Hannibal's Campaigns, 218-216bc


A map of Hanninbal's movements, 218-216bc; double-click to see full size.


Briefly describe the events leading up to the Battle of the Trebia

a. Turin

Hannibal’s route brought him out in the territory of the Taurini, a pro-Roman Gaulish tribe at war with his allies the Insubres. He attacked a captured Turin, their capital ‘town’, and killed all the tribesmen who did not willingly come over to his side. All the Gaulish tribes in the area joined the Carthaginian side..

b. Battle of the Ticinus

• P Cornelius Scipio, who had sailed back from Marseilles, built a temporary bridge across the Po and set up camp 5 miles from Hannibal’s camp at Ictumuli.
• Hannibal motivated his men by making his Gaulish captives fight for their lives, and then pointing out to his soldiers that they were in the same position. He also sacrificed a lamb to ‘Jupiter’.
• In the Roman camp there were bad signs (a wolf attacked the men/a swarn of bees settled there).
• P Cornelius Scipio, who was in charge of the Roman army, took his cavalry and some light-armed javelin throwers out and fought Hannibal in a cavalry battle; according to Livy, the two sides were evenly-matched until the Numidians outflanked the Romans.
• P Cornelius Scipio was wounded and was saved by, either his slave (as Coelius said), or his son ‘who afterwards won the glory of bringing this war to a close, and gained the soubriquet of Africanus for his splendid victory over Hannibal’ (as Livy says he would prefer to believe).

c. Placentia

P Cornelius Scipio reatreated immediately and secretly to the Roman colony at Placentia, destroying the bridge he had built over the Po. Hannibal followed. It took him two days to rebuild the bridge. He set up camp 6 miles from Placentia.

d. Camp at the Trebia

2000 of P Cornelius Scipio’s Gauls mutinied and went over to Hannibal, who sent them safe to their homes. Fearing a general insurrection, P Cornelius Scipio retreated to a strong position next to the Trebia and waited for the arrival of Sempronius and his two Legions.

e. Clastidium

Hannibal sent a detachment to the grain store at Clastidium, where the commander, Dasius of Brundisium (a town in the heel of Italy which had been conquered a turned into a Roman colony in 244bc) handed over the garrison for a bribe of 400 gold pieces.



Briefly describe the events of the Battle of the Trebia, Dec 218bc  

a. Appeal of the Gauls

All of the Gauls north of the Po were now in revolt, but those to the south of the Po hesitated. Hannibal sent a force of 2000 infantry and 1000 cavalry to ravage the local countryside … whereupon the local Gauls appealed to the Romans for help.

b. Sempronius was ‘impetuous and headstrong’

• Responding to the Gauls’ request, Sempronius sent his cavalry and 1000 javelin-throwers to attack the looting Carthaginians; they caught them by surprise and – in a confused melee – won what they considered a victory.
• Sempronius – against P Cornelius Scipio’s advice – bullied him and harangued the men, seeking ‘a decisive battle as soon as possible’ before his term of office expired at the end of the month.
• Note that there is debate about whether the Roman consuls maintained one camp or two.

c. Numidian provocation

• Realising that Sempronius wanted a battle, and having set Mago’s ambush, Hannibal sent his Numidian cavalry ‘in the early dawn’ to attack the Roman camp, but then to allow themselves to be driven back. This encouraged Sempronius to order a full attack
• The Romans had 38000 infantry and 4000 cavalry.
• Hannibal had 20,000 Celtic, Spanish and African heavy-armed infantry, 10,000 cavalry plus another 1,000 in ambush, 8,000 Balearic slingers and spearmen plus another 1,000 in ambush

d. The Romans cross the Trebia

The Romans) – before they had eaten – crossed the freezing Trebia breast-high in a snowstorm, and emerged with ‘hardly the strength to hold their weapons’. The 4000 cavalry were defeated by Hannibal’s cavalry and elephants – though even so, says Livy, the Roman infantry held off the Carthaginians, even repulsing the elephants (by sticking javelins under their tails) so that they rampaged through the Carthaginian lines.

e. Mago’s ambush

However, Mago attacked the rear from his position of ambush, and the Romans were surrounded and slaughtered. A contingent of 10000 veterans formed themselves into a square and, with great losses, broke their way through the encircling Carthaginians and, unable to recross the Trebia, made their way to Placentia. One estimate puts the Roman losses as high as 75%.



Why did Hannibal win the Battle of the Trebia, Dec 218bc  

a. Carthaginian cavalry

The Carthaginian cavalry outnumbered the Roman cavalry 10,000 to 4,000. Hannibal used his Numidian cavalry to provoke Sempronius to attack; his cavalry defeated the Roman cavalry, and Mago’s ambush unit was half cavalry.

b. Hannibal’s tactics

Knowing his enemy, he provoked Sempronius, with a feint attack by his Numidian cavalry, which led him to attack immediately across the river. Hannibal used his elephants to break the Roman auxiliaries on the Roman left. Then he used Mago to mount an ambush in the Roman rear.

c. A poor Roman commander

Sempronius, seeking a victory before his term of office ran out, made his men attacked across a river without having their breakfast.. P Cornelius Scipio was badly wounded.

d. Roman soldiers were inferior

They had been recruited only 6 months earlier; before the battle, P Cornelius Scipio advised against an immediate battle, contending ‘that their legions would be all the better for a winter's drilling’. They had just been defeated by the Boii, by Hannibal at the Ticinus, and had been unsettled by the desertion of the Gauls. Sempronius had marched his men up from southern Italy very quickly.

e. The Romans were at a disadvantage

The weather was freezing, and the attack took place in a snowstorm. When they emerged from the river the Roman soldiers could hardly hold their weapons.



Briefly describe the events of winter 218-217bc  

a. Emporium

Hannibal pursued the Romans towards Placentia, but was driven off (and wounded) when he tried a surprise night-attack on the nearby garrison at Emporium.

b. Victumviae

Hannibal set his Numidians to ravage the countryside round about of all the tribes who had not come over to him. When the inhabitants of Victumviae resisted, (even though they surrendered, says Livy), Hannibal ordered that they be put to the sword, with ‘every form of licentiousness and cruelty and brutal tyranny’.

c. The Apeninnes?

Livy reports (Polybius does not mention it) that ‘at the first doubtful indications of spring Hannibal left his winter quarters for Etruria (Florence)’ but that ‘during his passage of the Apennines he was overtaken by a storm of such severity as almost to surpass the horrors of the Alps’ and forced to withdraw. Livy also reports a small, undecided battle near Placentia.

d. Liguria

Livy reports that Hannibal over-wintered on the Ligurian coast, where the Gauls handed over to him some Roman officials they had captured (including two quaestors).

e. Hannibal’s wigs

To avoid assassination, Hannibal ‘adopted a truly Punic artifice’, wearing a succession of wigs as disguises.



Briefly describe the events of the Battle of Trasimene, June 217bc 

a. Arno marshes

In Spring, Hannibal left his winter quarters and marched his army into Etruria; to achieve surprise, he marched his army through the Arno swamps – a great cost in lost men, and losing the sight of one eye.

b. Faesulae to Lake Trasimene

Hannibal marched southwards, passing to the west of the Roman fortress at Arretium. To provoke the Romans into battle, he laid waste to the whole area, enraging the Roman Consul Flaminius (whom both Polybius and Livy accuse of possessing a rash temper).

c. Ambush at Trasimene

Flaminius left Arretium and pursued Hannibal, who led him into a trap. Polybius and Livy are confused and contradictory – they may have been trying to synthesise two accounts of the battle – one where Hannibal trapped the Romans on a narrow path alongside the lake, the other where Hannibal ambushed them in a steep pass. Either way,15,000 Romans (according to Livy) were killed and only a force of 6,000 fought their way out. Flaminius (fighting bravely, says Livy) was killed.

d. Hannibal’s developing policy?

According to Polybius, Maharbal promised the captives their freedom if they surrendered, but Hannibal overruled him, freeing the Allies, but keeping the Romans – ‘declaring, as he had on previous occasions, that he had not come to make war on the Italians but to fight for their freedom against the Romans’. Is this a sign that Hannibal – who seems to have entered Italy with little aim beyond damaging the Romans – was beginning to develop his policy of forming an alternative Anti-Roman League in Italy?

e. ‘We have lost a battle – a big one’

Both Polybius and Livy report the ‘utter dismay’ in Rome as news of the defeat leaked back.



Why did Hannibal win the Battle of the Trasimene, June 217bc  

a. Carthaginian cavalry

Hannibal stationed his cavalry behind some low hills at the mouth of the defile. An Insubrian horseman killed Flaminius, and the cavalry butchered the Romans who had fled into the lake. Then Maharbal and the cavalry pursued and captured the 6,000 Romans who had fought their way through the ambush.

b. Hannibal’s tactics

He outraged Flaminius by devastating the countryside, and provoked him to ignore his superior officers and the auguries ... and chase him into the ambush.

c. A poor Roman commander

Flaminius was rash, ignored the advice of his superior officers, and defied the gods and the senate. He followed Hannibal into a pass, in the fog, without sending out any scouts.

d. Roman soldiers were inferior

Apart from the remains of Sempronius’s defeated army, many of the Roman troops had been freshly recruited in March.

e. The Romans were at a disadvantage

The fog, gathered in the valley, blinded the Romans, whilst allowing the Carthaginians on the hills to communicate. Meanwhile, during the battle, a major earthquake occurred.



Briefly describe the events leading up to the Battle of Cannae  

a. Picenum

Hannibal’s army were exhausted and suffering from scurvy. He marched them to the Adriatic coast, where he let them rest and healed their skin by bathing them and the horses in old wine.

b. Fabius Cunctator

The Romans meanwhile appointed Fabius Maximus – ‘the Delayer’ – as dictator. Fabius followed Hannibal, but refused to engage him in battle – even though Hannibal tried to provoke him by ravaging all the countryside (except Fabius’s estates, which made Fabius look like he had cut a deal).

c. Battle of Ager Falernus

Fabius’s strategy was to trap Hannibal, and he almost succeeded. In Campania, Hannibal had been misled by some guides (he crucified them) and found himself surrounded. He escaped by sending a herd of oxen, at night, with fiery torches tied to their horns, through the woods, whilst slipping away quietly in another direction. The English historian Leonard Cottrell (1965) thought that this was a double bluff – that Hannibal knew that Fabius would know the oxen were a trick, but reckoned that Fabius would not attack at night, fearing a second trick. Whatever, he escaped safe.

d. Diplomatic failure

Hannibal, say historians such as Hoyos (2003) and Fronda (2010), was trying to draw Rome’s allies onto the Carthaginian side by demonstrating that the Romans could not defend them. However, of this was so, he was not successful in 217bc. The Roman colony at Spoletium held out, and the key town of Capua refused to join him.

e. Battle of Gereonium

• Fabius’s Master of Horse, Minucius, wanted to give battle. He persuaded the Senate to make him equal with Fabius.
• At Gereonium, Minucius achieved a success when he attacked Hannibal’s camp – two-thirds of Hannibal’s men were out plundering, and he was only saved from defeat when Hasdrubal returned with a large force and relieved him.
• This encouraged Minucius to try to take a hill between the two enemy camps; Hannibal enticed him in, and then ambushed him with men he had hidden in gullies nearby. Minucius was only saved by prompt action by Fabius.
• Minucius apologised to Fabius for doubting his strategy, and demoted himself back to Master of Horse.
• If Livy is to be believed, in the winter of 271-216bc, Fabius’s tactics reduced Hannibal and his army to such mutinous despair that Hannibal considered returning to Gaul: ‘No chance whatever would have been left to him of feeding his army in that part of Italy if the succeeding consuls had persevered in the same tactics’ (Livy 22.32).



Briefly describe the Battle of Cannae,  August 216bc  

a. Fabius dismissed

• Fabius’s strategy, even if it was slowly succeeding, was VERY unpopular at Rome and a war party there – led by Terentius Varro – secured his dismissal.
• In 216bc, Terentius Varro and Aemilius Paullus were elected consul (the understanding being that they would engage the enemy).

b. Cannae supply depot

After a miserable winter in Gereonium, Hannibal moved to capture the supply depot at Cannae. This angered the Romans, who marched out to confront him.

c. Hannibal provoked Varro

• Both Polybius and Livy describe how Hannibal tried to provoke Varro to battle on the flat plain, where the Carthaginian cavalry would give Hannibal an advantage.
• Polybius and Livy ascribe the Roman defeat to Varro’s impetuosity, but modern historians Martin Samuels and Gregory Daly believe that – being of lower birth – they ‘set him up’ as a scapegoat, and that in fact Aemilius Paullus (grandfather of Polybius’s patron) was in charge that day.

d. The Battle

• The Romans had perhaps 86000 infantry and 6500 horse; the Carthaginians numbered 8000 Balearic slingers, 24000 infantry and 10000 cavalry.
• Polybius describes how Hannibal intentionally set his army in a convex formation which, being weaker in the centre, was designed to collapse into a concave formation as the battle progressed.
• In the battle, as the Carthaginian centre retreated, the wings of Hannibal’s army closed in round the advancing Romans, and surrounded and annihilated them.
• Hasdrubal/Maharbal, having defeated the Roman cavalry by the river, wheeled round behind the Roman army and attacked the Allied cavalry from behind (Livy accuses Hannibal of 'a typical piece of Punic deceit', claiming that some Numidians pretended to surrender, then attacked from behind).
• Contemporary estimates of Roman casualties range from 50,000-70,000 (about two-thirds). Aemilius Paullus was killed, along with many other high-ranking Romans; Varro escaped.

e. Aftermath

• Rome was in terror – but rejected Hannibal’s offer of a peace treaty
• Hannibal refused to attack Rome – probably correctly – but Livy states that ‘that single day’s delay, by common consent, proved the salvation of Rome and her empire’.
• Livy states that Maharbal chided Hannibal that he did ‘not know how to exploit a victory’.
• Polybius states that, after Cannae, a number of Rome’s allies went over to Hannibal.
• After Cannae, the Roman army reformed its operational procedures and tactics.



Why did Hannibal win the Battle of the Cannae, Aug 216bc  

a. Carthaginian cavalry

The flat and treeless battlefield favoured Hannibal’s cavalry, who outnumbered the Roman cavalry 10,000 to 6,500. In the battle, Hasdrubal’s cavalry defeated the Allied cavalry, then swung round behind to attack and rout the Roman cavalry. Polybius commented: 'Both on this occasion and on former ones their numerous cavalry had contributed most to the victory of the Carthaginians, and it demonstrated to posterity that in times of war it is better to give battle with half as many infantry as the enemy and an overwhelming force of cavalry' (Book 3, Chapter 117).

b. Hannibal’s tactics

He designed his centre, with weaker Spanish and Gaulish infantry, to crumple, so that the more experience Libyphoenicians on the wings gradually enveloped the enemy.

c. A poor Roman commander

Ancient writers were agreed that Varro was ‘impetuous and headstrong’, and led his men out against advice without informing Aemilius. Recently, historians have suggested that, actually, Aemilius was in charge, but he abandoned his post and rushed round until he got himself killed.

d. Roman soldiers were inferior

Four of the 8 legions were fresh recruits; e.g. ‘the fatigue party was little more than a disorganised rabble’..

e. The Romans were at a disadvantage

They lined up with the Sirocco blowing dust in their faces.






The following web pages will help you complete the task:

This document contains the relevant sections of the set
OCR Textbook.

You may wish to read Mr Clare's article on Did Hannibal Have Any War Aims – And If So What Were They?

You also need to read Mr Clare's articles on Livy's battles and on Hannibal and his elephants.



  Read the following passage from Livy, and write answers to the questions which follow:

Livy, book 22, Chapter 47
The Romans drove back the enemy’s wedge formation, which projected forward from their main line of troops but lacked the weight and density needed to withstand them, as they attacked across the whole front with a greater depth of forces.  47.6. The Carthaginians were driven back and began to withdraw nervously, while the Romans pressed on forward, maintaining the impetus of their attack and driving through the enemy line, which was now in headlong and panic stricken flight. This brought the Romans up against the centre of the Carthaginian position, and then, finding little resistance, against the African reserves.  47.7. These troops were positioned on both wings, which were drawn back somewhat from the projecting central wedge held by the Gauls and Spanish soldiers. 
47.8. As the wedge was driven back it came level with the main lines of the Carthaginians central position. As they continued to withdraw, the centre of their line became concave, while the African troops on the two wings formed a pair of projecting horns, as it were, gradually enclosing the Roman troops as they charged unthinkingly on against the centre. The Carthaginians rapidly extended their wings and closed in on their opponents from behind.

Briefly describe Hannibal's tactics at the Battle of Cannae  [4]

Explain why Hannibal won the Battle of Cannae [4]

Do you accept that Livy's description of the Battle of Cannae is accurate?  Explain your opinion.  You must refer both to this passage, and to your knowledge of Livy as a writer.     [5]


'Hannibal had no idea what he was trying to do in 218-216bc; he simply wandered aimlessly round Italy defeating the Roman armies.'  How far do the ancient sources support this opinion?


In your answer you should:

•  give a brief account of Hannibal's campaigns of 218-216bc;

•  explain whether you think Hannibal had clear objectives or not;

•  show knowledge of the relevant sections of Polybius and Livy;

  consider how reliable you think these sources are.                                       [30]