Key to Umbria
 

Causes of the War


Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

First Punic War (264-41 BC) and its Aftermath

Rome had first engaged with the Carthaginians in 264 BC, in order to end their potentially threatening presence in Sicilia (Sicily).  According to John Lazenby (referenced below, at p. 19), this First Punic War, which lasted for 23 years:

  1. “... was the greatest naval war in ancient history, ... [from which] Rome emerged as the most powerful naval state in the Mediterranean ...”.  

The treaty that the Romans imposed on the Carthaginians was punitive: according to Polybius:

  1. “At the close of the war, ... [the Romans and Carthaginians] made another treaty, the clauses of which [include the following]: ‘The Carthaginians are to:

  2. evacuate the whole of Sicily and all the islands between Italy and Sicily ... ; and

  3. pay 2,200 talents within 10 years, and a sum of 1,ooo talents at once ....’”, (‘Histories’, 3: 27: 1-6)

Lazenby estimated that these payments amounted to over 80 tonnes of silver.

The Carthaginians consequently found themselves unable to pay the mercenaries who had served with their army during the war.  These mercenaries duly mutinied and marched on Carthage. and this precipitated a revolt (the so-called Mercenary War) that drew in a number of the Carthaginian’s erstwhile African allies.  As the Carthaginians finally began to regain control in 238 BC, the rebels on Sardinia offered the island to Rome.  Polybius recorded that, despite their treaty obligations:

  1. “The Romans, ... on the invitation of the mercenaries who had deserted to them from Sardinia, undertook an expedition to that island.  When the Carthaginians objected on the ground that the sovereignty of Sardinia was rather their own than Rome's, and began preparations for punishing those who were the cause of its revolt, the Romans made this the pretext of declaring war on them, alleging that the preparations were not against Sardinia, but against themselves.  The Carthaginians, who had barely escaped destruction in the last war, were in every respect ill-fitted at this moment to resume hostilities with Rome. Yielding therefore to circumstances, they not only gave up Sardinia, but also agreed to pay a further sum of1,200 talents to the Romans to avoid going to war for the present.”, (‘Histories’, 1: 88: 8-12)

According to Eve Macdonald (referenced below, at p. 59):

  1. “The Romans justified their actions by arguing that Sardinia lay in close proximity to the Italian coast, which meant that the island could be used for any future attack on Rome.  It seems that, in the Roman view, the hostilities between the two states were far from over.  To the Carthaginians, the Roman seizure of Sardinia was a great betrayal, a humiliation, and a cynical move at a time of great hardship.”

Polybius made no mention of Corsica, but there is evidence that the Romans considered it as a Carthaginian possession at this time: thus, according to Zonaras, during the war, the consul of 259 BC, Lucius Cornelius Scipio had:

  1. “... made a campaign against Sardinia and against Corsica.  These islands are situated in the Tyrrhenian sea and lie so near together that from a distance they seem to be one”, (‘Epitome of Cassius Dio’, 8:11).

Livy was explicit about the involvement of the Carthaginians in these engagements:

  1. “Consul Lucius Cornelius Scipio fought successfully in Sardinia and Corsica against the Sardinians, Corsicans and the Carthaginian commander Hanno”, (Periochae, 20). 

Since the Romans clearly laid claim to Corsica by 231 BC, when the Fasti Triumphales record that the consul Caius Papirius Maso celebrated a triumph over the Corsicans on the Alban Mount, scholars usually assume that this claim dated back to the settlement with Carthage of 238 BC. 

The Romans gained no immediatel benefit from the expulsion of the Carthaginians from Sardinia and Corsica: as Gareth Sampson (referenced below, at p. 25) observed:

  1. “... removing Carthage’s claims ... was one thing, but actually securing the territory was another. ... Carthage may have stepped aside without a fight , the Sicilians may have capitulated without much struggle, but the same cannot be said of the native inhabitants of Sardinia and Corsica, who were determined to resist any outside rule.”

As we shall see below, the Romans spent much of the 230s BC on the pacification of the Sardinians and the Corsicans, together with their Ligurian allies.  Meanwhile, the Carthaginians embarked upon another potentially threatening undertaking: the conquest of Hispania.

Carthaginian Expansion into Hispania

Hamilcar Barca

In 237 BC, at the end of the Mercenary War, Hamilcar Barca (who had apparently emerged from the wars in a strong political position) began to consolidate the Carthaginian presence in the southern part of the Iberian peninsular, with his base of operations at Gades (Cadiz).   Eve Macdonald (referenced below, at p. 63) observed that:

  1. “The [subsequent] Carthaginian conquest of Iberia and the creation of this new province set in motion a chain of events that culminated in the start of the Second Punic War and Hannibal’s invasion of Italy.”

Only a single fragment from Cassius Dio suggests that the Romans entertained any concerns about this development during Hamilcar’s lifetime:

  1. “On one occasion in the consulship of Marcus Pomponius and] Caius Papirius [231 BC, they] sent envoys to investigate the movements of Hamilcar, in spite of the fact that they had no interests in Hispania as yet.  Hamilcar showed them all due honour and offered them plausible explanations, declaring, among other things, that he was obliged to fight against the [tribes of Hispania] in order that the money that was still owed to the Romans might be paid; for it was impossible to obtain it from any other source.  The envoys were consequently embarrassed to know how to censure him”, (Fragment 48).

This reply would have been particularly resonant in 231 BC, when Carthage was due to complete the payment of the reparations owed to Rome.

Hasdrubal ‘the Fair’

When Hamilcar died in ca. 229 BC, his son-in-law and successor, Hasdrubal, continued this process of expansion, creating a new capital at Carthago Nova (New Carthage, modern Cartagena).  According to Polybius, in 226 BC:

  1. “Seeing [Hasdrubal] strengthening the Carthaginian influence in Hispania,  ... the Romans were anxious to interfere in the politics of that country. ... However, they did not immediately venture to impose conditions or make war [there] because they were in almost daily dread of an attack from the [tribes of Transalpine and Cisalpine Gaul].  They therefore decided to mollify Hasdrubal  ... and to leave themselves free to attack the [Gauls] first ...  Accordingly, they sent envoys to Hasdrubal and made a treaty with him, by which the Carthaginians ... engaged not to cross the river Iber in arms, while pushing on with the war with the [Gauls] in Italy”, (‘Histories’, 2: 13).

The ‘Iber’ is usually assumed to be the river now known as the Ebro, which is marked ‘Iber ?’ on the map at the top of the page. 

The Romans’ purpose in establishing it as the limit of the Carthaginian sphere of influence was presumably to deter them from participating in the expected Gallic War. 

Gallic War (225-2 AD)


Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

Prior Events

The Romans had completed the conquest of Etruria and Umbria in the early 3rd century BC, from which point their territory extended northwards as far as the Apennines.  Soon after, in 283 BC, they expelled a Gallic tribe known as the Senones from the territory between the mountains and the Adriatic, which became the Roman ager Gallicus.   This new northern border remained at peace for some 45 years, to the extent that, in 268 BC, the Romans had been able to found a Latin colony at Ariminum (Rimini) on land that was claimed by another Gallic tribe, the Boii.  Stephen Dyson (referenced below, at p. 27) characterised this as:

  1. “... a turning point in Romano-Gallic relations: previously, Rome and the largest Gallic tribes had had only indirect frontier contacts, but now the Romans had moved several thousand settlers into territory that the Gauls had considered as their own for [at least] a century.”

Nevertheless, for whatever reason, the border remained quiescent until 237 BC, when the Roman annexation of Sardinia and Corsica (discussed above) apparently destabilised the region:

  1. The Boii assembled a Gallic alliance that attacked Roman territory in 238 BC.  Fortunately, this alliance disintegrated after two years, and the Boii were obliged to sue for peace, at the cost of a large portion of their land.  It seems likely that the land in question provided a buffer zone around Arimunum.

  2. Resistance to the Romans on Sardinia and Corsica and in the territory of the Italic tribe known as the Ligurians (around modern Genoa) continued throughout the 230s.  The Fasti Triumphales record a series of triumphs:

  3. over the Ligurians in 236 and 233;

  4. over the Sardinians in 235, 234 and 233; and

  5. over the Corsicans in 231 (albeit that the Senate had not allowed this triumph to be celebrated in Rome itself, probably because of its cost in Roman lives, so the consul Caius Papirius Maso became the first Roman to celebrate a triumph under his own auspices on the Alban Mount).

  6. This series of campaigns presumably enhanced the security of the Tyrrhenian coast.

  7. In 232 BC, the Romans began a new programme of viritane settlement in the ager Gallicus, pursuant on an agrarian law sponsored by the tribune Caius Flaminius.  Thus, the isolation of Ariminum would have been reduced.

  8. In 229-8 BC, the Romans fought the First Illyrian War, after which they established a presence along the eastern coast of the Adriatic (in modern Montenegro). 

Thus, as Polybius observed in the quotation above, following the treaty that they agreed with Hasdrubal in 226 BC they were free to concentrate of the resurgent threat from the Gauls.

Gallic Invasion (225 BC)


Troop movements leading to the Battle of Telamon (225 BC)

Red= Roman; blue = Gauls

Adapted from the map in this webpage by Karwansaray Publishers 

In or shortly before 225 BC, the Insubres and the Boii (the two Gallic tribes settled closest to Rome) recruited a number of mercenaries from Transalpine Gaul in preparation for another invasion of Roman territory.  When the Romans became aware of this, one of the serving consuls, Lucius Aemilius Papus, was stationed at Ariminum: clearly, the Romans thought that the Gallic army would first attempt to invade the ager Gallicus

However, the Gauls marched into  Etruria across one of the passes west of Ariminum and reached Clusium (Chiusi) before the Roman force that was supposed to have defended against this contingency could catch up with them.  Aemilius managed to reach Clusium in time to avert defeat, and the Gauls fell back on the coastal centre of Telamon, with Aemilius in pursuit.  Meanwhile, Aemilius’ colleague, Caius Atilius Regulus, who had been campaigning in Sardinia, landed at Pisae (Pisa) and marched south along the coast to join the fray.  The Gauls were comprehensively defeated in this pincer movement, albeit that Atilius was killed in the battle.  Thus, the Fasti Triumphales record that Aemilius was awarded a triumph over the Gauls in 225 BC.  As Polybius observed:

  1. “Thus was the most formidable Gallic invasion repelled, which had been regarded by all Italians, and especially by the Romans, as a danger of the utmost gravity.  The victory inspired the Romans with a hope that they might be able to entirely expel the Gauls from the valley of the Padus [Po]”, (‘Histories’, 2: 31: 8).

Aftermath of the Invasion

In the following three years, the Romans seem to have concentrated on pressing home their advantage in Cisalpine Gaul:

  1. The consuls of 224 BC, Quintus Fulvius Flaccus and Titus Manlius Torquatus, secured the submission of the Boii.  According to Arthur Eckstein (referenced below, at p. 15):

  2. “Apparently, the consuls exacted an ... absolute surrender and demanded hostages as assurances for future good behaviour.  [It was probably at this point that the Boii were] forced to give the Romans certain territory in the northwest corner of their lands for the Latin colony of Placentia [Piacenza, see below].  ... Especially when one considers the leading role of the Boii in the invasion of 225 BC, ... this seems a moderate settlement ... : their freedom of action was somewhat hindered by Roman possession of Boian hostages, but the Boii were still left ... in possession of most of their land.”

  3. The consuls of 223 BC, Caius Flaminius (the author of the agrarian law discussed above) and Publius Furius Philus, then defeated the Insubres in the Po valley: the Fasti Triumphales record that both consuls were awarded triumphs:

  4. Flaminius against the Gauls; and

  5. Furius against both the Gauls and the Ligurians. 

  6. The Romans, however, remained intent on total submission, and the Insubrians’ request for peace was denied. 

  7. The consuls of 222 BC, Marcus Claudius Marcellus and Cnaeus Cornelius Scipio Calvus, pressed on to total victory.  The former secured an important victory at Clastidium (modern Casteggio, some 60 km south of Milan), during which he personally killed the leader of the opposing army.  According to Zonarus, he then rejoined Scipio and:

  8. “... they subdued Mediolanum [Milan] and another [unnamed] town.  After these had been captured, the rest of the Insubres also made terms with [the consuls], giving them money and a portion of their land”, (‘Epitome’, 8: 20).

  9. Arthur Eckstein (referenced below, at p. 15, note 46) suggested that it was at this point that the Romans acquired the land for the Latin colony of Cremona [see below].  He noted (at p. 18) that, more generally, this was a relatively modest settlement that left the Insubres in possession of most of their land.  Marcellus seems to have secured credit for the victory: thus, the Fasti Triumphales record his triumph over the Insubrian Gauls and the ‘Germans’, adding that he brought back the spolia opima after killing the enemy leader, Virdumarus, at Clastidium.

Thus, in 222 BC, it must have seemed to the Romans that the task of pacifying the Boii and Insubres was complete.

Hannibal in Hispania


Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

When Hadrubal was assassinated in 221 BC, he was replaced by the young Hannibal, the son of Hamilcar Barca, who had originally arrived in Hispania with his father in 237 BC, and who had continued to serve there under Hasdrubal. 

Hannibal significantly strengthened the Carthaginian position south of the Ebro in the campaigning season of 220 BC.   However, Polybius reported that, towards the end of the season, he:

  1. “... found himself in great peril, [when] the Carpetani, the strongest tribe in the district, gathered to attack him [with the support of a number of other Hispanic tribes.  ...  However, after he defeated this formidable army], none of the peoples [south] of the Ebro ventured lightly to face the Carthaginians, with the exception of the Saguntines.  Hannibal tried as far as he could to keep his hands off this city, wishing to give the Romans no avowed pretext for war, until he had secured his possession of all the rest of the country [south of the Ebro]”, (‘Histories, 3: 14: 2-9).

This suggests that Saguntum enjoyed the protection of Rome.  Livy  believed that one of the clauses of the treaty of 226 BC included the stipulation that:

  1. “... the Saguntines, situated between the empires of the [Carthaginians and the Romans], should be preserved in independence”, (‘Roman History’, 21: 2: 7).

However, since Saguntum was some way south of the Ebro and thus clearly in the agreed sphere of influence of Carthage, it seems unlikely that it had been singled out in this way in the treaty of 226 BC.  Nevertheless, it certainly had a close relationship with Rome by 220 BC: Polybius recorded that, as the other Hispanic tribes succumbed to Hannibal’s army, the Saguntines:

  1. “... sent repeated messages to Rome since: they were alarmed for their own safety and foresaw what was coming; and they wished to keep the Romans informed of the progress of the Carthaginians in Hispania”, (‘Histories, 3: 15: 1).

The Romans responded to the reports from Saguntum by sending legates to Hannibal.  Livy (‘Roman History’, 21: 6: 7) names them as Publius Valerius Flaccus and Quintus Baebius Tamphilus, although the chronology in his account can be safely discounted.  Polybius recorded that Hannibal found them waiting for him at Carthago Nova when he retired to his winter quarters there in late 220 BC.  According to Polybius:

  1. “The Romans [warned him] against attacking Saguntum, which they said was under their protection, or crossing the Ebro, contrary to the treaty engagements entered into in [226 BC].  Hannibal ... affected to be guarding the interests of the Saguntines, and accused the Romans of having, a short time previously (when they had been called in to arbitrate a factional quarrel at Saguntum) unjustly put to death some of the leading men [of the city].   ... [Hannibal nevertheless] sent to Carthage for instructions, since the Saguntines, relying on their alliance with Rome, were wronging some of the peoples subject to Carthage.  ... The Roman legates, seeing clearly that war was inevitable, took ship for Carthage to convey the same [warnings] to the Government there”, (Histories, 3: 15: 5-12).

Hannibal soon revealed his intention to ignore the warnings from Rome: Polybius reported that, at some time in 219 BC. he:

  1. “... left Carthago Nova with his army, advanced towards Saguntum ... [and] set himself to besiege it vigorously, foreseeing that many advantages would result from its capture:

  2. First of all, he thought that he would thus deprive the Romans of any prospect of a campaign in [Hispania].

  3. Secondly, he was convinced that, by this blow, he would inspire universal terror, and thus render the Iberian tribes that had already submitted more orderly, while those that were still independent [would become] more cautious.

  4. Above all, he would be enabled to advance safely [across the Ebro], with no enemy left in his rear. 

  5. Furthermore: he would then have abundant funds and supplies for his projected expedition; he would raise the spirit of his troops by the booty distributed among them; and he would conciliate the Carthaginians at home by the spoils that he would send them.  ...  At length, after eight months of hardship and anxiety, he took the [Saguntum] by storm”, (‘Histories’, 3: 17: 1-9).

John Lazenby (referenced below, at p. 29) reasonably suggested that:

  1. “Hannibal probably took Saguntum towards the end of 219 BC, and the new year would seen his victorious soldiers dispersed to winter quarters  ... He seems to have assumed that war with Rome was inevitable, and almost immediately to have begun to [prepare for] the daring plan that he had conceived: to lead an army overland to northern Italy, and to attack the Romans in their homeland.”

Roman Response to the Growing Threat from Hannibal


Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

Green line = Via Flaminia (220 BC), following the route described in imperial itineraries

Placentia and Cremona = Latin colonies founded in 218 BC

It seems that the Romans were not particularly perturbed by the messages that they had received from Saguntum during 220 BC: all we know about the activities of the consuls of that year, Lucius Veturius Philo and Quintus Lutatius Catullus, is that, according to Zonaras, they:

  1. “... went as far as the Alps and, without any fighting, won over many people” (‘Epitome of Cassius Dio, Book 12’, 8:20).

Livy’s Book 20, which covered this period, is lost, but the surviving summary (‘Periochae’ 20) records two interventions relating to the northern border at about this time:

  1. “Censor Caius Flaminius built the Via Flaminia ...”. 

  2. “Colonies were founded in the conquered Gallic territories at Placentia and Cremona”

These developments were probably linked:

  1. As discussed in my page on Via Flaminia, Flaminius probably served as censor in 220 BC, and his road provided a direct link from Rome to the Latin colony at Ariminum. 

  2. As discussed above, the land on which the new Latin colonies of Placentia and Cremona were founded had probably been confiscated from the tribes of the Boii and the Insubres in 224-2 BC.  The decision to found colonies here was probably taken in 220 or 219 BC, albeit that, as we shall see, the process of assigning land here was still underway in 218 BC.  Like Ariminum, these would have been settled by large numbers of colonists and also provided bases for roman operations in Cisalpine Gaul.

In short, the Romans were certainly intent upon consolidating their northern border at this time, but not with any great sense of urgency.

As we have seen, it was only in late 220 BC that the Romans sent a legation to warn Hannibal against invading Saguntum.  Polybius suggested that they were confident that this would deter Hannibal for a period, albeit that war was inevitable:

  1. “They never thought ... that the war would be in Italy, but assumed that they would fight in Spain, with Saguntum for a base.  Consequently, the Senate, adapting their measures to this supposition, decided to secure their position in Illyria [across the Adriatic], as they foresaw that the war [against Carthage] would be serious and long, and the scene of it far away from home”, (‘Histories, 3: 15: 13 - 16: 1).

In fact,

  1. Zonaras described two Roman campaigns in the northern Adriatic at about this time:

  2. “[Publius Cornelius Scipio Asina and Marcus Minucius Rufus, the consuls of 221 BC] made an expedition in the direction of [Istria] and subdued many of the nations there, some by war some by capitulation.  ...

  3. [When the consuls[of 219 BC, Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Marcus Livius Salinator], heard that Demetrius [of Pharos, the ruler of the Illyrian tribe known as the Ardiaei] ... was  ... abusing the friendship of the Romans in order to wrong [his neighbours] ... they made a campaign against him ... [He] made his escape to Pharos, [which the Romans then captured], though only after [he] had fled.  This time he reached [Philip V of] Macedonia  ... on returning to Illyria, he was arrested by the Romans and put to death” (‘Epitome of Cassius Dio, Book 12’, 8:20).

  4. These campaigns are separated in the surviving summary (‘Periochae’ 20) of Livy:

  5. “The Istrians were subdued.} 

  6. “The Illyrians revolted again, but were subdued. Their surrender was accepted. ”

However, Gareth Sampson (referenced below, at pp 195-8) suggested that Appian (‘Illyrian Wars’, 2: 8) might have been correct when he associated Demetrius of Pharos with both of these campaigns.  In other words, the Romans might well have fought a single campaign for control of the northern Adriatic that lasted for the whole period 221-219 BC, albeit that the consuls of 220 BC also devoted some time to securing allies on their northern border.  

With hindsight, the Roman decision to send two consuls against Demetrius of Pharos in 219 BC while doing nothing to punish  Hannibal when he ignored their ultimatum and besieged Saguntum, can be seen as a disastrous mistake.  It can be argued that Hannibal had not yet violated the treaty of 226 BC by crossing the Ebro: his only ‘offence’ had been to ignore an arguably high-handed Roman demand.  Perhaps the real mystery lies in the fact that, having done nothing to help Saguntum during the siege, the Romans  reacted as they did when they heard, probably just before the consuls of 218 BC took office, that Saguntum had fallen.  According to Livy:

  1. “So great was the senators’ alarm ... [that] they trembled rather than deliberated.   For they  ... [realised that they] would have to contend in war ... in Italy and under the walls of Rome”, (‘History of Rome’, 21: 16; 2-6).

Livy then described the preparations that were made for this war: the incoming consuls for 218 BC, Publius Cornelius Scipio (the father of Scipio Africanus) and Tiberius Sempronius Longus:

  1. “... were now commanded to draw lots for [their respective fields of operation]:

  2. Scipio obtained Spain; and

  3. Sempronius obtained Africa and Sicily.

  4. Six legions were voted for that year, with such allied contingents as the consuls themselves should approve and as large a fleet as could be got ready. ... The question was then laid before the people: whether it were their will and pleasure that war be declared against the people of Carthage.  When they voted in the affirmative, a supplication was held throughout the City and the gods were besought to grant a fair and prosperous outcome to the war which the Roman people had decreed.  The forces were divided between the consuls as follows:

  5. Sempronius received two legions, ... together with 160 warships and 12 swift cruisers.  With these forces, ... he was dispatched to Sicily, that he might cross by that way into Africa if [Scipio] was able to keep the Carthaginians out of Italy.

  6. Scipio was given fewer troops, since Lucius Manlius Vulso, the praetor, was also being sent into [Cisalpine] Gaul with a considerable army; and of ships, in particular, he received [only] 60 quinqueremes, for it seemed unlikely that the enemy would come by sea or use that kind of warfare. [Scipio] had two Roman legions with their proper complement of horse, and 14,000 infantry of the allies, with 1,600 horse.

  7. The province of [Cisalpine] Gaul received two Roman legions and 10,000 foot of the allies, with 1,000 allied and 600 Roman horse [commanded by Lucius Manlius].

  8. These troops were designed for the same service: the Punic War”, (‘History of Rome’, 21: 17).

However, these plans were not immediately acted upon: Livy noted that:

  1. “... in order that they might observe all the formalities before going to war, [the Romans] dispatched to [Carthage] an embassy consisting of certain older men:

  2. Quintus Fabius [more probably, Marcus Fabius Butteo, who was probably princeps senatus];

  3. Marcus Livius and Lucius Aemilius, [the out-going consuls of 219 BC];

  4. Caius Licinius [possibly Caius Licinius Varus, the consul of 236 BC]; and

  5. Quintus Baebius [possibly the Quintus Baebius Tamphilus whom Livy had identified as one of the legates that had been sent to Hannibal in the previous year];

  6. to demand of the Carthaginians whether Hannibal had attacked Saguntum with the sanction of the state.  If [so, they should] ... declare war on the Carthaginian people”, (‘History of Rome, 21: 18: 1-3).

The Carthaginians apparently refused to give a direct answer to this question, but argued instead that there was no case for war because:

  1. Saguntum had not featured in the treaty of 241 BC, and

  2. the treaty of 226 BC, (which Livy believed had protected the independence of Saguntum) had not been approved by the Carthaginian senate. 

This brought the discussion to an end:

  1. “Then, [Fabius], gathering up his toga into a fold, said: ‘We bring you here both war and peace; choose which you will!’  [The Carthaginians] cried out with no less truculence that he might give them whichever  he liked; and on his shaking out the fold again, and announcing that he gave them war, they all replied that they accepted [it readily] and were resolved to wage it in that same spirit”, (‘History of Rome, 21: 18: 13-4).

Thus, war was finally declared, probably in May/ June 218 BC, by which time Hannibal was probably already preparing towards the Ebro.  John Lazenby (referenced below, at p. 29) reasonably suggested that Hannibal had been preparing for his invasion of Italy since the fall of Saguntum towards the end of 219 BC, but that he probably did not set out on his long march until June 218 BC.

War in Cisalpine Gaul

Boian Revolt (218 BC)


Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

As noted above, the surviving summary of Livy’s lost Book 20 records that, in 220 or 219 BC:

  1. “Colonies were founded in the conquered Gallic territories at Placentia and Cremona”, (‘Periochae’  20).

If so, then the implementation of this decision had been neglected for some time: Livy reported that, in 218 BC:

  1. “... [although] nothing was known [in Italy] other than that Hannibal had crossed the Ebro (which was the news that envoys from Massilia brought to Rome), the Boii, after rousing up the Insubres, revolted, as though he had already crossed the Alps.  They were incited to do so, not so much by their old animosity against the Romans, but by their anger at the recent establishment of colonies in Gallic territory, near the Po, at Placentia and Cremona.  Flying to arms, they made an incursion into that very district, and spread such terror and confusion that, not only the rural population, but also the Roman commissioners themselves (who had come for the purpose of assigning lands), fled to Mutina [Modena] rather than trusting to the walls of Placentia”, (‘History of Rome’, 21: 25: 1-3).

Thus, we learn that the foundation of the new Latin colony at Placentia was still in progress, that the Romans had a garrison of some kind at nearby Mutina, and that the Boii was sufficiently heartened by the expected arrival of Hannibal and his army that they decided to abandon the hostages that they had given to Rome in 224 BC and had persuaded the Insubres to join them in revolt.  (As we shall see below, they kept three Roman officials as prisoners in the hope of exchanging them for the hostages of 224 BC.)

Livy recorded that:

  1. “When word arrived  ... [that] Mutina and its garrison were in danger, Lucius Manlius, the praetor, blazing with resentment, set out [from Ariminum] for Mutina with his army in loose marching order.   ...  he plunged into an ambush and, after sustaining heavy losses, managed with difficulty to get through into the open fields.  There he entrenched a camp and, since the Gauls lacked heart to assail it, the soldiers recovered their spirits, though ... 500 men had fallen.  [Manlius probably relieved Mutina at this point, although the surviving sources  do not specifically say so.]  Then they continued their march ... but, when they had once more got into the woods, the Gauls attacked their rear and, throwing the whole column into terror and confusion, killed 700 soldiers and carried off six ensigns.   [The survivors]  hastened to Tannetum, a village lying near the Po, where ... they defended themselves against the enemy, whose numbers were increasing daily”, (‘History of Rome’, 21: 25: 7-14).

An army that was preparing to leave Rome for Hispania was quickly despatched under the praetor Caius Atilius Serranus.  The rebels abandoned Tannetum on Atilius’ approach.  Thus, the revolt was ended for the moment, albeit that the precarious state of security on the northern border had been laid bare.

Roman Deployments (218 BC)

It seems likely that Sempronius set sail for Sicily soon after war was declared, in order to establish the base at Lilybaeum, on the western coast of the island, from which he would invade Carthage.  While there, he secured a quick success by capturing  Melita (Malta) from the Carthaginians  (‘History of Rome’, 21: 51; 1-2).

Scipio must have been delayed when one or both of his legion was/were diverted to Cisalpne Gaul.  According to Livy:

  1. “... after enrolling a new legion ..., he set out from Rome with 60 ships of war.  Coasting Etruria and the mountainous country of Liguria and the Salui, he arrived at Massilia, and went into camp at the nearest mouth of the Rhone, ... hardly believing, even then, that Hannibal could have crossed the Pyrenees.  But, when he found that Hannibal was actually planning how to cross the Rhone [at an upstream location], ... he sent out a chosen band of 300 cavalry, with Massiliot guides and Gallic auxiliaries, to make ...  a thorough reconnaissance [of enemy positions] from a safe distance”, (‘History of Rome’, 21: 26; 3-6).

Livy also recorded that, at about this time, Hannibal received:

  1. “... Boian envoys, with their chief Magalus.  These assured him that they would guide his march [across the Alps] and share its perils, and urged him to avoid a battle [with Scipio before leaving, in order] to keep his forces whole and unimpaired for the invasion of Italy”, (‘History of Rome’, 21: 26; 3-6).

Livy digressed at this point to describe Hannibal’s successful crossing of the Alps, before recording that:

  1. “... some three days after Hannibal had left the bank of the Rhone, [Scipio] marched in fighting order to the enemy's camp, intending to offer battle without delay.  But, finding it deserted and perceiving that he could not readily overtake the enemy ... , he returned to ... his ships, thinking that he would ... confront Hannibal as he descended from the Alps.  However, so that he might not leave Hispania stripped of Roman defenders, ... he  sent Gnaeus Scipio, his brother, with the main part of his troops, to deal with Hasdrubal [Hannibal’s brother] ... He himself, with extremely scanty forces, sailed back to Genua [Genoa], proposing to safeguard Italy with the army [that was already deployed] in Cisalpine Gaul]”, (‘History of Rome’, 21: 32; 1-5).

John Lazenby (referenced below, at p. 54) reasonably suggested that Scipio set sail (probably for Pisae (Pisa) rather than for Genua) in October 218 BC, and that the Senate recalled Sempronius to Ariminum at about the same time. 

Hannibal’s Invasion of Italy (218 -7 BC)


Asterisks mark the sites of the battles of Ticinus and Trebbia

Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

John Lazenby (referenced below, at p. 49) estimated that Hannibal arrived in the plain of northern Italy in about mid-November of 218 BC.  It is not clear whether he first arrived in the territory of the Insubres (Polybius, ‘Histories’, 56: 3) or of the Taurini (Livy,‘Roman History’, 21: 38: 5), whom Livy characterised as Ligurian.  Both sources agree that relations between these these two tribes were strained, and that this presented Hannibal with an opportunity: Polybius, for example, reported that he:

  1. “... first made overtures for [the] friendship and alliance [of the Taurini] but, on their rejecting these, he encamped round their chief city [probably near the later Augusta Taurinum, modern Turin] and reduced it in three days.  By massacring those who had been opposed to him, he struck such terror into the neighbouring tribes of barbarians that they all came in at once and submitted to him”, (‘Histories’, 3: 60: 8-10).

This is usually taken to mean that Hannibal’s action against the Taurini won him the support of the Insubres, among other nearby tribes.  However, again according to Polybius, although yet other tribes (presumably including the Boii, to the east):

  1. “... were impatient to join the Carthaginians,  ... the Roman legions [under Scipio] had advanced beyond most of them and cut them off, [so] they kept quiet, some even being compelled to serve with the Romans.  In view of this, Hannibal decided not to delay, but to advance and try [to do something that would] encourage those who wished to take part in his enterprise”, (‘Histories’, 3: 60: 11-12).

Battle of Ticinus and its Aftermath

Scipio crossed the Po, marched westwards along its northern bank and then crossed the Ticinus.  Thereafter, he confronted Hannibal’s army, which was marching along the Po towards him.  According to John Lazenby (referenced below, at p. 53):

  1. “... the engagement near the Ticinus was only a skirmish..., [but it] gave the Romans due warning that [Hannibal’s] superiority in cavalry could be very dangerous in the right conditions.”

Scipio was wounded in the encounter, but the Romans were able to retreat across the Po and on towards Placentia, taking the wounded Scipio with them.  Polybius then reported that:

  1. “... the Boii came to [Hannibal] and delivered up to him the three Roman officials [who had been] charged with the partition of their lands, whom they had captured a few months earlier at Placentia].   Hannibal welcomed their friendly advances and made a formal alliance with them ... However, he gave the three Romans back to them, advising them to [use] them to get their own hostages back, as had been their original design.  [Scipio] was much concerned at this act of treachery, and  ... in consequence, ... marched towards the river Trebbia and the hills in its neighbourhood, relying on the natural strength of the country and the loyalty of the neighbouring allies. ... [When Hannibal followed in his footsteps, Scipio crossed] the Trebbia, encamped on the first hills that he reached, fortified his camp... [and] awaited the arrival of [Sempronius]”, (‘Histories’, 3: 67:8- 68:6).

He added that:

  1. “Hannibal encamped at a distance of about forty stades [7 km] from the enemy.  The numerous Celtic population of the plain, enthusiastically taking up the cause of the Carthaginians, kept the camp furnished with abundance of provisions and were ready to take their part in any of Hannibal's operations or battles”, (‘Histories’, 3: 68: 7-8).

Thus the enemy camps were both south of Placentia,on opposite sides of the Trebbia.

Battle of Trebbia

John Lazenby (referenced below, at p. 55) estimated that Sempronius and his army would have reached Scipio in mid-December 218 BC or shortly thereafter.  It seems likely that, since Scipio was incapacitated, Sempronius found himself in command of two consular armies.  Polybius recorded that:

  1. “At about the same time, the [Roman garrison] of Clastidium was betrayed to Hannibal by a native of Brundisium, to whom the Romans had entrusted it, ... and all the stores of grain fell into his hands. ... After this, on observing that some of the Gauls who lived between the Trebbia and the Po had made alliance with himself but were nevertheless  negotiating with the Romans, ...  he dispatched [a raiding party] to ravage their country ... [so that] a large amount of booty secured.  {As a result.] the Gauls at once came into the Roman camp asking for help”, (‘Histories’, 3: 69: 1-7).

Polybius then recorded that Sempronius sent a detachment across the Trebbia, and that it surprised the raiders and relieved them of their booty, causing them to flee back to their camp.  Fortunately for them:

  1. “Those in command of the advanced posts [there] ...  sent out a covering force ... , [and] the Romans in their turn were put to flight and fell back on their camp. ... [Since Hannibal] he was not prepared for a general battle at this time,  ... he would not allow [his men] to advance and engage the enemy, calling them back [to the safety of the camp].  The Romans, after waiting for a short time, retired, after losing [only] a few of their own number while inflicting a larger loss on the Carthaginians”, (‘Histories’, 3: 69: 10-14).

Any elation in the Roman camp was short-lived: soon after, Hannibal sent his cavalry across the Trebbia to trick the unprepared Romans to engage.  According to Polybius, since Scipio was incapacitated, Sempronius led his whole army out of the camp, which:

  1. “... numbered about 16,000 Romans and 20,000 allies”, (‘Histories’, 3: 72: 11-12).

They followed Hannibal’s cavalry across the icy cold river and into an ambush: Hannibal’s cavalry peeled off, his main force confronted them, while a detachment under his brother Mago appeared at their rear (an engagement described in detail by Polybius, ‘Histories’, 3: 72-6).  The result was a rout: although the sources are confusing, it seems likely that the bulk of both consular armies was lost.  The survivors, which included Sempronius, fell back on Placentia, while, according to Livy:

  1. “... Scipio led his army ... to Cremona, so that that one town might not be overburdened with furnishing winter quarters for two armies”, (‘History of Rome’, 21: 56: 9).

Thus the Romans’ hard-won control of the Po valley had proved to be illusory, and the threat of a Carthaginian invasion of Rome itself was very real indeed.

War in Etruria, Umbria and Picenum (217 BC)

Battle of Lake Trasimene  (217 BC)


Red= Hannibal’s likely route from Cisalpine Gaul to Lake Trasimene

Blue = Flaminius’ likely route from Arretium to Lake Trasimene

Green = Via Flaminia, from Ariminum to Forum Flaminii, according to itineraries from the imperial period

Brown = - alternative route from Ariminum to Forum Flaminii (see below)

Asterisk = likely site of the Battle of Lake Trasimene

Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

Caius Flaminius (who had commissioned Via Flaminia) and Cnaeus Servilius Geminus, as consuls elected for 217 BC, began to recruit new legions and to establish bases from which to defend Hannibal’s likely routes towards Rome once the weather improved.  Like the Gauls in 225 BC, he had essentially two possible routes across the Apennines:

  1. through the pass that led to Etruria (as in 225 BC); or

  2. via Ariminum, which was now served by Via Flaminia. 

Thus, Polybius recorded that:

  1. “...in the early spring, Caius Flaminius with his army advanced through Etruria and encamped before Arretium [modern Arezzo, in Etruria], while Cnaeus Servilius advanced as far as Ariminum to watch for the invasion of the enemy from that side”, (‘Histories’, 3: 77: 1-2)

According to Livy, Flaminius reached Arretium by a circuitous route.  The Senate ordered him to take charge of the army at Placentia after his ritual inauguration, which would have been expected to take place in March.  However, he defied tradition by leaving Rome without observing these rites.  Furthermore, did he did not go the Placentia: instead, he:

  1. “... [stole] away furtively without his insignia of office, and without his lictors ... and had quitted his native soil to go into exile.  He [apparently thought it] more consonant with the greatness of his office to enter upon it at Ariminum rather than in Rome, and to put on his official dress in some wayside inn, rather than at his own hearth and in the presence of his own household gods. ... [When this extraordinary inauguration was complete,] Flaminius took over the two legions [that he had sent for from Placentia] ...  and commenced his march to Etruria through the passes of the Apennines”, (‘History of Rome’, 21: 63: 9-14).  

Rachel Feig Vishnia (reference below, 2012, at p. 43) reasonably asserted that:

  1. “The allegation that Flaminius left [Rome] for his province before officially assuming office and [that he] neglected his religious duties is exaggerated. ... After two embarrassing defeats in the Po valley, and in view of Hannibal's imminent invasion, time was running short.  Accordingly, ... it is not implausible that Flaminius, who knew the prospective battle zone well, left [immediately for the front, while Servilius stayed in Rome] to perform all the religious ceremonies.  [Flaminius] went to Ariminum first ... where he checked on the preparedness of the colony and received the legions [sent to him from Placentia].  After assuming office [there], he then left for Arretium, where he arrived in early or mid April [217 BC].”

Rachel Feig Vishnia is surely correct in her assessment of Flaminius’ actions on taking office.  However, it is difficult to resist the feeling that his trip to Ariminum along his new road, now consul for the second time and the prospective saviour of Rome, also had a sadly-misplaced air of self-congratulation about it. 

Strabo described Hannibal’s assessment of his options as follows:

  1. “... [Lake Trasimene] is near Arretium and the pass by which an army may debouch into [Etruria from Cisalpine Gaul], which is the very pass that Hannibal used; there are two, however, this one and the one towards Ariminum through [Umbria].  Now, the one towards Ariminum is better, since the mountains become considerably lower there; and yet, since the defiles on this pass were carefully guarded, Hannibal was forced to choose the more difficult pass.  [Both Polybius and Livy describe this more difficult pass as running through the marshes of the Arno Valley]. But, for all that, he got control of it, after having conquered Flaminius in great battles”, (‘Geography’, 5: 2: 9). 

It seems that Roman intelligence failed spectacularly, and that Hannibal had passed Arretium before Flaminius even realised what was happening.  Flaminius belatedly marched after him, but Hannibal ambushed him on the shores of Lake Trasimene.  Within a matter of a few hours, Flaminius and most of his army were dead. 

Defeat of Caius Centenius (217 BC)


Black = Hannibal’s likely route before and after Lake Trasimene

Green = Centenius’ likely route from Ariminum to Plestia

Red = Via Flaminia, according to itineraries from the imperial period

Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

Another disaster followed in the wake of the catastrophe at Trasimene: according to Polybius:

  1. “About the same time as this battle, the consul Cnaeus Servilius, who had been stationed on duty at Ariminium, ... having heard that Hannibal had entered Etruria and was encamped near Flaminius, planned to join the latter with his whole army.  But, finding himself hampered by the difficulty of transporting so heavy a force, he sent Caius Centenius forward in haste with 4,000 horse [as an advance party].  But Hannibal, getting early intelligence after the battle of Trasimene of this [attempted] reinforcement of the enemy, sent Maharbal with his lightly-armed troops and a detachment of cavalry.  Maharbal ... killed nearly half [of Centenius’] men at the first encounter; and, having pursued the remainder to a certain hill, took them all prisoner on the following day.  The news of the battle of [Trasimene] was only three days' old at Rome, and the sorrow caused by it was, so to speak, at its hottest, when this further disaster was announced” (‘Histories’, 3: 86).

Livy gave a similar account of this second disaster:

  1. “[Soon after the defeat at Trasimene] ...  another disaster was reported [at Rome], for which they were quite unprepared.  4,000 horse under the propraetor Gaius Centenius had been sent by the Consul Servilius to join his colleague; but on hearing of the battle at Trasimene,  they had turned aside into Umbria  and had there fallen into the hands of Hannibal”, (‘History of Rome’, 22:8).

There are small but important differences between these two accounts:

  1. Unlike Polybius, Livy did not record the place from which Servilius had sent Centenius. 

  2. Polybius did not record the location of Centenius’ defeat.  However, Livy  recorded that, when Centenius learned of Flaminius’ defeat, he headed for Umbria was defeated there.

  3. Polybius had Centenius defeated by Maharbal, while Livy had him defeated by Hannibal himself.

Appian was more specific (although not necessarily more accurate) about Centenius’ movements at this time: according to this account, when Hannibal (in Cisalpine Gaul) became aware of Flaminius’ position at Arretium, he:

  1. “ ... moved secretly [across the Apennines], devastated Etruria and advanced toward Rome.  The citizens [there] 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 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 that offered the shortest way to Rome”, (‘War against Hannibal’, 9).

Thus, according to this account, as soon as it was clear that Hannibal had by-passed Flaminius’ camp at Arretium, the Romans sent out Centenius at the head of his 8,000 recruits.  Even if this had been the case, it is difficult to see why they would have been sent to occupy the Apennine pass at Plestia, which was certainly not on Hannibal’s shortest route from Etruria to Rome.

  1. William Smith (see this extract of his ‘Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology), reasonably suggested that Appian here confused Caius Centenius with the centurian Marcus Centenius Paenula, to whom, according to Livy (‘History of Rome’, 25: 19: 9), 8,000 men were given by the Senate in order that he might block Hannibal’s march on Rome from Campania in 212 BC. 

  2. Ronald Syme (as above) was of the opinion that, while Appian was:

  3. “... prone to all manner of error and confusion, he need not be accused of ‘inventing’ the [otherwise undocumented] lake of Plestia.  The very oddity of the detail inspires a certain confidence.  How the story came to include the lake baffles conjecture.  Perhaps Centenius had marched [from Ariminum] not by the Flaminia [shown in red in the map below], but by the Camerinum road [to Plestia].”

Thus, we might reasonably assume, following Polybius, that Servilius sent Centenius ahead from Ariminum, and that it initially took up at a position in the Plestine marshes.


Hypothetical location of the Lacus Umberand and Lacus Plestinus (my suggestion)

Via Flaminia  assumes both Umbrian branches existed and that the

road crossed the Apennines via the Gola del Furlo (to the north of Nuceria)

Adapted from R. Colacicchi and R. Bizzarri (referenced below, at p. 112, Figure 5

My additions: Plestia and the lacus Plestinus; and  the likely routes of Hannibal (red) and Centenius (green)


Excavations at Plestia (on the shores of the ancient lacus Plestinus), with Monte Orve on the horizon

(The site was probably first urbanised in the Augustan period)

After his account of Flaminius’ defeat at Trasimene, Appian continued:

  1. “Centenius, with his 8000 men, had already occupied the narrow passage [at Plestia] previously mentioned.  When Hannibal saw the Plestine marsh and the mountain overhanging it, with Centenius between them guarding the passage, he ... sent a body of lightly armed troops under the command of Maharbal to explore the district and to pass around the mountain by night.  When he judged that [these troops] had reached their destination, he attacked Centenius in front.  ... The Romans, thus surrounded, took to flight, and there was a great slaughter among them: 3,000 being killed and 800 taken prisoners, while the remainder escaped only with difficulty” (‘War against Hannibal’, 10-11).

There is much scholarly debate about the likely location of this engagement is still a matter for scholarly debate: for example:

  1. Nereo Alfieri (referenced below, a paper that I have not been able to consult directly) argued that the Lacus Plestinus should be retained as the location of the battle.  As is shown in the illustrations above, the local topography is consistent with Appian’s description. 

  2. However, according to Ronald Syme (referenced below, at p. 285):

  3. “... it seems unlikely that [Centenius’ defeat] occurred precisely at the lake of Plestia: the time interval for:

  4. Maharbal to get from Trasimene [after the defeat of Flaminius] to Plestia; and

  5. for the news [of Cenenius’ defeat there] to be carried to Rome;

  6. will not fit Polybius’ indication [that only three days separated the arrival of the news of these respective defeats at Rome].  Most scholars therefore discount Plestia and put the disaster of Centenius further westwards, in the direction of Perusia.” 

  7. Guy Bradley (referenced below, at p. 148) pointed out that some scholars think that Appian had confused the Lacus Plestinus with the Lacus Umber (albeit that Bradley himself was unconvinced).  

In order to pursue these hypotheses further, we need to examine Hannibal’s route after his victories over Flaminius and Centenius.   Both Polybius and Livy have him marching into Umbria, and there is circumstantial evidence that did so by following the northern shore of the lacus Umber, below Monte Subasio:

  1. Paul Fontaine (referenced below, at p. 39) described  a Roman road that linked Perusia to Asisium and Hispellum, from which point he could easily have reached either Picenum (via the Apennine pass at Plestia) or Spoletium; and 

  2. Guy Bradley (referenced below, at p. 167) observed that the new circuit of walls  at Asisium, which has been dated roughly to the middle of the 3rd century BC:

  3. “... followed a course determined in places by defensive considerations rather than by the extent of habitable space.  The scale of the wall and the antiquity of its conception has a great significance for this allied town.  The immediate motive for the construction of the fortification may have been the renewed sense of danger emphasised by the invasion of Hannibal, who probably passed near Asisium after the battle of Trasimene.”

Assuming that this was the case, then either hypothesis might stand;

  1. Centenius might have advanced to meet Hannibal (perhaps assuming that Servilius was pursuing Hannibal from the opposite direction).  If so, then he might have been defeated under Asisium or Hispellum. 

  2. Alternatively, he might have remained at Plestia and been defeated there.

Attack on Spoletium ? (217 BC)


Detail of the map above

Red asterisks indicate the possibly sites of the defeat of Centenius

Adapted from the Digital Atlas of the Roman Empire

Thus, we need to consider Hannibal’s movements after he had defeated Centenius.  Again, the sources differ:

  1. According to Polybius:

  2. “Feeling now entirely confident of success, Hannibal rejected the idea of approaching Rome for the present.  [Instead, he] traversed the country plundering it without resistance, and directing his march towards the coast of the Adriatic.  Having passed through Umbria and Picenum, he came upon the coast after a 10 days' march ... Though Hannibal shifted his quarters from time to time  ... , he remained in the neighbourhood of the Adriatic; and by bathing his horses with old wine, of which he had a great store, cured them of the scab and got them into condition again. By a similar treatment he cured his men of their wounds, and got the others into a sound state of health and spirits for the service before them.  After traversing with fire and sword the territories of [Interamnia Praetuttiorum and Hadria, he continued south]” (‘Histories’, 3: 86-8).

  3. The most obvious route would have taken him across the Apennines at Plestia   to Camerinum (Camerino) and along the syncline valley towards Sentinum: a series of passes along the river valleys here would have taken him to the coast.

  4. However, Livy suggested a less direct route:

  5. “Hannibal, marching directly through Umbria, arrived at Spoletum ... and commenced an assault upon the city: having been repulsed with great loss,[he decided against an immediate attempt on Rome.  Instead, he] turned aside into the territory of Picenum ... There he continued encamped for several day ... When sufficient time for rest had been granted for [his] soldiers (who delighted more in plunder and devastation than ease and repose, [he turned south and laid] waste the territories of  [Interamnia Praetuttiorum] and Hadria”, (‘History of Rome’, 22:9: 1-5).

John Lazenby (referenced below, at p. 66) observed that:

  1. “Although there is no direct conflict [between these two accounts] ..., a march from Lake Trasimene to the Adriatic via Spoletium [as reported by Livy] is well nigh impossible to reconcile with Polybius’ statement that Hannibal reached the sea [only 10 days after his defeat of Centenius] ...”

Again, scholars are divided about how to reconcile these accounts.  For example:

  1. John Lazenby (as above) followed Polybius’ in assuming that Hannibal marched directly to the coast, although he conceded that he might  have sent a raiding party to Spoletium. 

  2. Guy Bradley (referenced below, at p. 130) pointed out that Polybius gave no indication of Hannibal’s route across Umbria: it could have included:

  3. “”... rapid thrust towards Spoletium .... , [which] is particularly plausible if a detachment was sent from the main body of the army.  ... [In any case,] Polybius could be taken as referring to ten days from the [failed] siege of Spoletium ... [for Hannibal’s army to reach the Adriatic coast]”.

  4. Simone Sisani (referenced below, at p. 58) suggested that:

  5. “Following Polybius, Hannibal did not intervene in person [in the engagement with Centenius], but sent Mahrabal with a small, fast-moving force of spearmen and cavalry.  The intent of this move can only have been to allow the main army to march south.  It is at this point that we must place [Hannibal’s] attack on Spoletium ...” (my translation).

  6. He argued (at p. 125) that Via Flaminia passed through Spoletium at this time, which placed it on the most convenient route for a rapid attack on Rome. (See my page on Via Flaminia for a discussion of the dates of the two branches of the road in Umbria.  In short, I agree with Sisani that:

  7. “... it is hard to believe that [Spoletium] remained unconnected to Rome for very long [after its foundation in 241 BC], and that Flaminius had not directed his road in such a way as to bring this stronghold ... under his control” (my translation).

  8. He continued (at p. 58)) that Hannibal’s :

  9. “ ... failure [to take Spoletium] and his need for further supplies forced him to fall back towards the Adriatic, perhaps crossing the Apennines by the pass at Plestia that Mahrabal had liberated” (my translation).

  10. This implies that he retraced his steps along Via Flaminia.

I have to say that I doubt that Livy or his source invented the siege of Spoletium.  It is also, in my view, unlikely that Hannibal sent only a small detachment to effect this difficult undertaking.  I therefore think that Hannibal and Mahrabal temporarily parted company at Forum Flaminii:

  1. Mahrabal marched on Centenius’ camp at Plestia; while

  2. Hannibal marched along Via Flaminia to Spoletium.

However, I doubt that, having failed to take Spoletium, Hannibal returned along Via Flaminia: as Luca Donnini and Valerio Chiaraluce (referenced below, at p. 29) pointed out:

  1. “The systemisation of the direct route between Spoletium and Plestia [Via della Spina] probably  dates back to the period immediately following the deduction of the Latin colony [at Spoeltium].  In all likelihood, it had a certain importance from the military point of view for the movement of troops between the Rome and the recently conquered territories of the Agro Piceno Gallico.  In the following decades this function was taken over by the Flaminia ...” (my translation).

In other words, once Mahrabal had cleared the pass at Plestia, Hannibal would have been able to fall back along Via della Spina, thereby avoiding Servilius’ army, which might well have been using this branch of Via Flaminia as it returned from Ariminum to Rome (see below).

Rome Response (217-6 BC)

As noted above, Polybius had reported that:

“ ... having heard that Hannibal had entered Etruria and was encamped near Flaminius, [the other consul, Cnaeus Servilius Geminus, who was based at Ariminum ]planned to join the latter with his whole army.  But, finding himself hampered by the difficulty of transporting so heavy a force, he sent Caius Centenius  [ahead] ...” (‘Histories’, 3: 86).

However, Livy gave a different account of Servilius’ actions:

  1. “Cnaeus Servilius, the consul, had engaged in skirmishes with the Gauls and had taken one insignificant town by assault, when he learned of the destruction of [Flaminius] and his army, and being now alarmed for the safety of the capital, lest he should be absent in the very crisis of its peril, set out for Rome”, (‘History of Rome’, 22: 9: 6).

It seems odd that, with Hannibal in winter quarters in Cisalpine Gaul, Servilius had allowed himself to be distracted by ‘skirmishes with the Gauls’, by which Livy presumably meant the Boii.  However, a later passage by Livy suggests that they held prisoner one of his relatives: the passage in question records that the father of Caius Servilius Geminus, a plebeian aedile in 209 BC:

  1. “ ... of whom it had been believed for9 years that he was slain by the Boii near Mutina as one of the three land-commissioners [at Placentia], was in fact alive ... and [still] in the hands of the enemy”, (‘History of Rome’, 27: 21: 10).

Livy also recorded that, as consul in 203 BC, the younger Caius:

  1. “... had rescued his father, Caius Servilius ,and also Caius Lutatius, after 16 years of servitude, the result of their capture by the Boii at Tannetum”, (‘History of Rome’, 30: 19: 7).

Arthur Eckstein (referenced below, at p. 32) suggested that the imprisoned Caius Servilius Geminus was:

  1. “... a close relative (either a brother or a cousin) of Cnaeus, the consul of 217 BC,... [who therefore] had a personal motive for pursuing an active defence at Ariminum, at least as far as the Boii were concerned.”

Thus, we might reasonably assume that, as he headed for Rome in the wake of the disaster at Trasimene, he was very unsure of how he would be received.

In fact, the Romans acted in his absence: according to Livy, when the news of Centenius’ defeat reached Rome, hot on the heels of the news from Trasimene:

  1. “... the citizens had recourse to a remedy that had been neither employed nor needed for a long time: the creation of a dictator.  And, because:

  2. the [surviving consul, Servilius], who alone possessed the power to nominate one, was [still] absent; and

  3. Italy was beset [by Carthaginian] arms, so that it was no easy matter to get a courier or a letter through to him;

  4. they did what had never been done until that day, and created a dictator by popular election.  Their choice fell on Quintus Fabius Maximus, and they made Marcus Minucius Rufus master of the horse.  To them, the Senate entrusted the task of strengthening the walls and towers of Rome, of disposing its defences as to them seemed good, and  of breaking down the bridges over the rivers: they would have to fight for their city and their homes, since they had not been able to save Italy”, (‘History of Rome’, 22: 8: 5-7).

Fabius went out to meet Servilius in order to assume overall command: he left Rome:

  1. “... by the Flaminian way ... and when, close to the Tiber near Ocriculum (Otricoli), he first ... saw [Servilius] riding towards him at the head of his cavalry, he... [summoned him] to appear before him without lictors.  [Servilius] obeyed ...”,  (‘History of Rome’, 22: 11: 5-6).

Fabius then caught up with Hannibal at Arpi in Apulia, which he had reached by marching along the coastal plain.  Fabius refused to engage in battle, but doggedly followed Hannibal across Samnium and into Campania.  Fabio established a base on Monte Massico, from which he could defend the routes to Rome along either Via Appia or Via Latina.  If Hannibal expected to secure allies in Campania he was disappointed.  Furthermore,  Fabius almost managed to block Hannibal’s escape route as winter approach.   However, Hannibal managed to escape through the pass beside Mount Callicula  and return to Apulia, where he seized the town of Geronium for use as his winter quarters. 

Battle of Cannae (216 BC)

The six-month dictatorship of Fabius ended in December 217 BC, at which point Servilius resumed military command, with a new colleague, Marcus Atilius Regulus.  In March 216 BC, the new consuls, Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Caius Terentius Varro, began the task of assembling a huge army that would, it was hoped,  drive Hannibal from Italy.  They marched into Apulia in the summer, at about the same time that Hannibal marched some 95 km to the south and captured the Roman the supply depot at the small town of Cannae. This was to be the scene of the greatest defeat in Roman history.  John Lazenby (referenced below, at p. 86) argued that, despite this success, Hannibal was not in a position to march on Rome.

  1. “Thus, for Hannibal, Cannae must have seemed. not so much the end of the war, ... as the beginning of the end: the vindication of his ... original strategy [of winning allies from among the cities of Italy] was precisely that so much of southern Italy now began to come over to him.”

War in Southern Italy (215-201 BC)

[In construction]



War in Northern Italy (215-201 BC)

Ambush of Postumius Albinus at Mutina (215 BC)

Stephen Dyson (referenced below, at p. 14) observed that, after these stunning victories, Hannibal:

  1. “... marched south, leaving the Romans an uneasy peace in the ager Gallicus [and the Po valley].  This shaky truce was shattered by [Hannibal’s victory] at Cannae [in Apulia in southern Italy, in 216 BC].  In 215 BC, the consul designate, Lucius Postumius Albinus, was ambushed [by the Boii] and slain at Mutina and his army was largely destroyed.”

Livy recorded that:

  1. “The Boii stripped the [consul’s] body of its spoils, cut off the head, and bore them in triumph to the most sacred of their temples.  According to their custom, they cleaned out the skull and covered the scalp with beaten gold; it was then used as a vessel for libations  ...The plunder [that] the Gauls secured was as great as their victory ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 23: 24: 6-13).

As Stephen Dyson observed (at p. 14):

  1. “The Romans, their resources strained by recent disasters, were [manifestly] unable to respond to this defeat.  The level of [their] control in the area during this crucial phase of the Second Punic War must have been minimal.”

Hasdrubal’s Invasion (207 BC)

By 208 BC, Hannibal’s Italian campaign was running out of steam, and he was essentially confined to Bruttium and Lucania in southernmost Italy.  However, his fortunes temporarily improved in that year, when both consuls, Marcus Claudius Marcellus and  Titus Quinctius Crispinus, were killed in a Carthaginian ambush near the Roman colony of Venusia.  Furthermore, the Romans became aware that Hannibal’s brother, Hasdural, was planning to invade Italy and come to his aid.  Thus, according to Livy:

  1. “Inasmuch as a very dangerous year seemed impending, and the state had no consuls, everyone turned to the consuls-elect [Caius Claudius Nero and Marcus Livius Salinator] and wished that they should cast lots for their provinces as soon as possible ... The provinces assigned to them were not locally indistinguishable, as in the preceding years, but separated by the whole length of Italy:

  2. to [Claudius Nero] was assigned the land of the Bruttii and Lucania facing Hannibal; and

  3. to [Livius Salinator, Cisalpine] Gaul, facing Hasdrubal, who was reported to be already nearing the Alps”, (‘History of Rome’, 27: 35: 5-10).

Livy continued that:

  1. “All the senators were ... of the opinion that the consuls must take the field at the earliest possible moment, for they felt that:

  2. Hasdrubal must be met as he came down from the Alps, to prevent his stirring up the Cisalpine Gauls or Etruria, [areas that were] already aroused to the hope of rebellion; while

  3. Hannibal must be kept busy with a war of his own, so that he might not be able to leave the country of the Bruttii and go to meet his brother.  

  4. Nevertheless Livius was hesitating, having small confidence in the armies of his provinces ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 27: 38: 6-8). 

However, Hasdrubal’s unexpectedly early arrival spurred everyone into action:

  1. “At Rome, the confusion was increased by the receipt of a letter from Gaul written by Lucius Porcius, the praetor, reporting that Hasdrubal had left his winter quarters and was already crossing the Alps; that 8,000 Ligurians, enrolled and armed, would join him after he had crossed into Italy ... This letter constrained the consuls to complete the levy in haste and to leave for their provinces earlier than they had planned, with this intention: that each of them should keep [one of the] enemy in his province, and not allow them to come together and combine their armies ...”, (‘History of Rome’, 27: 39: 1-83).

Hasdrubal duly arrived in the Po valley and attempted the siege of Placentia, from where he sent letters to Hannibal proposing that they should meet in Umbria.  This might have been a diversionary action: the letters were intercepted, as perhaps was the intention, and Hasdrubal did not cross the Apennines but headed directly for the Adriatic.  Livy recorded that:

  1. “[Livius Salinator’s] camp was near Sena [Gallica], and about 500 paces away was Hasdrubal”, (‘History of Rome’, 27: 46: 4).

Claudius Nero secretly led a detachment of men on a forced march of some 250 miles, in order to reinforce Livius’ army at Sena Gallica.  However, Hasdrubal saw through this ruse and decided to withdraw under cover of darkness.  According to Livy:

  1. “In the excitement and confusion of the night the [local and potentially disloyal] guides were not closely watched [by Hasdribal’s men]: one of them [hid], while the other swam across the river Metaurus ... So the [Carthaginian] column, deserted by its guides, wandered at first about the country, and a considerable number ... [deserted].  Hasdrubal ordered [his men] to move along the bank of the river, until daylight ... should show a favourable crossing.  But, inasmuch as the farther he marched away from the sea the higher were the banks that confined the stream, he could not find a ford: [thus,] by wasting the day, he gave the [Romans] time to overtake him”, (‘History of Rome’, 27: 47: 8-11).

Although the topographical details in this and other surviving sources are difficult to reconcile, it seems that Hasdrubal had marched north from Sena Gallica and then, unable to cross the Metaurus, had turned inland.  The point at which the Romans caught up with him is uncertain, but the result is not: his cause lost, Hasdrubal accepted glorious defeat and died with most of his army.  Livy (28: 9: 6) recorded that the consuls were awarded a joint triumph.

Even accounting for the likely exaggeration in the surviving accounts, it is difficult to avoid the impression that this was widely perceived to be the turning point in the war with Carthage.  According to Livy, when the rumours 0f the victory that were soon reaching Rome were confirmed by the official reports:

  1. “The Senate decreed that, whereas Marcus Livius and Gaius Claudius, ... with their army safe, had slain the general and legions of the enemy, there should be a thanksgiving for three days.  ... All the temples were uniformly crowded for all three days, while the matrons in their richest garments, together with their children, being relieved of every fear, just as if the war were already finished, returned thanks to the immortal gods. ... Gaius Claudius, ...having returned to his camp, ordered that the head of Hasdrubal ... be thrown in front of [Hannibal's] outposts ... Hannibal, under the blow of so great a sorrow, at once public and intimate, is reported to have said that he recognised the destiny of Carthage”, (‘History of Rome’, 27: 51: 8-12).

As noted above, it is possible that these momentous events were also commemorated by the building of a shine on Via Flaminia that gave its name to the later nucleated centre of Fanum Fortuna.

Mago’s Invasion (205 -1 BC)

In 205 BC, as Scipio Africanus prepared a naval base on Sicily for an invasion of Carthage, Mago, another of Hannibal’s brothers, arrived with an army in a fleet of 30 warships that managed to land, unopposed, at the Roman base at Genua (modern Genoa, on the Ligurian coast).  Livy recorded that:

  1. “His army grew in numbers every day; the Gauls, drawn by the spell of his name, flocked to him from all parts ... and the Senate was filled with the gravest apprehensions.  It seemed as though the joy with which they heard of the destruction of Hasdrubal and his army two years before would be completely stultified by the outbreak of a fresh war in the same quarter, quite as serious as the former one, the only difference being in the commander.   They sent orders to [Marcus Livius Salinator, now proconsul] to move the army of Etruria up to Ariminum ... [another army from Rome was sent] to Arretium”, (‘History of Rome’, 28: 46: 6-9).

Mago was held up in Liguria until 203 BC, when he marched into the Po valley to confront four Roman legions from Ariminum.  In the subsequent battle at an unknown location, he was severely wounded and his army was defeated, although the survivors managed to retreat to the coast. 

Mago (like Hannibal, who was still in southern Italy) had already received orders to return to Carthage in anticipation of Scipio’s invasion.  He duly set sail, he died of his wounds while still at sea.  The war in Italy was over, and total victory followed Carthage itself fell to Scipio in 201 BC.


Read more:

E. Macdonald, “Hannibal: A Hellenistic Life”, (2018) New Haven and London

G. Sampson, “Rome Spreads Her Wings: Territorial Expansion Between the Punic Wars”, (2016) Barnsley

R. Syme (author, who died in 1989) and F. Santangelo (who edited these papers from the Ronald Syme archive), “Approaching the Roman Revolution: Papers on Republican History”, (2016) Oxford

L. Donnini and V. Chiaraluce, “I Rinvenimenti Archeologici nell’ Area del Cantiere della Strada delle Tre Valli Umbre (2007-10)”, in:

  1. G. Guerini and L. Rambotti (Eds), “Spina e il suo Territorio: Storia, Ambiente e Tradizione”, (2013) Perugia, at pp. 19-40

R. Colacicchi and R. Bizzarri, “Correlation between Environmental Evolution, Historical Settlement and Cultural Heritage Upgrading in Valle Umbra (Central Italy)”, Geogr. Fis. Dinam. Quat., 31 (2008) 107-18

S. Sisani,  “Fenomenologia della Conquista: La Romanizzazione dell' Umbria tra il IV sec. a. C. e la Guerra Sociale”, (2007) Rome

G. Bradley, "Ancient Umbria", (2000) Oxford

R. Feig Vishnia, “State, Society and Popular Leaders in Mid-Republican Rome (241-167 BC”,  (1996) Oxford and New York

P. Fontaine, “Cités et Enceintes de l'Ombrie Antique” (1990) Brussels

A. Eckstein, “Senate and General: Individual Decision-making and Roman Foreign Relations (264-194 BC)”, (1987) Berkeley, Los Angeles and London

N. Alfieri, “La Battaglia del Lago Plestino", Picus, 6 (1986) 7-22

S. Dyson, “The Creation of the Roman Frontier”, (1985), Princeton, New Jersey

J. F. Lazenby, “Hannibal's War: A Military History of the Second Punic War”, (1978) Warminster 


  1. Umbria before the Social Wars: Main page

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Umbria Before the Social Wars

Second Punic War (218-201 BC)


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  1. Umbria before the Social Wars: Main page

  2. Umbrian Magistracies      Via Amerina     Via Flaminia     Second Punic War

  3. Umbrian Inscriptions     Etruscan Inscriptions     Latin Inscriptions 

  4.    Literary Sources