Second Punic War Battles > Battle of Cannae (216 BC)

Battle of Cannae (216 BC)

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The Battle of Cannae, fought in 216 BC during the Second Punic War, was one of the most famous and strategically significant battles in ancient history. The Second Punic War was a conflict between Rome and Carthage, led by the Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca. Hannibal had invaded Italy from the north, crossing the Alps with a force that included infantry, cavalry, and war elephants.

Hannibal's army had won several major victories against the Romans, including at the Battle of Trebia and the Battle of Lake Trasimene. By 216 BC, he had advanced deep into Roman territory and was threatening the city of Rome itself. The Roman consul Lucius Aemilius Paullus and his colleague Gaius Terentius Varro assembled a massive army, estimated to be around 80,000 strong, to confront Hannibal's forces near the town of Cannae in Apulia (southern Italy). Hannibal, despite being significantly outnumbered, deployed his army in a crescent-shaped formation, with his weakest troops in the center and his strongest infantry and cavalry on the flanks.


The battle began with a fierce clash between the two armies. The Romans, confident in their numerical superiority, launched a frontal assault on Hannibal's center, seeking to break through his lines and envelop his army. Hannibal, employing a brilliant strategy of double envelopment, allowed his center to slowly give ground while his flanks advanced, encircling the Roman army and trapping them in a deadly pincer movement. The Carthaginian cavalry, under the command of Hannibal's brother Maharbal, played a crucial role in cutting off the Roman retreat and preventing reinforcements from reaching the battlefield. Despite desperate resistance from the Roman legions, the Carthaginians gradually tightened the noose around their enemy, inflicting massive casualties and causing panic and confusion among the Roman ranks.


The Battle of Cannae ended in a devastating victory for Hannibal and the Carthaginians. The Romans suffered catastrophic losses, with estimates of their casualties ranging from 50,000 to 70,000 killed, wounded, or captured. The defeat at Cannae was one of the worst defeats in Roman history and left Rome vulnerable to further Carthaginian advances. However, Hannibal's failure to follow up on his victory and march on Rome allowed the Romans to recover and continue the war.

The Battle of Cannae is often regarded as a classic example of a tactical masterpiece, demonstrating Hannibal's genius as a military commander and the effectiveness of maneuver warfare. The battle had a profound impact on Roman military strategy and tactics, leading to reforms and innovations aimed at preventing similar disasters in the future. The memory of the defeat at Cannae haunted the Roman psyche for generations and became a cautionary tale of the dangers of overconfidence and underestimating the enemy.

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