Cannae and Key Battles of the Second Punic War (218-201 B.C.)

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Cathaginian Battle elephants in the Battle of Zuma

The Second Punic War, which occurred 23 years after the First Punic War, was arguable the most important of the Punic Wars. While the First Punic War was primarily an opening round battle primarily over the territory of Sicily, the Second Punic War was viewed as a test of Rome’s power over who would control Europe. At that time Rome and Carthage were struggling for supremacy in the western Mediterranean. The trigger for the conflict was the rapid growth of the Carthaginian dominion in Spain. While Rome was adding to her strength by the conquest of Cisalpine Gaul and the reduction of the islands in the sea, Carthage was building up a great empire in the Spanish peninsula, where it was raising new armies, with which to invade Italy. This policy was launched of the great Carthaginian military commander Hamilcar Barca and was continued by his son-in-law, Hasdrubal, who founded the city of New Carthage (Cartagena, Spain) as the capital of the new province. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

In 218 B.C., Hannibal left his base in base in Spain and led a force of mercenaries with elephants through the south of Gaul (France) and across the Alps in the winter. This marked the beginning of the Second Punic War. The elephants had little impact on the fight but they scored a psychological blow for the Carthaginians giving them an aura of power and invincibility.

In the Second Punic War, 218-201 B.C., Carthage was anxious to get revenge after the first Punic War. But in the end Rome supplanted Carthage as the predominate power in the Mediterranean. The war was a major milestone in evolution of Rome from a republic into an imperial power.

The Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage were pivotal in making Rome a great empire. They began in 264 B.C., and lasted for 118 years with Rome ultimately prevailing. There were three Punic wars. They are regarded as the first world wars. The number of men employed, the strategies and the weapons employed were like nothing that ever been seen before. "Punic" come from the Roman word for "Phoenician, " a reference to Carthage.

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; Lacus Curtius; The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; British Museum; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Internet Classics Archive ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Hannibal’s Invades Italy and Defeats the Romans

Hannibal coins

Hannibal finally reached the valley of the Po, with only twenty thousand foot and six thousand horse. Here he recruited his ranks from the Gauls, who eagerly joined his cause against the Romans. When the Romans were aware that Hannibal was really in Italy, they made preparations to meet and to destroy him. Sempronius was recalled with the army originally intended for Africa; and Scipio, who had returned from Massilia, gathered together the scattered forces in northern Italy and took up his station at Placentia on the Po. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Hannibal won three battles in Italy but lost the forth. Early Carthaginian victories left 15,000 Romans dead in one place and 20,000 in another. With their superior cavalry and what became textbook usage of bottlenecking tactics, Hannibal's forces defeated the Roman force of Flamininius in 217 B.C. at Lake Trasimene. Next he humiliated the Romans, by coldly coordinating his infantry and cavalry attacks, at Cannae in northern Italy, where 60,000 Romans were killed. This victory drew the north of Italy from Rome's sphere for some time.

These victories were followed by a massacre of 50,000 legionnaires (from an army of 75,000) at the Trebia River. Here the Roman were surrounded by flanking movements on both sides. Hannibal's genius killed 6000 legionnaires in minutes. After the stunning defeats, one Roman army was annihilated and Rome was nearly destroyed. The Romans were worried that Hannibal would take his revenge in most awful way. The statesmen Quintus Fabius Maximus was put in charge of the Roman army.

Political Maneuvering in Rome During Hannibal’s Invasion

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Rome responded in Spring 217 B.C. by raising 11 legions; the command of P. Cornelius Scipio was extended (prorogatio) and the popular leader C. Flaminius was elected consul. Shades of the Allia (ater dies), Hannibal lured Flaminius' army into a narrow defile then fell on them from the heights, wiping out two legions (Battle of Lake Trasimene, 217 B.C.). Flaminius' legacy was his command during the disaster at Lake Trasimene, which provided a good opportunity for his political enemies to attack his memory. Livy reproduces a tradition which has Flaminius ignoring unfavorable auspices before the battle. Polybius is more restrained, but still in the same camp: "[Hannibal made his plan] on learning that Flaminius was nothing but a rabble-rouser and a demagogue, without any ability for the conduct of actual military operations...." (Polyb. 3.80, M. Chambers tr.). Note that Hannibal allowed the allied contingents (socii) to go free, part of his grand strategy for splitting the Italian alliance. But no town of Etruria or Umbria welcomed him, so he went east through Umbria to Picenum, then south into Apulia. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“Now (in 217 B.C.) the comitia centuriata elected Q. Fabius Maximus as dictator; ordinarily a dictator would be appointed by the consuls, but the consuls of 217 B.C. were both dead. Possibly the appointment of M. Minucius Rufus as second in command (magister equitum) was an attempt to limit the power of Fabius. Fabius followed Hannibal west through Samnium into Campania, avoiding a major battle but allowing Hannibal to ravage the land; Hannibal's attempts to get the allies of Rome to defect, however, continued to be almost completely unsuccessful. fabius tried to block Hannibal from crossing into Apulia for the winter, but the attempt failed and Fabius returned to Rome, leaving Minucius in charge. ^*^

main battles in Italy during the Second Punic War

“After the eager Minucius won a small victory over the unprepared Carthaginian forces at Gerunium in Apulia, the comitia appointed him co-dictator. This action nearly had disastrous consequences, because in the spring of 216 B.C. Fabius and Minucius split their troops between them, and Hannibal nearly succeeded in luring Minucius into a fatal trap. “The consuls for 216 B.C. were the aristocratic L. Aemilius Paulus and the popular leader C. Terentius Varro. It fell to the latter to command the legions at the next Roman disaster, at Cannae in Apulia (216 B.C.).”^*^

Battle at the Trebia River (218 B.C.)

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Hannibal's first major test in Italy was the battle at the Trebia river (218 B.C.). The Carthaginian general used a small contingent of his best cavalry, the Numidian riders, to lure the Romans out of their camp and into a crossing of the river, for which they were ill prepared. When battle was joined on the other side, the Carthaginian cavalry had a decisive influence, opening the flanks of the Roman legions to an oblique attack, whereupon a further contingent of horsemen hidden to the rear of the Roman forces completed the encirclement. In winning this great victory Hannibal is said to have lost all but one of his elephants; more important than the number of Roman dead was the support gained for his cause among the Cisalpine Gauls. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

The cavalry of the two armies first met in a skirmish on the north side of the Po, near the little stream Ticinus. The Romans were defeated, and Scipio himself was severely wounded. Hannibal then crossed to the south of the Po. To prevent his advance, Scipio took up a strong position on the bank of the river Trebia. Scipio was soon joined by his colleague Sempronius, who came to him from Ariminum on the Adriatic coast. The two hostile armies were now separated by the river Trebia. Here again Hannibal showed his great skill as a general. By a feigned attack he drew the Romans over to his own side of the river. He then attacked them in front, upon the flank, and in the rear; and the Roman army was nearly annihilated. The remnant of the army fled to Placentia. This great disaster did not discourage the Romans. They soon raised new armies with which to resist the invaders. \~\

Cornelius Nepos wrote in “De Viribus Illustris”: “He had already fought at the Rhone with Publius Cornelius Scipio, the consul, and routed him; with the same man he engaged at Clastidium on the Po River, wounded him, and drove him from the field. A third time that same Scipio, with his colleague Tiberius Longus, opposed him at the Trebia. With those two he joined battle and routed them both. Then he passed through the country of the Ligurians over the Apennines, on his way to Etruria. In the course of that march he contracted such a severe eye trouble that he never afterwards had equally good use of his right eye. While he was still suffering from that complaint and was carried in a litter, he ambushed the consul Gaius Flaminius with his army at Trasumenus and slew him; and not long afterwards Gaius Centenius, the praetor, who was holding a pass with a body of picked men, met the same fate. Next, he arrived in Apulia. There he was opposed by two consuls, Gaius Terentius and Lucius Aemilius, both of whose armies he put to flight in a single battle; the consul Paulus was slain, besides several ex-consuls, including Gnaeus Servilius Geminus, who had been consul the year before.” [Source: Cornelius Nepos (c.99-c.24 B.C.), “Hannibal, from “De Viribus Illustris,” translated by J. Thomas, 1995, Iowa State]

Battle Trebia-en
Battle at the Trebia River

Battle of Lake Trasimene menus (217 B.C.)

In the spring of 217 B.C., the new consul, Flaminius, placed his own army at Arretium, in Etruria, and his colleague’s army at Ariminum, to guard the only roads upon which it seemed possible that Hannibal could move, in order to reach Rome. But Hannibal, instead of going by either of these roads on which he was expected to go, crossed the Apennines and pushed on toward Rome through the marshy regions of Etruria. He thus got between the Roman armies and the Roman capital. He knew that Flaminius would be obliged to hasten to Rome to protect the city. He also knew by what road Flaminius must go, and he determined to destroy the Roman army on its way. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

He posted his army on the heights near the northern shore of Lake Trasumenus (Trasimene), overlooking a defile through which the Roman army must pass. The Romans approached this defile and entered it, not suspecting the terrible fate which awaited them. At a given signal, the soldiers of Hannibal rushed to the attack. The Romans were overwhelmed on every side, and those who escaped the fierce Gauls and the dreaded cavalry of Numidia were buried in the waters of the lake. Fifteen thousand Romans and Italians fell on that fatal field, with Flaminius, their leader. The Roman army was practically destroyed. Northern Italy was now at the mercy of Hannibal, and Rome seemed an easy prey to the victorious Carthaginian. \~\

Fabius Maximus, Dictator: “We have lost a great battle, our army is destroyed, Flaminius is killed!” was the simple announcement which the praetor made, after the frightful disaster at Lake Trasumenus. But this simple announcement brought consternation to the Roman people. They recalled the days of the Gauls and the battle on the Allia. But they were still determined to defend their country. The times seemed to demand a dictator, and Q. Fabius Maximus was appointed. He was a member of that Fabian gens which had before proved its devotion to the country; and he was also that ambassador who had offered to Carthage the choice between peace and war. He ordered new armies to be raised, and the city to be put in a state of defense.” \~\

Battle of Lake Trasimene

Battle of Cannae (216 B.C.)

At Cannae in northern Italy, Hannibal humiliated the Romans, by coldly coordinating his infantry and cavalry attacks, killing 60,000 Romans and drawing the north of Italy from Rome's sphere of influence for some time.

The cautious strategy of Fabius soon became unpopular; and the escape of Hannibal from Campania especially excited the dissatisfaction of the people. Two new consuls were therefore chosen, who were expected to pursue a more vigorous policy. These were Terentius Varro and Aemilius Paullus. Hannibal’s army was now in Apulia, near the little town of Cannae on the Aufidus River. To this place the consuls led their new forces, consisting of eighty thousand infantry and six thousand cavalry,—the largest army that the Romans had, up to that time, ever gathered on a single battlefield; Hannibal’s army consisted of forty thousand infantry and ten thousand cavalry. But the brain of Hannibal was more than a match for the forty thousand extra Romans, under the command of less able generals. The Roman consuls took command on alternate days. Paullus was cautious; but Varro was impetuous and determined to fight Hannibal at the first opportunity. As this was Hannibal’s greatest battle, we may learn something of his wonderful skill by looking at, its plan. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

The Romans drew up their heavy infantry in solid columns, facing to the south, to attack the center of Hannibal’s line. In front of the heavy-armed troops were the light-armed soldiers, to act as skirmishers. On the Roman right, near the river, were two thousand of the Roman cavalry, and on the left wing were four thousand cavalry of the allies. With their army thus arranged, the Romans hoped to defeat Hannibal. But Hannibal laid his plan not simply to defeat the Roman army, but to draw it into such a position that it could be entirely destroyed. He therefore placed his weakest troops, the Spanish and Gallic infantry, in the center opposite the heavy infantry of the Romans, and pushed them forward in the form of a crescent, with the expectation that they would be driven back and pursued by the Romans. On either flank he placed an invincible body of African troops, his best and most trusted soldiers, drawn back in long, solid columns, so that they could fall upon the Romans when the center had been driven in. On his left wing, next to the river, were placed four thousand Spanish and Gallic cavalry, and on the right wing his superb body of six thousand Numidian cavalry, which was to swing around and attack the Roman army in the rear, when it had become engaged with the African troops upon the right and left. \~\

The description of this plan is almost a description of the battle itself. When the Romans had pressed back the weak center of Hannibal’s line, they found themselves ingulfed in the midst of the Carthaginian forces. Attacked on all sides, the Roman army became a confused mass of struggling men, and the battle became a butchery. The army was annihilated; seventy thousand Roman soldiers are said to have been slain, among whom were eighty senators and the consul Aemilius. The small remnant of survivors fled to the neighboring towns, and Varro, with seventy horsemen, took refuge in the city of Venusia. This was the most terrible day that Rome had seen since the destruction of the city by the Gauls, nearly two centuries before. Every house in Rome was in mourning. \~\

Preparations Before the Battle of Cannae

On The Battle of Cannae (216 B.C), the Roman historian Polybius (c.200-after 118 B.C.) wrote in “History, Book III.107-109: “Through all that winter and spring the two armies remained encamped facing each other. But when the season for the new harvest was come, Hannibal began to move from the camp at Geronium; and making up his mind that it would be to his advantage to force the enemy by any possible means to give him battle, he occupied the citadel of a town called Cannae, into which the corn and other supplies from the district round Canusium were collected by the Romans, and conveyed thence to the camp as occasion required. The town itself, indeed, had been reduced to ruins the year before: but the capture of its citadel and the material of war contained in it, caused great commotion in the Roman army; for it was not only the loss of the place and the stores in it that distressed them, but the fact also that it commanded the surrounding district. They therefore sent frequent messages to Rome asking for instructions: for if they approached the enemy they would not be able to avoid an engagement, in view of the fact that the country was being plundered, and the allies all in a state of excitement. The Senate passed a resolution that they should give the enemy battle: they, however, bade Gnaeus Servilius wait, and despatched the Consuls to the seat of war. [Source: Polybius, “The Histories of Polybius”, 2 Vols., translated by Evelyn S. Shuckburgh (London: Macmillan, 1889), I. 264-275] “It was to Aemilius [L. Aemilius Paullus, Consul for 216 B.C.] that all eyes turned, and on him the most confident hopes were fixed; for his life had been a noble one, and he was thought to have managed the recent Illyrian war with advantage to the state. The Senate determined to bring eight legions into the field, which had never been done at Rome before, each legion consisting of five thousand men besides allies. For the Romans, as I have state before, habitually enroll four legions per year, each consisting of about four thousand foot and two hundred horse; and when any unusual necessity arises, they raise the number of foot to five thousand and of the horse to three hundred. Of allies, the number in each legion is the same as that of the citizens, but of the horse three times as great. Of the four legions thus composed, they assign two to each of the Consuls for whatever service is going on. Most of their wars are decided by one Consul and two legions, with their quota of allies [thus two citizen legions and two allied legions combined]; and they rarely employ all four at one time and on one service. But on this occasion, so great was the alarm and terror of what would happen, they resolved to bring not only four but eight legions into the field [thus eight citizen legions and eight allied legions combined — about 90,000 men].

“With earnest words of exhortations, therefore, to Aemilius, putting before him the gravity in every point of view of the result of the battle, they despatched him with instructions to seek a favorable opportunity to fight a decisive battle with a courage worthy of Rome. Having arrived at the camp and united their forces, they made known the will of the Senate to the soldiers, and Aemilius exhorted them to do their duty in terms which evidently came from his heart. He addressed himself especially to explain and excuse the reverses which they had lately experienced; for it was on this point particularly that the soldiers were depressed and stood in need of encouragement. AThe causes," he argued, Aof their defeats in former battles were many, and could not be reduced to one or two. But those causes were at an end; and no excuse existed now, if they only showed themselves to be men of courage, for not conquering their enemies. Up to that time both Consuls had never been engaged together, or employed thoroughly trained soldiers: the combatants on the contrary had been raw levies, entirely inexperienced in danger; and what was most important of all, they had been entirely ignorant of their opponents, that they had been brought into the field, and engaged in a pitched battle with an enemy that they had never once set eyes upon. Those who had been defeated on the Trebia were drawn up on the field at daybreak, on the very next morning after their arrival from Sicily; while those who had fought in Etruria [Source: the defeat at Lake Trasimene], not only had never seen the enemy before, but did not do so even during the very battle itself, owing to the unfortunate state of the atmosphere.

Battle of Cannae
“But now the conditions were quite different. For in the first place both Consuls were with the army: and were not only prepared to share the danger themselves, but had also induced the Consuls of the previous year to remain and take part in the struggle. While the men had not only seen the arms, order, and numbers of the enemy, but had been engaged in almost daily fights with them for the last two years. The conditions therefore under which the two former battles were fought being quite different, it was but natural that the result of the coming struggle should be different too. For it would be strange or rather impossible that those who in various skirmishes, where the numbers of either side were equal, had for the most part come off victorious, should, when drawn up altogether, and nearly double of the enemy in number, be defeated.

“"Wherefore, men of the army," he continued, "seeing that we have every advantage on our side for securing a victory, there is only one thing necessary — your determination, your zeal! And I do not think I need say more to you on that point. To men serving others for pay, or to those who fight as allies on behalf of others, who have no greater danger to expect than meets them on the field, and for whom the issues at stake are of little importance — such men may need words of exhortation. But men who, like you, are fighting not for others, but themselves — for country, wives, and children; and for whom the issue is of far more momentous consequence than the mere danger of the hour, need only to be reminded: require no exhortation. For who is there among you who would not wish if possible to be victorious; and next, if that may not be, to die with arms in his hands, rather than to live and see the outrage and death of those dear objects which I have named?

"Wherefore, men of the army, apart from any words of mine, place before your eyes the momentous difference to you between victory and defeat, and all their consequences. Enter upon this battle with the full conviction, that in it your country is not risking a certain number of legions, but her bare existence. For she has nothing to add to such an army as this, to give her victory, if the day now goes against us. All she has of confidence and strength rests on you; all her hopes of safety are in your hands. Do not frustrate those hopes: but pay back to your country the gratitude you owe her; and make it clear to all the world that the former reverses occurred, not because the Romans are worse men than the Carthaginians, but from the lack of experience on the part of those who were then fighting, and through a combination of adverse circumstances." With such words Aemilius dismissed the troops.”

Romans Advances Towards Hannibal at Cannae

On The Battle of Cannae, Polybius wrote in “History, Book III. 110-111: “ Next morning the two Consuls broke up their camp, and advanced to where they heard that the enemy were entrenched. On the second day they arrived within sight of them, and pitched their camp at about fifty stadia distance. But when Aemilius observed that the ground was flat and bare for some distance round, he said that they must not engage there with an enemy superior to them in cavalry; but that they must rather try to draw him off, and lead him to ground on which the battle would be more in the hands of the infantry. But Caius Terentius [C. Terentius Varro, Consul for 216 B.C.] being, from inexperience, of a contrary opinion, there was a dispute and misunderstanding between the two leaders, which of all things is the most dangerous. It is the custom, when the two Consuls are present, that they should take the chief command on alternate days; and the next day happening to be the turn of Terentius, he ordered an advance with a view of approaching the enemy, in spite of the protests and active opposition of his colleague. Hannibal set his light-armed troops and cavalry in motion to meet him, and charging the Romans while they were still marching, took them by surprise and caused a great confusion in their ranks. The Romans repulsed the first charge by putting some of their heavy-armed in front; and then sending forward their light-armed and cavalry, began to get the best of the fight all along the line: the Carthaginians having no reserves of any importance, while certain companies of the legionaries were mixed with the Roman light-armed, and helped to sustain the battle. Nightfall for the present put an end to a struggle which had not at all answered to the hopes of the Carthaginians. [Source: Polybius, “The Histories of Polybius”, 2 Vols., translated by Evelyn S. Shuckburgh (London: Macmillan, 1889), I. 264-275]

“But next day Aemilius, not thinking it right to engage, and yet being unable any longer to lead off his army, encamped with two-thirds of it on the banks of the Apennines---that chain of mountains which forms the watershed of all Italian rivers, which flow either west to the Tuscan sea, or east to the Hadriatic. This chain is, I say, pierced by the Aufidus, which rises on the side of Italy nearest the Tuscan Sea, and is discharged into the Hadriatic. For the other third of his army he caused a camp to be made across the river, to the east of the ford, about ten stades from his own lines, and a little more from those of the enemy; that these men, being on the other side of the river, might protect his own foraging parties, and threaten those of the enemy.

“Then Hannibal, seeing that his circumstances called for a battle with the enemy, being anxious lest his troops should be depressed by their previous reverse, and believing that it was an occasion which required some encouraging words, summoned a general meeting of his soldiers. When they were assembled, he bid them all look round upon the country, and asked them "What better fortune they could have asked from the gods, if they had had the choice, than to fight in such ground as they saw there, with the vast superiority of cavalry on their side?" And when all signified their acquiescence in such an evident truth, he added: "First, then, give thanks to the gods: for they have brought the enemy into this country, because they designed the victory for us. And, next to me, for having compelled the enemy to fight---for they cannot avoid it any longer---and to fight in a place so full of advantages for us. But I do not think it becoming in me now to use many words in exhorting you to be brave and forward in this battle. When you had had no experience of fighting the Romans this was necessary. and I did not then suggest many arguments and examples to you. But now seeing that you have undeniably beaten the Romans in three successive battles of such magnitude, what arguments could have greater influence with you in confirming your courage than the actual facts? Now, by your previous battles you have got possession of the country and all its wealth, in accordance with my promises: for I have been absolutely true in everything I have ever said to you. But the present contest is for the cities and the wealth in them; and if you win it, all Italy will at once be in your power; and freed from your present hard toils, and masters of the wealth of Rome, you will by this battle become the leaders and lords of the world. This, then, is a time for deeds, not words: for by God's blessing I am persuaded that I shall carry out my promises to you forthwith." His words were received with approving shouts, which he acknowledged with gratitude for their zeal; and having dismissed the assembly, he at once formed a camp on the same bank of the river as that on which was the larger camp of the Romans.”

Fighting at Cannae

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “There is some dispute about the topography of the battle: was it on the north or south bank of the river? Were the Romans facing east (towards the sea) or west (towards the land)? Best to follow Kromayer (Schlachtfelder): the battle was on the south bank, with the Romans facing west (contra Polybius 3. 116). The Romans had a numerical advantage, but this was squandered by concentrating their troops in the center for a massed attack. The lesson of the Trebia had not been learned. Hannibal's troops were arranged in a crescent formation, the wings curving away from the Roman lines; while the Carthaginian center fell back, luring the Romans forward, again Hannibal's cavalry was victorious on the wings, and the crescent then turned inside-out to complete the encirclement.” [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class]

Polybius wrote in “History, Book III.112-115: “Next day he gave orders that all should employ themselves in making preparations and getting themselves into a fit state of body. On the day after that he drew out his men along the bank of the river, and showed that he was eager to give the enemy battle. But Aemilius, dissatisfied with his position, and seeing that the Carthaginians would soon be obliged to shift their quarters for the sake of supplies, kept quiet in his camps, strengthening both with extra guards. After waiting a considerable time, when no one came out to attack him, Hannibal put the rest of the army into camp again, but sent out his Numidian horse to attack the enemy's water parties from the lesser camp. These horsemen riding right up to the lines and preventing the watering, Caius Terentius became more than ever inflamed with the desire of fighting, and the soldiers were eager for a battle, and chafed at the delay. For there is nothing more intolerable to mankind than suspense; when a thing is once decided, men can but endure whatever out of their catalogue of evils it is their misfortune to undergo. [Source: Polybius, “The Histories of Polybius”, 2 Vols., translated by Evelyn S. Shuckburgh (London: Macmillan, 1889), I. 264-275]

“But when the news arrived at Rome that the two armies were face to face, and that skirmishes between advanced parties of both sides were daily taking place, the city was in a state of high excitement and uneasiness; the people dreading the result, owing to the disasters which had now befallen them on more than one occasion; and foreseeing and anticipating in their imaginations what would happen if they were utterly defeated. All the oracles preserved at Rome were in everybody's mouth; and every temple and house was full of prodigies and miracles: in consequence of which the city was one scene of vows, sacrifices, supplicatory processions, and prayers. For the Romans in time of danger take extraordinary pains to appease gods and men, and look upon no ceremony of that kind in such times as unbecoming or beneath their dignity.

Hannibal at Cannae

“When he took over the command on the following day, as soon as the sun was above the horizon, Caius Terentius got the army in motion from both the camps. Those from the larger camp he drew up in order of battle, as soon as he had got them across the river, and bringing up those of the smaller camp he placed them all in the same line, selecting the south as the aspect of the whole. The Roman horse he stationed on the right wing along the river, and their foot next to them in the same line, placing the maniples, however, closer together than usual, and making the depth of each maniple several times greater than its front. The cavalry of the allies he stationed on the left wing, and the light-armed troops he placed slightly in advance of the whole army, which amounted with its allies to eighty thousand infantry and a little more than six thousand horse. At the same time Hannibal brought his Balearic slingers and spearmen across the river, and stationed them in advance of his main body; which he led out of their camp, and, getting them across the river at two spots, drew them up opposite the enemy. On his left wing, close to the river, he stationed the Iberian and Celtic horse opposite the Roman cavalry; and next to them half the Libyan heavy-armed foot; and next to them the Iberian and Celtic foot; next, the other half of the Libyans, and, on the right wing, the Numidian horse. Having now got them all into line he advanced with the central companies of the Iberians and Celts; and so arranged the other companies next these in regular gradations, that the whole line became crescent-shaped, diminishing in depth towards its extremities: his object being to have his Libyans as a reserve in the battle, and to commence the action with his Iberians and Celts.

“The armor of the Libyans was Roman, for Hannibal had armed them with a selection of the spoils taken in previous battles. The shield of the Iberians and Celts was about the same size, but their swords were quite different. For that of the Roman can thrust with as deadly effects as it can cut, while the Gallic sword can only cut, and that requires some room. And the companies coming alternately---the naked Celts, and the Iberians with their short linen tunics bordered with purple stripes, the whole appearance of the line was strange and terrifying. The whole strength of the Carthaginian cavalry was ten thousand, but that of their foot was not more than forty thousand, including the Celts. Aemilius commanded on the Roman right, Caius Terentius on the left, Marcus Atilius and Gnaeus Servilius, the consuls of the previous year, on the center. The left of the Carthaginians was commanded by Hasdrubal, the right by Hanno, the center by Hannibal in person, attended by his brother Mago. And as the Roman line faced the south, as I said before, and the Carthaginian the north, the rays of the rising sun did not inconvenience either of them.

“The battle was begun by an engagement between the advanced guard of the two armies; and at first the affair between these light-armed troops was indecisive. But as soon as the Iberian and Celtic cavalry got at the Romans, the battle began in earnest, and in the true barbaric fashion: for there was none of the usual formal advance and retreat; but when they once got to close quarters, they grappled man to man, and, dismounting from their horses, fought on foot. But when the Carthaginians had got the upper hand in this encounter and killed most of their opponents on the ground---because the Romans all maintained the fight with spirit and determination---and began chasing the remainder along the river, slaying as they went along and giving no quarter; then the legionaries took the place of the light-armed and closed with the enemy. For a short time the Iberian and Celtic lines stood their ground and fought gallantly; but, presently overpowered by the weight of the heavy-armed lines, they gave way and retired to the rear, thus breaking up the crescent. The Roman maniples followed with spirit, and easily cut their way through the enemy's line; since the Celts had been drawn up in a thin line, while the Romans had closed up from the wings towards the center and the point of danger. For the two wings did not come into action at the same time as the center: but the center was first engaged, because the Gauls, having been stationed on the arc of the crescent, had come into contact with the enemy long before the wings, the convex of the crescent being towards the enemy.”

Death of Paulus Aemilus at Cannae

Hannibal Defeats the Romans at Cannae

Polybius wrote in “History, Book III.115-116: “The Romans, however, going in pursuit of these troops, and hastily closing in towards the center and the part of the enemy which was giving ground, advanced so far that the Libyan heavy-armed troops on either wing got on their flanks. Those on the right, facing to the left, charged from the right upon the Roman flank; while those who were on the left wing faced to the right, and, dressing by the left, charged their right flank, the exigency of the moment suggesting to them what they ought to do. Thus it came about, as Hannibal had planned, that the Romans were caught between two hostile lines of Libyans---thanks to their impetuous pursuit of the Celts. Still they fought, though no longer in line, yet singly, or in maniples, which faced to meet those who charged them on the flanks. [Source: Polybius, “The Histories of Polybius”, 2 Vols., translated by Evelyn S. Shuckburgh (London: Macmillan, 1889), I. 264-275]

“Though he had been from the first on the right wing, and had taken part in the cavalry engagement, Lucius Aemilius still survived. Determined to act up to his own exhortatory speech, and seeing that the decision of the battle rested mainly on the legionaries, riding up to the center of the line he led the charge himself, and personally grappled with the enemy, at the same time cheering on and exhorting his soldiers to the charge. Hannibal, on the other side, did the same, for he too had taken his place on the center from the commencement. The Numidian horse on the Carthaginian right were meanwhile charging through the cavalry on the Roman left; and though, from the peculiar nature of their mode of fighting, they neither inflicted nor received much harm, they yet rendered the enemy's horse useless by keeping them occupied, and charging them first on one side and then another. But when Hasdrubal, after all but annihilating the cavalry by the river, came from the left to the support of the Numidians, the Roman allied cavalry, seeing his charge approaching, broke and fled. At that point Hasdrubal appears to have acted with great skill and discretion. Seeing the Numidians to be strong in numbers, and more effective and formidable to troops that had once been forced from their ground, he left the pursuit to them; while he himself hastened to the part of the field where the infantry were engaged, and brought his men up to support the Libyans. Then, by charging the Roman legions on the rear, and harassing them by hurling squadron after squadron upon them at many points at once, he raised the spirits of the Libyans, and dismayed and depressed that of the Romans.

“It was at this point that Lucius Aemilius fell, in the thick of the fight, covered with wounds: a man who did his duty to his country at that last hour of his life, as he had throughout its previous years, if any man ever did. As long as the Romans could keep an unbroken front, to turn first in one direction and then in another to meet the assaults of the enemy, they held out; but the outer files of the circle continually falling, and the circle becoming more and more contracted, they at last were all killed on the field; and among them Marcus Atilius and Gnaeus Servilius, the Consuls of the previous year, who had shown themselves brave men and worthy of Rome in the battle. While this struggle and carnage were going on, the Numidian horse were pursuing the fugitives, most of whom they cut down or hurled from their horses; but some few escaped into Venusia, among whom was Caius Terentius, the Consul, who thus sought a flight, as disgraceful to himself, as his conduct in office had been disastrous to his country.”

Disastrous Results for the Romans at Cannae

Roman and allied casualties were very high, though Polybius' figure of 70,000 dead is too high. More likely the true figure was around 25,000, still an alarmingly high number. Polybius wrote in “History, Book III.117-118: “Such was the end of the battle of Cannae, in which both sides fought with the most conspicuous gallantry, the conquered no less than the conquerors. This is proved by the fact that, out of six thousand horse, only seventy escaped with Caius Terentius to Venusia, and about three hundred of the allied cavalry to various towns in the neighborhood. Of the infantry ten thousand were taken prisoners in fair fight, but were not actually engaged in the battle: of those who were actually engaged only about three thousand perhaps escaped to the towns of the surrounding district; all the rest died nobly, to the number of seventy thousand, the Carthaginians being on this occasion, as on previous ones, mainly indebted for their victory to their superiority in cavalry: a lesson to posterity that in actual war it is better to have half the number of infantry, and the superiority in cavalry, than to engage your enemy with an equality in both. On the side of Hannibal there fell four thousand Celts, fifteen hundred Iberians and Libyans, and about two hundred horse. [Source: Polybius, “The Histories of Polybius”, 2 Vols., translated by Evelyn S. Shuckburgh (London: Macmillan, 1889), I. 264-275]

“The ten thousand Romans who were captured had not, as I said, been engaged in the actual battle; and the reason was this. Lucius Aemilius left ten thousand infantry in his camp that, in case Hannibal should disregard the safety of his own camp, and take his whole army onto the field, they might seize the opportunity, while the battle was going on, of forcing their way in and capturing the enemy's baggage; or if, on the other hand, Hannibal should, in view of this contingency, leave a guard in his camp, the number of the enemy in the field might thereby be diminished. These men were captured in the field in the following circumstances. Hannibal, as a matter of fact, did leave a sufficient guard in his camp; and as soon as the battle began, the Romans, according to their instructions, assaulted and tried to take those thus left by Hannibal. At first they held their own: but just as they were beginning to waver, Hannibal, who was by this time gaining a victory all along the line, came to their relief, and routing the Romans, shut them up in their own camp; killed two thousand of them; and took all the rest prisoners. In like manner the Numidian horse brought in all those who had taken refuge in the various strongholds about the district, amounting to two thousand of the routed cavalry.

“The result of this battle, such as I have described it, had the consequences which both sides expected. For the Carthaginians by their victory were thenceforth masters of nearly the whole of the Italian coast which is called Magna Graecia. Thus the Tarentines immediately submitted; and the Arpani and some of the Campanian states invited Hannibal to come to them; and the rest were with one consent turning their eyes to the Carthaginians: who, accordingly, began now to have high hopes of being able to carry even Rome itself by assault. On their side the Romans, even after this disaster, despaired of retaining their supremacy over the Italians, and were in the greatest alarm, believing their own lives and the existence of their city to be in danger, and every moment expecting that Hannibal would be upon them. For, as though Fortune herself were in league with the disasters that had already befallen them to fill up the measure of their ruin, it happened that only a few days afterwards, while the city was still in this panic, the Praetor who had been sent to the Gaul fell unexpectedly into an ambush and perished, and his army was utterly annihilated by the Celts.

“In spite of all, however, the Senate left no means untried to save the State. It exhorted the people to fresh exertions, strengthened the city with guards, and deliberated on the crisis in a brave and manly spirit. And subsequent events made this manifest. For though the Romans were on that occasion indisputably beaten in the field, and had lost their reputation for military prowess; by the peculiar excellence of their political constitution, and the prudence of their counsels, they not only recovered their supremacy over Italy, by eventually conquering the Carthaginians, but before very long became masters of the whole world.

“I shall, therefore, end this book at this point, having now recounted the events in Iberia and Italy embraced by the 140th Olympiad. When I have arrived at the same period in my history of Greece during this Olympiad, I shall then fulfill my promise of devoting a book to a formal account of the Roman constitution itself; for I think that a description of it will not only be germane to the matter of my history, but will also be of great help to practical statesmen, as well as students, either in reforming or establishing other constitutions.”

Glorified Hannibal

Hannibal After the Battle of Cannae

Polybius (c.200-after 118 B.C.) wrote in “Rome at the End of the Punic Wars: “When Hannibal, after the battle of Cannae, had taken prisoners eight thousand of the Romans, who were left to guard the camp; he permitted them to send a deputation to Rome, to treat of their ransom and redemption. Ten persons, the most illustrious that were among them, were appointed for this purpose: and the general, having first commanded them to swear that they would return to him again, suffered them to depart. But one of the number, as soon as they had passed the entrenchment, having said that he had forgotten something, went back into camp, took what he had left, and then continued his journey with the rest; persuading himself that by his return he had discharged his promise, and satisfied the obligation of the oath. When they arrived at Rome, they earnestly entreated the senate not to envy them the safety that was offered, but to suffer them to be restored to their families, at the price of three minae for each prisoner, which was the sum that Hannibal demanded; that they were not unworthy of this favor; that they neither had through cowardice deserted their post in battle, nor done anything that had brought dishonor upon the Roman name; but that having been left to guard the camp, they had been thrown by unavoidable necessity, after the destruction of the rest of the army, into the power of the enemy. [Source: Polybius “Rome at the End of the Punic Wars”: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed., “The Library of Original Sources” (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vol. III: The Roman World, pp. 166-193]

The Romans were at this time weakened by repeated losses; were deserted by almost every one of their allies; and seemed even to expect that Rome itself would instantly be attacked; yet when they had heard the deputies, they neither were deterred by adverse fortune from attending to what was fit and right, nor neglected any of those measures that were necessary to the public safety. But perceiving that the design of Hannibal in this proceeding was both to acquire a large supply of money and at the same time to check the ardor of his enemies in battle, by opening to their view the means of safety, even though they should be conquered, they were so far from yielding to this request, that they showed no regard either to the distressed condition of their fellow citizens, or to the services that might be expected from the prisoners: but resolved to disappoint the hopes and frustrate the intentions of this general, by rejecting all terms of ransom. They made a law also, by which it was declared that the soldiers that were left must either conquer or must die; and that no other hope of safety was reserved for them, in case that they were conquered. After this determination they dismissed the nine deputies, who, on account of their oath were, willing to return, and taking the other, who had endeavored to elude by sophistry what he had sworn, they sent him bound back to the enemy; so that Hannibal was much less filled with joy from having vanquished the Romans in the field, than he was struck with terror and astonishment at the firmness and magnanimity what appeared in their deliberations.”

After the Battle of Cannae

Carthaginian cosplay

After the stunning defeats climaxing with Cannae, one Roman army was annihilated and Rome was on the verge of being destroyed. The Romans were worried that Hannibal would take his revenge in most awful way. The statesmen Quintus Fabius Maximus was put in charge of the Roman army.

The battle of Cannae convinced the Italian allies that it would be better to have the help, rather than the hostility, of such a man as Hannibal. The Apulians, the Lucanians, the Samnites, the Bruttians, revolted and put themselves under his protection. But the Latin colonies and the Greek cities generally remained loyal to Rome. Capua, however, the most important city in Italy, after Rome, opened her gates to Hannibal; and Tarentum, which held a Roman garrison, was betrayed into his hands. The influence of Hannibal’s victory was also apparent outside of Italy. Syracuse transferred her allegiance from Rome to Carthage, and many other cities in Sicily threatened to revolt. Philip V., the king of Macedonia, also made an alliance with Hannibal, and threatened to invade Italy to assist him. Hannibal at this time was at the height of his power. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

During the period which followed the battle of Cannae, the Roman character was put to its severest test. The people feared the worst. Everything seemed turning against them. They were in dismay; but they did not despair. The popular excitement was soon allayed by the firmness of the senate. Under the wise counsels of Fabius Maximus, new plans were made for the recovery of Italy. But the problem now seemed greater than ever before. The war must be carried on, not only in Italy, to recover the revolted allies and to meet the continued attacks of Hannibal; but also in Spain, to prevent reënforcements coming from Hasdrubal; and in Sicily, to prevent the cities of that province from following the example of Syracuse; and finally in Greece, to prevent the king of Macedonia from interfering in the affairs of Italy. In the face of all discouragements, the Roman people, supported by the faithful Latin towns and colonies, remained firm; and with fixed resolution determined to prosecute the war with greater vigor than ever before. \~\

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “The results of this major catastrophe were immediate. Hannibal's previous attempts to pick up where Pyrrhus had left off, by winning over southern Italy, had failed before. Now he appeared the likely winner, and received into alliance the regions of Lucania and Bruttium, much of Samnium and Apulia, and (worst of all) the rich port city of Capua, which became his base). Emergency measures followed. Slaves were trained to serve in the army (Livy 23.14); the tributum was doubled, and the state borrowed from wealthy individuals who had grown rich farming the ager publicus (Livy 23. 48-49 = SB 92). [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“In Spain, the Scipio brothers Gnaeus and Publius ( duo fulmina belli, "the two thunderbolts of war") had fought continually against Hasdrubal. The main thing to know about this theater is that the efforts of the Scipios prevented the Carthaginians from reinforcing Hannibal in Italy; in 212 B.C., for example, a force prepared by Carthage to join with Hannibal had to be diverted to Spain after the victory of the Scipios on the Ebro (215 B.C.) and their recapture of Saguntum (212 B.C.). Meanwhile in the east Hannibal accepted an alliance with Philip V of Macedon, who promised to invade Italy by sea, but the Roman commander in Illyria managed to keep Philip tied up so that he, too, was unable to take an active rô le in Hannibal's Italian campaign [more on Philip V, Attalus of Pergamum, and the Aetolians on 9/27). Meanwhile Sicily had threatened to go over to carthage after the death of Hieron of Syracuse, a friend of Rome, in 215 B.C.. This was prevented chiefly by two factors: (a) the Carthaginians failed to give adequate support to the Sicilian revolt with naval power, and (b) the heroic efforts of M. Claudius Marcellus, who managed to retake Syracuse in 212 and 211 B.C. after a long siege, despite the best efforts of the genius Archimedes, an innovator in defensive weaponry.” ^*^

Hannibal Maneuvers Outside Rome

Hannibal did not see fit to attack Rome; but, turning to the east, he moved through Umbria and Picenum into Apulia, plundering the country as he went. He hoped to draw to his standard the allies of Rome in southern Italy, by showing that they were safe only under his protection. He also wished to provoke Fabius to a pitched battle. But Fabius had learned some lessons from the war; and he adopted the safe policy of harassing the army of Hannibal and of avoiding a general engagement. On account of this cautious strategy he was called Fabius Cunctator, or the Delayer. In order to irritate him to a conflict, Hannibal marched through Samnium into the rich fields of Campania. Fabius then tried to shut Hannibal up in this little territory by holding the mountain passes. But when Hannibal was ready to go, he opened his way by a stratagem. He ordered his light-armed troops in the night to drive up the mountain side a herd of cattle, with lighted fagots tied to their horns. The Romans who guarded the way, deceived or panic-stricken by this unusual demonstration, abandoned their post. Hannibal marched through the unguarded pass, and was free again to plunder the countries of southern Italy. He moved eastward through Samnium, and then descended into the region of Apulia. During all this time the allied cities of Italy had remained faithful to Rome. \~\

Cornelius Nepos wrote in “De Viribus Illustris”: “After having fought that battle, Hannibal advanced upon Rome without resistance. He halted in the hills near the city. After he had remained in camp there for several days and was returning to Capua, the Roman dictator Quintus Fabius Maximus opposed himself to him in the Falernian region. But Hannibal, although caught in a defile, extricated himself by night without the loss of any of his men, and thus tricked Fabius, that most skillful of generals. For under cover of night the Carthaginian bound torches to the horns of cattle and set fire to them, then sent a great number of animals in that condition to wander about in all directions. The sudden appearance of such a sight caused so great a panic in the Roman army that no one ventured to go outside the entrenchments. [Source: Cornelius Nepos (c.99-c.24 B.C.), “Hannibal, from “De Viribus Illustris,” translated by J. Thomas, 1995, Iowa State]

“Not so many days after this exploit, when Marcus Minucius Rufus, master of horse, had been given the same powers as the dictator, he craftily lured him into fighting, and utterly defeated the Roman. Although not present in person, he enticed Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, who had been twice consul into an ambuscade in Lucania and destroyed him. In a similar manner, at Venusia, he slew Marcus Claudius Marcellus, who was holding his fifth consulship. It would be a long story to enumerate all his battles. Therefore it will suffice to add this one fact, to show how great a man he was: so long as he was in Italy, no one was a match for him in the field,

Romans Turns the Tide Against Carthage in the Second Punic War

Carthaginian chariot

Hannibal spent a total of 15 years in Italy and although he was able to defeat the Romans in key battles he was ultimately defeated because the Romans had a large population to draw new recruits from and Carthage's mercenary forces shrank as time went on. The Roman armies under Fabius followed the Carthaginians and wore them down with delaying and harassing tactics. During the Battle of the Metaurus, Hannibal and his brother were defeated at the Metaurus River by 7,000 Romans in 207 B.C.

The first ray of hope came from Spain, where it was learned that Hasdrubal had been defeated by the Scipios. Then Hannibal’s army met its first repulse in Campania. The Romans also, by forming a league with the Aetolian cities of Greece and sending them a few troops, were able to prevent Macedonia from giving any aid to Hannibal. Soon Syracuse was captured after a siege by the Roman praetor Marcellus. Moreover, Hannibal’s forces were weakened by the need of protecting his new allies, scattered in various parts of southern Italy. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: In 216 B.C., having just won over Capua, among other places, Hannibal and “his men wintered there, and according to Livy (23.18) the soft life at Capua had a deleterious effect, though Polybius says they wintered in the open. The years 215-212 B.C. in Italy are taken up by Hannibal's attempts to secure his stronghold in the south. Notable holdouts against Hannibal included Nola, Cumae (heroically defended by Ti. Sempronius Gracchus), Rhegium, and Tarentum. In 212 the Romans took the war to Hannibal by besieging his base at Capua. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

The Romans were greatly incensed by the revolt of Capua, and determined to punish its citizens. Regular siege was laid to the city, and two Roman armies surrounded its walls. Hannibal marched to the relief of the beleaguered city and attempted to raise the siege; but could not draw the Roman army from its intrenchments. As a last resort, he marched directly to Rome, hoping to compel the Romans to withdraw their armies from Capua for the defense of the capital. Although he plundered the towns and ravaged the fields of Latium, and rode about the walls of Rome, the fact that “Hannibal was at the gates,” did not entice the Roman army away from Capua. Rome was well defended, and Hannibal, having no means of besieging the city, withdrew again into the southern part of Italy.

After Capua fell to the Romans in 211 B.C.. ; its chief citizens were put to death for their treason, many of the inhabitants were reduced to slavery, and the city itself was put under the control of a prefect. Silverman wrote: “Livy gives a vivid account of the extremely harsh measures taken by Rome to make an example of Capuan perfidy: the leaders were executed and the rest sold into slavery. Capua and its environs became ager publicus (Livy 26. 16 = SB 64). Still, Hannibal's efforts to weaken the Roman network of alliances in Italy continued to bear fruit. In 212 B.C., twelve Latin colonies refused to send troops for the levy.’ Even so Capua showed could not protect his Italian allies; and his cause seemed doomed to failure, unless he could receive help from his brother Hasdrubal, who was still in Spain. By 209 B.C. Tarentum, which Hannibal had taken in 213, was recaptured. The following year saw the death of Marcellus, the hero of Sicily, then consul for the fourth time.

Battle of the Metaurus (207 B.C.)

Hasdrubal (Hannibal's brother) had been kept in Spain by the vigorous campaign which the Romans had conducted in that peninsula under the two Scipios. Upon the death of these generals, the young Publius Cornelius Scipio was sent to Spain and earned a great name by his victories. But Hasdrubal was determined to go to the rescue of his brother in Italy. He followed Hannibal’s path over the Alps into the valley of the Po. Hannibal had moved northward into Apulia, and was awaiting news from Hasdrubal. There were now two enemies in Italy, instead of one. One Roman army under Claudius Nero was, therefore, sent to oppose Hannibal in Apulia; and another army under Livius Salinator was sent to meet Hasdrubal, who had just crossed the river Metaurus, in Umbria. \~\

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “In 207 Hasdrubal finally managed to cross the Alps with 30,000 troops. The plan was for the brothers to link up in Apulia, but this design was thwarted by the bold action of the consul C. Claudius Nero. Nero left Hannibal unopposed in Apulia and raced north to intercept Hasdrubal, whom he met at the battle of the Metaurus River (207 B.C.). This time the Roman numerical advantage (both consular armies had combined for the occasion) was put to better use, and Nero was able to outflank Hasdrubal, who died on the field. Another attempt to reinforce Hannibal followed, with Mago landing at Genoa in Cisalpine Gaul; but he was turned back at Ariminium, and Hannibal simply hung on in the south, losing one town after another. Finally in 203, after 15 years on Italian soil, Hannibal returned to Africa to face the younger Scipio (later to be called Africanus). [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

It was necessary that Hasdrubal should be crushed before Hannibal was informed of his arrival in Italy. The consul Claudius Nero therefore left his main army in Apulia, and with eight thousand picked soldiers hurried to the aid of his colleague in Umbria. The battle which took place at the Metaurus was decisive; and really determined the issue of the second Punic war. The army of Hasdrubal was entirely destroyed, and he himself was slain. The first news which Hannibal received of this disaster was from the lifeless lips of his own brother, whose head was thrown by the Romans into the Carthaginian camp. Hannibal saw that the death of his brother was the doom of Carthage; and he sadly exclaimed, “O Carthage, I see thy fate!” Hannibal retired into Bruttium; and the Roman consuls received the first triumph that had been given since the beginning of this disastrous war. By 205 Scipio had subdued all of Spain, and returned to Rome in triumph to be elected consul. \~\

Africanus Scipio, the Man Who Defeated Hannibal

Africanus Scipio

Of all the men produced by Rome during the Punic wars, Publius Cornelius Scipio (afterward called Africanus) came the nearest to being a military genius. From boyhood he had, like Hannibal, served in the army. At the death of his father and uncle, he had been intrusted with the conduct of the war in Spain. With great ability he had defeated the armies which opposed him, and had regained the entire peninsula, after it had been almost lost. With his conquest of New Carthage and Gades, Spain was brought under the Roman power. On his return to Rome, Scipio was unanimously elected to the consulship. He then proposed his scheme for closing the war. This plan was to keep Hannibal shut up in the Bruttian peninsula, and to carry the war into Africa. Although this scheme seemed to the aged Fabius Maximus as rash, the people had entire confidence in the young Scipio, and supported him. From this time Scipio was the chief figure in the war, and the senate kept him in command until its close. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “Scipio had arrived in Spain in 210 at age 25 with an extraordinary and unconstitutional grant of proconsular imperium (an important precedent for later figures, especially Pompey). By 209 he had captured the Carthaginian stronghold in southern Spain, Carthago Nova (New Carthage). The local soldiers believed that the waters of the lagoon by the city, which they had forded at low tide, had miraculously receded for Scipio, who was believed to enjoy the special favor of the gods; on this occasion it was Neptune who helped Scipio, but he was most closely associated with Jupiter Capitolinus (see esp. Livy 26. 19). On a more practical plane, Scipio had carried out tactical innovations in the maniples, including the wider use of the javelin (pilum) and the Spanish short sword. In 207 the Carthaginian commanders accepted a pitched battle at Ilipa. Seeming to borrow a page from Hannibal's book, Scipio used a delaying tactic with his Spanish troops in the center while the Roman flanks surrounded the enemy.”^*^

Scipio now organized his new army, which was made up largely of enthusiastic volunteers. He was for attacking in Africa at once, but it took him over a year to overcome the opposition of the cautious Fabius Maximus.

Hannibal Returns to Carthage

While the war was progressing in Africa, Hannibal still held his place in Bruttium like a lion at bay, or maybe a rat in a corner. In the midst of misfortune, he was still a hero. He kept control of his devoted army, and was faithful to his duty when all was lost. Carthage was convinced that her only hope was in recalling Hannibal to defend his native city. Hannibal left Italy in 203 B.C., the field of his brilliant exploits, and landed in Africa. Thus Rome was relieved of her dreaded foe, who had brought her so near to the brink of ruin. \~\

Cornelius Nepos wrote in “De Viribus Illustris”: “Then, undefeated, he was recalled to defend his native land; there he carried on war against Publius Scipio, the son of that Scipio whom he had put to flight first at the Rhone, then at the Po, and a third time at the Trebia. With him, since the resources of his country were now exhausted, he wished to arrange a truce for a time, in order to carry on the war later with renewed strength. He had an interview with Scipio, but they could not agree upon terms. A few days after the conference he fought with Scipio at Zama. Defeated incredible to relate he succeeded in a day and two nights in reaching Hadrumetum, distant from Zama about three hundred miles. In the course of that retreat the Numidians who had left the field with him laid a trap for him, but he not only eluded them, but even crushed the plotters. At Hadrumetum he rallied the survivors of the retreat and by means of new levies mustered a large number of soldiers within a few days. [Source: Cornelius Nepos (c.99-c.24 B.C.), “Hannibal, from “De Viribus Illustris,” translated by J. Thomas, 1995, Iowa State]

“While he was busily engaged in these preparations, the Carthaginians made peace with the Romans. Hannibal, however, continued after that to command the army and carried on war in Africa until the consulship of Publius Sulpicius and Gaius Aurelius. For in the time of those magistrates Carthaginian envoys came to Rome, to return thanks to the Roman senate and people for having made peace with them; and as a mark of gratitude they presented them with a golden crown, at the same time asking that their hostages might live at Fregellae and that their prisoners should be returned. To them, in accordance with a decree of the senate, the following answer was made: that their gift was received with thanks; that the hostages should live where they had requested; that they would not return the prisoners, because Hannibal, who had caused the war and was bitterly hostile to the Roman nation, still held command in their army, as well as his brother Mago. Upon receiving that reply the Carthaginians recalled Hannibal and Mago to Carthage. On his return Hannibal was made a king, after he had been general for twenty-one years. For, as is true of the consuls at Rome, so at Carthage two kings were elected annually for a term of one year.

“In that office Hannibal gave proof of the same energy that he had shown in war. For by means of new taxes he provided, not only that there should be money to pay to the Romans according to the treaty, but also that there should be a surplus to be deposited in the treasury.”

Scipio and the Romans Invade North Africa

Scipio and Romans embarked from Sicily and landed in Africa in 204 B.C.. He was assisted by the Numidian king, Masinissa, whom he had previously met in Spain; and whose royal title was now disputed by a rival named Syphax, an ally of Carthage. The title to the kingship of Numidia thus became mixed up with the war with Carthage. Scipio and Masinissa soon defeated the Carthaginian armies in Africa, and the fate of Carthage was sealed. \~\

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “ Having weathered the political opposition, Scipio sailed for Africa in 204 from his consular province (Sicily). Landing at Utica, he joined forces with the Numidian king Masinissa, whose support he had wooed and won while in Spain (the beginning of a long and sometimes rocky relationship between Rome and Numidia). But Masinissa's rival, his nephew Scyphax, remained loyal to Carthage. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“The first major encounter took place at the Great Plains (Campi Magni). The battle had three stages. Scipio began with his three divisions (hastati, principes, triarii) in line ahead and the cavalry bunched at the rear. The hastati then pressed ahead to engage the Celtiberians in the center while the other two files, ordinarily massed in the center in support of the hastati, held back long enough to allow them to advance along the sides of the infantry battle. As the hastati held the center, this produced an encirclement which needed only the rush of the cavalry to the rear to be completed. One main accomplishment here was the ouster of the loyalist Scyphax, which permitted Masinissa to make a substantial contribution of troops. the other was that the peace party at Carthage, acting before Hannibal and Mago could get back to Africa, made a treaty with Scipio on unfavorable terms: the Carthaginians were to evacuate Gaul and Spain, reduce their navy to a token 20 vessels, recognize Masinissa as the Numidian King, and give up their economic empire. ^*^

At Rome the Senate was delighted, and favored ratifying the peace (contra Livy 30. 23); but in North Africa the return of Hannibal combined with an attack on some ambassadors from Scipio to dismantle it. Scipio was unwilling to force the issue until he could take advantage of Masinissa's Numidian cavalry, which at the moment (in 203) was at home. Hannibal was not unaware of this factor, and his move to Zama was an attempt to engage Scipio before the juncture with Masinissa could be effected. Unfortunately for Hannibal, Scipio and Masinissa managed to link up just in time. ^*^

Battle of Zama

Battle of Zama

The Second Punic War ended when Hannibal was defeated by the Roman general Scipio who counterattacked in Northern Africa and routed the Carthaginian army at the Battle of Zama in 202 B.C. in Tunisia where the Romans employed a checkerboard formation to absorb an elephant charge and then counter-attacked. This was Hannibal's Waterloo.

At Zama, Hannibal fought at a great disadvantage. His own veterans were reduced greatly in number, and the new armies of Carthage could not be depended upon. Scipio changed the order of the legions, leaving spaces in his line, through which the elephants of Hannibal might pass without being opposed. In this battle Hannibal was defeated, and the Carthaginian army was annihilated. It is said that twenty thousand men were slain, and as many more taken prisoners.

David Silverman of Reed College wrote: “For the battle at Zama there are two competing accounts, one reflected by both Appian and Dio Cassius, the other by Polybius (15. 9-14) and Livy (30. 32-35). As frequently, the latter is more coherent. Scipio thwarted the elephantine threat by leaving lanes in his ranks through which the beasts might pass, while Hannibal tried to guard against encirclement by keeping his best troops (the veterans from Italy) to the rear. According to Polybius many of the elephants panicked at the outset and charged back into Hannibal's lines; this probably has at least a grain of truth, but it also looks like the product of the popular superstition about Scipio' special favor in the eyes of the gods. The decisive move occurred late in the battle when the Numidian horse left off chasing the remnants of Hannibal's mounted troops (most of them also Numidians) and attacked his rear. After this decisive defeat on African soil Carthage was compelled to accept terms, which were substantially the same as the treaty of 204, except that now the indemnity was doubled to 10,000 talents (payable over 50 years), and the Carthaginians agreed not to wage war outside of Africa. Even within Africa they were to undertake campaigns only with the prior approval of the Senate and people of Rome. [Source: David Silverman, Reed College, Classics 373 ~ History 393 Class ^*^]

“The lasting effect which Hannibal's sojourn in Italy had upon the collective memory of the Romans may be inferred from the prophetic words, woven by Virgil in the early years of Augustus' principate, which the angry Dido shouts as a curse at the fleeing Aeneas (Aeneid 4. 625-629):
May some avenger arise from my bones,
To harass the Dardan settlers with fire and sword,
Now or in future, whenever the resources are there;
I pray, may our shores oppose their shores, our waves
Their waves, our arms their arms. May future generations
carry on the fight. ^*^

Hannibal’s Defeat and End of the Second Punic War (201 B.C.)

According to a peace treaty of 201 B.C. that ended the second Punic War, Carthage had to promise forever to refrain from capturing and training North African elephants. The entire Carthaginian fleet was towed out to see and burned and Carthaginian aristocrats were forced pay reparations out of their own pockets. After the Second Punic War, Carthage turned its attention to trading and became rich and prosperous once again.

The terms imposed by Scipio the terms of peace included: 1) Carthage was to give up the whole of Spain and all the islands between Africa and Italy; 2) Masinissa was recognized as the king of Numidia and the ally of Rome; (3) Carthage was to pay an annual tribute of 200 talents for fifty years; (4) Carthage agreed not to wage any war without the consent of Rome. [Source: “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~]

Rome thus became the main power of the western Mediterranean. Carthage, although not reduced to a province, became a dependent state. Syracuse was added to the province of Sicily, and the territory of Spain was divided into two provinces, Hither and Farther Spain. Rome had, moreover, been brought into hostile relations with Macedonia, which paved the way for her conquests in the East. \~\

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) |+|; BBC Ancient Rome ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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