Battle of Cannae (216 B.C.)


Events Leading Up to the Battle

In the beginning of 216 BC, Hannibal decided to seize an crucial supply depot at Cannae. This upset the Romans, as it blocked them from getting to those important supplies. The Romans decided to go and take it back from him, and started onward to confront Hannibal and his army. On the way there, there was a small skirmish between the Romans and the Carthaginians, and the Romans won. That boasted the Roman’s morale to a large degree and they let that get to their head. Because of that, they made several serious mistakes that helped them on their way to losing the battle.

Beginning of the Battle

At the beginning of the battle, Hannibal hid his moves from the Romans and started to position his swordsmen in a crescent shape. He then ordered the troops in the front who had been hiding his movements to act as backup. The Romans however, did not change anything and carried on as usual. They had their normal formation - allied cavalry on the left side and their cavalry on the right side.

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Middle/End of the Battle

When the battle started, the Romans put their advantages, such as larger numbers, to work, and it seemed to work. The enemy force started to retreat and run away from them, much to their delight. However, this was just a farce. They were actually supposed to retreat. The Carthaginian troops that had been positioned on the sides drew in behind the Romans and eventually the Romans were surrounded and spread out, having chased the the enemy to the point where they were not close enough to properly try to defend against the enemy that was now attacking them from every side. Their defeat came quickly after that, and Hannibal won with only 6,000 casualties, while the Romans had 10 times that, 60,000 casualties.

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The tactic Hannibal uses in this battle turned the tide of the battle instantly once it was put into effect. It does not have a specific name, but is a widely known technique now. In this battle, Hannibal used his light troops to mask the fact that he was putting his heavier troops, such as the cavalry and infantry, into position. Right before the battle started he moved the light troops so that they could start flanking the Romans when they came forward. When the battle did start, the Carthaginians pretended to retreat, spreading out the Romans and drawing them further into their trap. As the Romans advanced towards the supposedly fleeing troops, the light troops circled around the Roman flanks to their back while some of the other troops flanked them. Then the heavy cavalry and infantry went into action as they stood their ground, driving back the Romans while the troops slowly closed in from all sides. Soon the Romans were completely surrounded and attacked from all sides and swiftly defeated.