Egyptian Horse Archers engaging Carthaginian Cavalry at the Battle of Memphis

The Carthage-Syrian War (sometimes called the Fifth-Syrian War) was a major military conflict lasting from 202 B.C. to 194 B.C. It pitted Carthage and their ally the Seleucid Army against the Ptolemaic Kingdom. The overwhelming victory which ensued was largely due to Hannibal Barca's brilliance and uniqueness. This is considered a major war not only because it secured the fertile fields of Egypt for Carthage but also because it introduced Carthage into the political and military affairs in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The fighting resulted in a complete Carthaginian and Seleucid victory. Ptolemaic Egypt was completely annexed into the Seleucid Empire and the Carthaginian Republic.


Carthage had secured Iberia and Africa for itself in the Iberian Wars and the Numidian War. However with an ever expanding sphere of influence and a growing population it became evident that a stable farming region would be needed to feed the masses. Carthage's own situation was precarious; one bad harvest would result in mass starvation throughout Carthage's territories. So they turned to the most fertile fields in Africa, Egypt. Egypt was controlled by the Ptolemy Dynasty, which had been in constant conflict with the Seleucid Empire. Carthage sent a delegation of Councilors to Antioch to make a secret agreement. The two would help each other conquer the lands of Ptolemy V and divide it evenly; the Seleucids would receive Syria and all lands East of the Sinai while Carthage would receive all lands West. The peninsula itself would remain a buffer state, while citizens from both nations could live in it no military could enter it without notifying the other first.

Carthaginian Planning

Hannibal had defeated two enemies since his triumph over Rome; the Numidians and the Iberians. However he did not consider them to be true enemies, more just unorganized peasants fighting. He longed for a "real war" against an organized, trained and prepared enemy. The Ptolemaic Kingdom was just this kind of enemy and he prepared his war carefully and eagerly. He planned to land a force at Alexandria led by his brother Mago and besiege the city while a second force under himself would march down to engage the Egyptians in Africa. With thousands of Iberian and Numidian conscripts now part of his army victory seemed assured and quick.


The war began after Antioch III led a force into Coele-Syria. The Carthaginian fleet likewise landed a Carthaginian force at Alexandria which besieged the city. Ptolemy V escaped the city however and raised an army to relieve Alexandria. Hannibal intercepted him however at the Battle of Memphis, however the battle was a tremendous loss for the Carthaginians after the use of scythed chariots scattered their forces. Hannibal was forced to wait for reinforcements from Carthage as Ptolemy moved closer to Alexandria.

Antioch III however was doing much better after striking a tremendous blow against the Egyptians at the head of the river Jordan. He captured the key port of Sidon shortly afterward and expelled all Ptolemaic forces from Coele-Syria.

Hannibal meanwhile had spent his time stalling Ptolemy's army, harassing his advance and rear guard as well as ambushing several scouting parties, notably at the Battle of the Nile, where Hannibal forced approximately 5000 Egyptians into the river and attacking them from both sides of it. Ptolemy however did not stop his march and moved to engage the Carthaginian army besieging Alexandria. Hannibal, desperate to stop the army, sent three double-agent "deserters" to the Egyptian camp to inform Ptolemy Hannibal intended to devastate the farmlands of the Nile Delta. Ptolemy, faced with losing his capital or farmlands, decided to save the latter. He moved to intercept

Ptolemy fighting at Nile Delta

Hannibal's much smaller army at the Battle of Nile Delta, however in a brilliant usage of his missile cavalry (which rendered the Egyptian chariots useless) his forces were able to route Ptolemy's forces, and the Pharaoh himself barely escaped on his own chariot. Hannibal pursued Ptolemy, however a messenger arrived from his brother Majo which informed him that Ptolemy's General Tlepolemus had raised an army of conscripts from Egypt's deserts and was moving towards Alexandria. Hannibal now faced the option of capturing Ptolemy and ending the war by pursuing him, which would almost ensure that his brother's army would be destroyed, or he could go to his brother's aid and give up his pursuit. In the end Hannibal chose to go to Alexandria, where he defeated Tlepolemus at the Battle of Alexandria. This effectively ended Egyptian resistance against the Carthaginians, who occupied the key towns of Memphis, Alexandria, Siwa, Cyrene and Thebes. Ptolemy attempted to raise a new army however he was killed in a skirmish with Bedouin raiders. This ended the far reaching Ptolemy Line, something Hannibal expressed sorrow for as he had praised all descended from those who served Alexander.


Carthage and the Seleucid Empire annexed all the lands of Ptolemaic Egypt, thus ending the reign of Ptolemy. Carthage's quick victory along with Hannibal's military brilliance spread quickly throughout the East, and several


A mural depicting Carthaginian soldiers in Alexandria

Greek city-states quickly asked for alliances with Carthage afterward. Hannibal was worshiped as a god upon his return to Carthage and the House of Barca was elevated to the highest status in the Republic. However Hannibal denied many honors offered to him, including several monetary and land gifts, instead asking that the land be distributed amongst his soldiers along with the pay as a bonus. Hannibal's generosity earned him even more respect from the public and made the loyalty of his soldiers unshakable. The Senate jokingly (and frighteningly) referred to the Carthaginian army as "Hannibal's Army".

Meanwhile Carthage's annexation of Egypt brought it closer to the Seleucid Empire, which, though friendly now, would prove to become another threat to Carthage's holdings in Arabia. The Sinai Agreement however would remain unbroken for nearly 40 years.

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