Hannibal of Carthage

                                             Hannibal before his amazed army after their destruction of the largest army that Rome had ever put into the field.

         As  the winter of 217/216 B.C. came to a close, Hannibal was now at an impasse to take action as his supplies were nearly exhausted. The Roman army was encamped still near him at Geronium and Hannibal had at his disposal no new supplies in the immediate area. The Romans, the previous fall, had brought large amounts of grain to fortified cities to prevent Hannibal from gaining the access of such. One of the largest in the region was stored at the walled-city of Cannae which was in Apulia. The area around Cannae was flat plains, 50 miles wide by 25 miles long, which were the most fertile lands in all of Italy. Although the Romans had garrisoned the city, Hannibal was made aware by his network of spies that the garrison was not large enough to hold against a superior force. Hannibal was intrigued by the city for several reasons. First and foremost, he needed grain to feed his army and horses and cattle. Second, the area was flat and the city of Cannae commanded the entire, fertile region. Third, the taking of the city, and preventing much needed food to the city of Rome, could provoke the Romans into battle. A battle that he would be able to utilize his cavalry on the open plains. Finally, fourth, the Aufidius River ran beside Cannae and would provide the water supply that his army would need.

           In order for Hannibal to be able to march to Cannae, he needed to move undetected by the Roman army. He left numerous campfires burning at his camp at Geronium and, under cover of darkness, he directed a skillful and well-concealed forced march around the entire Roman army. He then was before Cannae in Apulia and stormed the stunned Roman garrison. Upon the fall of the city, word soon reached the Roman army that their vital food reserves were now in Hannibal's hands. Furthermore, Hannibal was now in a position between their army and the city of Rome. The Roman army still had not broken camp as they feared that  following Hannibal into the open plains would allow Hannibal favorable advantage of his cavalry. They instead sent messengers to the Roman senate asking what direction that they should follow. The Senate, after careful consideration, directed the two consuls to remain in camp and await the two new consuls who would be elected shortly. The two new consuls would arrive to the field in early summer and in the meantime Rome raised new levies at a feverish rate. Total combined forces that Rome would raise that spring and early summer amounted to the largest land army that the city had ever put into field, 90,000 strong. It was this colossal army that proved that Rome was tired of the tactics that Fabius had invoked towards Hannibal and that they were more eager than ever to rid themselves of their enemy. The demoralization felt by the proud city had arrived to the point to where they could no longer sit by and allow things to continue in the current state and they now longed for a deciding confrontation. They knew full well that any Carthage setback would prove badly for Carthage in the course of the war, a setback that they likely would not be able to recover from. Rome was also compelled to react as they did to prevent their allies in Apulia from leaving their confederation as they were suddenly beginning to waver due to the economic strain that was burdening them, as well as the failure of Rome to protect them.

          In early summer the two new consuls, Aemilius Paulus and Terentius Varro, marched out of Rome at the head of an army of at least 90,000 strong to the cheers of a populace wanting resolve. Behind them, another army, this one of slave dealers bringing with them cages and carts with chains and shackles to contain Carthaginian prisoners. The slave market was very lucrative in ancient times. As said before, the two consuls rotated command on alternating days. Paulus and Varro were by no means alike in personality and beliefs. They carried great disdain for each other and they disagreed with what action that they should take. Amelius favored the tactics of Fabius and did not wish to engage unless on grounds that he considered favorable, following sentiment of his allies in the Roman senate. Varro, on the other hand, wanted to engage Hannibal as soon as he was able, wherever and whenever that may be. Varro contended to Paulus that he would not follow the Fabian tactics that he favored. Paulus would counter to Varro that he should remember Flaminius and Sempronius.  


                                Paulus and Varro leaving Rome to lead the Disaster at Cannae

          When the Roman army reached Cannae, Varro was in command. He brought his army to the southern banks of the Aufidius river, as Hannibal was, and in sight of him. Hannibal sent some light troops and a small amount of Numidians forward to engage the Romans and Varro offered battle by ordering his heavy infantry forward, supported by his heavy cavalry. The clash continued until the Carthaginians fell back to their camp. The Romans had won the field and there is much to speculate that Hannibal had intended this to happen as he only committed a small amount of troops. He may have done this anticipating that the Romans taste for battle would increase should they think that they were successful in driving him from the field. Whatever the case, losses were minor on each side and with the Romans holding the field, their confidence soared. Soon the "victory" made the way to Rome and the population clamoured for more. The next day, with Paulus in command, the Roman army moved to the northern side of the Aufidius. Hannibal broke camp and set up his battle lines and offered battle. Here his army stayed all day waiting, but Paulus would not commit to battle. During the evening, when it was apparent that the Romans would not commit, Hannibal broke his lines and returned to camp. That evening he sent several thousand of his Numidian cavalry across the river to attack several thousand Romans who were gathering water at the river. By doing so, and knowing that Varro would command the next day, he was confident that this would anger the Romans, increasing their desire to fight, and the engagement which he longed would transpire.

          The next morning, at sunrise, in early August of 216 B.C., the red flag for battle flew above Varro's tent. Varro was the first to offer battle and placed his army back across the Aufidius opposite Hannibal's camp. When Hannibal saw the movement of the Roman army, he and his staff officers sat upon their horses on a slightly elevated hill and watched the progression. As far as the eyes could see there were Roman troops. The ground trembled under their feet and massive clouds of dust rose into the sky. Hannibal had taken caution to position his army so that the winds that came across the open fields from the sea would blow to their backs and into the Roman faces. Hannibal could sense that his officers were growing uneasy at the sight before him. One, a veteran general named Gisco, voiced his astonishment to what he was seeing. Hannibal gazed at Gisco and said, " there is something far more astonishing that you have not yet seen, my old friend",. All eyes turned to their leader, thinking of some unseen disaster that they had not yet witnessed.  Hannibal then replied, " among all those Romans that you see before you, not one is named Gisco".  Hannibal was implying that in his opinion they, the Carthaginians, were superior over any Romans and that their numbers were of no concern to him. Suddenly the officers tension broke and they were filled with the confidence that Hannibal was exhibiting towards them. Soon the story of Gisco spread throughout the ranks. Hannibal had a way with motivating his army when things looked down. He was able to say just the right things to turn an opportunity into a positive. By saying what he had to Gisco, he was saying that he did not care how many Romans there were, as none were of the caliber of his general. Hannibal then called his army together and gave praise to his men that they had never been defeated by the Romans. He also praised their gods, saying that they favored them over the Romans. How else would such a large army of their enemies be brought forth on these open plains such as an offering, where their cavalry would have the decided advantage and their undefeated army would again show that they were superior over the Romans. He then made sure that they were fed a hearty breakfast.

          The Romans under Varro, set forth their battle lines with their cavalry split upon the wings of their massive infantry, one and one half miles long. As was the general practice, the Romans would always place the Roman infantry in the center of the line, with the allied infantry on both wings. Varro, however, placed the Roman infantry on the right flank of the infantry line, with the allied on the left. He then placed his Roman Calvary, of which he gave command to Paulus, on the right wing next to the Roman infantry. The allied cavalry was placed on the left flank of the allied center.  Varro was to command the Roman allied cavalry wing, despite the protests of Paulus over a general engagement. The Roman center was commanded by the two former consuls, Atilius and Servilius. Opposite of Varro, Hannibal placed his heavy Spanish and Gallic horse under the command of Hasdrubal, his master of camp. Opposite Paulus, near the Aufidius banks, Hannibal countered with his Numidian cavalry led by a general named Hanno the Elder, son of Bolmicar. No mention is made of Maharbol, the commander of Hannibal's cavalry, as he may have commanded the small force left to guard Hannibal's camp during the engagement.  Opposite the Roman center, Hannibal placed only a thin line of infantry that formed out into a crest towards the Romans. He and his youngest brother, Mago, would command this line. Hannibal may have placed Mago next to him in battle so that he would be able to look over his brother. On the flanks of this line he placed his heavy Spanish and African infantry, armed with Roman weapons and armor taken from the dead at Trebia and Trasimene. These infantry flanks were led by the general Hannibal Monomachus, a longtime friend and officer of Hannibal, and also by Carthalo, Hannibal's chief intelligence officer. The evening before, Hannibal had also asked 1,000 Numidians to fake desertion and ask the Romans for protection among their ranks. They offered to fight for the Romans and they were granted their wish.


                                         Carthage armour recovered from the Battle of Cannae 

          The days before the battle, Hannibal had repeatedly discussed with his generals about how the battle was to be conducted. He was very adamant that success could only arrive if each general would play their part as devised. One failure would lead to loss of the battle, and possible the war.

           The battle that would go down in history as one of the most wasteful in human life, would start as Roman skirmishers, with dust and wind in their faces, came forth and met with Hannibal's line of skirmishers. When their weapons were exhausted, they retreated to the flanks of each army. Hannibal then ordered Hasdrubal to charge forth with his heavy cavalry and engage Paulus on the Roman right flank. The massive arm of Hannibal's cavalry smashed into the Roman horse with full force and crushed this wing of the Roman army. Paulus, wounded, fled his horse and joined the Roman center on foot, who were now moving forward at a fast pace towards Hannibal's center. When a staff officer reported to Hannibal that the Roman right flank had perished, Hannibal was said to have remarked, " this pleases me more than if they were brought to me in chains".  Hasdrubal, as ordered, followed his success by riding with his cavalry the entire one and a half miles behind the Roman center and attacked the Roman left flank of cavalry which was already hotly engaged with Hanno and his Numidian cavalry.  Varro and these horsemen were crushed and only Varro and a handful of other horse escaped, to flee the battle. So the man who had so persistently requested battle and had given the order for it ,had fled the scene while the outcome was still in question. 

            Meanwhile, the massive Roman infantry mass moved forward, unaware that their flanks had collapsed as men is such masses only are able to see what is taking place in their immediate area. They smashed into Hannibal's center and the Carthaginian line retreated under the guidance of Hannibal and Mago. The Carthage center pulled back but did not break. The original line which had curved out towards the Roman center, now curved in and the Romans pressed harder. At the precise moment, when Hannibal was aware that his cavalry was ready to play their next important role, he ordered his center line to break. The Romans poured through the sudden breach with high anticipation, only to be stopped by the sudden appearance of Hannibal's heavy Spanish and African infantry, who had not yet engaged in the battle. These men came forth in a backward curve and the original center took up positions on the Roman flanks. From behind came the Carthage horse, who slammed upon the backs of the Roman center. The circle of death that Hannibal had hoped for was complete. Even though the Romans still far outnumbered the Carthage army, only the Romans on the outside ranks could wield their weapons, the others were hopelessly packed with their comrades and unable to fight. The battle ended here and what followed was mass slaughter that the Romans had never before known. During this time, the 1,000 Numidians who had earlier claimed to be defectors, turned on the Romans and began slashing them with great slaughter. Paulus fell with the center of the Roman army, as did the two former consuls, Atilius and Servilius. Before dying, Paulus was came upon by a Roman named Gnaeus Lentulus, and begged him to flee to Rome and tell Fabius that the order for battle was given by Varro and that he had opposed such as was.  By late afternoon the slaughter was complete. Of the original 90,000 Romans, 70,000 had perished under sword. Another 10,000 were captured and the other 10,000, most of which had not been engaged in the battle, they had been protecting the Roman camp, managed to escape. Amazingly, Hannibal lost less that 6,000 men. The Roman dead were so numerous that they covered the entire plain where the battle was fought.

          Upon the bloody fields of Cannae, a cold blanket of darkness would fall over the catastrophe.  The sounds of death would pierce the countryside over the course of the dark night as the wounded and dying would scream in agony to be put to death to end their misery. The battle that both sides had longed for was over. Carthage and Hannibal would reap from the success. Rome would suffer beyond their most terrible expectations.    

                                    Hannibal's men taking spoils from the Roman dead at Cannae 

          Perhaps never in the history of warfare had one army, so numerically superior over another, been defeated and annihilated in such a way that befell the Romans on that August day in 216 B.C. The battle itself could constitute an artful masterpiece if the atrocities of war were not what they were. The genius of Hannibal and the proper movement of all his troops were in itself nothing short of a masterpiece in the art of warfare. All wings of his army had to come together at the precise times for there to be success. The skill and daring of Hannibal's general named Hasdrubal, who led his heavy cavalry into the Roman right wing, and after his success, made the daring 1 1/2 mile charge behind the Roman center to engage the left flank of Roman horse, was nothing less than perfection. Then, to strike upon the rear of the Roman center just at precisely the moment that Hannibal ordered his retreating line to break, was in itself another perfect act of generalship. And Hannibal, himself directing the center, not from far away overlooking the battle, but in the middle of the carnage, ordering his line to retreat, step-by-step, until he was sure that he drawn the Romans into his trap. The Numidians he had sent as deserters and who turned upon the Romans during a crucial moment also bodes to Hannibal's genius. The fact that he chose to fight the battle where he was also played to his success.  From the side of the Carthaginians, there has never been an art of warfare that was superior to Hannibal's success at Cannae. Few would argue that there have even been any equals.

          From the Roman perspective, it is easy now to see what plagued them from the outset. Poor generalship as opposed to Hannibal was foremost. The fact that much of the Roman army was raw recruits matched against Hannibal's veterans did not favor Varro. As said before, the place of the battle also did not favor Rome as they were vastly inferior to Hannibal's cavalry, for which they had no answer. The fact that Varro packed his infantry so tightly together, hoping to rely on their sheer overwhelming manpower,  played to his disaster. They were never able to use mobility, with their numbers, to balance against Hannibal's cavalry. Why the Romans, after their defeats at the Ticinus, Trebia, Trasimene, and Geronium, due in large part to their deficiencies with their cavalry, did not focus to a stronger measure to build this force before Cannae we can only speculate.  

          After the battle, Hannibal would not rest as he was asked. Instead, he took time to see that his wounded soldiers were cared for and the rest given a hearty meal with wine. Maharbol was said to congratulate his leader and proclaim to Hannibal, " Let me go forth with my cavalry to the gates of Rome so that they shall know you are coming, tomorrow we will dine within the walls of Rome". To which Hannibal replied, "I appreciate your zeal Maharbol, but I will have to think about it". This brought about a fiery reply from Maharbol that cemented him in immortality, "the gods do not give all their gifts to one man Hannibal, you know how to conquer, however, you do not know how to use your conquests".

Make a Free Website with Yola.