Hannibal and the Battle of Cannae Essay

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The Battle of Cannae was a major battle of the Punic War near the town of Cannae, an ancient Village in the Apulian region on the southern part of Italy. The battle was between the outnumbered Carthaginian Army under Hannibal against the overhwelming Roman Army commanded by consuls Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro, in which the vast number of the Roman army was overpowered by the Carthaginians . The Battle of Cannae was one of the greatest strategic victories in military history. Background

Fresh from a huge victory over mercenaries, the Carthaginians instantly sent Hamilcar Barca and sons Hasdrubal and Hannibal to Spain in 237 B. C. , to establish a Carthginian empire in the region as atonement for their recent losses from the Roman empire. The Carthaginians opted for direct utilization of Spanish resources rather than depending on trading partners which gave the Romans a great deal of concern since Carthage poses a threat to Roman ally Massilia and its commercial interests on Spain and sent an embassy six years later to the region to investigate on Carthages reasons for its occupation there .

Hamilcar, then claimed that the settlements only purpose was to pay off Carthages war indemnities to Rome. Hamilcars claim then blatantly manifested Rome of Carthages territorial expansion . The Roman senate sent subsequent embassies to Hamilcars sons to hinder Carthaginian expansion on Spain . The second embassy posed a treay forbidding Carthaginian campign on the northern part of Iber river. The Roman intervention on the southern Spanish town of Saguntum forced Hannibal to take Carthaginian liberty from Rome to his own hands by harassing Saguntum despite Roman appeals.

These events led to the Second Punic War . Subsequently, after the second Punic War began, the Romans already suffered two quick losses in Trebia and Lake Trasimene from Carthaginian general Hannibal who, through traversal in the Alps, has already crossed the borders of Italy. The Romans then appointed Fabius Maximus to face this indication of danger. Maximus then attempted to weaken Hannibal by cutting of his supply lines refusing to engage in a confrontation .

Hannibal primarily placed himself in the middle of Roman sources of supplies by forcibly acquiring a depot with large amount of supplies in the plains of Apulia. The Romans were deeply concerned for Hannibals apparent conquest of Cannae due to the mere fact that the Apulian village was in command of every surrounding district in the region. The Carthaginians, particularly Hannibal, did not start a war because of personal anguish over the Romans, the Carthaginians only felt constant Roman intervention restricted their attempts to make for losses from the first Punic War, which ,in turn, was damaging to Carthginian pride .

Hannibals Strategy Hannibals strategy cannot be universally defined in the modern context, it is, conversely, plausible to dwell on the premise that his war with Rome and the Battle of Cannae is not of a defensive kind. Hannibals strategy was basically designed to reverse the result of the first Punic War . In that sentiment, Hannibal had already actuated that the only way to defeat Rome was to overpower its army by land.

Hannibal focused on attacking in the land which was the core of Roman Military supremacy because Hannibal believed that in this manner, there is a greater chance of Carthginian victory over Rome . Hannibal noted that his scarcity in infantry and cavalry would never equal with the massive Roman Army, since he never adhered to the idea that the defeat of Rome cannot be done by military conquest of Italy alone . Hannibal instead used his invasion of Italy as the starting point of his greatest victory by attempting to undermine Roman authority through the destruction of Romes bonds to its allies .

Hannibal deemed the defection of Roman allies or at least their persuasion to neutrality viable, since the huge armies of Rome was provided by its political mechanism and that the allies of Rome are obliged to deploy military units to serve side by side with the legions of the Roman state. Hannibal explained that politically induced thoughts will turn Roman allies against the empire, given the proper incentives . Terrain Strategies The Battle of Cannae was set on ground level, near the Aufidus river, since this type of terrain was most suitable for cavalry and infantry.

The bank of the Aufidus river has a smooth and slanting surface sloping down to the sea. This was where the Roman consuls Gaius Terentius Varro with Lucius Aemillius Paullus and their troops found Hannibals encampment . The Roman consuls were quite confident on their forthcoming confrontation because of their huge advantage in manpower, Given such an account, the Roman Legions of the two consuls were combined into one massive army with the two consuls taking turns in commanding on a daily basis .

Varros arrogance and disregard for consequences blinded him in such a way that he was eager to confront Hannibal in battle without any strategy . Hannibal then took advantage of Varros attitude as he trapped the Roman forces through an envelopmental tactic which subsequently decreased the Roman advantage on numbers by diminishing the total size area of the battlefield. He positioned his troops in a semi-circular fashion with his least reliable men on the center with Gallics and Numidians on the wings .

The Romans forced their way to the weak center of Hannibals formation, which gave the Libyan Mercenaries an opening to maneuver from the from the left through the right, thereby surrounding the Roman legion. In a blatant diplay of prudence and vigilance, Paullus deemed it was unwise to engage battle in open ground, regardless of their huge advantage on soldiers . Paullus camped a fraction of the men on the east side of the Aufidus river, tactically distant to level Hannibals forces, and sent the remainder to set base the other side.

The second camps purpose on the opposite side was to provide cover for the parties acquiring resources and rations for the main camp and harass those of from the Carthginian camp . In his strategy, Hannibal utilized the Aufidus river to prevent one of his forces to be overlapped by the charging Roman army . Hannibals formation caused Romans to face a hill leading to Cannae, the Roman army hemmed their way on the right portion of the Audifus, hence, providing the left flank as the only plausible retreat route .

Plus, the Carthaginians manoeuver forced the Romans to face east, causing the morning sun to blind and sting their eyes as well as the south eastern winds to blow dust and sand to the Roman faces. As a coubter-measure, Hannibal, countered Paullus strategy and took consideration on the importance of the river Aufidus water to the Roman encampment and sent scouts to harass water bearing Roman soldiers in the outskirts of Roman bases. The Carthaginian cavalry sent by Hannibal rode up to the edge of the Roman camp and wreaked chaos which disrupted the Roman water provisions .

Infantry Hannibals Carthaginian army only comprised of 40,000 soldiers opposing the 75,000 troops of the Roman army and its allies. The Carthaginian army, on the Battle of Cannae, was a diversity of men as there are 8,000 Libyans, 8,000 Iberians, 16,000 Gauls and an unconfirmed quantity of Gaetulian infantry . The cavalry also came from different legions composed of 4,000 Numidians, 450 Livy-Phoenicians, 2,000 Spaniards, 8,000 Balearian slingers and spearmen of mixed nationalities .

Hannibals tactical deployment of infantry was gounded from the distinctive characteristics of each unit. He dwelled on the strengths and weaknesses of each unit for the arrangement of the soldiers in the battlefield . The Carthaginian forces, in turn, aided Hannibal in the form of the aforementioned strengths they brought in the battlefield, and their unity as a single fighting force bound by their relation to Hannibal . Hannibal centered his Celtiberian, Iberian and Gauls in an alternating manner across the frontline.

The Punic-Africans were stationed on the very edge of the whole infantry line. Hannibals intention was to attack the Romans from behind as the latter pressed on the Carthginians weak center line. The Punic-Africans subsequently press in from the flanks at the right time to encompass on the overextended Roman army . Upon encirclement, the cavalry attacked the skirmishers who retreated towards the rear. The attck pattern allowed the Carthginians to tactically get century leaders out of the field as the Roman legionaires scare off in confusion .

Subsequently, the confusion, aggravated by aerial bombardment caused the Romans to run to the canter. The effect was compression of Roman trooops which prevented them to use their weapons effectively, and for them to fall quickly . Given his knowledge of their inferiority in numbers, Hannibal commanded his men to back out to create a tighter crescent formation around the advancing Romans . In that manner, Hannibal turned Roman strength into a weakness, which totally massacred the Roman force and diminishing their total more than half of the original number .

However, Hannibal was also aided by his adversary, Varro, as the Carthaginian general observed the Roman battle formation before making any orders or deployment . Varro arranged his men in the conventional means with close consideration ont the context of depth. This formation formed a humen battering-ram to penetrate the supposed weakened Carthaginian center, this strength was then utilized by Hannibal to his own advantage . Equipment Carthaginians, not only practiced diversity on manpower, but on weaponry as well. Libyans recycle weapons and protective gear from Romans defeated in prior battles .

The Spanish units fought with swords; that specialized in cutting and thrusting, javelines and incendiary spears and large oval shields for defense. The light infantry carried slings and shields. The Gauls wielded long slashing swords matched with small oval shields . The Carthaginian cavalry were equipped with two javelines, a curved slashing sword and a heavy shield for defensive purposes . Numidians who served as light cavalry wore no armor but carried shields, javelines and a sword. The Balearian slingers, most famous for accuracy, used short, medium and long slings that throw stones without defensive gear .

Spearmen carried spears and an extra short spear for stabbing purposes together with shields . There is common confusion regarding the Libyan weapons during the Battle of Cannae, it was on the weapons wielded by the African troops which was mistaken to be a spear. This idea was rejected given that the Libyans are the ones who carry spears similar to, but, shorter than the Roman Triarii . Hannibal managed to defy the odds and defeated the massive Roman army in a glorious display and execution of strategy, courage and leadership.

The Carthaginian victory of the battle of Cannae was attributed to Hannibals brilliance in the battlefield. In his victory , Hannibal pulled out all the resources available, considered all the possible consequences and did all the necessary pre-cautions to attain victory and overpower the Romans. On the account of tactical deployment of infantry, the strategic use of terrain and perfect counter-measure, Hannibal was able to defeat a military force equivalent of eight consular armies. In a similar account, the Roman populace lost one fifth of its total adult population .

All in all, it was more than humiliating for Rome, who had two commanding officers to serve as tacticians to have been defeated by an army smaller in number commanded by a single entity . In the great battle of strategies experienced in Cannae was not Hannibals manifestation of hatred towards Rome nor was it a means to put Rome in the brink of annihilation. Hannibal only intended to disenhearten the Roman Empire through a series of brutal battles to diminish Roman expansionism attempts to a peace treaty by stripping them of their confederates .


Bagnall, Nigel. The Punic Wars. London: Osprey Publishing, 2002. Cottrell, Leonard. Hannibal: Enemy of Rome. New York: De Capo Press, 1992. Daly, Richard. Cannae: The Experience of Battle in the Second Punic War. London, England: Routledge, 2002. Healy, Mark. Cannae: Hannibal Smashes Romes Army. Missouri, Osprey Publishing, 1994. Liddell Hart, Basil. Strategy. New York City, New York: Penguin Group, 1967. Lancel, Serge. Hannibal. London: Blackwell Publishing, 1998. Talbert, Richard. Atlas of Classical History. London: Routledge, 1985

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