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Battle of Cannae, 215 BC Area Today

A map of the area around the battle positions

Battle of Cannae, 215 BC summary

The army of Carthage under Hannibal decisively defeated a larger army of the Roman Republic under the consuls Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro. Having recovered from their losses at Trebia (218 BC) and Lake Trasimene (217 BC), the Romans decided to engage Hannibal at Cannae, with roughly 86,000 Roman and allied troops

  1. While the Romans were approaching Cannae, a small portion of Hannibal's forces ambushed them. Varro successfully repelled the attack and continued on his way to Cannae
  2. The two armies stayed in their respective locations for two days
  3. During the second day (August 1), Hannibal, aware that Varro would be in command the following day, left his camp and offered battle, but Paullus refused
  4. By placing the flank of his army on the Aufidus river, Hannibal prevented this flank from being overlapped by the more numerous Romans
  5. Hannibal 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.
  6. When the battle was joined, the cavalry engaged in a fierce exchange on the flanks
  7. When the Hispanic and Gauls got the upper hand, they cut down the Roman cavalry without giving quarter
  8. On the other flank the Numidians engaged in a way that merely kept the Roman allied cavalry occupied
  9. When the victorious Hispanic and Gallic cavalry came up, the allied cavalry broke and the Numidians pursued them off the field
  10. Knowing the superiority of the Roman infantry, Hannibal had instructed his infantry to withdraw deliberately, creating an even tighter semicircle around the attacking Roman forces
  11. Hannibal ordered his African infantry to turn inwards and advance against the Roman flanks, creating an encirclement in one of the earliest known examples of a pincer movement
  12. When the Carthaginian cavalry attacked the Romans in the rear and the African flanking echelons assailed them on their right and left, the advance of the Roman infantry was brought to an abrupt halt
  13. Only 14,000 Roman troops managed to escape, most of whom had cut their way through to the nearby town of Canusium