Battle of Cannae
Overview
 
The Battle of Cannae (ˈkæni or ˈkæneɪ) was a major battle of the Second Punic War
Second Punic War
The Second Punic War, also referred to as The Hannibalic War and The War Against Hannibal, lasted from 218 to 201 BC and involved combatants in the western and eastern Mediterranean. This was the second major war between Carthage and the Roman Republic, with the participation of the Berbers on...

, which took place on August 2, 216 BC near the town of Cannae
Cannae
Cannae is an ancient village of the Apulia region of south east Italy. It is a frazione of the comune of Barletta.-Geography:It is situated near the river Aufidus , on a hill on the right Cannae (mod. Canne della Battaglia) is an ancient village of the Apulia region of south east Italy. It is a...

 in Apulia
Apulia
Apulia is a region in Southern Italy bordering the Adriatic Sea in the east, the Ionian Sea to the southeast, and the Strait of Òtranto and Gulf of Taranto in the south. Its most southern portion, known as Salento peninsula, forms a high heel on the "boot" of Italy. The region comprises , and...

 in southeast Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. The army of Carthage under Hannibal
Hannibal Barca
Hannibal, son of Hamilcar Barca Hannibal's date of death is most commonly given as 183 BC, but there is a possibility it could have taken place in 182 BC. was a Carthaginian military commander and tactician. He is generally considered one of the greatest military commanders in history...

 decisively defeated a numerically superior army of the Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

 under command of the consul
Roman consul
A consul served in the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic.Each year, two consuls were elected together, to serve for a one-year term. Each consul was given veto power over his colleague and the officials would alternate each month...

s Lucius Aemilius Paullus
Lucius Aemilius Paullus (General)
Lucius Aemilius Paullus was a Roman consul twice, in 219 and 216 BC.He served his first consulship with Marcus Livius Salinator. During this year, he defeated Demetrius of Pharos, in the Second Illyrian War and forced him to flee to the court of Philip V of Macedon. Upon his return to Rome, he was...

 and Gaius Terentius Varro
Gaius Terentius Varro
Gaius Terentius Varro was a Roman consul and commander. Along with his colleague, Lucius Aemilius Paullus, he commanded at the Battle of Cannae during the Second Punic War, in 216 BC, against the Carthaginian general Hannibal. The battle resulted in a decisive Roman defeat.Varro had been a praetor...

. It is regarded as one of the greatest tactical
Military tactics
Military tactics, the science and art of organizing an army or an air force, are the techniques for using weapons or military units in combination for engaging and defeating an enemy in battle. Changes in philosophy and technology over time have been reflected in changes to military tactics. In...

 feats in military history
Military history
Military history is a humanities discipline within the scope of general historical recording of armed conflict in the history of humanity, and its impact on the societies, their cultures, economies and changing intra and international relationships....

 and, in terms of the numbers killed, the second greatest defeat of Rome (second to the Battle of Arausio
Battle of Arausio
The Battle of Arausio took place on October 6, 105 BC, at a site between the town of Arausio and the Rhône River. Ranged against the migratory tribes of the Cimbri under Boiorix and the Teutoni were two Roman armies, commanded by the proconsul Quintus Servilius Caepio and consul Gnaeus Mallius...

).

Having recovered from their previous losses at Trebia (218 BC) and Trasimene
Battle of Lake Trasimene
The Battle of Lake Trasimene was a Roman defeat in the Second Punic War between the Carthaginians under Hannibal and the Romans under the consul Gaius Flaminius...

 (217 BC), the Romans decided to engage Hannibal at Cannae, with roughly 86,000 Roman and Allied troops.
Encyclopedia
The Battle of Cannae (ˈkæni or ˈkæneɪ) was a major battle of the Second Punic War
Second Punic War
The Second Punic War, also referred to as The Hannibalic War and The War Against Hannibal, lasted from 218 to 201 BC and involved combatants in the western and eastern Mediterranean. This was the second major war between Carthage and the Roman Republic, with the participation of the Berbers on...

, which took place on August 2, 216 BC near the town of Cannae
Cannae
Cannae is an ancient village of the Apulia region of south east Italy. It is a frazione of the comune of Barletta.-Geography:It is situated near the river Aufidus , on a hill on the right Cannae (mod. Canne della Battaglia) is an ancient village of the Apulia region of south east Italy. It is a...

 in Apulia
Apulia
Apulia is a region in Southern Italy bordering the Adriatic Sea in the east, the Ionian Sea to the southeast, and the Strait of Òtranto and Gulf of Taranto in the south. Its most southern portion, known as Salento peninsula, forms a high heel on the "boot" of Italy. The region comprises , and...

 in southeast Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. The army of Carthage under Hannibal
Hannibal Barca
Hannibal, son of Hamilcar Barca Hannibal's date of death is most commonly given as 183 BC, but there is a possibility it could have taken place in 182 BC. was a Carthaginian military commander and tactician. He is generally considered one of the greatest military commanders in history...

 decisively defeated a numerically superior army of the Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

 under command of the consul
Roman consul
A consul served in the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic.Each year, two consuls were elected together, to serve for a one-year term. Each consul was given veto power over his colleague and the officials would alternate each month...

s Lucius Aemilius Paullus
Lucius Aemilius Paullus (General)
Lucius Aemilius Paullus was a Roman consul twice, in 219 and 216 BC.He served his first consulship with Marcus Livius Salinator. During this year, he defeated Demetrius of Pharos, in the Second Illyrian War and forced him to flee to the court of Philip V of Macedon. Upon his return to Rome, he was...

 and Gaius Terentius Varro
Gaius Terentius Varro
Gaius Terentius Varro was a Roman consul and commander. Along with his colleague, Lucius Aemilius Paullus, he commanded at the Battle of Cannae during the Second Punic War, in 216 BC, against the Carthaginian general Hannibal. The battle resulted in a decisive Roman defeat.Varro had been a praetor...

. It is regarded as one of the greatest tactical
Military tactics
Military tactics, the science and art of organizing an army or an air force, are the techniques for using weapons or military units in combination for engaging and defeating an enemy in battle. Changes in philosophy and technology over time have been reflected in changes to military tactics. In...

 feats in military history
Military history
Military history is a humanities discipline within the scope of general historical recording of armed conflict in the history of humanity, and its impact on the societies, their cultures, economies and changing intra and international relationships....

 and, in terms of the numbers killed, the second greatest defeat of Rome (second to the Battle of Arausio
Battle of Arausio
The Battle of Arausio took place on October 6, 105 BC, at a site between the town of Arausio and the Rhône River. Ranged against the migratory tribes of the Cimbri under Boiorix and the Teutoni were two Roman armies, commanded by the proconsul Quintus Servilius Caepio and consul Gnaeus Mallius...

).

Having recovered from their previous losses at Trebia (218 BC) and Trasimene
Battle of Lake Trasimene
The Battle of Lake Trasimene was a Roman defeat in the Second Punic War between the Carthaginians under Hannibal and the Romans under the consul Gaius Flaminius...

 (217 BC), the Romans decided to engage Hannibal at Cannae, with roughly 86,000 Roman and Allied troops. The Romans massed their heavy infantry
Heavy infantry
Heavy infantry refers to heavily armed and armoured ground troops, as opposed to medium or light infantry, in which the warriors are relatively lightly armoured. As modern infantry troops usually define their subgroups differently , 'heavy infantry' almost always is used to describe pre-gunpowder...

 in a deeper formation than usual while Hannibal utilized the double-envelopment
Pincer movement
The pincer movement or double envelopment is a military maneuver. The flanks of the opponent are attacked simultaneously in a pinching motion after the opponent has advanced towards the center of an army which is responding by moving its outside forces to the enemy's flanks, in order to surround it...

 tactic. This was so successful that the Roman army was effectively destroyed as a fighting force. Following the Battle of Cannae, Capua
Capua
Capua is a city and comune in the province of Caserta, Campania, southern Italy, situated 25 km north of Naples, on the northeastern edge of the Campanian plain. Ancient Capua was situated where Santa Maria Capua Vetere is now...

 and several other Italian city-states defected from the Roman Republic to Carthage.

Strategic background

Shortly after the start of the Second Punic War, the Carthaginian general Hannibal boldly crossed into Italy by traversing the Alps
Alps
The Alps is one of the great mountain range systems of Europe, stretching from Austria and Slovenia in the east through Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany to France in the west....

 during the winter. He quickly won two major victories over the Romans at the Battle of Trebia and at the Battle of Lake Trasimene
Battle of Lake Trasimene
The Battle of Lake Trasimene was a Roman defeat in the Second Punic War between the Carthaginians under Hannibal and the Romans under the consul Gaius Flaminius...

. After suffering these losses, the Romans appointed Fabius Maximus
Fabius Maximus
Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus Cunctator was a Roman politician and general, born in Rome around 280 BC and died in Rome in 203 BC. He was Roman Consul five times and was twice Dictator in 221 and again in 217 BC. He reached the office of Roman Censor in 230 BC...

 as dictator
Roman dictator
In the Roman Republic, the dictator , was an extraordinary magistrate with the absolute authority to perform tasks beyond the authority of the ordinary magistrate . The office of dictator was a legal innovation originally named Magister Populi , i.e...

 to deal with the threat. Fabius used attrition warfare
Attrition warfare
Attrition warfare is a military strategy in which a belligerent side attempts to win a war by wearing down its enemy to the point of collapse through continuous losses in personnel and matériel....

 against Hannibal, cutting off his supply lines and refusing to engage in pitched battle
Pitched battle
A pitched battle is a battle where both sides choose to fight at a chosen location and time and where either side has the option to disengage either before the battle starts, or shortly after the first armed exchanges....

. These tactics proved unpopular with the Romans. As the Roman people recovered from the shock of Hannibal's initial victories, they began to question the wisdom of the Fabian strategy
Fabian strategy
The Fabian strategy is a military strategy where pitched battles and frontal assaults are avoided in favor of wearing down an opponent through a war of attrition and indirection. While avoiding decisive battles, the side employing this strategy harasses its enemy through skirmishes to cause...

 which had given the Carthaginian army a chance to regroup. Fabius' strategy was especially frustrating to the majority of Romans who were eager to see a quick conclusion to the war. It was also widely feared that if Hannibal continued plundering Italy unopposed, Rome's allies might doubt Rome's ability to protect them, and defect to Carthage's cause.

Unimpressed with Fabius' strategy, the Roman Senate
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

 did not renew his dictatorial powers at the end of his term, and command was given to consuls Gnaeus Servilius Geminus
Gnaeus Servilius Geminus
Gnaeus Servilius Geminus was a Roman consul, serving as both general and admiral of Roman forces, during the Second Punic War....

 and M. Atilius Regulus
Marcus Atilius Regulus (consul 227 BC)
Marcus Atilius M.f. M.n. Regulus , a son of Marcus Atilius Regulus, the consul captured during the First Punic War, and grandson of Marcus Atilius Regulus , was Roman consul for the year 227 BC, together with Publius Valerius Flaccus, and was a consul suffectus in 217 BC, replacing Gaius Flaminius...

. In 216 BC, elections resumed with Gaius Terentius Varro
Gaius Terentius Varro
Gaius Terentius Varro was a Roman consul and commander. Along with his colleague, Lucius Aemilius Paullus, he commanded at the Battle of Cannae during the Second Punic War, in 216 BC, against the Carthaginian general Hannibal. The battle resulted in a decisive Roman defeat.Varro had been a praetor...

 and Lucius Aemilius Paullus
Lucius Aemilius Paullus
Lucius Aemilius Paullus was the name of several ancient Romans of the patrician gens Aemilia.Notable men with this name include:* Lucius Aemilius Paullus * Lucius Aemilius Paulus Macedonicus, his son...

 elected as consuls, given command of a newly-raised army of unprecedented size, and directed to engage Hannibal. Polybius
Polybius
Polybius , Greek ) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period noted for his work, The Histories, which covered the period of 220–146 BC in detail. The work describes in part the rise of the Roman Republic and its gradual domination over Greece...

 writes:

Estimates of Roman troop numbers

These eight legions, some 40,000 Roman soldiers along with an estimated 2,400 Roman cavalry, formed the nucleus of this massive new army. As each legion was accompanied by an equal number of allied troops, and allied cavalry numbered around 4,000, the total strength of the army which faced Hannibal could not have been much less than 90,000. However, some have suggested that the destruction of an army of 90,000 troops would be impossible. They argue that Rome probably had 48,000 troops and 6,000 cavalry against Hannibal's 35,000 troops and 10,000 cavalry. Livy quotes one source stating the Romans only added 10,000 men to their usual army. While no definitive number of Roman troops exists, all sources agree that the Carthaginian army faced a considerably larger foe.

Roman command

Ordinarily, each of the two consuls would command their own portion of the army, but since the two armies were combined into one, the Roman law required them to alternate their command on a daily basis. It appears that Hannibal had already realized that the command of the Roman army alternated, and planned his strategy accordingly. The traditional account puts Varro in command on the day of the battle and much of the blame for the defeat has been laid on his shoulders. However his low origins seem to be exaggerated in the sources and Varro may have been made a scapegoat
Scapegoat
Scapegoating is the practice of singling out any party for unmerited negative treatment or blame. Scapegoating may be conducted by individuals against individuals , individuals against groups , groups against individuals , and groups against groups Scapegoating is the practice of singling out any...

 by the aristocratic establishment. Varro lacked the powerful descendants that Paullus had; descendants who were willing and able to protect his reputation — most notably, Paullus was the grandfather of Scipio Aemilianus, the patron of Polybius.

Prelude

In the spring of 216 BC, Hannibal took the initiative and seized the large supply depot at Cannae in the Apulian plain. He thus placed himself between the Romans and their crucial source of supply. As Polybius notes, the capture of Cannae "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 that it commanded the surrounding district". The consuls, resolving to confront Hannibal, marched southward in search of the Carthaginian general. After two days’ march, they found him on the left bank of the Aufidus River and encamped six miles (10 km) away.

Reportedly, a Carthaginian officer named Gisgo
Gisgo
Gisgo is the name of a number of men in the history of ancient Carthage.Gisgo, son of Hanno I the Great, was a notable general of the Sicilian campaigns of the First Punic War....

 commented on how much larger the Roman army was. Hannibal replied, "another thing that has escaped your notice, Gisgo, is even more amazing—that although there are so many of them, there is not one among them called Gisgo."

Consul Varro, who was in command on the first day, is presented by ancient sources as a man of reckless nature and hubris
Hubris
Hubris , also hybris, means extreme haughtiness, pride or arrogance. Hubris often indicates a loss of contact with reality and an overestimation of one's own competence or capabilities, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power....

, and was determined to defeat Hannibal. While the Romans were approaching Cannae, a small portion of Hannibal's forces ambushed the Roman army. Varro successfully repelled the Carthaginian attack and continued on his way to Cannae. This victory, though essentially a mere skirmish with no lasting strategic value, greatly bolstered the confidence of the Roman army, perhaps to overconfidence on Varro's part. Paullus, however, was opposed to the engagement as it was taking shape. Unlike Varro, he was prudent and cautious, and he believed it was foolish to fight on open ground, despite the Romans' numerical strength. This was especially true since Hannibal held the advantage in cavalry (both in quality and numerical terms). Despite these misgivings, Paullus thought it unwise to withdraw the army after the initial success, and camped two-thirds of the army east of the Aufidus River, sending the remainder of his men to fortify a position on the opposite side. The purpose of this second camp was to cover the foraging parties from the main camp and harass those of the enemy.

The two armies stayed in their respective locations for two days. During the second of these two days (August 1), Hannibal, aware that Varro would be in command the following day, left his camp and offered battle. Paullus, however, refused. When his request was rejected, Hannibal, recognizing the importance of the Aufidus' water to the Roman troops, sent his cavalry to the smaller Roman camp to harass water-bearing soldiers that were found outside the camp fortifications. According to Polybius, Hannibal's cavalry boldly rode up to the edge of the Roman encampment, causing havoc and thoroughly disrupting the supply of water to the Roman camp.

Forces

Figures for troops involved in ancient battles are often unreliable and Cannae is no exception. Hence the following figures should be treated with caution, especially those for the Carthaginian side.

The combined forces of the two consuls totaled 80,000 infantry, 2,400 Roman cavalry and 4,000 allied horse (involved in the actual battle) and, in the two fortified camps, 2,600 heavily armed men, 7,400 lightly armed men (a total of 10,000), so that the total strength the Romans brought to the field amounted to approximately 86,400 men. Opposing them was a Carthaginian army composed of roughly 40,000 heavy infantry, 6,000 light infantry
Light infantry
Traditionally light infantry were soldiers whose job was to provide a skirmishing screen ahead of the main body of infantry, harassing and delaying the enemy advance. Light infantry was distinct from medium, heavy or line infantry. Heavy infantry were dedicated primarily to fighting in tight...

, and 10,000 cavalry in the battle itself, irrespective of detachments.

The Carthaginian army was a combination of warriors from numerous regions. Along with the core of 8,000 Libyans, 8,000 Iberians, 16,000 Gauls (8,000 were left at camp the day of battle) and around 5,500 Gaetulian infantry. Hannibal's cavalry also came from diverse backgrounds. He commanded 4,000 Numidian, 2,000 Spanish, 4,000 Gallic and 450 Liby-Phoenician cavalry. Finally, Hannibal had around 8,000 skirmishers consisting of Balearic slingers
Sling (weapon)
A sling is a projectile weapon typically used to throw a blunt projectile such as a stone or lead "sling-bullet". It is also known as the shepherd's sling....

 and mixed nationality spearmen. Bringing Hannibal's army to a total of around 47,950. All of these specific groups brought their respective strengths to the battle. The uniting factor for the Carthaginian army was the personal tie each group had with Hannibal.

Equipment

Rome's forces used typical Roman equipment including pila
Pilum
The pilum was a javelin commonly used by the Roman army in ancient times. It was generally about two metres long overall, consisting of an iron shank about 7 mm in diameter and 60 cm long with pyramidal head...

(heavy javelins) and hastae
Hasta (spear)
Hasta is a Latin word meaning spear. Hastae were carried by early Roman Legionaries, in particular they were carried by and gave their name to those Roman soldiers known as Hastati...

(thrusting spears) as weapons as well as traditional helmets, shields, and body armor. On the other hand, the Carthaginian army used a variety of equipment. Iberians fought with swords suited for cutting and thrusting and javelins or various types of spear. For defense, Iberian
Pre-Roman peoples of the Iberian Peninsula
This is a list of the Pre-Roman peoples of the Iberian peninsula .-Non-Indo-European:*Aquitanians**Aquitani**Autrigones - some consider them Celtic .**Caristii - some consider them Celtic ....

 warriors carried large oval shields and the Gauls were similarly equipped, though the Gaulish weapon was usually a long, slashing sword. The heavy Carthaginian cavalry carried two javelins and a curved slashing sword with a heavy shield for protection. Numidian cavalry were very lightly equipped, sometimes lacking even bridles for their horses, and used no armor but carried a small shield, javelins and possibly a knife or longer blade. Skirmishers acting as light infantry carried either slings or spears. The Balearic slingers, who were famous for their accuracy, carried short, medium, and long slings used to cast stones or bullets. They may have carried a small shield or simple leather pelt on their arms, but this is uncertain.

The equipment of the Libyan line infantry has been much debated. Ducan Head has argued in favor of short stabbing spears. Polybius states that the Libyans fought with equipment taken from previously defeated Romans. It is unclear whether he meant only shields and armor or offensive weapons as well, though a general reading suggests he meant the whole panoply of arms and armour, and even tactical organization. Apart from his description of the battle itself, when later discussing the subject of Roman Legion versus Greek Phalanx, Polybius says that "...against Hannibal, the defeats they suffered had nothing to do with weapons or formations" because "Hannibal himself...discarded the equipment with which he had started out (and) armed his troops with Roman weapons". Dally is inclined to the view that Libyan infantry would have copied the Iberian use of the sword during their fighting there and so were armed similarly to the Romans.
Connolly
Peter Connolly
Peter Connolly is a renowned British scholar of the ancient world, Greek and Roman military equipment historian, reconstructional archaeologist and illustrator. A research Fellow at Oxford in England, and a talented artist, his accurate and detailed illustrations of the Classical world are well...

 has argued that they were armed as a pike phalanx. This has been disputed by Head because Plutarch states they carried spears shorter than the Roman Triarii and by Dally because they could not have carried an unwieldy pike at the same time as a heavy Roman style shield.

Tactical deployment

The conventional deployment for armies of the time was to place infantry in the center and deploy the cavalry in two flanking "wings." The Romans followed this convention fairly closely, but chose extra depth rather than breadth for their infantry line, hoping to use this concentration of forces to quickly break through the center of Hannibal's line. Varro knew how the Roman infantry had managed to penetrate Hannibal's center during the Battle of the Trebia
Battle of the Trebia
The Battle of the Trebia was the first major battle of the Second Punic War, fought between the Carthaginian forces of Hannibal and the Roman Republic in December of 218 BC, on or around the winter solstice...

, and he planned to recreate this on an even greater scale. The principes
Principes
Principes were spearmen, and later swordsmen, in the armies of the early Roman Republic. They were men in the prime of their lives who were fairly wealthy, and could afford decent equipment. They were the heavier infantry of the legion who carried large shields and wore good quality armour. Their...

were stationed immediately behind the hastati
Hastati
Hastatii were a class of infantry in the armies of the early Roman Republic who originally fought as spearmen, and later as swordsmen. They were originally some of the poorest men in the legion, and could afford only modest equipment — light armour and a large shield, in their service as the...

, ready to push forward at first contact to ensure the Romans presented a unified front. As Polybius wrote, "the maniples
Maniple (military unit)
Maniple was a tactical unit of the Roman legion adopted from the Samnites during the Samnite Wars . It was also the name of the military insignia carried by such unit....

 were nearer each other, or the intervals were decreased... and the maniples showed more depth than front." Even though they outnumbered the Carthaginians, this depth-oriented deployment meant that the Roman lines had a front of roughly equal size to their numerically inferior opponents.

To Varro, Hannibal seemed to have little room to manoeuver and no means of retreat as he was deployed with the Aufidus River to his rear. Varro believed that when pressed hard by the Romans' superior numbers, the Carthaginians would fall back onto the river and, with no room to manoeuver, would be cut down in panic. Bearing in mind that Hannibal's two previous victories had been largely decided by his trickery and ruse, Varro had sought an open battlefield. The field at Cannae was indeed clear, with no possibility of hidden troops being brought to bear as an ambush.

Hannibal, on the other hand, had deployed his forces based on the particular fighting qualities of each unit, taking into consideration both their strengths and weaknesses in devising his strategy. He placed his Iberians
Iberians
The Iberians were a set of peoples that Greek and Roman sources identified with that name in the eastern and southern coasts of the Iberian peninsula at least from the 6th century BC...

 and Gaul
Gaul
Gaul was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age and Roman era, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg and Belgium, most of Switzerland, the western part of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the left bank of the Rhine. The Gauls were the speakers of...

s in the middle, alternating the ethnic composition across the front line. Hannibal's infantry from Punic Africa was positioned on the wings at the very edge of his infantry line. These infantry were expertly battle-hardened, remained cohesive, and would attack the Roman flanks.

Hasdrubal
Hasdrubal, commander of the service corps
Hasdrubal, commander of the Service Corps was a Carthaginian officer in the Second Punic War. After the Battle of the Ticinus Hannibal led his army East along the Po River to catch the Roman army. When a convenient place was found to cross the army began building rafts...

 led the Iberian and Gaulish cavalry on the left (south near the Aufidus River) of the Carthaginian army. Hasdrubal was given about 6,500 cavalry, and Hanno
Hanno, son of Bomilcar
Hanno, son of Bomilcar, was a Carthaginian officer in the Second Punic War, and nephew of Hannibal Barca, Carthages leading General as his mother was one of Hannibals three elder sisters. When Hannibal's army reached the Western bank of the Rhône River they began preparations to cross. A group of...

 had 3,500 Numidians
Numidians
The Numidians were Berber tribes who lived in Numidia, in Algeria east of Constantine and in part of Tunisia. The Numidians were one of the earliest natives to trade with the settlers of Carthage. As Carthage grew, the relationship with the Numidians blossomed. Carthage's military used the Numidian...

 on the right.

Hannibal intended that his cavalry, comprising mainly medium Hispanic cavalry and Numidian light horse, and positioned on the flanks, would defeat the weaker Roman cavalry and swing around to attack the Roman infantry from the rear as it pressed upon Hannibal's weakened center. His veteran African troops would then press in from the flanks at the crucial moment, and encircle the overextended Roman army.

Hannibal was unworried about his position against the Aufidus River; in fact, it played a major factor in his strategy. By anchoring his army on the river, Hannibal prevented one of his flanks from being overlapped by the more numerous Romans. The Romans were in front of the hill leading to Cannae and hemmed in on their right flank by the Aufidus River, so that their left flank was the only viable means of retreat. In addition, the Carthaginian forces had maneuvered so that the Romans would face east. Not only would the morning sunlight shine on the Romans, but the southeasterly winds would blow sand and dust into their faces as they approached the battlefield. Hannibal's unique deployment of his army, based on his perception of the terrain and understanding of the capabilities of his troops, proved decisive.

Subsequent events

As the armies advanced on one another, Hannibal gradually extended the center of his line, as Polybius describes: "After thus drawing up his whole army in a straight line, he took the central companies of Hispanics and Celts and advanced with them, keeping the rest of them in contact with these companies, but gradually falling off, so as to produce a crescent-shaped formation, the line of the flanking companies growing thinner as it was prolonged, his object being to employ the Africans as a reserve force and to begin the action with the Hispanics and Celts." Polybius describes the weak Carthaginian center as deployed in a crescent, curving out toward the Romans in the middle with the African troops on their flanks in echelon formation
Echelon formation
An echelon formation is a military formation in which members are arranged diagonally. Each member is stationed behind and to the right , or behind and to the left , of the member ahead...

. It is believed that the purpose of this formation was to break the forward momentum of the Roman infantry, and delay its advance before other developments allowed Hannibal to deploy his African infantry most effectively. That being said, while the majority of historians feel that Hannibal's action was deliberate, there are those that have called this account fanciful, and claim that the actions of the day represent either the natural curvature that occurs when a broad front of infantry marches forward, or the bending back of the Carthaginian center from the shock action of meeting the heavily massed Roman center.

When the battle was joined, the cavalry engaged in a fierce exchange on the flanks. Polybius describes the Hispanic and Celtic horse dismounting in what he considers a barbarian method of fighting. When the Hispanic and Gauls got the upper hand, they cut down the Roman cavalry without giving quarter. On the other flank the Numidians had engaged in a way that merely kept the Roman ally cavalry occupied. When the victorious Hispanic and Gallic cavalry came up, the allied cavalry broke and the Numidians pursued them off the field.

While the Carthaginians were in the process of defeating the Roman cavalry, the mass of infantry on both sides advanced towards each other in the center of the field. As the Romans advanced, the wind from the East blew dust in their faces and obscured their vision. While the wind itself was not a major factor, the dust that both armies created would have been potentially debilitating to sight. Although the dust made sight difficult, troops would still have been able to see others in the vicinity. The dust, however, was not the only psychological factor involved in battle. Because of the somewhat distant battle location both sides were forced to fight on little sleep. The Romans faced another disadvantage caused by lack of proper hydration due to Hannibal's attack on the Roman encampment during the previous day. Furthermore, the massive number of troops would have led to an overwhelming amount of background noise. All of these psychological factors made battle especially difficult for the infantrymen.

Hannibal stood with his men in the weak center and held them to a controlled retreat. The crescent of Hispanic and Gallic troops buckled inwards as they gradually withdrew. Knowing the superiority of the Roman infantry, Hannibal had instructed his infantry to withdraw deliberately, thus creating an even tighter semicircle around the attacking Roman forces. By doing so, he had turned the strength of the Roman infantry into a weakness. Furthermore, while the front ranks were gradually advancing, the bulk of the Roman troops began to lose their cohesion, as they began crowding themselves into the growing gap. Soon they were compacted together so closely that they had little space to wield their weapons. In pressing so far forward in their desire to destroy the retreating and collapsing line of Hispanic and Gallic troops, the Romans had ignored (possibly due to the dust previously mentioned) the African troops that stood uncommitted on the projecting ends of this now reversed-crescent. This also gave the Carthaginian cavalry time to drive the Roman cavalry off on both flanks and attack the Roman center in the rear. The Roman infantry, now stripped of both its flanks, formed a wedge that drove deeper and deeper into the Carthaginian semicircle, driving itself into an alley that was formed by the African Infantry stationed on the wings. At this decisive point, Hannibal ordered his African Infantry to turn inwards and advance against the Roman flanks, creating an encirclement
Encirclement
Encirclement is a military term for the situation when a force or target is isolated and surrounded by enemy forces. The German term for this is Kesselschlacht ; a comparable English term might be "in the bag"....

 of the Roman infantry in one of the earliest known examples of the pincer movement
Pincer movement
The pincer movement or double envelopment is a military maneuver. The flanks of the opponent are attacked simultaneously in a pinching motion after the opponent has advanced towards the center of an army which is responding by moving its outside forces to the enemy's flanks, in order to surround it...

.

When the Carthaginian cavalry attacked the Romans in the rear, and the African flanking echelons had assailed them on their right and left, the advance of the Roman infantry was brought to an abrupt halt. The trapped Romans were enclosed in a pocket with no means of escape. The Carthaginians created a wall and began destroying the entrapped Romans. Polybius claims that, "as their outer ranks were continually cut down, and the survivors forced to pull back and huddle together, they were finally all killed where they stood."

As Livy
Livy
Titus Livius — known as Livy in English — was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people. Ab Urbe Condita Libri, "Chapters from the Foundation of the City," covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome well before the traditional foundation in 753 BC...

 describes, "So many thousands of Romans were dying ... Some, whom their wounds, pinched by the morning cold, had roused, as they were rising up, covered with blood, from the midst of the heaps of slain, were overpowered by the enemy. Some were found with their heads plunged into the earth, which they had excavated; having thus, as it appeared, made pits for themselves, and having suffocated themselves." Cowley claims that nearly six hundred legionaries were slaughtered each minute until darkness brought an end to the bloodletting. Only 14,000 Roman troops managed to escape, most of whom had cut their way through to the nearby town of Canusium.

Roman and allied

Polybius writes that of the Roman and allied infantry, 70,000 were killed, 10,000 captured, and "perhaps" 3,000 survived. He also reports that of the 6,000 Roman and allied cavalry, only 370 survived.

Livy writes "it is said that 45,500 foot soldiers and 2,700 horsemen were slain in almost equal proportion of citizens and allies". He also reports that 3,000 Roman and allied infantry and 1,500 Roman and allied cavalry were taken prisoner by the Carthaginians. Although Livy does not cite his source by name, it is likely to have been Quintus Fabius Pictor
Quintus Fabius Pictor
Quintus Fabius Pictor was one of the earliest Roman historians and considered the first of the annalists. A member of the Fabii gens, he was the grandson of Gaius Fabius Pictor, a painter . He was a senator who fought against the Gauls in 225 BC, and against Carthage in the Second Punic War...

, a Roman historian who fought in and wrote on the Second Punic War. It is Pictor whom Livy names when reporting the casualties at the Battle of Trebia. In addition to the consul Paullus, Livy goes on to record that among the dead were 2 quaestor
Quaestor
A Quaestor was a type of public official in the "Cursus honorum" system who supervised financial affairs. In the Roman Republic a quaestor was an elected official whereas, with the autocratic government of the Roman Empire, quaestors were simply appointed....

s, 29 of the 48 military tribune
Military tribune
A military tribune was an officer of the Roman army who ranked below the legate and above the centurion...

s (some of consular rank, including the consul of the previous year, Gnaeus Servilius Geminus
Gnaeus Servilius Geminus
Gnaeus Servilius Geminus was a Roman consul, serving as both general and admiral of Roman forces, during the Second Punic War....

, and the former Master of the Horse
Master of the Horse
The Master of the Horse was a position of varying importance in several European nations.-Magister Equitum :...

, Marcus Minucius Rufus), and 80 "senators or men who had held offices which would have given them the right to be elected to the Senate".

Later Roman (and Greco-Roman) historians all largely follow Livy's figures. Appian
Appian
Appian of Alexandria was a Roman historian of Greek ethnicity who flourished during the reigns of Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius.He was born ca. 95 in Alexandria. He tells us that, after having filled the chief offices in the province of Egypt, he went to Rome ca. 120, where he practised as...

 gives 50,000 killed and "a great many" taken prisoner. Plutarch
Plutarch
Plutarch then named, on his becoming a Roman citizen, Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus , c. 46 – 120 AD, was a Greek historian, biographer, essayist, and Middle Platonist known primarily for his Parallel Lives and Moralia...

 agrees, "50,000 Romans fell in that battle... 4,000 were taken alive". Quintilian
Quintilian
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus was a Roman rhetorician from Hispania, widely referred to in medieval schools of rhetoric and in Renaissance writing...

: "60,000 men were slain by Hannibal at Cannae". Eutropius: "20 officers of consular and praetorian rank, 30 senators, and 300 hundred others of noble descent, were taken or slain, as well as 40,000 foot-soldiers, and 3,500 horse".

Most modern historians, while rejecting Polybius' figure as flawed, are willing to accept Livy's figure. Some more recent historians have come up with far lower estimates. Cantalupi proposed Roman losses of 10,500 to 16,000. Samuels also regards Livy's figure as far too high on the grounds that the cavalry would have been inadequate to prevent the Roman infantry escaping to the rear. He doubts that Hannibal even wanted a high death toll as much of the army consisted of Italians whom Hannibal hoped to win as allies in the future

Punic and allied

Livy records Hannibal's losses at "about 8,000 of his bravest men." Polybius reports 5,700 dead: 4,000 Gauls, 1,500 Spanish and Africans, and 200 cavalry.

Aftermath

Livy
Livy
Titus Livius — known as Livy in English — was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people. Ab Urbe Condita Libri, "Chapters from the Foundation of the City," covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome well before the traditional foundation in 753 BC...

, on the Roman Senate's reaction to the defeat


For a brief period of time, the Romans were in complete disarray. Their best armies in the peninsula were destroyed, the few remnants severely demoralized, and the only remaining consul (Varro) completely discredited. It was a complete catastrophe for the Romans. As the story goes, Rome declared a national day of mourning, as there was not a single person in Rome who was not either related to or acquainted with a person who had died. The Romans became so desperate that they resorted to human sacrifice, twice burying people alive at the Forum
Roman Forum
The Roman Forum is a rectangular forum surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome. Citizens of the ancient city referred to this space, originally a marketplace, as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum...

 of Rome and abandoning an oversized baby in the Adriatic Sea
Adriatic Sea
The Adriatic Sea is a body of water separating the Italian Peninsula from the Balkan peninsula, and the system of the Apennine Mountains from that of the Dinaric Alps and adjacent ranges...

 (perhaps one of the last recorded instances of human sacrifice
Human sacrifice
Human sacrifice is the act of killing one or more human beings as part of a religious ritual . Its typology closely parallels the various practices of ritual slaughter of animals and of religious sacrifice in general. Human sacrifice has been practised in various cultures throughout history...

s the Romans would perform, unless the public executions of defeated enemies dedicated to Mars are counted).

Lucius Caecilius Metellus, a military tribune
Military tribune
A military tribune was an officer of the Roman army who ranked below the legate and above the centurion...

, is known to have so much despaired in the Roman cause in the aftermath of the battle as to suggest that everything was lost, and called the other tribunes to sail overseas and hire themselves up into the service to some foreign prince. Afterwards, he was forced by his own example to swear an oath of allegiance to Rome for all time. Furthermore, the Roman survivors of Cannae were later reconstituted as two legions and assigned to Sicily for the remainder of the war as punishment for their humiliating desertion of the battlefield. In addition to the physical loss of her army, Rome would suffer a symbolic defeat of prestige. A gold ring was a token of membership in the upper classes of Roman society; Hannibal had his men collect more than 200 gold rings from the corpses on the battlefield, and sent this collection to Carthage as proof of his victory. The collection was poured on the floor in front of the Punic Senate, and was judged to be "three and a half measures."

Hannibal, having gained yet another victory (following the battles of Trebia
Battle of the Trebia
The Battle of the Trebia was the first major battle of the Second Punic War, fought between the Carthaginian forces of Hannibal and the Roman Republic in December of 218 BC, on or around the winter solstice...

 and Lake Trasimene), had defeated the equivalent of eight consular armies (sixteen legions plus an equal number of allies). Within just three campaign seasons (20 months), Rome had lost one-fifth (150,000) of the entire population of citizens over seventeen years of age. Furthermore, the morale effect of this victory was such that most of Southern Italy joined Hannibal's cause. After the Battle of Cannae, the Hellenistic
Hellenistic civilization
Hellenistic civilization represents the zenith of Greek influence in the ancient world from 323 BCE to about 146 BCE...

 southern provinces
Magna Graecia
Magna Græcia is the name of the coastal areas of Southern Italy on the Tarentine Gulf that were extensively colonized by Greek settlers; particularly the Achaean colonies of Tarentum, Crotone, and Sybaris, but also, more loosely, the cities of Cumae and Neapolis to the north...

 of Arpi, Salapia, Herdonia, Uzentum, including the cities of Capua
Capua
Capua is a city and comune in the province of Caserta, Campania, southern Italy, situated 25 km north of Naples, on the northeastern edge of the Campanian plain. Ancient Capua was situated where Santa Maria Capua Vetere is now...

 and Tarentum
Taranto
Taranto is a coastal city in Apulia, Southern Italy. It is the capital of the Province of Taranto and is an important commercial port as well as the main Italian naval base....

 (two of the largest city-states in Italy) all revoked their allegiance to Rome and pledged their loyalty to Hannibal. As Polybius notes, "How much more serious was the defeat of Cannae, than those which preceded it can be seen by the behavior of Rome’s allies; before that fateful day, their loyalty remained unshaken, now it began to waver for the simple reason that they despaired of Roman Power." During that same year, the Greek cities in Sicily were induced to revolt against Roman political control, while the Macedonian king, Philip V
Philip V of Macedon
Philip V was King of Macedon from 221 BC to 179 BC. Philip's reign was principally marked by an unsuccessful struggle with the emerging power of Rome. Philip was attractive and charismatic as a young man...

, had pledged his support to Hannibal—thus initiating the First Macedonian War
First Macedonian War
The First Macedonian War was fought by Rome, allied with the Aetolian League and Attalus I of Pergamon, against Philip V of Macedon, contemporaneously with the Second Punic War against Carthage...

 against Rome. Hannibal also secured an alliance with the newly appointed King Hieronymus of Syracuse
Hieronymus of Syracuse
Hieronymus was a tyrant of Syracuse. He succeeded his grandfather, Hiero II, in 215 BC. He was at this time only fifteen years old, and he ascended the throne at a crisis full of peril, for the battle of Cannae had given a shock to the Roman power, the influence of which had been felt in Sicily;...

, the only independent leftover in Sicily.

Following the battle, the commander of the Numidian cavalry Maharbal
Maharbal
Maharbal was Hannibal's cavalry commander during the Second Punic War. He was often critical to the success of the side of Carthage over Rome...

 urged Hannibal to seize the opportunity and march immediately on Rome. It is told that the latter's refusal caused Maharbal's exclamation: "Truly the Gods have not bestowed all things upon the same person. Thou knowest indeed, Hannibal, how to conquer, but thou knowest not how to make use of your victory." Yet Hannibal had good reasons to judge the strategic situation after the battle otherwise than Maharbal did. As the historian Hans Delbrück
Hans Delbrück
Hans Delbrück was a German historian. Delbrück was one of the first modern military historians, basing his method of research on the critical examination of ancient sources, the use of auxiliary disciplines, like demography and economics, to complete the analysis and the comparison between...

 points out, due to the high numbers of killed and wounded among its ranks, the Punic army was not in a condition to perform a direct assault on Rome. A march to the city on the Tiber
Tiber
The Tiber is the third-longest river in Italy, rising in the Apennine Mountains in Emilia-Romagna and flowing through Umbria and Lazio to the Tyrrhenian Sea. It drains a basin estimated at...

 would have been a fruitless demonstration that would have nullified the psychological effect of Cannae on the Roman allies. Even if his army was at full strength, a successful siege of Rome would have required Hannibal to subdue a considerable part of the hinterland in order to secure his own and cut the enemy's supplies. Even after the tremendous losses suffered at Cannae, and the defection of a number of her allies, Rome still had abundant manpower to prevent this and at the same time to maintain considerable forces in Iberia, Sicily, Sardinia and elsewhere despite Hannibal's presence in Italy. Hannibal's conduct after the victories at Trasimene (217 BC) and Cannae (216 BC), and the fact that he first attacked Rome itself only five years later (in 211 BC), suggests that his strategic aim was not the destruction of his foe but to dishearten the Romans by a series of carnages on the battlefields and to wear them down to a moderate peace agreement by stripping them of their allies.

Immediately after Cannae Hannibal sent a delegation led by Carthalo
Carthalo
Carthalo was an officer in Hannibal's army during the Second Punic War. He led the Numidian cavalry in a successful skirmish against Rome. After the Battle of Cannae Hannibal sent Carthalo to Rome. Carthalo's mission was to try to get Rome to consider peace. At the same time he brought a...

 to negotiate a peace treaty with the Senate on moderate terms. Yet despite the multiple catastrophes Rome had suffered, the Roman Senate refused to parley. Instead, they re-doubled their efforts, declaring full mobilization of the male Roman population, and raised new legions enlisting landless peasants and even slaves. So firm were these measures that the word “peace” was prohibited, mourning was limited to only thirty days, and public tears were prohibited even to women. The Romans, after experiencing this catastrophic defeat and losing other battles, had at this point learned their lesson. For the remainder of the war in Italy, they would not amass such large forces under one command against Hannibal; instead they would utilize several independent armies, still outnumbering the Punic forces in numbers of armies and soldiers. The war still had occasional battles, but was centered more around taking strongpoints and a constant fighting according to the Fabian strategy
Fabian strategy
The Fabian strategy is a military strategy where pitched battles and frontal assaults are avoided in favor of wearing down an opponent through a war of attrition and indirection. While avoiding decisive battles, the side employing this strategy harasses its enemy through skirmishes to cause...

. This finally forced Hannibal with his shortage of manpower to retreat to Croton from where he was called to Africa for the battle of Zama
Battle of Zama
The Battle of Zama, fought around October 19, 202 BC, marked the final and decisive end of the Second Punic War. A Roman army led by Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus defeated a Carthaginian force led by the legendary commander Hannibal...

, ending the war with a complete Roman victory.

Effects on Roman military doctrine

The Battle of Cannae played a major role in shaping the military structure and tactical organization of the Roman Republican army
Military establishment of the Roman Republic
As the Roman kingdom successfully overcame opposition from the Italic hill tribes, and became a larger state, the age of tyranny in the eastern Mediterranean began to subside. Inspired by the idea of new constitutions arising there, the Roman populace threw off the yoke of tyranny and established a...

. At Cannae, the Roman infantry assumed a formation similar to the Greek phalanx
Phalanx formation
The phalanx is a rectangular mass military formation, usually composed entirely of heavy infantry armed with spears, pikes, sarissas, or similar weapons...

. This delivered them into Hannibal's trap, since their inability to maneuver independently from the mass of the army made it impossible for them to counter the encircling tactics employed by the Carthaginian cavalry. Furthermore, the strict laws of the Roman state required that high command alternate between the two consuls—thus restricting strategic consistency.

However, in the years following Cannae, striking reforms were introduced to address these deficiencies. First, the Romans "articulated the phalanx, then divided it into columns, and finally split it up into a great number of small tactical bodies that were capable, now of closing together in a compact impenetrable union, now of changing the pattern with consummate flexibility, of separating one from the other and turning in this or that direction." For instance, at Ilipa
Battle of Ilipa
The Battle of Ilipa in 206 BC was considered Scipio Africanus’s most brilliant victory in his military career during the Second Punic War. Though it may not seem to be as original as Hannibal’s tactic at Cannae, Scipio’s pre-battle maneuver and his Reverse Cannae formation was still a culmination...

 and Zama
Battle of Zama
The Battle of Zama, fought around October 19, 202 BC, marked the final and decisive end of the Second Punic War. A Roman army led by Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus defeated a Carthaginian force led by the legendary commander Hannibal...

, the principes
Principes
Principes were spearmen, and later swordsmen, in the armies of the early Roman Republic. They were men in the prime of their lives who were fairly wealthy, and could afford decent equipment. They were the heavier infantry of the legion who carried large shields and wore good quality armour. Their...

were formed up well to the rear of the hastati
Hastati
Hastatii were a class of infantry in the armies of the early Roman Republic who originally fought as spearmen, and later as swordsmen. They were originally some of the poorest men in the legion, and could afford only modest equipment — light armour and a large shield, in their service as the...

—a deployment that allowed a greater degree of mobility and maneuverability. The culminating result of this change marked the transition from the traditional manipular
Maniple (military unit)
Maniple was a tactical unit of the Roman legion adopted from the Samnites during the Samnite Wars . It was also the name of the military insignia carried by such unit....

 system to the cohort
Cohort (military unit)
A cohort was the basic tactical unit of a Roman legion following the reforms of Gaius Marius in 107 BC.-Legionary cohort:...

 under Gaius Marius
Gaius Marius
Gaius Marius was a Roman general and statesman. He was elected consul an unprecedented seven times during his career. He was also noted for his dramatic reforms of Roman armies, authorizing recruitment of landless citizens, eliminating the manipular military formations, and reorganizing the...

, as the basic infantry unit of the Roman army.

In addition, a unified command came to be seen as a necessity. After various political experiments, Scipio Africanus
Scipio Africanus
Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus , also known as Scipio Africanus and Scipio the Elder, was a general in the Second Punic War and statesman of the Roman Republic...

 was made general-in-chief of the Roman armies in Africa, and was assured the continued occupancy of this title for the duration of the war. This appointment may have violated the constitutional laws of the Roman Republic
Roman Republic
The Roman Republic was the period of the ancient Roman civilization where the government operated as a republic. It began with the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, traditionally dated around 508 BC, and its replacement by a government headed by two consuls, elected annually by the citizens and...

, but, as Hans Delbrück wrote, it "effected an internal transformation that increased her military potentiality enormously" while foreshadowing the decline of the Republic's political institutions. Furthermore, the battle exposed the limits of a citizen-militia
Militia
The term militia is commonly used today to refer to a military force composed of ordinary citizens to provide defense, emergency law enforcement, or paramilitary service, in times of emergency without being paid a regular salary or committed to a fixed term of service. It is a polyseme with...

 army. Following Cannae, the Roman army gradually developed into a professional force: the nucleus of Scipio's army at Zama
Battle of Zama
The Battle of Zama, fought around October 19, 202 BC, marked the final and decisive end of the Second Punic War. A Roman army led by Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus defeated a Carthaginian force led by the legendary commander Hannibal...

 was composed of veterans who had been fighting the Carthaginians in Hispania
Hispania
Another theory holds that the name derives from Ezpanna, the Basque word for "border" or "edge", thus meaning the farthest area or place. Isidore of Sevilla considered Hispania derived from Hispalis....

 for nearly sixteen years, and had been moulded into a superb fighting force.

Status in military history

The Battle of Cannae is as famous for Hannibal's tactics
Military tactics
Military tactics, the science and art of organizing an army or an air force, are the techniques for using weapons or military units in combination for engaging and defeating an enemy in battle. Changes in philosophy and technology over time have been reflected in changes to military tactics. In...

 as it is for the role it played in Roman history
Military history of ancient Rome
From its origin as a city-state in Italy in the 8th century BC, to its rise as an empire covering much of Southern Europe, Western Europe, Near East and North Africa and fall in the 5th century AD, the political history of Ancient Rome was typically closely entwined with its military history...

. Not only did Hannibal inflict a defeat on the Roman Republic in a manner unrepeated for over a century until the lesser-known Battle of Arausio
Battle of Arausio
The Battle of Arausio took place on October 6, 105 BC, at a site between the town of Arausio and the Rhône River. Ranged against the migratory tribes of the Cimbri under Boiorix and the Teutoni were two Roman armies, commanded by the proconsul Quintus Servilius Caepio and consul Gnaeus Mallius...

, the battle itself has acquired a significant reputation within the field of military history
Military history
Military history is a humanities discipline within the scope of general historical recording of armed conflict in the history of humanity, and its impact on the societies, their cultures, economies and changing intra and international relationships....

. As military historian Theodore Ayrault Dodge
Theodore Ayrault Dodge
Theodore Ayrault Dodge was an American officer and military historian. He fought as a Union officer in the American Civil War; as a writer, he was devoted to both the Civil War and the great generals of ancient and European history....

 once wrote:

"Few battles of ancient times are more marked by ability... than the battle of Cannae. The position was such as to place every advantage on Hannibal's side. The manner in which the far from perfect Hispanic and Gallic foot was advanced in a wedge in échelon
Echelon formation
An echelon formation is a military formation in which members are arranged diagonally. Each member is stationed behind and to the right , or behind and to the left , of the member ahead...

... was first held there and then withdrawn step by step, until it had the reached the converse position... is a simple masterpiece of battle tactics. The advance at the proper moment of the African infantry, and its wheel right and left upon the flanks of the disordered and crowded Roman legionaries, is far beyond praise. The whole battle, from the Carthaginian standpoint, is a consummate piece of art, having no superior, few equal, examples in the history of war".

As Will Durant
Will Durant
William James Durant was a prolific American writer, historian, and philosopher. He is best known for The Story of Civilization, 11 volumes written in collaboration with his wife Ariel Durant and published between 1935 and 1975...

 wrote, "It was a supreme example of generalship, never bettered in history... and it set the lines of military tactics for 2,000 years".

Hannibal's double envelopement
Encirclement
Encirclement is a military term for the situation when a force or target is isolated and surrounded by enemy forces. The German term for this is Kesselschlacht ; a comparable English term might be "in the bag"....

 at the Battle of Cannae is often viewed as one of the greatest battlefield manoeuvers in history, and is cited as the first successful use of the pincer movement
Pincer movement
The pincer movement or double envelopment is a military maneuver. The flanks of the opponent are attacked simultaneously in a pinching motion after the opponent has advanced towards the center of an army which is responding by moving its outside forces to the enemy's flanks, in order to surround it...

 within the Western world
Western world
The Western world, also known as the West and the Occident , is a term referring to the countries of Western Europe , the countries of the Americas, as well all countries of Northern and Central Europe, Australia and New Zealand...

, to be recorded in detail.

The "Cannae Model"

Apart from being one of the greatest defeats ever inflicted on Roman arms, the Battle of Cannae represents the archetypal
Archetype
An archetype is a universally understood symbol or term or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated...

 battle of annihilation
Battle of annihilation
A battle of annihilation is a military strategy where an attacking army seeks to destroy the military capacity of the opposing army in a single planned pivotal battle...

, a strategy that has rarely been successfully implemented in modern history. As Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight David "Ike" Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States, from 1953 until 1961. He was a five-star general in the United States Army...

, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in World War II, once wrote, "Every ground commander seeks the battle of annihilation; so far as conditions permit, he tries to duplicate in modern war
Modern warfare
Modern warfare, although present in every historical period of military history, is generally used to refer to the concepts, methods and technologies that have come into use during and after the Second World War and the Korean War...

 the classic example of Cannae"
. Furthermore, the totality of Hannibal's victory has made the name "Cannae" a byword for military success, and is today studied in detail in several military academies around the world. The notion that an entire army could be encircled and annihilated within a single stroke, led to a fascination among subsequent Western generals for centuries (including Frederick the Great
Frederick II of Prussia
Frederick II was a King in Prussia and a King of Prussia from the Hohenzollern dynasty. In his role as a prince-elector of the Holy Roman Empire, he was also Elector of Brandenburg. He was in personal union the sovereign prince of the Principality of Neuchâtel...

 and Helmuth von Moltke) who attempted to emulate its tactical paradigm of envelopment and re-create their own "Cannae".
Hans Delbrück's seminal study of the battle had a profound influence on subsequent German military theorists, in particular, the Chief of the German General Staff
German General Staff
The German General Staff was an institution whose rise and development gave the German armed forces a decided advantage over its adversaries. The Staff amounted to its best "weapon" for nearly a century and a half....

, Alfred von Schlieffen (whose eponymously titled "Schlieffen Plan
Schlieffen Plan
The Schlieffen Plan was the German General Staff's early 20th century overall strategic plan for victory in a possible future war in which the German Empire might find itself fighting on two fronts: France to the west and Russia to the east...

" was inspired by Hannibal's double envelopment manoeuver). Through his writings, Schlieffen taught that the "Cannae model" would continue to be applicable in maneuver warfare
Maneuver warfare
Maneuver warfare, or manoeuvre warfare , is the term used by military theorists for a concept of warfare that advocates attempting to defeat an adversary by incapacitating their decision-making through shock and disruption brought about by movement...

 throughout the 20th century:


"A battle of annihilation can be carried out today according to the same plan devised by Hannibal in long forgotten times. The enemy front is not the goal of the principal attack. The mass of the troops and the reserves should not be concentrated against the enemy front; the essential is that the flanks be crushed. The wings should not be sought at the advanced points of the front but rather along the entire depth and extension of the enemy formation. The annihilation is completed through an attack against the enemy's rear... To bring about a decisive and annihilating victory requires an attack against the front and against one or both flanks..."


Schlieffen later developed his own operational doctrine in a series of articles, many of which were later translated and published in a work entitled "Cannae".

Historical sources

There are three main accounts of the battle, none of them contemporary. The closest is Polybius
Polybius
Polybius , Greek ) was a Greek historian of the Hellenistic Period noted for his work, The Histories, which covered the period of 220–146 BC in detail. The work describes in part the rise of the Roman Republic and its gradual domination over Greece...

, who wrote his account 50 years after the battle. Livy
Livy
Titus Livius — known as Livy in English — was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people. Ab Urbe Condita Libri, "Chapters from the Foundation of the City," covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome well before the traditional foundation in 753 BC...

 wrote in the time of Augustus, and Appian
Appian
Appian of Alexandria was a Roman historian of Greek ethnicity who flourished during the reigns of Trajan, Hadrian, and Antoninus Pius.He was born ca. 95 in Alexandria. He tells us that, after having filled the chief offices in the province of Egypt, he went to Rome ca. 120, where he practised as...

 later still. Appian's account describes events that have no relation with those of Livy and Polybius. Polybius portrays the battle as the ultimate nadir of Roman fortunes, functioning as a literary device such that the subsequent Roman recovery is more dramatic. For example, some argue that his casualty figures are exaggerated—"more symbolic than factual". Livy portrays the Senate in the role of hero and hence assigns blame for the Roman defeat to the low-born Varro. Blaming Varro also serves to lift blame from the Roman soldiers, whom Livy has a tendency to idealize. Scholars tend to discount Appian's account. The verdict of Philip Sabin—"a worthless farrago"—is typical.

Historian Martin Samuels has questioned whether it was in fact Varro in command on the day on the grounds that Paullus may have been in command on the right. The warm reception that Varro received after the battle from the Senate was in striking contrast to the savage criticism meted out to other commanders. Samuels doubts whether Varro would have been received with such warmth had he been in command. Gregory Daly notes that, in the Roman military, the right was always the place of command. He suggests that at the Battle of Zama
Battle of Zama
The Battle of Zama, fought around October 19, 202 BC, marked the final and decisive end of the Second Punic War. A Roman army led by Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus defeated a Carthaginian force led by the legendary commander Hannibal...

 Hannibal was quoted saying that he had fought Paullus at Cannae and concludes that it is impossible to be sure who was in command on the day.

Sources

  • Carlton, James. The Military Quotation Book. New York City, New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2002.
  • Hoyos, Dexter B. Hannibal: Rome's Greatest Enemy. Bristol Phoenix Press, 2005, ISBN 1-904675-46-8 (hbk) ISBN 1-904675-47-6 (pbk).
  • Daly, Gregory. Cannae: The Experience of Battle in the Second Punic War. London/New York: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-32743-1.
  • Delbrück, Hans
    Hans Delbrück
    Hans Delbrück was a German historian. Delbrück was one of the first modern military historians, basing his method of research on the critical examination of ancient sources, the use of auxiliary disciplines, like demography and economics, to complete the analysis and the comparison between...

    . Warfare in Antiquity, 1920, ISBN 0-8032-9199-X.
  • Livy
    Livy
    Titus Livius — known as Livy in English — was a Roman historian who wrote a monumental history of Rome and the Roman people. Ab Urbe Condita Libri, "Chapters from the Foundation of the City," covering the period from the earliest legends of Rome well before the traditional foundation in 753 BC...

    , Titus Livius and De Selincourt, Aubrey. The War with Hannibal: Books XXI-XXX of the History of Rome from its Foundation. Penguin Classics, Reprint Edition, 1965, ISBN 0-14-044145-X (pbk).
  • Talbert, Richard J.A. (ed.) Atlas of Classical History. London/New York: Routledge, 1985, ISBN 0-415-03463-9.

External links

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