Hannibal of Carthage

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          After the Battle of the Ticinus River, Hannibal rested his army among his Gallic allies, all the while, Sempronius was marching north to join Paulus, as was instructed by the Roman senate. Despite Gallic willingness to supply Hannibal's army with food and supplies, he found that the size of his army was becoming a burden on the local communities resulting in uneasiness among his Gallic friends. Hannibal was informed by his chief of intelligence, a Carthage nobleman named Carthalo, that the Romans had a large grain storage depot at a walled city called Clastidium, which he was planning to attack. He must have bypassed it previously on his way to Piacenza. Instead of attacking, he found that he could bribe the commander, Dasius Brundisius, whose name indicates he was not Roman but was from Brundisium with 400 gold coins. The garrison was subsequently treated with kindness and allowed to return to their cities to inform their leaders that Hannibal was not coming to enslave Italy, only to deliver her from the harsh Roman rule , which suggests that good treatment was part of the deal, but none of the sources describe it in detail.

          Clastidium was located on the right bank of the Po upstream from the Trebbia. That Hannibal could operate there without hindrance indicates that he was in fact camped on the left bank of the Trebbia and subsequent operations with the Gauls prove it further. Thus, on the right bank, the two Roman armies formed as one upon the celebrated arrival of Sempronius.

          The December of 218 BC was very cold and snowy. Scipio was still recovering from his wounds and Sempronius was arrogant, impetuous, and headstrong. Eager to come to blows with Hannibal before Scipio could recover and assume command, and especially as the time for the election of new consuls was drawing near and his term about to expire, Sempronius took measures looking for a general engagement, disregarding Scipio's caution not to attack with untrained men. Sempronius had little regard for his men, only longing for glory in Rome should he be the victor over Hannibal.  Unfortunately for Sempronius, Hannibal was aware of this, and prepared a plan to take advantage of Sempronius' impetuosity. Hannibal's force was camped across the cold and flooded Trebia River, opposite the Roman legions.    

          Hannibal had previously noticed an area between the two armies where a sunken stream bed that led into the Trebia lay. This tributary was at the time dry and was covered with large amounts of brush and foliage debris which he determined would prove useful during the upcoming battle which he hoped would arrive soon.     

          Hannibal was relying on a network of his ally spies to keep informed of Roman activity. Furthermore, he soon was aware that Scipio was still not recovered from his wounds to command and that Sempronius would be eager to give battle. When they told him the Romans were ready to do battle, he sent for 100 each of the best infantrymen and cavalrymen and praised them for being the most trusted men in his army. He then entrusted each of them to select 10 others whom they felt were in a category of themselves for a special mission which he would only entrust to them. This detachment of 1,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry under the command of Hannibal's younger brother, Mago, were instructed to conceal themselves in the underbrush of the above-mentioned water-course under the cover of night, and prepare to follow the directions that Hannibal had given them during the next morning. Most probably this was the first important command of Mago. Hannibal then gathered all his men and made sure that they were fed a hearty meal and given oil to rub upon their bodies to better insulate against the harsh cold. The cavalry wing of the army was also given oil to rub upon their horses. As darkness fell, Mago led the ambush to their positions and settled in for a long, tense evening. 

                Meanwhile, on the other bank of the Trebia, Sempronius had resolved to seek "a decisive battle as soon as possible."  The Senate had sent him to assist Scipio, but the latter was unable to be assisted, leaving Tiberius in an ambiguous situation for which he longed. According to the Roman historian Polybius, Tiberius felt free to act on his own,  he was, it is true, at liberty to act as he thought best owing to the inability of Scipio to conduct operations, nevertheless he felt obliged to argue it out with his colleague in heated language.  Sempronius would argue with Scipio about what good would arrive if they waited, and asked where help could arrive from at this time?  He also spoke that this was their native lands and that the army was cowering within their camp in the heart of Italy while their loved ones back in Rome waited for their victory over their invader. Scipio then advised that they should wait where they were until the spring and train their forces during the winter months. Scipio also noted that the Gauls would not remain loyal to Hannibal over time as his army would deplete their natural resources and they would soon become irritated with his presence.  The newly recruited Gauls and Ligurians in Hannibal's army would also be likely to desert.  He also noted that in their present area, they would be able to keep Hannibal at bay as both their army and Hannibal's was said to be at around 40,000 strong each. Scipio's pleas fell upon deaf ears.           

        On the following morning,  December 21, 218 B.C. , Hannibal sent the rest of the Numidian cavalry beyond the Trebia to harass the nearby Roman camp and retreat, so as to lure the Romans into a position from which Mago’s hidden detachment could strike at the opportune moment. The Numidians were high     upon their horses as they crossed the frigid, icy  Trebia in silence,  so as not to cause early alarm amongst the Roman camp which was still by the large part not yet awoken from their evening sleep.  As the Numidians neared the camp and the Roman sentries sparked the alarm, they charged forth at top speed and sallied forth their missiles at the men on duty as well as the awaking Romans who were now beginning to leave their tents as they struggled to get dressed.  In response,Sempronius quickly awoke his men and did not bother to feed them or to make sure they were properly clothed. He then sent out the Roman cavalry to drive them off, and shortly afterward's sent out 6,000 javelin-throwers, the light-armed infantry, to cover the formation of the main line of battle behind them. These were the 12,000 Roman heavy-armed infantry and 20,000 Italic allies, apparently heavy-armed also, as they were never used as light-armed infantry. He then ordered his army to follow the Numidians with all haste. The Numidians then retreated as they were instructed to by Hannibal and fled back towards the Trebia, whereupon gathering upon the bank as if to cross back over to Hannibal's army, they suddenly turned and attacked the disorganized Roman horse that were following them. Upon the engagement the Romans fared poorly and suffered heavy casualties with the survivors being routed from the scene and falling back upon the wings of the advancing infantry mass.  The Numidians then harassed the front light skirmishers of the Roman infantry, causing them to expend all their weapons in the process, with very little effect towards the Numidians.The Numidian horse then re-crossed the Trebia and took positions upon the wings of Hannibal's waiting, rested army.


       Hannibal had put forward his 8,000 light infantry, javelin-throwers and Balearic slingers, as a covering skirmishing line, and behind them, he formed the main battle line of 20,000 infantry of Africans, Spanish, and Celtic warriors.   He also placed his 10,000 cavalry and an unspecified number of elephants split between the two flanks.

          As the Romans plunged chest-deep into the frigid waters of the Trebia, Hannibal waited upon the other side. As the first groups of Romans crossed and managed to struggle upon the muddy banks, Hannibal left them unmolested as he waited for the entire Roman army to cross, which would lead to more Roman casualties and encourage the Gauls to vigorously support his cause. As the last of the Romans struggled across their center numbered 32,000 strong, opposed by Hannibal's 20,000 strong center. The Roman flanks numbered 2,000 cavalry each, opposed by Hannibal's flanks of 5,000 each, in addition to what elephants he had left which he also split on the flanks.          

          After the light-armed Roman infantry cast forth what weapons they still had, they retreated through the next Roman line, the heavy-armed infantry. These men were barely able to raise their weapons due to fatigue and hypothermia from crossing the river when they were met head on by Hannibals javelin throwers and the expert Baelaric slingers. After exhausting their weapons, these men turned and disappeared behind Hannibal's  flanks, which gave way for the charge of Hannibal's heavy infantry which smashed with force into the Roman center. All the while this was taking place, the Carthage cavalry flanks attacked and crushed the Roman flanks, who fled from the battle after suffering heavy losses. The Carthage cavalry then turned and attacked both of the exposed flanks of the Roman center. At the precise moment, Mago and his  2,000 men, executed their part in the battle with perfection as they swarmed upon the rear of the Roman center. As these men turned in terror, they fled back towards the river along with men from their flanks who were being attacked by the Carthage horse. Hannibal then sent his cavalry to the river where thousands of Roman troops were massacred trying to cross. Paulus seemed to have place best troops, the Roman citizens, of which he personally commanded, in the center and the Italian allies around them. The greatest Roman casualties were from their allies as the center was able to tighten their formation and was able to fight their way out of the trap and retreat to Placentia and Cremonia , 10,000 strong, where they fortified the cities and waited for Hannibal to follow. Upon the cold, bloody banks of the Trebia, however, they left 25,000 of their dead. Their army, seemingly invincible in their eyes before, had just been defeated, very nearly annihilated,  by Hannibal. Hannibal chose not to pursue as he wanted to avoid more losses to his small army. During the battle he had lost around 3,000 men, mostly from the newly recruited Gauls. He wanted to take time to gain fresh recruits and train them before he would again engage the Roman legions.


          For a time the Romans were spared attacks by the Carthaginians, as the latter were now suffering from exposure. A severe cold spell had set in and the precipitation had turned from rain to snow and ice. All the elephants but one died along with many men and horses. When the news arrived at Rome that both consuls had been defeated at Ticinus and Trebia the population panicked, expecting to see Hannibal at the gates.  In fact the defeats were not the catastrophe they believed as Rome still had 7 and 1/2 active legions in the field. 

          Meanwhile, in Spain, as said before, Hannibal left his brother Hasdrubal with around 15,000 troops  to protect Carthage possessions south of the Ebro and had left Hanno, who was said to be Hannibal's nephew and the son of the slain Hasdrubal "the Splendid", with 10,000 troops to hold the newly conquered lands that were north of the Ebro River. It was this area, north of the Ebro, that another Roman army was to operate. Leaving Massilia with around 23,000 men, the Roman general Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio, the older brother of Paulus Cornelius Scipio who Hannibal had defeated at Ticinus,  landed in northeastern Hispania and began setting operations to get the native cities to revolt  against Carthage and join the Romans. Several former Greek cities quickly joined the Romans and Hanno, stunned to find a large Roman army near him so soon, sent messengers with haste to Hasdrubal informing him of his situation. Hasdrubal fortified his mines as well as his primary cities and set forth to join Hanno with around 9,000 men. As Hasdrubal was marching north, Hanno was not content to allow the Romans to continue to spur rebellion among the natives and decided to search for and meet the Romans in battle, despite being outnumbered over two to one. Had he waited for Hasdrubal to join his army the entire war could have changed in favor of Carthage in the end. However, as the case was, Hanno found the Romans near the city of Cissa and set forth his battle lines to give battle. Gnaeus followed and the Battle of Gissa (218 B.C.) followed in a total victory for the Romans. 6,000 of Hanno's 10,000 men perished, another 2,000 were captured, along with all the heavy baggage that Hannibal had left behind before he crossed the Alps. Hanno, himself, was captured by the Romans and sent to Rome where he was tortured to death. When Hasdrubal heard that the battle had been fought before he could intervene and that all lands north of the Ebro were in the hands of the Romans, he reverted his march and returned to Cartegena in southeastern Spain. Had Hanno waited for Hasdrubal and if Carthage would have won the battle, Hannibal could have been reinforced  easily from Spain.  

       Back in Italy, several months passed and Hannibal feasted the Gallic chieftains who promised strong support after the two Carthage victories, not knowing that Hannibal's backside had been cut-off from him in Spain. Spring was around the corner and by now the Carthaginians had recovered. Their cavalry isolated both Roman cities, but these were easily supplied by boat up the Po. Sempronius evaded the enemy cavalry to return to Rome and conduct consular elections. The two new consuls elected were Gnaeus Servilius Geminus and Gaius Flaminius Nepos. Meanwhile they were not scheduled to assume command until March 15, the first day of the Roman year in 217 BC. Tiberius returned immediately to his command. The new consul-elects recruited more legions of Romans and allies, reinforced the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, placed garrisons at Tarentum and other cities along the southern coast of Italy to prevent Carthage from gaining a city with a port, built a fleet of 60 ships and established supply depots at Ariminum and Arretium in north central Italy  in preparation for marching north. They asked military assistance from Syracuse, and received 1500 men. Flaminius marched into winter camp at Arretium and Servilius at Ariminum, both waiting for their consulship to take effect.

             Late in March of 217 B.C., Hannibal attempted to not only provoke the two new consuls into battle, but also took measures to procure more of the Roman allies to abandon Rome. He decided to leave his Gallic allies and strike for the heart of Italy and hoped to get the Etruscans that lived there to join him. First, however, Hannibal would have to make passage through the Apennine mountains which would turn very deadly. During his march through the mountains a freak blizzard came upon him and caused his force to suffer in the worst way. Thousands died due to exposure and because of the fact that there were very few trees in the mountains which would have protected them from the snow and wind. Many times Hannibal's army was forced to halt their march and turn their back to the wind. During the crossing Hannibal also contracted an infection in one of his eyes which would lead to blindness in the eye, even the best doctors that he had with his army could do nothing for him.

          As Hannibal pushed on with his army, he was told by his guides that there were two main passages which he could exit the mountains. One, called the Arrentium passage, named after the city that was near it, was guarded by Flaminius with around 15,000 men. The other, the Ariminum pass, named after the city near it, was guarded by the other new consul, Servilius, with another 15,000 men. Hannibal chose the Arrentium pass for several reasons. First, he had become informed that Flaminius was very much like Sempronius, who he had defeated at Trebia, that being arrogant, impetious, and head-strong. He also was informed that Flaminius pocessed the better trained of the two consular armies. He also chose this pass because it was nearer the Etruscans, who he hoped to lure from the Roman confederation

          Finally Hannibal burst from the Apennine's and met with the skirmishers of Flaminius' army outside the Roman city of Arrentium, hoping to lure him into battle. Instead, Flaminius' army turned south to prepare a defense near Rome itself. Hannibal immediately followed, but marched faster and soon passed the Roman army, appearing on the flank of Flaminius' army, bitterly taunting the Roman general. Flaminius, fearing an attack upon Rome by Hannibal,  was forced to increase the speed of his march in order to bring Hannibal to battle before reaching the city. He then sent messengers to Servilius to join him with all haste. Hannibal then continued to use all measures he knew how in an effort to temp Flaminius into battle. As you will soon read, had it not been for Flaminius' top ranking officers, he would have acted much earlier.          

          Soon after the two Roman armies had united, Hannibal was successful in luring Gaius Flaminius' into a pitched battle, by devastating the area Flaminius had been sent to protect. Hannibal calculated that he could draw out Flaminius into battle and that no sooner had he left the neighborhood of Faesulae, and, advancing a short way beyond the Roman camp, made a raid upon the neighboring country, that Flaminius became excited, and enraged at the idea that he was despised by the enemy, and as the devastation of the country went on, and he saw from the smoke that rose in every direction that the work of destruction was proceeding unopposed, he could not patiently endure the sight. At the same time, Hannibal tried to sever the allegiance of Rome’s allies, by proving that the Republic was powerless to protect them. He also did this to intimidate the people who may resist him in favor of Rome, to think twice about who they sided with.  Still unable to goad Flaminius into battle, Hannibal marched boldly around his opponent’s left flank and effectively cut Flaminius off from Rome. Still, Flaminius stubbornly kept his army in camp. Hannibal decided to march on Apulia, hoping that Flaminius might follow him to a battlefield of his own choosing.

          Flaminius, eager to exact revenge for the devastation of the countryside, and facing increasing political criticism from Rome and from the soldiers in the army, chose not to listen to Servilius and the rest of his counsil, and finally marched against Hannibal. Flaminius, like Sempronius, as said before, was impetuous, over-confident and lacked self-control. His military advisors in his command suggested that he send only a cavalry detachment to harass the Carthaginians and prevent them from laying waste to any more of the country, while reserving the main force to wait for reinforcments from Rome and their allies. However, it proved impossible to argue with the rash Flaminius. Roman historians write that though every other person in his council of war advised conservative, rather that rash measures, urging that he should wait for reinforcements, in order to put forth a larger army, they might carry on the war with united courage among all the loyal cities of Italy, Flaminius, in a tempered fury, gave out the signal for marching for battle.

                        Area of Lake Trasimene today, where so many thousands of Roman's perished


As Hannibal passed Lake Trasimene, he came to a place very suitable for an ambush, and hearing that Flaminius had broken camp and was pursuing him with the united Roman army, made preparations for the impending battle. To the north of the lake was a series of heavily forested hills where the Malpasso Road,(the road that Flaminius was marching on),  passed along the north side of Lake Trasimene. Along the hill-bordered skirts of the lake, Hannibal camped where he was in full view of anyone entering the northern portion of the lake , and spent the night, under cover of darkness,  arranging his troops for battle. Below the camp, he placed his heavy infantry upon a slight elevated hill. Here, they had ample ground from which they could charge down upon the head of the Roman column on the left flank, when it should reach the position. His cavalry and Gallic infantry were concealed in the hills in the depth of the wooded valley from which the Romans would first enter, so that they could quickly sally out and close the entrance, blocking the retreat route of the Romans. Then he posted his light infantry soldiers at intervals along the height overlooking the plain, with orders to keep well hidden in the woods until signaled to attack. In addition, the night before the battle commenced, Hannibal ordered his men to light numerous campfires on the hills of Tuoro, at a considerable distance, so as to convince the Romans that his forces were further away than they actually were.         

          The next morning, the Roman troops marched eastward along the road running near the northern edge of the lake. The visibility was very poor for the Romans as a dense fog rose from the lake which made it difficult to see where they were going. High upon the hills and inclines, the Carthage force remained at their positions above the fog, quiet, and eager for battle.  Eager for battle, himself,  Flaminius pushed his men hard and hurried up the column in the rear in an attempt to position his men in the area where he thought Hannibal had encamped with his army the previous evening, as evident from the fires that were burning.  As the Romans began passing the lake, Hannibal sent a small  force to draw the vanguard away from the front of the line, in order to split the Roman forces. Once all the Romans had at last marched through the foggy, narrow defile and entered the plains skirting the lake, trumpets were blown, signaling the general attack.

          The Carthaginian cavalry and infantry swept down from their concealed positions in the surrounding hills, blocked the road and engaged the unsuspecting Romans from three sides. Thousands and thousands of arrows and spears rained down upon the Romans. Surprised and outmanoeuvred, the Romans did not have time to draw up in any sort of battle formation, and were forced to fight a desperate hand-to-hand battle in open order. The Romans were quickly split into three parts. The westernmost (front) was attacked by the Carthaginian cavalry and forced into the lake, leaving the other two groups with no way to retreat. These men, hearing the confusion from their front, only thought an ambush had arrived from that area and that with good order, the rest of the army could be saved via retreat. But then these men were soon to realize that the entire army was in peril as they were smashed from above. The centre, commanded by Flaminius with the best troops in the army, stood its ground, but was cut down by Hannibal's Gauls after three hours of heavy combat. When these men broke from the Gallic attacks, the only recource for escape was the lake and thousands fled into it  where they were cut down by Hannibal's cavalry, or for the ones who made it to the deeper waters, and preferred this death instead of what was the alternative,  drowned from the weight of the battle armor that they were wearing.  The Guals showed no mercy upon the Romans as they enacted revenge from all the atrocities that Rome had commited towards their people during the Roman occupation of their lands in previous years, and there had been many. The Carthaginians in Hannibal's army also enacted revenge for the crushing, humiliating  defeats of their father's, still vivid in their memories, during the first Punic war not so long before. 

In less than four hours, the Roman army was annihilated. The vanguard, numbering around 1,000 men, saw little combat and, once the disaster to their rear became obvious, hacked their way through the light infantry that Hannibal had sent to hold them and fled out of the forest. Of the initial Roman force of about 30,000, about 15,000 were either killed in battle or drowned while trying to escape into the lake (including Flaminius himself who was slain by the Gaul, Ducarius). Another 8,000 are reported to have been captured by Hannibal and the Roman citizens were sold as slaves, the Roman allies were given freedom to return to their homeland.  Hannibal's losses were 1,500, many of whom were Gallic forces who fell fighting the Roman center. Another 6,000 Romans escaped, under the cover of fog, only to be captured by Hannibal's Numidian cavalry, led by Maharbal, the following day.

          Meanwhile, back in Rome, the city was anxious and eager to find out news of the battle and sent  a force of 4,000 Roman cavalry from Servilius' army, under the propraetor Gaius Centennius to find out any news. Roman disaster did not stop at Trasmene. This force was intercepted and destroyed by Maharbol and his heavy cavalry. The few who survived were prisoners of war.

          As said before, the vanguard of around 1,000 men escaped and these men fled with all haste, by any means that they could procure, towards Rome. Once inside the city, they were brought forth before the Roman senate where they told their first-hand account of the crushing disaster. Throngs of hysterical  citizens populated the forums demanding to be told of the outcome of the battle and the fate of their loved ones. The great Roman proprietor, M. Pompanius, came before these people and simply stated in a single sentence,  " We have been defeated......... in a great battle.  Thousands of citizens gathered upon the northern wall of Rome, gazing in the direction of Lake Trasimene, less than 100 miles away. To these people,surely the battle for Italy had already been decided, when would the battle for Rome begin?

          Meanwhile, back at Trasimene, Hannibal rested his army and saw to it that medical attention was given to his wounded. He had his men dig  huge holes upon the northern banks of the lake which were used as mass graves to prevent the spread of disease. These burial "hills" are still evident today along the northern slopes of the river. He also sought out the body of Flaminius in the hopes of sending it back to Rome to his family so that he should be given a proper burial, however he was unable to find him. The Battle of Lake Trasimene is still to this day, the largest, singularly destructive,  ambush that has ever been fought in the theatre of warfare.

                                   The Gaul, Ducarius, holding the severed head of the Roman Consul Flaminius, During the       Roman Disaster at the Battle of Lake Trasimene

     Lakeshore today of Hannibal's crushing victory over the Roman's at the Battle of Lake Trasimene 

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