ECHO Molise
  Emigration and Cultural Heritage of the Molise

The Second Punic War (218-201 BC)

Punic Wars:

1st  264-241 BC
2nd 218-201 BC
3rd 149-146 BC

The Latin word for Carthaginian was "Punicus," meaning Phoenician; hence the name "Punic" War.

’s elephants likely were a forest subspecies of African elephants from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.  They stood 8-foot tall at the shoulders compared to the 11-foot sub-Saharan animals.  Only one of the elephants survived the war—the one Hannibal himself had ridden.  Its name was Surus (“the Syrian”).Wilford

Hannibal reportedly lost an eye to infection after crossing the Apennines into central Italy.Thayer

Military theorists view the Fabian strategy as appropriate when one side is at a marked disadvantage in usual maneuver tactics, as was Fabius.  If the sides are evenly matched, the outcome of a war of attrition is likely to be a Pyrrhic victory.
 (link to definition)

Fabius Maximus at Roman Who's Who

The town of Provvidenti takes its name from 'to provide," as in the 'tombs' or large vats, for grain storage.

The walls were 3 meters high and 4 meters wide, built without mortar from fragments of columns, pavements and aqueducts.DeVito

The equestrian order was the lower of two Roman noble classes.  Members were "equites," horsemen, "knights."

Bocce.  During breaks in the Punic Wars, soldiers selected a small stone ‘leader’ and threw it first.  Then they rolled, tossed or heaved larger stones, with those coming closest to the leader scoring points.  Easy exercise and a pleasant change of pace from battle.  Romans probably spread the game during their world conquest.Pagnoni

See Minucius at Roman Who's Who

If a 10-hour battle, then more than 100 Romans were slaughtered each minute

Hannibal collected gold rings from the dead noblemen. His brother Mago poured them by the bushel onto the floor of the Carthaginian senate.

Rome "exiled" to Sicily the soldiers who escaped - punishment for their role in the humiliating defeat.

The Romans often beheaded those accused of treason, including the Capuan senators who had turned their city over to Hannibal.

Romans fought Carthage over control of Sicily and dominance of the Western Mediterranean in the three Punic Wars.  It was the 2nd Punic War that would most profoundly affect Samnium for centuries to come.

Hannibal Crosses the Alps.  After the 1st Punic War, Rome and Carthage agreed to buffer their two empires at the Iberian Peninsula.  The treaty broken, Hannibal Barca of Carthage set out to invade Italy and conquer Rome. 

     Hannibal's army crossing the alps, color sketch

In 218 BC he began his legendary crossing of the Alps with over 100,000 troops and 37 or 38 war elephants—a larger force than Rome had ever been able to field.  A year later, he reached northern Italy with only 26,000 men and 24 elephants.Knox 

 Despite his dwindling force, Hannibal defeated two full Roman armies his first year in Italy (at Trebia and Lake Trasimene), as he made his way south.
Fabian Strategy.  Hannibal crossed into the Samnium from the Adriatic toward Capua, preparing to enter Rome.  Unable to engage the Roman army in combat, Hannibal decided to return to the coast for the winter. 

The Roman commander Fabius Maximus, aware of Hannibal’s superior military strategies, refused to meet him in pitched battle.  Instead, he engaged in “attrition warfare” (known today as the “Fabian Strategy”).

Fabius attempted to wear down Hannibal through continuous loss of resources.  He skirmished with foraging parties, and limited Hannibal’s ability to wreck total destruction—however, the Romans exercised a “scorched earth” practice of their own, burning crops before Hannibal’s forces could capture them. Absolute

Harassed by Fabius, Hannibal escaped Campania by rounding up the cattle, tying torches to their horns and stampeding them.  They scattered and set fires in the forest. The Romans feared an ambush and did not follow.Dio  Hannibal followed the Biferno River (link to map) to Larino (link to article on Samnite towns), sacking towns and grain deposits along the route.DiNiro

Near Casacalenda.  For 9 months (217-216 BC), Hannibal wintered his 100,000 troops and 20,000 horses between Larinum (modern Larino) and Kalene (Casacalenda), in the town of Gerunium (Gerione, Girone, Gironia).    


All Italy could not afford more pleasant winter quarters than those which Hannibal selected upon the edge of a fertile plain, beneath the protection of a range of mountains.  Before him were boundless fields waving with harvests, and behind him wide pastures upon the mountain sides, presenting rich forage for his horses, while sweeping forests afforded him an ample supply of wood.  There was a small walled town in the vicinity of the proposed encampment.  Hannibal took it, put all its inhabitants to the sword, and leaving the walls and houses standing, used the buildings as a great magazine for his army; while the soldiers were quartered in an entrenched camp around the walls.  
                                 John Abbott,
Italy, 1882

Divided Army.  Fabius had garrisoned his army two miles away, at the fortress of Calela or Kalene (modern Casacalenda).  Recalled to Rome on business, Fabius left his Master of the Horse,  Marcus Minucius Rufus, in command with orders not to attack Hannibal.  Minucius disobeyed and attacked a contingent of Hannibal’s foragers. 

According to Dio, the Roman force would have been destroyed had not some Samnites arrived to aid the Romans and impress the Carthaginians with the idea that Fabius was approaching.  When Hannibal withdrew, Minucius considered himself the victor and sent messages to Rome exaggerating his triumph.  Overjoyed, Rome appointed Minucius co-commander with Fabius. 

Minucius proposed that he and Fabius rotate command of the army every other day.  Fabius rejected this; instead, they split the army and camped the two half-armies about 12 stades (7,200 feet; 2,160 meters) from each other. Polybius

Hannibal's Trap
.  Hannibal, aware of the division, lured Minucius into a trap.  At night, he positioned 500 horse and 5,000 infantry in hiding around the hill where Minucius had camped.  The hill was treeless but held many hollows and locations suitable for ambush.  At dawn, Hannibal positioned light-armed troops within view, to draw out Minucius. 

Minucius sent 2,000 troops in a frontal attack, but Hannibal’s men lying in ambush soon overwhelmed him.  Fabius, seeing the peril, rushed to Minucius’ rescue with 8,000 Samnite troops and 500 cavalry.DeVito  Again, Hannibal withdrew. 

This time, Minucius reunited the army and publically proclaimed Fabius’ superior abilities as a commander.  The Carthaginians dug a trench between the hill and their own camp, erected a stockade and spent the winter undisturbed.Polybius

Ruins, walls of Gerione near Casacalenda, Italy
                    Ruins of the walls of Gerione near Casacalenda

 Gerunium.  The precise locations of Gerunium and the battle between the Romans and Carthaginians are debated.  Ruins of a town named Gerione near Casacalenda date to the 1300s.Colabella

DeVito argues that the battle was in the valley of the Torrente Cigno between Provvidenti, Casacalenda and Morrone.  He tells of the 1844 discovery near Provvidenti of two limestone slabs that transcribe the events (now in the Naples National Museum), and a mass grave from the 3rd to 2nd centuries BC containing dead from a massive war.

Samnites Ally with Hannibal
.  The Samnites had not been as quick to throw in with Hannibal as they had been with Pyrrhus.  They were still feeling the reprisal for their “revolt” during the Pyrrhic War (opens article on Pyrrhic War).  Also, they were reluctant to throw off one oppressor (Rome) for another (Carthage).  During the first 2 years of Hannibal’s invasion, the Samnites took a “wait and see” stance. 

“The [Samnite] allies were in pitiable condition.  The vaunted power of Rome had failed to be of any protection to them.  The barbarians had for months ravaged their lands, and no one had dared lift a hand against them in aggressive defense.  [Yet] not one of the Italian confederates had proven traitor; not one of their cities had voluntarily opened its gates to the invader.”Dodge 

That is, their alliance with Rome lasted until the Battle of Cannae in 216 BC.  “It was the fatal field of Cannae that caused whole communities of Italians to desert Rome for Hannibal… content to let Hannibal eliminate the Roman threat once and for all.”Salmon

The Battle of Cannae
Vellum illustration of battle from 14th c translation of Livy's history

Simply put, the Battle of Cannae was the bloodiest battle the ancient world had ever seen. 

In Spring 216 BC, Hannibal captured the Roman supply depot at Cannae (modern Canne delle Battaglia, near Barletta in the Puglia).  
Click on this photo of the battlefield to see more photos in slideshow at Proloco Barletta website (opens new window)

On August 2, a Roman army of unprecedented size, led by co-Consuls Paullus and Varro, attacked Hannibal’s considerably smaller force. 

Estimates vary but suggest Rome had 70,000 to 90,000 infantry and cavalry (including allies) to Hannibal’s 48,000.  Combined, over 130,000 men and 16,000 horses met on a 2-square mile battlefield, 50 meters from the Adriatic Sea. 

By nightfall, 14,000 Romans had escaped and 4,500 were taken prisoner.  The rest lie dead.  The dead included Minucius, Paullus, 29 tribunes, 80 of Rome’s 300 senators, and hundreds of noblemen.  Hannibal lost 8,000 men.

Very good quality video shows Hannibal's double-envelopment (pincher) tactics.  In English.
7:13 minutes from YouTube user BloodiestMargie "The Battle of Cannae"

The Battle at Cannae was decisive for the Samnites, who quickly threw in with Hannibal, or at least turned away from Rome.  Dodge tells us that by 215 BC, 12 of 30 Latin socii (link to definition, Social War article) refused to provide Rome with their yearly contingent of men or money.  Meanwhile, Hannibal established alliances throughout the southern peninsula, recruited from the local populations and used local resources to fight the Romans. Dodge 

The battle was not as decisive for Hannibal.  He believed he needed a stronger, better-trained army to capture Rome itself, and did not capitalize on his victory by marching on the city.  Instead, he spent another 13 years traversing Italy, awaiting reinforcements from Carthage. 

Long, Slow End.  In 208 BC, Hannibal’s brother Hasdrubal also crossed the Alps from Spain.  He marched his army south while Hannibal marched north.  They planned to join in Umbria.  Their combined force could well have captured Rome. 

Spring 207 BC found Hannibal camped at Larinum (Larino).  Hasdrubal had reached the Metaurus River in the Marche when he was attacked by the army of Gaius Claudius Nero.  Tiepolo's oil-Hannibal sees the head of Hasdrubal

Hasdrubal was killed and beheaded.  After a 6-day journey to Larino, Nero had Hasdrubal’s head catapulted into Hannibal’s camp.  Hannibal reportedly exclaimed, “My fate is sealed.  All is lost.” 

The next day Hannibal retreated to the far south of Italy and quietly stayed there for 4 years.  In 203 BC, having maintained an undefeated army in the heart of enemy territory for 15 years, Hannibal at last returned home to defend Carthage against Scipio Africanus.Murray


Abbott, John S. C.  Italy.  New York: Peter Fenelon Collier, 1882. 

Absolute Astronomy.  Encyclopedia:  “Fabius Maximus.”

Colabella, Michele.  L’Università della Terra di Venifro, Volume 1.  Campobasso:  Tip. L’Economica, 1974

DeVito, Giovannino.  Provvidenti: Note di Storia Antica e Contemporanea.  Termoli:  Tipolitografia “Adriatica” Iovine, n.d.

DiNiro, Angela.  Storie Nuove di Storie Vecchie Nella Terra di Molise.  Campobasso:  Tipolitografia Foto Lampo SNC, 1999.

Dio, Cassius.  Loeb Classical Library Edition, Volume II, “Roman History.”  1914. 
Dodge, Theodore Ayrault.  Great Captains:  Hannibal.  Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1896.  (507)

Knox, E.L. “History of Western Civilization.”  Boise State University.

Murray, Williamson and Alvin H. Bernstein.  The Making of Stragegy: Rulers, States, and War.  Cambridge University Press, 1994. 

Pagnoni, Mario.  The Joy of Bocce.  3rd Edition.  Bloomington, Indiana:  AuthorHouse, 2010.

PolybiusLoeb Classical Library Edition, Volume II, “The Histories, Book III.”  1922-1927.
Salmon, E.T., Samnium and the Samnites.  Cambridge University Press, 1967. 
Thayer, Bill.  Bill Thayer’s website.
Wilford, John Noble.  The New York Times:  “The Mystery of Hannibal’s Elephants.”  September 18, 1984.

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