Monday, June 05, 2006

Battle of Cannae

One of the most devastating battle losses in history happened in 216 BC. The Roman Republic suffered a huge military defeat at the hands of Hannibal in the Second Punic War.

The Encyclopadiea Britannica notes of the battle, "The Romans, with 80,000 men, met the 50,000 Carthaginian and allied African, Gallic, and Spanish troops under Hannibal's command and were crushed by them. Hannibal's troops gradually surrounded their foes and annihilated them in a classic example of the double envelopment maneuver. Roman losses exceeded 65,000 men, while the Carthaginians lost only about 6,000."

What is shocking about this battle is the high number of losses. The Romans lost over 70,000 men. The Carthaginians lost over 6,000 men. All of the losses happened on the same day. This makes this battle one of the bloodiest in world history. Fatalities at this level would not be seen again until World War One.

Wikipedia noted, "The total number of lives lost surpasses the number of servicemen killed in the Royal Air Force throughout the First and Second World Wars. More men were killed at Cannae than in all the four months of the Battle of Passchendaele, which is considered one of the bloodiest battles of World War One. So devastating were these losses, that the total number of casualties represents just under one third of the total number of American soldiers, sailors, and airmen killed in four years of fighting during the Second World War. In fact, the losses suffered within a single day on the battlefield of Cannae (no larger than a few square miles), would not be equaled until the first day of fighting on the Somme in 1916 and which took place on a 25-mile front nearly 2,000 years later."

The loss almost shattered the Roman Republic. Many of Rome's allies in southern Italy declared for Carthage. King Philip V of Macedonia took advantage of the Roman situation to begin the First Macedonian War. Many Romans considered Rome doomed and fled Italy.

Rome survived and won the war. Eventually, after the Third Punic War, Carthage was razed. However, history almost took a very different course. What if Hannibal had followed up his win with a siege of Rome? He didn't do this due to a lack of siege equipment but if he had he may have won anyway. There would have been no Roman Empire and Carthage would have ruled the world instead.

The Battle of Cannae was a major event in the history of the Roman Republic. It defined an entire generation of Romans. Everyone knew someone who died at the battle. I imagine that people talked about where they were and what they were doing when they first heard about the Battle of Cannae. The death of so many Roman men must have seriously disrupted the government, the economy, and the ability of the Romans to continue the war.

Here are some additional links with more information:

Battle of Cannae from Wikipedia
Battle of Cannae from
Ancient History Sourcebook: Polybius (c.200-after 118 BCE): The Battle of Cannae, 216 BCE
Punic Wars - Battle of Cannae 216 BC


History Student said...


Your blog looks interesting. I just started a history blog of my own and thought I'd look to see if there were any others on blogger. What are your credentials and could you get me more information on that history teachers magazine you mentioned in one of your entries. My blog is Musings of a History Student if you want to contact me. Thanks.

Miland said...


Thanks for your note. I hope you enjoy being a history blogger.

"What are your credentials?"

I have four degrees, three of them graduate. I have over 20 articles in print in peer reviewed publications.

"Could you get me more information on that history teachers magazine you mentioned in one of your entries?"

I have referenced several journals in this blog. Which one are you talking about? And what sort of information do you want?


History Student said...


I really don't remember which journal it was. I can recall it was one that was about different styles and methods of teaching history. I'm hoping to be a history teacher so I thought I'd see if I could get a hold of a copy to glance it over or to use for the future.


Just because I'm curious, what are your degrees in, of course you don't have to tell me that.

Miland said...

"Just because I'm curious, what are your degrees in, of course you don't have to tell me that."

Miland Brown is a pseudonym. I prefer to edit this blog with a degree of anonymity. A lot of people know my real identity at the university I work for in the USA and also in th History Carnival world.

My secret will be revealed eventually. I am not ashamed of any of my posts. I am not hiding anything.

I just like the fact that spammers and fringe history nuts can not harass me. As such, I wll not reveal all the info on my degrees as this will help to ID me to some people do not want to deal with until I have to. (There are drawbacks to having the #1 ranked history blog on the Internet...)

Rest assured, I have the four degrees I claim from real accredited institutions of higher education in the United States.

"I'm hoping to be a history teacher so I thought I'd see if I could get a hold of a copy to glance it over or to use for the future."

Contact the journal directly and ask for a free sample issue. Explain that you are a Canadian high school student interested in teaching history and they may give you a sample for free.

Good luck,

Miland Brown

History Student said...

Nevermind about the name, Im dumb, I found it.

Thomas said...


I have always been baffled by the numbers at Cannae.
Not until the early 19th century would armies in Europe reach such numbers. At Waterloo for example Napoleon had less than 80,000 men. By then the population of Europe as well as logistics would be much higher. As for losses, it hardly seems possible for Rome to have taken such casualties out of a total estimated population of some 300,000 at the time especially since the Romans had taken a beating at Trebia and lake Trasimene before Cannae. Moreover it has never been conclusively proven that 50,000 armed men could be slaughtered in one afternoon. I personnaly believe the numbers at Cannae (both of the participants and of the casualties) must have been much smaller.
Thoughts, anyone ?

K.e.n.n.e.t.h. said...


I am wondering if there is anything besides the writing of Polybius for the Battle of Cannae? I am having a one sided debate with someone who is claiming that since Polybius wrote about the battle many years later that there really isn't any evidence for it ever happening. Is there anything you can give me that will basically shut this guy up concerning this battle? I would gladly appreciate it.