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Old November 20th, 2012, 08:11 AM   #1

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Battle of Cannae


Ever since I first studied it, I have been fascinated by the Battle of Cannae. In my opinion, it is the greatest ever demonstration of a general's tactical genius. It is just astounding how Hannibal managed to completely encircle and trap an army almost twice the size of his own.

Anyways, I have a question about it. The Romans formed up for the battle in ranks twice as deep as usual, but half as wide. This played right into Hannibal's hands and contributed to his victory. I was wondering why the Romans formed up the way they did, and whether it was a responce to the Carthaginian set up, or the other way round. Did Hannibal anticipate their unusually deep ranks, or did he wait until he saw their formation and then react accordingly?
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Old November 20th, 2012, 08:30 AM   #2
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Quite interesting perhaps maybe some websites?
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Old November 20th, 2012, 05:35 PM   #3

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It's unclear exactly why the Romans arranged their army as you describe. Livy put it down to Varro's incompetence. Some think it was for psychological effect (imagine an army of Romans stretching back as far as the eye can see: intimidating!). 2 reasons seem most likely to me: firstly, the huge Roman army, composed mostly of inexperienced recruits, couldn't effectively perform the complex tactical maneuverings required by the acies triplex, so opted to go for a simpler formation. Secondly, Hannibal was nearly defeated at Trebia when the Romans came close to punching a hole through the centre of his line. Thus, by making their army narrower, the Romans hoped to successfully pull this off at Cannae. It would've worked, had the crescent-shaped formation of Gauls and Iberians been undisciplined in their steady retreat.
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Old November 20th, 2012, 06:06 PM   #4

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Imo it was a conscious effort of the Romans to take advantage of their strengths. They had noted that on previous battles, like Lake Trasimene, that although Hannibal successfully ambushed and destroyed their wings, the centre of the Roman army pushed through Hannibal's lines, and routed when it saw the destruction of the rest of the army. That is why they were able to convince themselves that their armies were not truly defeated by Hannibal.

So yes, they played to their strengths, but Hannibal was not going to be so compliant, and he picked up on this too, essentially turning the Romans own strength againt them.
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Old November 20th, 2012, 11:05 PM   #5
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Well, the problem is we really dont know much about this battle

We have a narrative that comes many years after the date of the battle.

The battle grounds have never been found.

So really it is all speculation.

Whether the battle took place as described, where it really took place, how many troops were actually involved on both sides, how many casualties were actually taken by both sides and other questions remain open.

Personally I believe the numbers are way inflated and I dont believe the Romans and their commanders were as stupid as they are made out to be

What we have is an exciting narrative that borders on fiction, rather unbelievable numbers and rather hard to explain follow up (as to for example why Hannibal did not march on Rome if we believe the tale of light carthaginian casualites vs total slaughter of the romans)
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Old November 20th, 2012, 11:16 PM   #6

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I tend to agree with Pixi and Mangekyou, though Tomar also raises some valid points (though I've found quite a number of reasonable explanations as to why he may not have marched on Rome afterwards)

I know it is a little off topic, but how many ancient battle fields are ever actually found?

Last edited by markdienekes; November 20th, 2012 at 11:26 PM.
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Old November 28th, 2012, 08:52 PM   #7
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@markdienekes: precisely. Almost none. (In fact, the general location of Cannae IS known, just not the precise area around the hill of Cannae.) Not knowing the exact ground does not mean that the accounts that survive can be thrown away. Yes, they may have been written a long time after the battle took place, but they would have been compiled on the basis of information that had been recorded soon after Cannae. Most modern historians are agreed that the scale of the defeat to Rome was enormous. We know that eight legions and their associated socii were beaten, and that there were only enough legionaries to reform two legions afterwards. Conservative estimates agree that at least 30,000 legionaries were killed. Many thousands more must have died in the subsequent days.

I visited the site again only 4 weeks ago, researching the second of my Hannibal novels, Fields of Blood. I shot this video while there, which some of you might enjoy. Please excuse my croaky voice (I had larnygitis at the time).

The battle of Cannae - YouTube
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Old November 28th, 2012, 11:52 PM   #8
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Intresting I have already watched this video but lost the link somewhere thanks for sharing!!!
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Old November 29th, 2012, 12:57 AM   #9

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I think Hannibal's formation of a narrow center encouraged a deep one by the Romans to take advantage of a perceived weakened Carthagian center...maybe they were too reliant on their own Numedian cavalry on the wings...
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Old November 29th, 2012, 01:01 AM   #10
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Shorter lines but more of them.....somekind of a thick quadrangle from the sound of it instead of a full square. Easier to turn and face a flanking force of e.g. cavalry?
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