Battle of Lake Trasimene


Battle of Lake Trasimene

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Lake Trasimene
partof=the Second Punic War


caption=
date=June 24, 217 BC
place=Lake Trasimene, Italy
casus=
territory=
result=Carthaginian victory
combatant1=Carthage
combatant2=Roman Republic
commander1=Hannibal
commander2=Gaius Flaminius
strength1=50,000+ soldiers
strength2=40,000 soldiers
casualties1=1,500 soldiers
casualties2=30,000 killed or drowned 10,000 captured
The Battle of Lake Trasimene (June 24, 217 BC, April on the Julian calendar) was a Roman defeat in the Second Punic War between the Carthaginians under Hannibal and the Romans under the consul Gaius Flaminius. The battle is perhaps one of the largest and most successful ambushes in military history.

Prelude

The Romans, greatly alarmed and dismayed by Tiberius Sempronius Longus’ defeat at Trebia, immediately made plans to counter the new threat from the north. Sempronius returned to Rome and the Roman Senate resolved to elect new consuls the following year in 217 B.C. The new consuls were Gnaeus Servilius Geminus and Gaius Flaminius, the latter under threat with recall from the Senate for leaving Rome without carrying out the proper rituals upon being elected consul. [Livy, "Ab Urbe Condita", XXI.64] The Senate commissioned Servilius to replace Publius Cornelius Scipio and take command of his army, while Flaminius was appointed to lead what remained of Sempronius’s army. Since both armies had been weakened by the defeat at Trebia, four new legions were raised. These new forces, together with the remains of the former army, were divided between the two consuls. [Livy, "Ab Urbe Condita",21.63] After the battles of Ticinus and Trebia, Flaminius' army turned south to prepare a defence near Rome itself. Hannibal immediately followed, but marched faster and soon passed the Roman army. Flaminius was forced to increase the speed of his march in order to bring Hannibal to battle before reaching the city. Another force under Servilius was due to join Flaminius.

Before this could happen, Hannibal lured Gaius Flaminius' force into a pitched battle, by devastating the area Flaminius had been sent to protect. Polybius wrote that Hannibal calculated that he could draw out Flaminius into battle and that "no sooner had he left the neighbourhood of Faesulae, and, advancing a short way beyond the Roman camp, made a raid upon the neighbouring country, than Flaminius became excited, and enraged at the idea that he was despised by the enemy: and as the devastation of the country went on, and he saw from the smoke that rose in every direction that the work of destruction was proceeding, he could not patiently endure the sight." [Polybius, "The Histories", 3.82; See also Livy, "Ab Urbe Condita", 22.3.] . At the same time, Hannibal tried to sever the allegiance of Rome’s allies, by proving that the Republic was powerless to protect them. However, Flaminius remained passively encamped at Arretium. Unable to goad Flaminius into battle, Hannibal marched boldly around his opponent’s left flank and effectively cut Flaminius off from Rome (thereby executing the earliest recorded deliberate turning movement in military history). Still, Flaminius stubbornly kept his army in camp. Hannibal decided to march on Apulia, hoping that Flaminius might follow him to a battlefield of his own choosing. [ Polybius, "The Histories", 3.81-83; Livy, "Ab Urbe Condita", 22.4.]

Flaminius, eager to exact revenge for the devastation of the countryside, and facing increasing political criticism from Rome, finally marched against Hannibal. Flaminius, like Sempronius, was impetuous, over-confident and lacked self-control.{Polybius, "The Histories", 3.80} His advisors suggested that he send only a cavalry detachment to harass the Carthaginians and prevent them from laying waste to any more of the country, while reserving his main force until the other consul, Servilius, arrived with his army. However, it proved impossible to argue with the rash Flaminius. Livy wrote that "Though every other person in the council advised safe rather than showy measures, urging that he should wait for his colleague, in order that joining their armies, they might carry on the war with united courage and counsels ... Flaminius, in a fury ... gave out the signal for marching for battle." [Livy, "Ab Urbe Condita", 22.3]

Battle

Tactical Disposition

As Hannibal passed Lake Trasimene, he came to a place very suitable for an ambush, and hearing that Flaminius had broken camp and was pursuing him, made preparations for the impending battle. To the north was a series of heavily forested hills where the Malpasso Road passed along the north side of Lake Trasimene. Along the hill-bordered skirts of the lake, Hannibal camped where he was in full view of anyone entering the northern defile, and spent the night arranging his troops for battle. Below the camp, he placed his heavy infantry (Iberians, Celts, and Africans) upon a slight elevation. Here, they had ample ground from which they could charge down upon the head of the Roman column on the left flank, when it should reach the position. [Livy, "Ab Urbe Condita", 22.4; Polybius, "The Histories", 3.83] His cavalry and Gallic infantry were concealed in the hills in the depth of the wooded valley from which the Romans would first enter, so that they could quickly sally out and close the entrance, blocking the retreat route of the Romans. Then he posted his light troops at intervals along the height overlooking the plain, with orders to keep well hidden in the woods until signalled to attack. In addition, the night before the battle commenced, Hannibal ordered his men to light campfires on the hills of Tuoro, at a considerable distance, so as to convince the Romans that his forces were farther away than they actually were.

Events

The next morning, the Roman troops approached eastward, along the road running across the northern edge of the lake. Eager for battle, Flaminius pushed his men mercilessly and hurried up the column in the rear. Hannibal then sent a small skirmish force to draw the vanguard away from the front of the line, allowing the rest of the Carthaginian army time to set up for an assault to the east. As soon as the Romans marched through the long, foggy, narrow valley and entered the plains, trumpets were blown, signalling the attack.

The Carthaginian cavalry and infantry came down from the surrounding hills, sealed off the defile and engaged the unsuspecting Romans from all sides. Surprised and outmanoeuvred, the Romans did not have time to draw up in the battle array to which they were accustomed and were forced to fight a hopeless hand-to-hand battle in open order. The Romans were quickly split into three parts. The westernmost was attacked by the Carthaginian cavalry and forced into the lake, leaving the other two groups surrounded. The centre, including Flaminius, stood its ground, but was cut down by Hannibal's Gauls after three hours of heavy combat.

In a brief span of three hours, the entire Roman army was annihilated. The vanguard saw little combat throughout and, once the disaster to their rear became obvious, they cut their way through the skirmishers and out of the forest. Only 6,000 men managed to cut their way to safety, under the cover of the fog, only to be captured by Maharbal the following day. Both Livy and Polybius wrote that Maharbal promised safe passage ("with a garment apiece") if they surrendered their weapons and armour, but Hannibal had them sold into slavery irrespective of the promise made. [Livy, "Ab Urbe Condita", 22.6; Polybius, "The Histories", 3.84-5.] Of the remaining 30,000, half were either killed in battle or drowned trying to escape after being swept into the lake (including Flaminius himself who was slain by the Gaul, Ducarius). [Livy, "Ab Urbe Condita", 22.6; Polybius, "The Histories", 3.84] 10,000 were said to have managed to make their way back to Rome by various means, the rest were captured. Hannibal's losses, on the other hand, was 2,500 according to Livy (who cites Quintius Fabius Pictor, who was said to have been an eye-witness of the battle. [Livy, "Ab Urbe Condita", 22.7] Others claim Carthaginian and allied losses did not exceed 1,500 men (a ratio of one Carthaginian for every twenty Romans). But the disaster for Rome did not end there. Within a day or two, a reinforcement force of 4,000 under the propraetor Gaius Centennius was intercepted and destroyed. [Livy, "Ab Urbe Condita," 22.8; Polybius, "The Histories" 3.86]

Aftermath

Hannibal, emerging from another brilliant victory, had successfully planned and executed the greatest ambush in history. [Basil Liddell Hart, "Strategy" (New York; Penguin Group; 1967). p. ] News of the defeat caused a panic in Rome. Quintus Fabius Maximus was elected dictator by the Roman Assembly and adopted the "Fabian strategy" of avoiding pitched conflict, relying instead on low-level harassment to wear the invader down, until Rome could rebuild its military strength. Hannibal was left largely free to ravage Apulia for the next year, until the Romans ended the dictatorship and elected Paullus and Varro as consuls. The result would be the Battle of Cannae, the worst defeat the Romans would suffer throughout the Second Punic War.

Notes

* Livy states that so terrible was the massacre at Lake Trasimene, that neither army was aware of the occurrence of an earthquake, which at the very moment of the battle "“overthrew large portions of many of the cities of Italy, turned rivers, and levelled mountains with an awful crash.”" [Livy, "Ab Urbe Condita", 22.5]
* An ancient tradition says that because of the blood, which for over three days filled the water, that the name of a small stream feeding the lake was renamed "Sanguineto", the "“Blood River”" ["“ [http://www.barca.fsnet.co.uk/ Hannibal Barca and the Punic Wars”] " By Hilary Gowen] . In the surroundings of Lake Trasimene, there are further areas which retain a particular meaning, including "Ossaia" ("Charnel House, Place of Bones"), "Sepoltaglia ("Place of Burial"), Caporosso ("Cape red"), Piegaro ("Subdued Place), Preggio (from "Peggio", "Worse"), Pugnano ("Place of battles")", and "Pian di Marte ("Field of Mars")".

References

External links

* [http://www.livius.org/to-ts/trasimene/trasimene.html Livius.org: Trasimene Lake]


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