Thursday, August 2, 2012
Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Cannae, fought in 216 BC as part of the Second Punic War. Hannibal, the great general of Carthage, had invaded Italy after marching his army from Spain (and yes, he did bring with him war elephants). The Romans dispatched an army under the joint command of the two consuls, and they met at Cannae in southwest Italy near the coast.
The Roman forces outnumbered those of Hannibal, and as the forces met the Carthagenian line began to give way. Sensing victory the Roman forces pushed forward and into their doom. Even as the center of the line withdrew the wings advanced forward; the Roman forces were not breaking the enemy line but gradually enabling their own encirclement. Eventually the entire Roman army would be encircled; those at the front were crushed by those around them and left unable to fight. Ancient casualty figures are often inaccurate and unreliable, but it is reported by Livy that the Roman forces, some 86,000 at the start of the day, suffered 70,000 killed, 10,000 captured and 3,000 survivers.
None of Hannibal’s elephants fought at Cannae – by then all had died or been killed.