The largest military defeat in the history of ancient Rome

The myth of invincibility is still hovering about the most powerful army of Ancient Rome – so surely before our era. However, today I will tell you about the greatest defeat of Ancient Rome at the Battle of Cannes, which happened in 216 BC.

There was the Second Punic War – a confrontation between the coalitions led by Carthage and Rome, for the opportunity to control the Mediterranean region. The formal reason for the start of the war was the siege by the Carthaginians under the leadership of Hannibal of the Spanish city of Sagunta, which was an ally of Rome.

During the first stage of the war, which began in 218 BC, the famous passage of the Carthaginian army across the Alps took place. However, despite this heroic feat, nature dealt a serious blow to Hannibal’s troops, since the Alps themselves are difficult to pass, and here, to the trouble of the Carthaginians, the transition was carried out in very difficult weather conditions. According to the opinions of ancient Roman historians that have come down to us, Hannibal lost as much as half of his army, and when entering Italy he had at his disposal about 12,000 Libyan, 8,000 Iberian infantrymen, 6,000 cavalry and no more than 15 elephants.

However, the Carthaginians managed to rest after the transition and prepare for the first battles with the Romans. Thanks to the talent of Hannibal, who took the troops into his command at the age of 25, the Carthaginians managed to win victories in the battles of Titinus, Trebia and Lake Trasimene.

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In 216 BC, Lucius Aemilius Paul and Gaius Terentius Varro became Roman consuls. Rome strained all its forces, as a result of which they managed to collect an army of 90,000 people, while Hannibal had only 50,000 people left. The decisive battle took place near the town of Cannes.

The Roman generals lined up their troops according to all the canons of that time: the infantry was located in the center, and cavalry was on both flanks. At the same time, knowing full well that under the condition of almost two-fold numerical superiority of the enemy, an original solution is needed. Given the forces available to the Carthaginians, the initial formation of their army was quite unexpected. In the center were 20,000 Iberians and Gauls, several ranks deep in the shape of a crescent. On the left and right edges of this crescent were heavy African infantry, and on the flanks were cavalry.

Hannibal’s calculation was as follows: his cavalry destroys the weaker Roman cavalry, after which the cavalry from the rear attack the infantry squeezed in the center, and the experienced African infantry was to complete the rout of the Roman army. Unfortunately for the Romans, their right flank rested against the river, and therefore the retreat could only be carried out from the left flank.

As they approached, Hannibal slightly expanded his central ranks, and historians are still arguing whether it was a deliberate maneuver of the Carthaginians or an accidental quirk of the Carthaginian commander.

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At the beginning of the battle, the cavalry units of both armies clashed, while the Roman infantry began to press on the center of the Iberians and Gauls. Realizing the superiority of the Roman foot soldiers over the Carthaginian ones, Hannibal ordered his center to begin a retreat, as a result of which the formation of the Carthaginian troops took the shape of a convex crescent. And while the front ranks of the Roman infantry slowly moved forward, most of the rest of the Roman army began to lose formation, crowding began to form.

It was the perfect moment for Hannibal’s beloved cavalry flanking maneuver with simultaneous frontal pressure from African infantry on the Roman infantry. Thus, the latter ended up in a cauldron, the destruction of which became a matter of technology and time.

Of the 90,000 Romans, only 16,000 remained alive after this battle. It was a brilliant victory for Hannibal, which, however, in the long term did not bring success to Carthage in its confrontation with Rome. Using the tactics of permanent retreat and abandonment of large battles, the Roman troops were divided into several armies, which outnumbered the Carthaginian army, and constantly tormented the latter. As a result, to the final battle of the Second Punic War at Zama, which happened in 202 BC, the Carthaginian troops were not in the best condition, as a result of which Rome finally won the victory.

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