The Battle of Cannae

During the Second Punic War there was a great battle called the Battle of Cannae. This battle happened on the 2nd August 216 BC and occurred between allied Italian states of the Roman Republic and the African, Spanish, and Gallic tribes of the Carthaginian Republic.

Battle of cannae initial Roman attack

This battle happened while the Carthage tribes were under the leadership of the historically well known Hannibal, a well known tactically clever commander.

The battle came about as Hannibal took the supply depot of the Romans at Cannae; this was a bold and clever move as it meant the Romans supply chain was cut. Cannae was a port town in south eastern Italy. This move caused the Romans to be distressed and unhappy at the move as Cannae was also a pivotal place for governance on the region it was in.

To counter the move the Romans marched south for two days to confront Hannibal and his army. After a two day march Hannibal was found on the banks of the Aufidus River so the Romans made camp not too far away.

Both armies stayed in camp for two days before Hannibal went up to the Roman commander Paullus and offered battle, the offer was rejected.

Hannibal decided to cause havoc on the Romans without engaging in battle so he sent his cavalry to the Roman camp on a mission to harass the Roman water bearers bringing water from the river. The Carthage cavalry rode right up to the outskirts of the Roman camp; a move that caused mayhem in the Roman camp and stopped the water supply as water bearers did not travel for water.

The Battle of Cannae

Estimates put the forces on either side as:

The Carthage army under the leadership of Hannibal as fifty thousand men, this was 32,000 heavy infantry, 8,000 light infantry and 10,000 cavalry.

The Roman army accounted for 86,400 men made up of 80,000 infantry and 6,400 cavalry.

When battle did finally commence the two armies started marching on one another, it was here that Hannibal made an interesting strategic move by allowing his outer flanks to march forward of the central line. This move caused the Carthage army to form in a crescent shaped line with the cavalry making up the thinner flanks of the crescent.

As battle started the Roman cavalry and Carthage cavalry on the flanks engaged, the left flank of the Carthage cavalry slaughtered the Romans while the right flank simply kept the Roman cavalry busy. When the left flank finished their battle they rode round to the right causing the Roman cavalry to flee.

Battle of cannae destruction of Roman ArmyWith the cavalry on both sides in battle the infantry of both the Carthage and Roman armies marched on one another. Sight was bought to a minimum because of strong winds blowing dust in the way making it difficult for the soldiers to see one another.

As the infantry of both sides came close Hannibal forced his men in to a slow and deliberate retreat. This may have seemed to the Romans like they were winning as they continued to march on forward, but the method of Hannibal was to be the Romans undoing.

As the centre of the Carthage forces retreated the flanks stood form so a deep crescent was formed once again with the Roman infantry marching straight into it. This move meant the stronger might of the Roman infantry counted for nothing as the numbers within the crescent fighting both frontal and side battles was reduced and they became compacted together as the Roman infantry behind them continued trying to push forward. This meant the Romans came to a point where most of the infantry were so tightly packed with fellow soldiers they were unable to use their weapons.

It was at this point that Hannibal had his flanks turn inwards on the Roman infantry and the Carthage cavalry ride round to the rear for attack. This stopped the Roman infantry and caused all Romans caught in the tightly packed semi circle to be cut off and slaughtered.

It is said that as the slaughter occurred at least 600 Romans were killed for every minute until the light of the day waned.

The battle was a massive victory for the Carthaginian Republic and Hannibal with ancient texts saying the Carthage army lost 8,000 men while the Romans lost a huge 48,200 men with 4,500 captured as prisoners.

1 thought on “The Battle of Cannae”

Leave a Comment