The Punic Wars: The Roman Defeat
by: Q. Claudius Locatus Barbatus

Hannibal passed a lake, the Thrasymanian lake. The road they were following passed the shores, in the valley. Next to the road the hills began, covered with woods. When the Carthaginians were passing the lake, Hannibal ordered his men to climb the hills and to hide in the woods. The Romans were full a self-confidence, within two days they would meet their comrades, after defeating the Carthaginian army. The following morning when they were passing the lake, there was a thick fog. All of a sudden they heard screaming voices and felt rocks coming down on them. There was no possibility to flee. When the Carthaginian soldiers attacked the Romans were driven into the lake. The massacre was terrible. One legion (about 6000 men) managed to climb up the hill but surrendered entirely. Only 15 000 of the 40 000 Romans survived, and consul Flaminius was killed. On that time the spearhead of Servilius' army encountered the Carthaginian cavalry. Only 2000 of the 4000 Romans survived this encounter, the rest was captured.

The people of Rome were panicking. They were rumours of a defeat. What had happened? The praetor, Pomponius Matho, came to the forum and said just these words: "We have been defeated in a giant battle. One consul has fallen." The Romans did what had to be done, a dictator was appointed. Fabius Verrucosus, the man who went to Carthago in 218 BC, was the new authority in Rome. Fabius immediately asked the city to do an "effort" and to increase the number of Roman soldiers. The people were enthusiastic, and many joined the army. Fabius travelled with his army to the remaining soldiers of Servilius and dismissed the consul.

Fabius didn't engage Hannibal in battle. He kept following the Carthaginian army, but from a safe place, up in the hills. Even when the Carthaginians started ransacking villages and killing all men aged sixteen and up, the Romans didn't react. But the legions were growing, and the men were getting more determined. Hannibal regained contact with Carthago by sea. Finally Carthaginian ships were again able to travel to the Roman coast. Hannibal sold the captured soldiers as slaves, and got news from Spain. The Romans didn't seem to get through the plains at the Ebro because the Spanish were fiercely fighting against them. Hasdrubal was waiting in Carthageno for the Roman soldiers. Even more important news arrived: 70 battleships of the Carthaginians had destroyed Roman provision ships heading for Spain and even a Carthaginian force had landed in Pisa, but too late to find Hannibal there. Hannibal was trying to lure Fabius out of the mountains, but it didn't work. Instead, the Carthaginians were walking into a Roman trap.

Fabius, who knew the land, saw that the Carthaginians were heading towards a valley that was surrounded by high rocky hills (the Casinum valley). He immediately ordered his men to take positions up on the hills. When the Carthaginians entered it, the trap was closed by the Roman soldiers, closing off the passageway to the valley. Hannibal soon heard of his scouts what had happened. He ordered that the cattle (that was travelling with the army, serving as food) had to be released, but with wood around their horns. Once it was night, Hannibal ordered the soldiers to put fire on the wood around the horns. The animals got frightened and ran up one side of the hills. The Roman soldiers saw thousands of burning torches coming their way and came out of their positions, attacking the cattle. When Hannibal saw the Romans had left their positions, he made his way out through the hills. The Carthaginian army escaped without a single victim.

The senate was furious. They called Fabius back for a report. Fabius' deputy on the battlefield, Minucius Rufus, got orders certainly not to engage in battle with Hannibal. But on their way the Roman cavalry encountered a Carthaginian spearhead. A violent battle was the result. The Roman cavalry won the battle. Minucius was overjoyed, and sent reports of a won battle to Rome. He was called to Rome and appointed as co-dictator. The army was split in two parts. Minucius engaged Hannibal almost immediately. He had to be saved by his colleague Fabius. Hannibal retreated and waited.

Food was becoming scarce in Rome. The people started grumbling. One Gaius Ferentius Varro appeared and stated that the war wouldn't take long anymore with him as onsul. The people believed him and he was elected as a consul together with Aemilius Paulus. The Roman enthusiasm was coming back and the people joined the army in enormous numbers. Even one hundred senators joined the cavalry. The Roman army grew to an enormous amount: 85 000 soldiers.
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