Battle of Cannae

For the eleventh century battle in the Byzantine conquest of the Mezzogiorno, see Battle of Cannae (1018).
Battle of Cannae
Part of the Second Punic War

Hannibal's route of invasion.
Date August 2, 216 BC
Location Cannae, Italy
Result Decisive Carthaginian victory
Combatants
Carthage Roman Republic
Commanders
Hannibal Lucius Aemilius Paullus,
Gaius Terentius Varro
Strength
40,000 heavy infantry,
6,000 light infantry,
8,000 cavalry
86,400–87,000 men (sixteen Roman and Allied legions)
Casualties
16,700 killed or wounded 50,000–60,000 killed,
10,000 captured
Second Punic War
Saguntum – Lilybaeum – Ticinus – Trebia – Cissa - Lake Trasimene – Ebro River – Cannae – 1st Nola – Dertosa – 2nd Nola – Cornus – 3rd Nola – 1st Capua – Silarus – 1st Herdonia – Syracuse – Upper Baetis – 2nd Capua – 2nd Herdonia – Numistro – Asculum – Tarentum – Baecula – Grumentum – Metaurus – Ilipa – Crotona – Utica – Bagbrades – Cirta – Po Valley – Great Plains – Zama
Punic Wars
First – Mercenary – Second – Third

The Battle of Cannae was a major battle of the Second Punic War, taking place on August 2, 216 BC near the town of Cannae in Apulia in southeast Italy. The Carthaginian army under Hannibal destroyed a numerically superior Roman army under command of the consuls Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro. Following the Battle of Cannae, Capua and several other Italian city-states defected from the Roman Republic. Although the battle failed to decide the outcome of the war in favour of Carthage, it is today regarded as one of the greatest tactical feats in military history.

Having recovered from their previous losses at Trebia (218 BC) and Trasimene (217 BC), the Romans decided to confront Hannibal at Cannae, with roughly 87,000 Roman and Allied troops. With their right wing positioned near the Aufidus river, the Romans placed their cavalry on their flanks and massed their heavy infantry in an exceptionally deep formation in the centre. To counter this, Hannibal utilized the double-envelopment tactic. He drew up his least reliable infantry in the centre, with the flanks composed of Carthaginian cavalry. Before engaging the Romans, however, his lines adopted a crescent shape — advancing his centre with his veteran troops placed at the wings in echelon formation. Upon the onset of the battle, the Carthaginian centre withdrew before the advance of the numerically superior Romans. While Hannibal's centre line yielded, the Romans had unknowingly driven themselves into a large arc — whereupon the Carthaginian infantry and cavalry (positioned on the flanks) encircled the main body of Roman infantry. Surrounded and attacked on all sides with no means of escape, the Roman army was subsequently cut to pieces. An estimated 60,000–70,000 Romans were killed or captured at Cannae (including the consul Lucius Aemilius Paullus and eighty Roman senators). In terms of the number of lives lost within a single day, Cannae is among the costliest battles in all of recorded human history.

Contents

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Strategic background

Battles of Trebia, Lake Trasimene and Cannae.
Battles of Trebia, Lake Trasimene and Cannae.

Shortly after the start of the Second Punic War, the Carthaginian general Hannibal had boldly crossed into Italy by traversing the Alps during the winter, and had quickly won two major victories over the Romans at Trebbia and at Lake Trasimene. After suffering these losses, the Romans appointed Fabius Maximus as dictator to deal with the threat. Fabius set about fighting a war of attrition against Hannibal, cutting off his supply lines and refusing to engage in pitched battle. These tactics proved unpopular with the Romans. As the Roman people recovered from the shock of Hannibal’s initial victories, they began to question the wisdom of the Fabian strategy which had given the Carthaginian army the chance to regroup.[1] Fabius’s strategy was especially frustrating to the majority of the people who were eager to see a quick conclusion to the war. It was also widely feared that if Hannibal continued plundering Italy unopposed, Rome's allies might believe Rome was incapable of protecting them, and defect to the Carthaginians.

Unimpressed with Fabius's strategy, the Roman Senate did not renew his dictatorial powers at the end of his term, and command was given back to the consuls Gnaeus Servilius Geminus and Gaius Flaminius. In 216 BC elections resumed with Caius Terentius Varro and Lucius Aemilius Paullus elected as consuls and given command of a newly raised army of unprecedented size in order to counter Hannibal. Polybius writes:

   
Battle of Cannae
The Senate determined to bring eight legions into the field, which had never been done at Rome before, each legion consisting of five thousand men besides allies. […] Most of their wars are decided by one Consul and two legions, with their quota of allies; and they rarely employ all four at one time and on one service. But on this occasion, so great was the alarm and terror of what would happen, they resolved to bring not only four but eight legions into the field
   
Battle of Cannae
- Polybius, The Histories of Polybius[2]

These eight legions, along with an estimated 2,400 Roman cavalry, formed the nucleus of this massive new army. As each legion was accompanied by an equal number of allied troops and an additional 4,000 allied cavalry, the total strength of the army which faced Hannibal could not have been much less than 90,000.[3] Some estimates place the Roman forces at about 100,000 men, although historical evidence for such a large force is questionable.

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Prelude

In the spring of 216 BC, Hannibal took the initiative and seized the large supply depot at Cannae in the Apulian plain. He thus placed himself between the Romans and their crucial source of supply. As Polybius notes, the capture of Cannae "caused great commotion in the Roman army; for it was not only the loss of the place and the stores in it that distressed them, but the fact that it commanded the surrounding district".[2] The consuls, resolving to confront Hannibal, marched southward in search of the Carthaginian general. After two days’ march, they found him on the left bank of the Aufidus River and encamped six miles away. Ordinarily each of the two Consuls would command their own portion of the army, but since the two armies were combined into one, the Roman law required them to alternate their command on a daily basis.

A Carthaginian officer named Gisgo commented on how much larger the Roman army was. Hannibal replied, "another thing that has escaped your notice, Gisgo, is even more amazing - that although there are so many of them, there is not one among them called Gisgo."[4]

Consul Varro, who was in command on the first day, is presented in our sources as a man of reckless nature and hubris, and was determined to defeat Hannibal. While the Romans were approaching Cannae, a small portion of Hannibal's forces ambushed the Roman army. Varro successfully repelled the Carthaginian attack and continued on his way to Cannae. This victory, though essentially a mere skirmish with no lasting strategic value, greatly bolstered confidence in the Roman army, perhaps to overconfidence on Varro's part. Paullus, however, was opposed to the engagement as it was taking shape. Unlike Varro, he was prudent and cautious, and he believed it was foolish to fight on open ground, despite the Romans' numerical strength. This was especially true, since Hannibal held the advantage in cavalry (both in quality and numerical terms). Despite these misgivings, Paullus thought it unwise to withdraw the army after the initial success and camped two-thirds of the army east of the Aufidus river and sent the remainder of his men to fortify a position on the opposite side. The purpose of this second camp was to cover the foraging parties from the main camp and harass those of the enemy.[3]

The two armies stayed in their respective locations for two days. During the second of these two days (August 1), Hannibal, well aware that Varro would be in command the following day, left his camp and offered battle. Paullus, however, refused. When his request was rejected, Hannibal, recognizing the importance of the Aufidus' water to the Roman troops, sent his cavalry to the smaller Roman camp to harass water-bearing soldiers that were found outside the camp fortifications. According to Polybius,[2] Hannibal's cavalry boldly rode up to the edge of the Roman encampment, causing havoc and thoroughly disrupting the supply of water to the Roman camp.[5] Enraged by this foray, Varro assumed command on August 2, marshaled his forces, and crossed back over the Aufidus to do battle.

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Battle

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Forces

The combined forces of the two consuls totaled 70,000 infantry, 2,400 Roman cavalry and 4,000 allied horse (involved in the actual battle) and, in the two fortified camps, 2,600 heavily-armed men, 7,400 lightly-armed men (a total of 10,000), so that the total strength the Romans brought to the field amounted to approximately 86,400 men. Opposing them was a Carthaginian army composed of roughly 40,000 heavy infantry, 6,000 light infantry, and 8,000 cavalry in the battle itself, irrespective of detachments.[6] The Carthaginian army was built around a core of around 8,000 Carthaginian hoplites with Roman armor but fighting in the Macedonian phalanx. There were another 8,000 Iberian/Celt-Iberian heavy infantry in the main battle line. The rest of Hannibal's troops were superb Celtic warriors from the Po Valley. These soldiers used their superior size and strength to fight on even terms with the more disciplined Roman legions.

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Tactical deployment

The conventional deployment for armies of the time was to place infantry in the center and deploy the cavalry in two flanking "wings". The Romans followed this convention fairly closely, but chose extra depth rather than breadth for their infantry, hoping to use this concentration of forces to quickly break through the center of Hannibal's line. Varro knew how the Roman infantry had managed to penetrate Hannibal’s center during the Battle of the Trebia, and he planned to recreate this on an even greater scale. The principes were stationed immediately behind the hastati, ready to push forward at first contact to ensure the Romans presented a unified front. As Polybius wrote, "the maniples were nearer each other, or the intervals were decreased… and the maniples showed more depth than front".[2][7] Even though they outnumbered the Carthaginians, this depth-oriented deployment meant that the Roman lines had a front of roughly equal size to their numerically inferior opponents.

Initial deployment and Roman attack.
Initial deployment and Roman attack.

To Varro, Hannibal seemed to have little room to manoeuver and no means of retreat as he was deployed with the Aufidus River to his rear. Varro believed that when pressed hard by the Romans’ superior numbers, the Carthaginians would fall back onto the river, and with no room to manoeuver, would be cut down in panic. Bearing in mind the fact that Hannibal’s two previous victories had been largely decided by his trickery and ruse, Varro had sought an open battlefield. The field at Cannae was indeed clear, with no possibility of hidden troops being brought to bear as an ambush.[8]

Hannibal, on the other hand, had deployed his forces based on the particular fighting qualities of each unit, taking into consideration both their strengths and weaknesses in devising his strategy.[3] He placed his lowest quality infantry (Iberians, Gauls and Celtiberians) in the middle, alternating the two across the front line to strengthen it. Hannibal's better infantry (Libyan-Phoenician mercenaries) were positioned just inside his cavalry on the wings at the very edge of his infantry line.

It is a common misconception that Hannibal's African troops carried pikes (a theory put forward by historian Peter Connolly). The Libyan troops in fact carried spears "shorter than the Roman Triarii". Their advantage was not that they had pikes, it was that these infantry were expertly battle hardened, remained cohesive, and attacked the Roman flanks.

Hasdrubal led the Iberian and Celtiberian cavalry on the left (south near the Aufidus river) of the Carthaginian army. Hasdrubal was given about 6,500 cavalry as opposed to Hanno's 3,500 Numidians. Hasdrubal's force was able to quickly destroy the Roman cavalry (on the south), pass the Roman's infantry rear, and reach the Roman allied cavalry while they where engaged with Hanno's Numidians. Once the Roman's allied cavalry was destroyed Hanno and Hasdrubal were able to lead both cavalries into the Roman infantry's rear.

Hannibal intended that his cavalry, comprised mainly of medium Hispanic cavalry and Numidian light horse, and positioned on the flanks, defeat the weaker Roman cavalry and swing around to attack the Roman infantry from the rear as it pressed upon Hannibal’s weakened center. His veteran African troops would then press in from the flanks at the crucial moment, and encircle the overextended Roman army.

Hannibal was unconcerned about his position against the Aufidus River; in fact, it played a major factor in his strategy. By anchoring his army on the river, Hannibal prevented one of his flanks from being overlapped by the larger, more numerous Romans. Furthermore, because the Romans were in front of the hill leading to Cannae and hemmed in on their right flank by the Aufidus River, their left flank was the only viable means of retreat.[9] In addition, the Carthaginian forces had manoeuvered so that the Romans would face east. Not only would the morning sunlight shine on the Romans, but the southeasterly winds would blow sand and dust into their faces as they approached the battlefield.[7] It was Hannibal’s unique deployment of his army, based on his perception and understanding of the capabilities of his troops, that would prove to be the defining factors in his victory at Cannae.

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Events

As the armies advanced on one another, Hannibal gradually extended the center of his line, as Polybius describes: "After thus drawing up his whole army in a straight line, he took the central companies of Hispanics and Celts and advanced with them, keeping the rest of them in contact with these companies, but gradually falling off, so as to produce a crescent-shaped formation, the line of the flanking companies growing thinner as it was prolonged, his object being to employ the Africans as a reserve force and to begin the action with the Hispanics and Celts."[3] Polybius describes the weak Carthaginian center as deployed in a crescent, curving out toward the Romans in the middle with the African troops on their flanks in echelon formation.[2] It is believed that the purpose of this formation was to break the forward momentum of the Roman infantry, and delay its advance before other developments allowed Hannibal to deploy his African infantry most effectively.[10] However, some historians have called this account fanciful, and claim that it represents either the natural curvature that occurs when a broad front of infantry marches forward, or the bending back of the Carthaginian center from the shock action of meeting the heavily massed Roman center.[10]

Destruction of the Roman army.
Destruction of the Roman army.

When the battle was joined, the cavalry engaged in a fierce exchange on the flanks. Polybius describes the scene,[2] writing that "When the Hispanic and Celtic horses on the left wing came into collision with the Roman cavalry, the struggle that ensued was truly barbaric.".[3] Here, the Carthaginian cavalry quickly overpowered the inferior Romans on the right flank and routed them. A portion of the Carthaginian cavalry then detached itself from the Carthaginian left flank and made a wide circling pivot to the Roman right-flank, where it fell upon the rear of the Roman cavalry. The Roman cavalry was immediately dispersed as the Carthaginians fell upon them and began "cutting them down mercilessly".[3]

While the Carthaginians were in the process of defeating the Roman cavalry, the mass of infantry on both sides advanced towards each other in the center of the field. As the Romans advanced, the wind from the East blew dust in their faces and obscured their vision. While the wind itself was not a major factor, the dust that both armies created would have been potentially debilitating to sight.[7] This, combined with the lack of proper hydration due to Hannibal's attack on the Roman encampment during the previous day, would have affected the individual performance of the Roman troops.

Hannibal stood with his men in the weak center and held them to a controlled retreat. The crescent of Hispanic and Gallic troops buckled inwards as they gradually withdrew. Knowing the superiority of the Roman infantry, Hannibal had instructed his infantry to withdraw deliberately, thus creating an even tighter semicircle around the attacking Roman forces. By doing so, he had turned the strength of the Roman infantry into a weakness. Furthermore, while the front ranks were gradually advancing forward, the bulk of the Roman troops began to lose their cohesion, as they began crowding themselves into the growing gap. Soon they were so compact together that they had little space to wield their weapons. In passing so far forward in their desire to destroy the retreating and collapsing line of Hispanic and Gallic troops, the Romans had ignored the African troops that stood uncommitted on the projecting ends of this now reversed-crescent.[10] This also gave the Carthaginian cavalry time to drive the Roman cavalry off on both flanks and attack the Roman center in the rear. The Roman infantry, now stripped of both its flanks, formed a wedge that drove deeper and deeper into the Carthaginian semicircle, driving itself into an alley that was formed by the African Infantry stationed at the echelons.[3] At this decisive point, Hannibal ordered his African Infantry to turn inwards and advance against the Roman flanks, creating an encirclement of the Roman infantry in the earliest example of the pincer movement.

When the Carthaginian cavalry attacked the Romans in the rear, and the African flanking echelons had assailed them on their right and left, the advance of the Roman infantry was brought to an abrupt halt. The trapped Romans were enclosed in a pocket with no means of escape. The Carthaginians created a wall and began destroying the entrapped Romans. Polybius claims that, "as their outer ranks were continually cut down, and the survivors forced to pull back and huddle together, they were finally all killed where they stood." As Livy describes, "So many thousands of Romans were lying […] Some, whom their wounds, pinched by the morning cold, had roused, as they were rising up, covered with blood, from the midst of the heaps of slain, were overpowered by the enemy. Some were found with their heads plunged into the earth, which they had excavated; having thus, as it appeared, made pits for themselves, and having suffocated themselves."[3] Nearly six hundred legionaries were slaughtered each minute until darkness brought an end to the bloodletting.[11] Only 14,000 Roman troops managed to escape (most of whom had cut their way through to the nearby town of Canusium). At the end of the day, out of the original force of 87,000 Roman troops, only about one out of every six men was still alive.[3]

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Casualties

Although the true figure will probably never be known, Livy and Polybius variously claim that 47,000–60,000 Romans died with about 3,000–4,500 taken prisoner.[7] Among the dead were Lucius Aemilius Paullus himself, as well two consuls for the preceding year, two quaestors, twenty-nine out of the forty-eight military tribunes, and an additional eighty senators (at a time when the Roman Senate was comprised of no more than 300 men, this constituted 25–30% of the governing body). Another 10,000 from the two Roman camps and the neighboring villages surrendered on the following day (after further resistance cost even more fatalities). In all, perhaps more than 70,000 Romans of the original force of 87,000 were dead or captured — totaling more than 80% of the entire army. For their part, the Carthaginians suffered 16,700 casualties (with the Celtiberians and Iberians accounting for the majority). The fatalities for the Carthaginians amounted to 6,000 men, of whom 4,000 were Celtiberians, 1,500 Iberians and Africans, and the remainder cavalry.[3] The total casualty figure of the battle, therefore, exceeds 80,000 men.

If true, this makes the Battle of Cannae one of the single bloodiest battles in all of recorded human history, in terms of the number of lives lost within a day. The total number of lives lost surpasses the number of servicemen killed in the Royal Air Force throughout World War I and World War II.[3] More men were killed at Cannae than in all the four months of the Battle of Passchendaele, which is considered one of the bloodiest battles of World War I.[9] So devastating were these losses, that the total number of casualties represents just under one third of the total number of American soldiers, sailors, and airmen killed in four years of fighting during the World War II.[3] In fact, the losses suffered within a single day on the battlefield of Cannae (no larger than a few square miles), would not be rivaled until the first day of fighting on the Somme in 1916 — which took place on a 25-mile front over 2,000 years later.[12]

More Romans were lost at Cannae than in any other battle, and Cannae is second only to the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest when looking at the percentage of Romans killed.

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Aftermath

Hannibal counting the rings of the Roman knights killed during the battle, statue by Sébastien Slodzt, 1704, Louvre
Hannibal counting the rings of the Roman knights killed during the battle, statue by Sébastien Slodzt, 1704, Louvre
   
Battle of Cannae
Never before, while the City itself was still safe, had there been such excitement and panic within its walls. I shall not attempt to describe it, nor will I weaken the reality by going into details… it was not wound upon wound but multiplied disaster that was now announced. For according to the reports two consular armies and two consuls were lost; there was no longer any Roman camp, any general, any single soldier in existence; Apulia, Samnium, almost the whole of Italy lay at Hannibal's feet. Certainly there is no other nation that would not have succumbed beneath such a weight of calamity.
   
Battle of Cannae
― Livy, on the Roman Senate's reaction to the defeat[13]

For a brief period of time, the Romans were in complete disarray. Their best armies in the peninsula were destroyed, the few remnants severely demoralized, and the only remaining consul (Varro) completely discredited. It was a complete catastrophe for the Romans. As the story goes, Rome declared a national day of mourning, as there was not a single person in Rome who was not either related to or knew a person who had died. The Romans became so desperate that they resorted to human sacrifice, twice burying people[14] alive at the forum of Rome and abandoning an oversized baby in the Adriatic Sea[15](perhaps one of the last recorded instances of human sacrifices the Romans would perform, unless you count the public executions of defeated enemies dedicated to Mars as human sacrifice).

Lucius Caecilius Metellus, a military tribune, is known to have so much despaired in the Roman cause, in the aftermath of the battle, as to suggest that everything was lost and called the other tribunes to sail overseas and hire themselves up into the service to some foreign prince.[6] Afterwards, he was forced by his own example to swear an oath of allegiance to Rome for all time. Furthermore, the Roman survivors of Cannae were later reconstituted as two legions and assigned to Sicily for the remainder of the war as punishment for their humiliating desertion of the battlefield.[6] In addition to the physical loss of her army, Rome would suffer a symbolic defeat of prestige. Hannibal had his men collect more than 200 gold rings from the corpses on the battlefield, and sent this collection to Carthage as proof of his victory; this collection was poured on the floor in front of the Carthaginian Senate, and was judged to be "three and a half measures". A gold ring was a token of membership in the upper classes of Roman society.[6]

Hannibal, having gained yet another victory (following the battles of Trebia and Lake Trasimene), had defeated the equivalent of eight consular armies.[16] Within just three campaign seasons, Rome had lost a fifth of the entire population of citizens over seventeen years of age (nearly twelve percent of Rome’s available manpower).[3] Furthermore, the morale effect of this victory was such that most of Southern Italy joined Hannibal's cause. After the Battle of Cannae, the Hellenistic southern provinces of Arpi, Salapia, Herdonia, Uzentum, including the cities of Capua and Tarentum (two of the largest city-states in Italy) all revoked their allegiance to Rome and pledged their loyalty to Hannibal. As Polybius notes, "How much more serious was the defeat of Cannae, than those which preceded it can be seen by the behavior of Rome’s allies; before that fateful day, their loyalty remained unshaken, now it began to waver for the simple reason that they despaired of Roman Power."[2] During that same year, the Greek cities in Sicily were induced to revolt against Roman political control, while the Macedonian king, Philip V, had pledged his support to Hannibal — thus initiating the First Macedonian War against Rome. Hannibal also secured an alliance with the newly appointed King Hieronymus of Syracuse, the only independent leftover in Sicily.

Following the battle, Livy states that Hannibal's officers wanted to march directly on Rome.[17] Yet despite the tremendous human and material losses inflicted on the Romans, the defection of several Roman allies and the declaration of war by Philip and Hieronymus, the Punic forces lacked the ability and resources to conduct a sustained siege of Rome which still was unlikely to be taken quickly[18]. According to Livy this was much to the distress of Maharbal, the commander of the Numidian cavalry, whom he famously quotes as saying, "Truly the Gods have not bestowed all things upon the same person. Thou knowest indeed, Hannibal, how to conquer, but thou knowest not how to make use of your victory.".[3] Instead, Hannibal sent a delegation led by Carthalo to negotiate a peace treaty with the Senate on moderate terms. Yet despite the multiple catastrophes Rome had suffered, the Roman Senate refused to parley. Instead, they re-doubled their efforts, declaring full mobilization of the male Roman population, and raised new legions from landless peasants and even slaves. So firm were these measures, that the word “peace” was prohibited, mourning limited to only thirty days, and public tears restricted to women.[7][3] The Romans, after experiencing this catastrophic defeat and losing other battles, had at this point learned their lesson. For the remainder of the war in Italy, they would no longer engage in pitched battles against Hannibal; instead they would utilize the strategies Fabius had taught them, which—as they had finally realized—were the only feasible means of driving Hannibal from Italy.

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Historical significance

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Effects on Roman military doctrine

The Battle of Cannae played a major role in shaping the military structure and tactical organization of the Roman Republican army. At Cannae, the Roman infantry was formed in a formation not dissimilar from the Greek phalanx. This delivered them into Hannibal’s trap, since their inability to manoeuver independently from the mass of the army made it impossible for them to prevent the encircling tactics employed by the Carthaginian cavalry. Furthermore, the strict laws according to the Roman state required that the high command alternate between the two consuls —thus restricting strategic flexibility. However, in the years following Cannae, striking reforms were introduced to address these deficiencies. First, the Romans "articulated the phalanx, then divided it into columns, and finally split it up into a great number of small tactical bodies that were capable, now of closing together in a compact impenetrable union, now of changing the pattern with consummate flexibility, of separating one from the other and turning in this or that direction.". For instance, at Ilipa and Zama, the principes were formed up well to the rear of the hastati — a deployment that allowed a greater degree of mobility and manoeuverability. The culminating result of this change marked the transition from the traditional manipular system to the cohort under Gaius Marius, as the basic infantry unit of the Roman army.

In addition, the necessity of a unified command was finally recognized. After various political experiments, Scipio Africanus was made general-in-chief of the Roman armies in Africa, and was assured the continued occupancy of this title for the duration of the war. This appointment may have violated the constitutional laws of the Roman Republic, but, as Hans Delbrück wrote, "effected an internal transformation that increased her military potentiality enormously" while foreshadowing the decline of the Republic's political institutions. Furthermore, the battle exposed the limits of a citizen-militia army. Following Cannae, the Roman army gradually developed into a professional force: the nucleus of Scipio's army at Zama was composed of veterans who had been fighting the Carthaginians in Hispania for nearly sixteen years, and had been molded into a superb fighting force.

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Status in military history

The Battle of Cannae is famous for Hannibal's tactics as much as it is for the role it played in Roman history. Not only did Hannibal inflict a defeat on the Roman Republic in a manner unrepeated for over a century until the lesser-known Battle of Arausio, but the battle itself has acquired a reputation within the field of military history. As the military historian, Theodore Ayrault Dodge, once wrote: "Few battles of ancient times are more marked by ability… than the battle of Cannae. The position was such as to place every advantage on Hannibal's side. The manner in which the far from perfect Hispanic and Gallic foot was advanced in a wedge in échelon… was first held there and then withdrawn step by step, until it had the reached the converse position… is a simple masterpiece of battle tactics. The advance at the proper moment of the African infantry, and its wheel right and left upon the flanks of the disordered and crowded Roman legionaries, is far beyond praise. The whole battle, from the Carthaginian standpoint, is a consummate piece of art, having no superior, few equal, examples in the history of war". As Will Durant wrote, "It was a supreme example of generalship, never bettered in history… and [it] set the lines of military tactics for 2,000 years".

Hannibal's double envelopement at the Battle of Cannae is often viewed as one of the greatest battlefield manoeuvers in history, and is cited as the first successful use of the pincer movement within the Western world, to be recorded in detail.[19]

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The "Cannae Model"

Apart from it being one of the greatest defeats ever inflicted on Roman arms, the Battle of Cannae represents the archetypal battle of annihilation, a strategy that has rarely been successfully implemented in modern history. As Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in World War II, once wrote, "Every ground commander seeks the battle of annihilation; so far as conditions permit, he tries to duplicate in modern war the classic example of Cannae". Furthermore, the totality of Hannibal’s victory has made the name "Cannae" a byword for military success, and is today studied in detail in several military academies around the world. The notion that an entire army could be encircled and annihilated within a single stroke, led to a fascination among subsequent Western generals for centuries (including Frederick the Great and Helmuth von Moltke) who attempted to emulate its tactical paradigm of envelopment and re-create their own "Cannae".[11] For instance, Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of the Coalition Forces in the Gulf War, studied Cannae and employed the principles Hannibal used, in his highly successful ground campaign against the Iraqi forces.[6]

Hans Delbrück's seminal study of the battle had a profound influence on subsequent German military theorists, in particular, the Chief of the German General Staff, Alfred Graf von Schlieffen (whose eponymously-titled "Schlieffen Plan" was inspired by Hannibal's double envelopment manoeuver). Through his writings, Schlieffen taught that the "Cannae model" would continue to be applicable in maneuver warfare throughout the twentieth century: "A battle of annihilation can be carried out today according to the same plan devised by Hannibal in long forgotten times. The enemy front is not the goal of the principal attack. The mass of the troops and the reserves should not be concentrated against the enemy front; the essential is that the flanks be crushed. The wings should not be sought at the advanced points of the front but rather along the entire depth and extension of the enemy formation. The annihilation is completed through an attack against the enemy's rear… To bring about a decisive and annihilating victory requires an attack against the front and against one or both flanks…" Schlieffen later developed his own operational doctrine in a series of articles, many of which were later translated and published in a work entitled "Cannae".

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Cultural references

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Notes and references

  1. Liddell Hart, Basil, Strategy, New York City, New York, Penguin Group, 1967
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Internet Ancient History Sourcebook.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 Cottrell, Leonard, Enemy of Rome, Evans Bros, 1965, ISBN 0-237-44320-1
  4. Lazenby, J.F., Hannibal's War, London, 1978
  5. Caven, B., Punic Wars, London, George Werdenfeld and Nicholson Ltd., 1980
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Gowen, Hilary. Hannibal Barca and the Punic Wars. Retrieved on march 25, 2006.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Dodge, Theodore, Hannibal, Cambridge, Massachusetts, De Capo Press, 1891, ISBN 0-306-81362-9
  8. Moreman, Douglas. Cannae - a Deception that Keeps on Deceiving. Retrieved on march 25, 2006.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Bradford, E., Hannibal, London, Macmillan London Ltd, 1981
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Healy, Mark, Cannae: Hannibal Smashes Rome's Army, Sterling Heights, Missouri, Osprey Publishing, 1994
  11. 11.0 11.1 Cowley, Robert (ed.), Parker, Geoffrey (ed.), The Reader’s Companion to Military History, "Battle of Cannae", Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996, ISBN 0-395-66969-3
  12. Goldsworthy, A, The Punic Wars, London, Cassell and Company, 2000
  13. Livius, Titus. Livy's History of Rome: Book 22. The War with Hannibal: Books XXI–XXX of the History of Rome from its Foundation. Retrieved on march 25, 2006.
  14. Robert E. A. Palmer, Rome and Carthage at Peace, Stuttgart 1997
  15. Robert E. A. Palmer, Rome and Carthage at Peace, Stuttgart 1997
  16. Slip Knox, E. L.. The Punic Wars — Battle of Cannae. History of Western Civilization. Boise State University. Retrieved on march 24, 2006.
  17. Livy, The History of Rome 22.51
  18. Livy 23
  19. Appendix C (PDF file —viewed as cached HTML—). The complete book of military science, abridged. Retrieved on march 25, 2006.
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Further reading

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External links

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