battle of Nomentum and then returned and defeated the Samnite forces at the Battle of Arretium.
The Samnite-Latin Alliance meanwhile had decided that, rather than use Fabius' strategy of wearing down the invaders slowly by harassing them with smaller armies, they would meet the Carthaginians with a massive army and destroy them. The Samnite-Latin forces gathered 76,000 troops and offered battle at Naples which resulted in the subsequent Battle of Naples. It resulted in the greatest Punic victory over Italian forces since the Battle of Cannae; nearly all 76,000 Italian troops were captured or killed after Hamilcar's brilliant tactics. After this battle nearly all of Samnite and Latin controlled Italy submitted to Carthaginian control and all of Italy (save Magna Graecia) was under Carthaginian control.
Following the victory at Naples the Samnite-Latin alliance disintegrated and eventually all submitted to Carthaginian rule without much resistance. Carthage now controlled most of Italy, from the Rubicon down to the borders of Magna Graecia. Hamilcar, in addition to securing Italy as a base with which to invade Greece, had provided thousands of Carthaginian civilians a new place to settle and establish cities. Furthermore Italy held a vast amount of fertile farmlands, adding a new source of food with which to feed Carthage's masses. Italy, however, was now divided between two major powers, Hellenistic Greece and Carthage. The new border between Carthage and the ancient Hellenistic kingdoms provided many with the correct belief that Italy would become a new battleground. Hamilcar himself prophetically stated: "Though this land has seen much bloodshed it will see much more until it belongs to one nation. Where else could one find such a stage for a clash between two powers."