Hannibal and the Battle of Cannae

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  • Topic: Hannibal, Second Punic War, Roman Republic
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HANNIBAL AND THE BATTLE OF CANNAE

The battle of Cannae was a major battle of the Second Punic War near the town of Cannae, an ancient village in southern part of Italy. The battle took place between the outnumbered Carthaginian army under Hannibal against the Romans under the command of Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro. For the most part, the Romans were overpowered by the undermanned Carthaginian forces. Many historians agree that the battle of Cannae is one of the greatest strategic victories in military history.

Numerous historians have examined the possible route Hannibal took from New Carthage to the Pyrénées and then over the Alps to Rome. Along with using scientific data, these historians and scientists allege that there are three possible routes Hannibal may have taken from New Carthage in Iberia across Europe to get to Italy. Scientists and historians do disagree on which route is most accurate do to the fact that the only historical accounts of Hannibal’s journey are that of Livy and Polybius. Neither historian leaves a very detailed account of the surroundings for Hannibal and his troops. Through paleobotanical reconstruction, attempts have been made to more clearly identify if the places noted by Livy and Polybius resemble any of these places today1.

Hannibal came from the very well-known Carthaginian Barca family. His father, Hamilcar Barca was the military leader of Carthage during the first Punic War. At the conclusion of the First Punic War, Carthage's mercenaries revolted and Rome took advantage of her rival's distraction and, in spite of the recent peace agreement, took control of Sardinia and Corsica and forced Carthage to pay a large indemnity2. Carthage finally won the mercenary war, but the loss of Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica left her economic empire crippled and reduced the area from which she could hire troops. After regaining control, the Carthaginians were forced to major war concessions. Of those concessions, Carthage was to pay a war indemnity to Rome and could no longer recruit Italian sailors. Carthage also sent Hamilcar Barca to Iberia to eliminate the Spaniards and build an empire in Spain. Unfortunately, Barca was killed in an ambush at Helice in 229 B.C.E. but not until after he had been able to take over control of the Iberian southern coast. In 226 BC, Hasdrubal reached an agreement with Rome that recognized the Ebro River in northeastern Spain as the northern limit of Carthaginian interest in the area. Five years later, Hasdrubal was assassinated, and Hamilcar's son Hannibal became the leader. At about that time, Rome began involving itself in the affairs of Saguntum, a city on the Mediterranean coast of Spain well south of the Ebro and therefore presumably in Carthaginian territory3. Hannibal viewed the Roman moves as an intervention similar to the ones that had touched off the first war. Hannibal laid siege to the town, which fell after eight months. Hannibal's strategic insight now became evident4. When Hannibal came to the head of the Carthaginian army he took it upon himself to rebuild Carthaginian fortunes by occupying Spain. The Romans had aligned themselves with Saguntum in an attempt to show strength and power against Carthage. Since Carthage's fleet was no longer a match for Rome's, the invasion of Italy would need to occur by land. To that end, Hannibal did his best to speak with tribes in his line of march well in advance of the arrival of conflicts. He also established alliances with various north Italian Celtic tribes that were traditional enemies of Rome. Hannibal's forces were the first civilized army to cross the Alps5. Exposure, desertion, accidents and fierce resistance by mountain tribes reduced his army from 40,000 to 26,000 during the trip, and most of the elephants accompanying the remarkable host also perished. Fortunately, once Italy was reached, the Celtic alliances provided replacements that brought the army back to its original...
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