Your RDA of Irony

Citizen Cannae

Today is the 2,225th anniversary of the battle of Cannae. I could describe Hannibal’s greatest victory over the Romans–or you could just wait to see the Vin Diesel movie. It is tentatively (and ever so subtly) titled “Hannibal the Conqueror.” With Mr. Diesel in the title role, Hannibal will be carrying the elephants across the Alps.

Cannae was indeed the worst military defeat of the Romans. The Roman army was twice the size of the Carthaginian army and had twice as many commanders. Rome had two consuls and each commanded the army on alternate days. Half the time, it was led by the prudent Paullius; half the time, it was under the reckless Varro. Guess who was in command on August 2, 216 B.C.?

With his numerical superiority, Varro felt he could afford to fight on terrain of Hannibal’s choicing. Indeed, with so many men to spare, Varro could not bother with troop deployment. The legions were just piled into an Italian lump whose sheer mass would presumably roll over the Carthagians. However, with that sheer mass; the legions actually were immobilized by each other. The Romans units could do nothing but wait their turn to be slaughtered by the Carthaginian cavalry.

At the start of that day, the Roman army was twice the size of the Carthaginian. By the end of the day, it was half of the size. But Varro survived the battle, although Paullius did not.

The loss of 60,000 men in a single day would be significant by even the carefree standards of World War I. Could you imagine how the Media Department of the Roman Senate had to transmute the news….

“Light Trafffic on the Appian Way”

  1. Bob Kincaid says:

    You’re kidding about the Vin Diesel part, right?



    Even if you’re not, just tell me you are anyway.

    “300” was bad enough. Persian Balrogs and a post-punk piereced drag queen Xerxes left me with WAY too much to explain to my son.

    I don’t think I can take another assault on my classical sensibilities. At least “Spartacus” had Stanley Kubrick for a director and a distant cousin of another crucifixion victim in the title role.

    “Gladiator” gave us some really nifty computer rendered crowd scenes and a legitimately terminal Richard Harris (“I wonder what Marcus Aurelius is doing tonight/He’s being poisoned by Joaquin Phoenix in his tent tonight.”)

    But Vin Diesel? Hannibal? Who’s playing Varro? Sylvester Stallone? That guy who walked on the seats at the Oscars a few years back?

    Mama mia!

  2. According to IMBD, Vin Diesel wants to make the film with Latin and Punic dialogue.

    Perhaps Mel Gibson can lend him a copy of “Aramaic for Dummies”.

  3. Bob Kincaid says:

    As Barney Fife once said “I rooted for the Punics.”

  4. Guy Tabachnick says:

    Wow, too bad for Vin Diesel that Punic was, you know, lost.

    Also, while Cannae may have been the most debilitating loss, Carrhae was surely the funniest. Crassus, deciding he needed to be a military leader now, attacked the Parthian Empire. He suffered something like 95% casualties, including himself, while barely denting their ranks, and even lost the Roman battle standards, which weren’t gotten back until the age of Augustus.

  5. Welcome Gaius.

    Killing Crassus, the Parthians avenged Spartacus. Kirk Douglas’ ancestors (as well as yours and mine) preferred the Parthians and the Persians to the Latin version of the Sopranos.

    By the way, one of the few Roman survivors of Carrhae was Cassius, who obviously wanted to live to be in a Shakespeare play.

    p.s. Remind me to write about the Teutoberg Wald. That is one case where our ancestors might have preferred the Romans.

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