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Appian's History of Rome: The Hannibalic War 6-10


Legionary standard (of XXX Ulpia Traiana reenactment group). Photo Jona Lendering.
Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165) is the author of a Roman History and one of the most underestimated of all Greek historians. Although only his books on the Roman Civil Wars survive in their entirety, large parts of other books have also come down to us. Although his account of the War against Hannibal contains not much information that can not be found in other sources (Polybius of Megalopolis and Livy), it is fortunately well-preserved and certainly accessible.

The translation was made by Horace White; footnotes and additions in green by Jona Lendering. 


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  [6] [218] These exploits, one after another, following his passage of the Alps, exalted Hannibal's fame among the Cisalpine Gauls as an invincible commander and one most highly favored by fortune. In order to increase the admiration of those barbarians, who were easily deceived, he frequently changed his clothes and his hair, using carefully prepared devices each time. When the Gauls saw him moving among their people now an old man, then a young man, and again a middle-aged man, and continually changing from one to the other, they were astonished and thought that he partook of the divine nature.

[Tiberius] Sempronius [Longus], the other consul, being then in Sicily and learning what had happened, embarked his forces, came to Scipio's aid, and encamped at a distance of seven kilometers from him. The following day they all made ready for battle. The river Trebia separated the hostile armies, which the Romans crossed before daylight on a raw, sleety morning of the winter solstice [December], wading in the water up to their breasts. Hannibal allowed his army to rest till the second hour and then marched out.

[7] The order of battle on each side was as follows. The Roman cavalry were posted on the wings in order to protect the infantry. [lacuna in the text] Hannibal ranged his elephants opposite the Roman horse and his foot-soldiers against the legions, and he ordered his own cavalry to remain quiet behind the elephants until he should give the signal.

When battle was joined the horses of the Romans, terrified by the sight and smell of the elephants, broke and fled. The foot-soldiers, although suffering much and weakened by cold, wet clothes, and want of sleep, nevertheless boldly attacked these beasts, wounded them, and cut the hamstrings of some, and were already pushing back the enemy's infantry. Hannibal, observing this, gave the signal to his horse to attack the Roman flank. The Roman horse having been just dispersed by fear of the elephants, the foot-soldiers were left without protection, and were now in difficulties. Fearing lest they should be surrounded, they everywhere broke in flight to their own camp. Many foot-soldiers were cut off by the enemy's horse and many perished in the swift stream, for the river was now swollen with melting snow so that they could not wade, on account of its depth, nor could they swim, on account of the weight of their armor. [Consul Publius Cornelius] Scipio, who followed trying to rally them, was wounded and almost killed, and was with difficulty rescued and carried to Cremona. There was a small arsenal near Placentia which Hannibal laid siege to, where he lost 400 men and was himself wounded. And now they all went into winter quarters, Scipio in Cremona and Placentia, and Hannibal on the Po.

[8] [217] When the Romans in the city learned of this third defeat on the Po (for they had in fact been beaten by the Boii before Hannibal arrived), they levied a new army of their own citizens which, with those already on the Po, amounted to thirteen legions, and they called for double that number from the allies. (At this time the legion consisted of 5,000 foot and 300 horse.)

Some of these they sent to Spain, some to Sardinia (for they were at war there also), and some to Sicily. The greater part were dispatched against Hannibal under Gnaeus Servilius [Geminus] and Gaius Flaminius, who had succeeded Scipio and Sempronius as consuls. Servilius hastened to the Po where he received the command from Scipio. The latter, having been chosen proconsul, sailed for Spain. Flaminius, with 30,000 foot and 3000 horse, guarded Italy within the Apennines, which alone can be properly called Italy.

(The Apennines extend from the center of the Alpine range to the sea. The country on the right-hand side of the Apennines is Italy proper. The other side, extending to the Adriatic, is now called Italy also, just as Etruria is now called Italy, but is inhabited by people of Greek descent, along the Adriatic shore, the remainder being occupied by Gauls, the same people who at an early period attacked and burned Rome. When Camillus drove them out and pursued them to the Apennines, it is my opinion that they crossed over these mountains and made a settlement near the Adriatic instead of their former abode. Hence this part of the country is still called Gallic Italy.)

[9] Thus had the Romans divided their large armies at this juncture for many campaigns. Hannibal, learning this fact, moved secretly in the early spring, devastated Etruria, and advanced toward Rome. The citizens became greatly alarmed as he drew near, for they had no force at hand fit for battle. Nevertheless, 8,000 of those who remained were brought together, over whom [Gaius] Centenius, one of the patricians, although a private citizen, was appointed commander, there being no regular officer present, and sent into Umbria to the Plestine marshes to occupy the narrow passages which offered the shortest way to Rome.

In the meantime Flaminius, who guarded the interior of Italy with 30,000 men, learning of the rapidity of Hannibal's movement, changed his position hastily, giving his army no chance to rest. Fearing for the safety of the city and being inexperienced in war (for he had been wafted into power on a popular breeze), he hastened to engage with Hannibal.
 


Battle of the Trasimene lake. Map design Jona Lendering.
Battle of the Trasimene Lake

[10] The latter, well aware of his rashness and inexperience, moved forward and took a position with a mountain and a lake [Trasimene lake] before him, concealing his light-armed troops and his cavalry in a ravine. Flaminius, seeing the enemy's camp in the early morning, delayed a little to let his men rest from their toilsome march and to fortify his camp, after which he led them straightway to battle, although they were still weary with night-watches and hard labor.

Caught between the mountain and the lake and the enemy (for the ambush suddenly appeared everywhere), he lost his own life, and 20,000 men were slain with him. The remaining 10,000 escaped to a village strongly fortified by nature.




Maharbal, Hannibal's lieutenant, who had himself acquired very great renown in war, not being able to take them easily and thinking it unwise to fight with desperate men, persuaded them to lay down their arms, agreeing that they should go free wherever they pleased. When they had complied with this agreement he brought them disarmed to Hannibal. The latter, denying that Maharbal had authority to make such an agreement without his consent, nevertheless treated the Roman allies with kindness and sent them home without ransom, in order to conciliate their towns. He kept all the Romans as prisoners. He gave the booty to the Gauls who were serving with him, in order to attach them to him by the hope of gain, and then marched forward.

When this news reached the consul Servilius on the Po, he marched to Etruria with 40,000 men. Centenius, with his 8000, had already occupied the narrow passage previously mentioned.






Appian   :   Roman History   :   Hannibalic war   :   part 3




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