Hannibal came over the Alps during the winter, threatening the Romans on their own turf. In response, the Senate raised an army of nearly 90,000 men, twice that of the Carthaginians, and sent them to Cannae. The two sides met up on August 2, 216 B.C., in what is still history’s most horrific battle.
Hannibal’s army lured the enemy soldiers into a trap and, encircling them, crushed the men ever inward. Exhausted by the heat, slipping in their own blood, vomit and feces, the Roman forces were hacked, slashed, stabbed and battered to death at a rate of more than 100 per minute.
At the end, more than 48,000 men were dead, six million pounds of freshly killed human flesh piled on the battlefield. Any survivors who made it back to Rome were promptly exiled.
Regarded as one of the great tactical feats in military history, Hannibal’s victory is still studied by soldiers and historians. I spoke with Robert L. O’Connell, author of “The Ghosts of Cannae,” on the following topics:
1. Militarized Rome
2. Hannibal in Italy
3. Laying the Trap
4. Roman Reaction
5. Cannae’s Mystique
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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)