Fabius' generals encouraged him to mount a night attack to support the garrison and crush the enemy between them but Fabius refused, believing that the garrison in place could easily prevent Hannibal from breaking out and would hold until morning. When the garrison mobilized to march out and meet Hannibal in battle, however, they found only cattle with torches tied on their horns and Hannibal's army had slipped away through the pass the Romans had left untended. Hannibal then marched to the Roman supply depot of Cannae, which he took easily, and then gave his men time to rest.
The Romans sent the two consuls Lucius Aemilius Paulus and Caius Terentius Varro, with a force of over 50,, against his position; Hannibal had less than 40, men under his command. As always, Hannibal spent time learning about his enemy, their strengths and weaknesses, and knew that Varro was eager for a fight and over-confident of success.
As the two consuls traded off command of the army, it worked to Hannibal's advantage that the more ambitious and reckless of the two, Varro, held supreme authority on the first day of battle. Hannibal arranged his army in a crescent, placing his light infantry of Gauls at the front and center with the heavy infantry behind them and light and heavy cavalry on the wings. The Romans under Varro's command were placed in traditional formation to march toward the center of the enemy's lines and break them. Varro believed he was facing an opponent like any of the others Roman legions had defeated in the past and was confident that the strength of the Roman force would break the Carthaginian line; this was precisely the conclusion Hannibal hoped he would reach.
When the Roman army advanced, the center of the Carthaginian line began to give way so that it seemed as though Varro had been correct and the center would break.
The Carthaginian forces fell back evenly, drawing the Romans further and further into their lines, and then the light infantry moved to either end of the crescent formation and the heavy infantry advanced to the front. At this same time, the Carthaginian cavalry engaged the Roman cavalry and dispersed them, falling on the rear on the Roman infantry.
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The Romans, continuing in their traditional formation with their well-rehearsed tactics, continued to press forward but now they were only pushing those in the front lines into the killing machine of the Carthaginian heavy infantry. The Carthaginian cavalry had now closed the gap behind and the forces of Rome were completely surrounded. Of the 50, plus Roman soldiers who took the field that day only 10, escaped; 44, were killed while Hannibal lost around 6, men.
It was a devastating defeat for Rome which resulted in a number of the Italian city-states defecting to Hannibal and Philip V of Macedon declaring in favor of Hannibal and initiating the First Macedonian War with Rome. The people of Rome mobilized to defend their city, which they were sure Hannibal would move on next.
Veterans and new recruits alike refused pay in order to defend the city. Hannibal, however, could make no move on Rome because he lacked siege engines and reinforcements for his army. His request for these necessary supplies was refused by Carthage because the senate did not want to exert the effort or spend the money.
Hannibal's commander of the cavalry, Maharbal, encouraged Hannibal to attack anyway, confident they could win the war at this point when the Roman army was in disarray and the people in a panic. When Hannibal refused, Maharbal said, "You know how to win a victory, Hannibal, but you do not know how to use it. He did not even have enough men to reduce the city by encircling it for a long siege. If Carthage had sent the requested men and supplies at this point history would have been written very differently; but they did not.
Among the Roman warriors who survived Cannae was the man who would come to be known as Scipio Africanus the Elder. Scipio's father and uncle, two of the former commanders, had been killed fighting Hasdrubal in Spain and, when the Roman senate called for a general to defend the city against Hannibal all of the most likely commanders refused believing, after Cannae, that any such command was simply a suicide mission.
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Scipio, only 24 years old at the time, volunteered. He left Rome with only 10, infantry and 1, cavalry to meet Hannibal's much larger force. Scipio began in Spain - not Italy - in an effort to subdue Hasdrubal first and prevent reinforcements from reaching Italy. He first took the city Carthago Nova and moved on from there to other victories.
Hasdrubal, recognizing that Spain was a lost cause, crossed the Alps to join Hannibal in Italy for a united attack on Rome. Nero had been engaging Hannibal in the south but slipped away in the night, defeated Hasdrubal, and returned without Hannibal ever noticing. The first Hannibal knew of Hasdrubal's defeat was when a Roman contingent threw his brother's head to the sentries of his camp.
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Scipio, still in Spain, requested money and supplies from the Roman senate to take the fight to Hannibal by attacking Carthage; a move which, he was sure, would force Carthage to recall Hannibal from Italy to defend the city. The Roman senate refused and so Scipio shamed them by raising his own army and appealing to the people of Rome for support; the senate then relented and gave him command of Sicily from which to launch his invasion of North Africa.
Hannibal, in the meantime, was forced to continue his previous strategy of striking at Rome in quickly orchestrated engagements, and trying to win city-states to his cause, without being able to take any city by storm. The historian Matyszak writes, "In the field, Hannibal remained umatched. In and he took on the Romans and defeated them. But he now understood that the wound Rome had received at Cannae had not been mortal.
The flow of defections to the Carthaginian side slowed and then stopped" In Spain, the Carthaginians had been defeated by Scipio but Hannibal had no knowledge of this; he only knew his brother had been killed but not that Spain was under Roman control. By this time, Scipio was already set to invade North Africa and his plan would work exactly as he predicted.
He quickly took the Carthaginian city of Utica and marched on toward Carthage.
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Hannibal was recalled from Italy to meet this threat and the two forces met on the field in BCE at the Battle of Zama. Scipio had studied Hannibal's tactics carefully in the same way that Hannibal had always taken pains to know his enemy and out-think his opponents.
He had no experience in facing Scipio, however, and only knew him as the young general who had somehow managed to defeat Hasdrubal in Spain. Scipio seemed to conform to Hannibal's expectations when he arranged his forces in traditional formation in a seemingly tight cluster.
Hannibal was certain he would scatter these Romans easily with an elephant charge but Scipio used his front line as a screen for a very different kind of formation: instead of the closely-packed configuration presenting a horizontal front across the line the formation Hannibal saw from his position he arranged his troops in vertical rows behind the front line. When Hannibal launched his elephant charge, Scipio's front line simply moved aside and the elephants ran harmlessly down the alleys between the Roman troops who then killed their handlers and turned the elephants around to crush the ranks of the Carthaginians; Hannibal was defeated and the Second Punic War was over.
After the war, Hannibal accepted a position as Chief Magistrate of Carthage in which he performed as well as he had as a military leader. The heavy fines imposed on defeated Carthage by Rome, intended to cripple the city, were easily paid owing to the reforms Hannibal initiated. The members of the senate, who had refused to send him aid when he needed it in Italy, accused him of betraying the interests of the state by not taking Rome when he had the chance but, still, Hannibal remained true to the interests of his people until the senators trumped up further charges and denounced Hannibal to Rome claiming he was making Carthage a power again so as to challenge the Romans.
Exactly why they decided to do this is unclear except for their disappointment in him following defeat at Zama and simple jealousy over his abilitites. In Rome, Scipio was also dealing with problems posed by his own senate as they accused him of sympathizing with Hannibal by pardoning and releasing him, accepting bribes, and misappropiating funds.
Scipio defended Hannibal as an honorable man and kept the Romans from sending a delegation demanding his arrest but Hannibal understood it was only a matter of time before his own countrymen turned him over and so he fled the city in BCE for Tyre and then moved on to Asia Minor where he was given the position of consultant to Antiochus III, the Seleucid king. Antiochus, of course, knew of Hannibal's reputation and did not want to risk placing so powerful and popular a man in control of his armies and so kept him at court until necessity drove him to appoint Hannibal admiral of the navy in a war against Rhodes , one of Rome's allies.
Hannibal was an inexperienced sailor, as was his crew, and was defeated even though, much to his credit, he came close to winning. When Antiochus was defeated by the Romans at Magnesia in BCE, Hannibal knew that he would be surrendered to the Romans as part of the terms and again took flight. He said, "Let us put an end to this life, which has caused so much dread to the Romans" and then drank poison.
He was 65 years old. During this same time, in Rome, the charges against Scipio had disgusted him so much that he retreated to his estate outside the city and left orders in his will that he be buried there instead of in Rome. He died the same year as Hannibal at the age of Hannibal became a legend in his own lifetime and, years after his death, Roman mothers would continue to frighten their unwilling children to bed with the phrase "Hannibal ad Porto" Hannibal is at the door. His campaign across the Alps, unthinkable even in his day, won him the grudging admiration of his enemies and enduring fame ever since.
Hannibal's strategies, learned so well by Scipio, were incorporated into Roman tactics and Rome would consistently use them to good effect following the Battle of Zama. That it failed was due to the immense resilience of the Romans, both in their political constitution and in their soldiery While there is some truth to this, Hannibal's ultimate defeat was brought about by his own people's weakness for luxury, wealth, and ease as much as by the Roman refusal to surrender after Cannae.
There is no doubt, as Bradford also notes, that had Hannibal "been fighting against any other nation in the ancient world Even so, he continued to do his best for his people throughout his life and remained true to the vow he had taken when young; to the end, he remained an enemy of Rome and his name would be remembered as Rome's greatest adversary for generations - and even to the present day.
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