The battle of Trasimeno Lake
THE BATTLE OF LAKE TRASIMENO
On the shores of the lake on 23rd June 217 B.C. the famous battle of Trasimeno was fought between the Carthaginian army under the command of the celebrated Hannibal Barca , and the Roman army under the command of the Consul Caius Flaminius.
The recorded descriptions are often brief and contradictory for almost all the battles of antiquity. Referring to this one, many scholars have different theories; most of them belive the ones described by Polybius and Titus Livy.
Hannibal, General and politician from Carthage (born 247 – died in Bitina 183 B.C.) son of Amilcare Barca, was taught at an early age to hate the Romans. He followed his father at the age of nine, to Spain, witnessed his death (229 BC) and came then under the command of his brother- in law Asdrubale. After his assassination, at twenty six year of age, he was proclaimed head of the army and confirmed by the Senate of Carthage, against the protection of Annone (221 BC.). He thought, that now the time had come to realize his war plan against Rome, the only town in the West which endangered the predomination of Carthage.
Hannibal had at his disposal not only a well-trained army, but also financial means, which he received from the precious metal mines and the treasures of Spain between the Tago, the Ebro and the seaside, he searched for a “casus belli” by besieging and destroying Sagunto (a town allied with Rome, although it belonged to the circle influenced by the Carthaginians according to the agreement of Ebro 226 BC), despite vigorous warnings from Rome. The rejection of the Carthaginians to consign the General and what Hannibal had intended.
Hannibal left Carthage in April 218 BC with an army of about 35.000 to 40.000 men. After he had passed the Pyrenees and the Alps (the exact point of the passage between the small S.Bernardino and Monginevro is not quite clear) he defeated the Romans at the Trebbia (218 BC).
After the had wintered in Gallia Cesalpina (at Roman times the region across the Alps corrisponded to the Po valley, was inhabited with Celts.), he crossed the Appenines with his army (about 40.000 men: Africans, Morrocans, Lybians, Moors, Barbaresques, Iberians, Basques and followers from the Asturias and the Balearic Islands, besides Celts and Gauls.) It was a very wearisome march going to Rome through Etruria, during which he lost one eye. As he proceeded, they burned and devastated the region, and one can easily imagine, the engagement with the Carthaginian and Gauls as they indulged in the devastation, already the influence of the Roman power, could be felt.
After reaching Lake Trasimeno, Hannibal realized that the Consul Flaminius was following him, so he penetrated into the way of Borghetto. He knew perfectly well that he had to take advantage of the first mistake of Flaminius to defeat him, since he still knew the country. As a prudent captain, the Consul Flaminius didn’t send his troopos to reconnoitre and study the characteristics of the country.
He considered joining Hannibal before arriving in Rome; as he had enough men, he believed in the defeating him at once, without waiting for the help of the propraetor Centenio, sent by the other consul Servilius; so he decided to follow Hannibal through imagining that the Carthaginian was keeping an eye on him (as the beast does near its prey, after falling into a trap).
The battle took place along the lake, on the plane of about 9/10 km, which has an arched from and lies in a hilly semicircle: Monte Melino, Monte Gualandro, Monte Girella, Monte Castelnuovo, Monte Castelluccio, Monte Castiglione and Poggio Bandito, whose accesses are limited by the southern slopes of Monte Melino (the valley of Borghetto and Piave di Confine) and Poggio Bandito (the valley to Passignano).
Hannibal went along the lake, entering into the valley, and occupied the Monte Geti hill, staying near the entrance to the volley, because it permitted a frontal attack. Over there, in an open-air area and without any sagacity, he arranged the African and the Celtic troops (about 15.000 men) to prevent the passage.
He had also to equip the hilly semicircle, from the present farm “il Pischiello” to Monte Melino, putting the light infantry (about 8/10.000 men, almost all from the Balearic Islands ) in the eastern zone of Tuoro. In addition to defeating the left side of the Roman troops, he had to help the heavy infantry in the Monte Geti. In the western area of Tuoro, he put the Gauls and the Numidians (about 8/10.000 men) and the 5/6.000 men in the cavalry, to prevent the possible retreat and the flight of the Roman troops.
During the night he put all hiss men into the valley ordering a silent wait for the enemy, The plan of the punic leader was simple: he wanted to let the Roman column enter into the long coast, to stop it, to prevent its retreat and to attack it.
The 23rd of June 217 BC daybreak was very foggy, and a dense mist reduced the visibility. The Roman vanguard, neared the end of the valley of Borghetto, Continued till the valley of Tuoro at a good pace, while it was followed by the Centurions and the Tribuns of the Plebs.
For the signal to attack Hannibal waited for the following day, when the enemy was in the valley, when the vanguard neared and the rearguard had passed the valley of Pieve di Confine. The Carthaginians suddenly appeared, the Roman troop were taken by surprise, both owing to the thick fog and the frontal and the side attack, and they felt defeated and betrayed by the rashness of the Consul Flaminius.
The battle raging everywhere lasted three hours. However, around the consul Flaminius the battle was more violent and furious. Then, a cisalpine Gaul, called Duciario, recognized the consul Flaminius as the oppressor of his people, so he spurred on his horse, hurting Flaminius mortally with a lance. His death was to signal the beginning of the great flight of Roman army.
A great number of Romans, in trying to flee, threw themselves into the lake in an attempt to escape by swimming, but exhausted and weighed down by heavy armour, they either drowned or turned back in search of a hiding-place among the reeds and rushes with their heads only partly above the surface of the water. Most of them were massacred by the enemy knights.
After the battle, they were discovered by Hannibal, who set Marbaale (Carthaginian general and lieutenant of Hannibal during the second Punic war. He distinguished himself at the siege of Sagunto 220-210 BC an as commander of the cavalry in the battle of Tessin in 218 BC) with the Iberians and a part of cavalry against them, in order to surround the village. As the Romans were put under pressure by these numerous difficulties, they put down their weapons and surrendered.
Therefore, Hannibal let the Italian prisoners free, without ransom, and ordered them to recover the bodies of his soldiers, most of them were Gauls.
He also searched for the corpse of Flaminius, but in vain.
The Carthaginians could not take care of the burial of the fallen, but they began the task, leaving the inhabitants to finish the burials. On the other hand, Hannibal could not, because of political reasons, let himself be influenced by this worry; not only that he was in a region where he expected to be helped, but mainly because most of the fallen were Italics he felt friendly with, as well as against the fallen he had freed.
The technique to burn the corpses was with the “ustrini” (historical Roman cremation oven) – a cylindrical and square cavity, facilitated by a natural slope of the land and the abundant amount of wood for the cremation of the corpses. A work, which could be done by the local people after they had understood the technique of the Carthaginians.
One has to consider the fact, that the battle took place at the beginning of summer and the temperatures were already considerable, which required a speedy cremation of the corpses without the moving them from the spot. Only around Trasimeno a construction of the epoch Augustea can be found, which consists of the foundation of a cremation complex, the so- called “ustrini” whit arrangements for ritual functions.
There are no records of the battle of Hannibal preserved. There are disagreeing opinions about the losses of the two enemy armies. In accordance with the opinion of Titus Livius, the losses of the consular army came to about 15.000 soldiers. Most of them died, while about 10.000 me, the allies who Hannibal let free, reached Rome, a few at a time.
The Punic army lost about 2.500 soldiers, besides those who died later of their wounds.
The old and some modern criticism accused the council Flaminius of rashness, because he rushed at Hannibal blindly, completely neglecting the usual reconnaissance oh the area. That defeat had severe practical and psychological consequences, which lead the Romans to nominate a dictator in the person of Quinto Fabio Massimo, the “Temporeggiatore”, a figure who was suitable for the celebration Augustea of the great Roman tradition. It is a known fact, he was honored in Rome by a statue in the Forum Augusto, accompanied by an eulogy, which later was reproduced word for word from the Aretini, when they erected a statue of the “Temporeggiatore” in the Forum of their town.
To come to an end of the evocation of the first great victory of Hannnibal, in the words of Titus Livius’:-“It was the famous battle of the Trasimeno, one of the few unforgettable losses of the Romans”
To remember this battle, someone put a plaque on the Trasimeno state road (number 75 bis), near the 43rd kilometer, exactly at the ditch’s bridge ”Macerone”, where we can read:
On these Trasimeno’s hills,
More than 25.000 Roman perished to defend
the integrity and the civilization of Rome against the shrewd cruelty
of the Carthaginian Hannibal”.
Was a political man and a Roman general. He was leading the opposition to the party of the senate, followed a very courageous policy which favoured the farmers. In 232 BC, as a representative of the farmers, he passed a bill for the assignent of the land, which had been conquered by Senoni in Piceno. In 227 BC he was Preator in Sicily administrating Sicily with a rare integrity. As Consul in 223 BC, he overcame the Lombardian Gauls in ythe Gallia Cesalpina. Although accused of impiety because he had not waited for the end of the Latin holidays to mach against the enemy, as a voice of the people he successfully represented their will in the Senate.
He was a censor in 220 BC, he had built the Circo Flaminio and started the via Flaminia; in 218 BC, he supported, amongst the senators, the “Lex Claudia”, elected consul, despite of the opposition of the nobility and for the second time in 217 BC, advanced daringly against Hannibal who marched victoriously through central Italy. He fell into an ambush between Lake Trasimeno and the surrounding hills and was killed after having fought bravely with all his army – (23rd June 217 BC).