Your RDA of Irony

Citizen Cannae

August 2, 216 B.C.:  What is Latin for Tactics?

Today is the 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 Paullus; 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 choosing. 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 Carthaginians. 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 Paullus 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. Hal Gordon says:

    Ever see the 1960 Victor Mature movie, titled simply “Hannibal”?

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      For $.25 at the Granada Theater in Chicago. The theater is long gone, so is the $.25 movie admission and–except for parking meters–so is the quarter.

      Are you suggesting that Din Veasal (or whatever) would be better? I don’t think that Victor Mature was that bad. Of course, he was ridiculously miscast as Doc Holiday in “My Darling Clementine”. Some consumptive–the man could benchpress a horse!


  2. Michael says:

    Today’s youth will tell you that Hannibal was played by Anthony Hopkins.

    Alas, Rome failed to appreciate a good Cunctator when they had one.

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      Dear Michael,

      Of course, you are referring to Fabius “I Told You So” Maximus, alias Warts the Delayer. Rome eventually appreciated his military tactics of avoiding direct battle with Hannibal. Fabius must have known that a dishonest waiter or cabdriver will always ruin a trip to Italy. Imagine the confusions of the Carthaginians when they were confronted with that two-tier billing system in coffee shops: one price for take-out and another for sitting down. Naturally, the Carthaginians were always billed the higher price even when the food was to-go.


  3. kathy says:

    u didnt tell me how they won? elephant stampede?

    • Eugene Finerman says:

      No, the placement of the Roman infantry left it immovable; the Carthaginian cavalry slaughtered the helpless infantry.

      Elephants were a dramatic novelty in Italy but proved ineffective. The Romans quickly adapted tactics to avoid the lumbering beasts. However, the idea of elephantine spectacles did appeal to the Italians: it was called opera.

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