Cannae: The Experience of Battle in the Second Punic War

Cannae: The Experience of Battle in the Second Punic War

Cannae: The Experience of Battle in the Second Punic War

Cannae: The Experience of Battle in the Second Punic War


On a hot and dusty summer's day in 216 BC, the forces of the Carthaginian general Hannibal faced the Roman army in a dramatic encounter at Cannae. Massively outnumbered, the Carthaginians nevertheless won an astonishing victory - one that left more than 50,000 men dead.Gregory Daly's enthralling study considers the reasons that led the two armies to the field of battle, and why each followed the course that they did when they got there. It explores in detail the composition of the armies, and the tactics and leadership methods of the opposing generals. Finally, by focusing on the experiences of those who fought, Daly gives an unparalleled portrait of the true horror and chaos of ancient warfare.This striking and vivid account is the fullest yet of the bloodiest battle in ancient history.


According to Cicero, when Hannibal was in exile in Ephesus, long after his victory over the Romans at Cannae and eventual defeat at Zama, he attended a talk given by a famous philosopher called Phormio, who apparently 'held forth for several hours upon the functions of a commander-in-chief and military matters in general'. After the speaker had finished, a delighted audience asked Hannibal what he thought of Phormio's ideas. He did not share their enthusiasm, and declared that time and again he had seen many old madmen but never one madder than Phormio' (Cicero, De Oratore 2.18.74-6).

This story may well be apocryphal, but it should certainly cause students of military history to pause for thought. Since the publication of John Keegan's The Face of Battle (1976), it has become almost commonplace to find books on warfare prefaced by suitably modest admissions of ignorance, with historians quietly admitting that since they themselves have never experienced battle, they ultimately cannot be certain of its nature. Such admissions are refreshingly and admirably honest, and if they are desirable when considering such recent battles as Waterloo and Edge Hill, they ought to be obligatory when attempting to discuss ancient warfare.

Humility is absolutely necessary when analysing the nature of battle in antiquity, since warfare has changed so much in the meantime. In fact, one might wonder whether modern military experience would help analyses of ancient battles. Paul Fussell has doubts about whether the battles of the First World War ought to be called battles at all, since they have no real resemblance even to the battles of a century earlier (Fussell, 2000, p. 9). It could equally be said that they have no real resemblance to more recent warfare. Veterans of the recent NATO bombing campaign against Serbia, carried out to protect the Kosovar Albanians, could hardly be said to have a specially pertinent insight into the events at the Somme in AD 1916 or at Cannae in 216 BC.

The Kosovo conflict looked and sounded like a war: jets took off, buildings were destroyed and people died. For the civilians and

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