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Appian's History of Rome: The Hannibalic War §§21-25


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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The battle of Cannae. Design Jona Lendering.
Cannae
[§21] [216] When all was in readiness on either side the commanders rode up and down the ranks encouraging their soldiers. The Romans were exhorted to remember their parents, wives, and children, and to wipe out the disgrace of former defeats. They were admonished that this battle was the last hope of safety. Hannibal reminded his men of their former exploits and their victories over these same enemies, and said that it would be shameful to be vanquished now by the vanquished.

When the trumpets sounded the foot-soldiers raised a shout and the archers, slingers, and light-armed troops advanced and began the battle. After them the legions took up the work. Now began a great slaughter and a great struggle, each side contending valiantly. Presently Hannibal gave the signal to his horse to surround the enemy's wings. The Roman horse, although inferior in number, advanced against them, and extending their line of battle to a dangerous thinness, nevertheless fought valiantly, especially those on the left toward the sea. Hannibal and Maharbal together now led against them the cavalry they had kept around their own persons, with loud barbarian shouts, thinking to terrify their enemies. Yet the Romans received the shock without flinching and without fear.

[§22] When Hannibal saw that his maneuver had failed, he gave the signal to his 500 Celtiberians. These passing out of their own line of battle went over to the Romans, holding out their shields, spears, and swords in the manner of deserters. [Gnaeus] Servilius [Geminus] commended them and at once took possession of their arms and stationed them in the rear, in their tunics alone as he supposed, for he did not think it best to put deserters in chains in the sight of the enemy, nor did he have any suspicion of men whom he saw with nothing but their tunics, nor was there time to take counsel in the thick of the fray.


Now some of the African cohorts made a pretense of flight toward the mountains, uttering loud cries. This was the signal to those concealed in the ravines to fall upon the pursuers. Straightway the light-armed troops and cavalry that had been placed in ambush showed themselves, and simultaneously a strong and blinding wind rose carrying dust into the eyes of the Romans, which prevented them from seeing their enemies. The impetus of the Roman missiles was lessened by the opposing wind, while that of the enemy's was increased and their aim made surer. The Romans, not being able to see and avoid the enemy's weapons nor to take good aim with their own, stumbled against each other and soon fell into disorder of various kinds.

[§23] At this juncture the 500 Celtiberians, seeing that the expected opportunity had come, drew their daggers from their bosoms and first slew those who were just in front of them, then, seizing the swords, shields, and spears of the dead, made a greater onslaught against the whole line, darting from one to another indiscriminately, and they accomplished all the greater slaughter inasmuch as they were in the rear of all. Now were the Romans in great and various trouble, assailed by the enemy in front, by ambuscades in flank, and butchered by foes amid their own ranks. They could not turn upon the latter on account of the pressure of the enemy in front and because it was not easy to distinguish these assailants, for they had possessed themselves of Roman shields. Most of all were they harassed by the dust, which prevented them from even guessing what was taking place.

But (as usually happens in cases of disorder and panic) they considered their condition worse than it was, the ambuscades more dreadful, and the 500 more numerous than 500. In short, they imagined that their whole army was surrounded by hostile cavalry and deserters. So they turned and broke into headlong flight, first those on the right wing where [consul Gaius Terentius] Varro himself led the retreat, and after them the left wing, whose commander, Servilius, however, went to the assistance of [Lucius] Aemilius [Paullus]. Around these the bravest of the horse and foot rallied, to the number of about 10,000.

[§24] The generals and all the others who had horses, although surrounded by Hannibal's cavalry, dismounted and fought on foot. They charged the enemy with fury and performed many brilliant exploits, the fruit of military experience, being nerved by the energy of despair. But they fell on all sides, and Hannibal, darting hither and thither, encouraged his soldiers, now exhorting them to make their victory complete, now rebuking and reproaching them because, after they had scattered the main body of the enemy, they could not overcome the small remainder.

As long as Aemilius and Servilius survived the Romans stood firm, although giving and receiving many wounds, but when their generals fell they forced their way through the midst of their enemies most bravely, and escaped in various directions. Some took refuge in the two camps where others had preceded them in flight. These were altogether about 15,000, whom Hannibal straightway besieged. Others, to the number of about 2,000, took refuge in Cannae, and these surrendered to Hannibal. A few escaped to Canusium. The remainder were dispersed in groups through the woods.

[§25] Such was the result of the battle between Hannibal and the Romans at Cannae, which was begun after the second hour of the day and ended within two hours of night-fall, and which is still famous among the Romans as a disaster, for in these few hours 50,000 of their soldiers were slain and a great many taken prisoners. Many senators who were present lost their lives and with them all the military tribunes and centurions, and their two best generals. The most worthless one, who was the cause of the calamity, had made good his escape at the beginning of the rout. The Romans, in their two years' war with Hannibal in Italy, had now lost, of their own and their allied forces, about 100,000 men.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Hannibalic war   :   part 6
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