History Travels with Nancy Padgett: Seeing History
Rome: Warfare in Republican Rome 
Roman Military Victory on Sarcophagus of Helen Roman Military Victory: Scene on the Sarcophagus of Helena, Mother of Emperor Constantine, 4th c AD. Red Marble Porphyry. Vatican Museums, Rome

Rome on the Move

From Expansion to Civil War

The Leaders

The Led
The Losers

Remembering War: The Roman "Triumph"


Roman Warfare: The Leaders, The Led, The Losers

In the Vatican Museums in Rome stands the marble sarcophagus of Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine. It's dense and red, almost glowing, as if Roman domination from long ago is shouting out to us.

The Romans are protected by metal helmets and body armor. Their weapons are large and heavy. They charge on fierce and frightening horses.

The defeated stand below the riders, some in chains. None exhibit the horrific wounds common in ancient pitched battles. Nor the signs of starvation or disease typical from siege warfare.

They are beaten down by something more powerful: Roman relentlessness.

Notable Commanders:
         King Numa Pompilius

Notable Losers:
       The Etruscans



The City of Rome was founded, in legend, around 750 BC. For the next two hundred years, it perched precariously among the ferocious groups on the Italian peninsula. Still small, still behind the Etruscans, rather a nothing.

Then, around 550 BC, Rome began to conquer and expand. It kept fighting for the next 500 years.

Within 300 years, Rome had defeated everyone in Italy. The defeated often became "allies," whose purpose was to provide units of soldiers under the command of the Roman Army, and treasure to support them.

By the time of Julius Caesar's death in 44 BC, the Mediterranean had become a "Roman lake." Roman armies with their perpetual manpower machine could fight east or west.

Spain was prized for its metals and minerals, the southern Mediterranean/North Africa for its granaries, and the East (the Middle East) for its rich cities. The lands north of the  Alps, the heart of today's Europe, did not count for much.
  Rome 44 BC 
Roman Empire at the death of Julius Caesar, 44 BC.  Map courtesy Ancient World Mapping Center.
Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. His murder restarted the civil wars that Marius and Sulla had waged in the 80's.  A generation of Romans had since known peace, but the memories of the earlier trauma remained. Perhaps the renewed strife appeared as cyclical and thus inevitable. In Epode 16, Horace wrote that his generation of Romans were "of cursed blood."   In his view, what even Hannibal could not accomplish--the destruction of Rome-- Rome would.

This Civil War was also a major event in Mediterranean history.
 The Romans had extended their domination beyond the Italian peninsula. From Syria to Spain and in northern Europe, cities, towns, and villages were affected by the Civil War's chaos and violence.

The Civil War was the "total war" of the ancient world. Military participation from the 17-to-46 age group was high--about 25%-- meaning every Roman family probably had at least one male in the War. Political purges carried out by dreaded killing squads finished off many more. Mothers and wives at all levels had many dead sons and husbands to mourn.

The demands of the Civil War changed some of Rome's most bedrock social institutions.  Women were taxed, unheard of and undermining the sacredness of the marriage contract. The place of the Army in society changed: no longer was it unusual to see an Army inside the pomerium, the sacred boundary, of Rome.

Property of Romans, including entire towns, was expropriated. Often the lands were later given to soldiers as a reward and lost forever to their rightful and often innocent family.

Treasure from sacred temples were carted off. Taxes everywhere increased.

Cicero wrote that it was a time when chance counted for more than reason. Caesar's assassins won some battles and lost others. Finally defeated by Marc Anthony, Octavian (Julius Caesar's  teen-aged adopted nephew), and others, the assassins left the stage but the victors quickly declared war on each other. Eventually just Marc Anthony- Cleopatra were left to battle it out with Octavian. Octavian won.  Marc Anthony and Cleopatra committed suicide.

Octavian went on to become Emperor Augustus. Surprising to everyone considering Octavian's extreme brutality during the Civil War, internal peace descended on the Roman empire, though at the price of autocratic rule, for the next 41 years.  

As for Cicero, by chance or by reason, he had chosen the wrong side. Proscribed, Marc Anthony's soldiers murdered him near one of his country estates. Cicero's head and his writing hand were cut off and carted back to Rome for display on the Rostra in the Roman Forum.
  Augustus Pinecone Courtyard Vatican

The Emperor Augustus. Pinecone Courtyard, Vatican Museums, Rome.

Horace in Epode 16: "A Remedy for Civil War" wrote:  "Another generation now's been ground down by civil war, and Rome herself's being ruined by her own power..." Survivors carried the memory of the uncertain, violent times for decades.


The Art of Generalship

What did Rome expect of a military leader? 

Political deftness: To obtain a command, a Roman male had to get to the top of the political heap. The head Commanders of the Army were the two elected Consuls of Rome. Politics were nasty, brutish, and highly competitive.

Virtus:" Roughly,  courage and steadfastness in daily life and on the battlefield. In war, a general showed he had "virtus" by embracing personal danger. A Roman general was at the front; he did not direct the war from headquarters.

Relentlessness: pursue the enemy until it was defeated. No negotiated peace. 

Physical endurance: travel long distances on horseback on poor roads or tracks, in all kinds of weather.

Psychological endurance: be away from Rome for years at a time.

The favor of the gods: Military defeat meant the gods had been offended, putting the Roman state in danger. A Roman commander who lost was worse than incompetent, he was a threat to all other Romans.
  Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar , 100-44 BC/span>. R
ome's most brilliant of generals.


Who was in the Army:
In very early Rome, the army was composed of citizen-soldiers who served only part-time. temporary military force.

Each property-owning Roman citizen mobilized for war once a year.  16 campaign "seasons" --from the time the crops were sown until they were ready to harvest-- were owed.

The citizen-soldier brought his own equipment, weapons, and money for food. He could expect no pay from the state.

The Romans with the most property were in the cavalry, since a horse, its armament, and upkeep were extra expenses beyond the reach of all but a few. 

Even within the infantry, soldiers were assigned by property. The heavy infantry, for example, required Class I property-- a helmet, round shield, greaves, cuirass, spear, and sword.

As Rome expanded and began overseas campaigns and triumphs, the Army recruited longer-serving, full-time soldiers, many from the Allied provincial towns.

How they fought: The soldiers of the Roman Army were exceptional among ancient armies in their patience and discipline as a unit.

 Laying out the battle could take days, with the fighting itself lasting hours and hours.

Once the battle started, hand to hand combat occurred as the lines closed on each other.

In Roman tactics,  Roman soldiers did not rush headlong forward like a mob. Under the screams and pushing of their officers, they  moved forward, fought, paused and backed up a little, then pushed forward again.

As the two sides grappled, more soldiers from  poured in, until one side gave in and fled.

The Roman commander held back a reserve. Those in the middle of the scrum had to hold on, trapped, until the reserves were sent in.

To keep the unit together under these frightening conditions, harsh training was routine. 

Soldiers gave up their rights as Roman citizens while in the military. Some of the citizen's most important protections evaporated:  a soldier could be sentenced to a brutal beating for any reason. He could be put to death without a trial.

Still, few Romans evaded their military duty or deserted.
  Roman HelmetRoman Helmet, cone shaped. 1st c BC. The Balkans. The conical top protected the head.The flap in the rear protected the neck. Not much protected the eyes, nose, or lips. National Archeological Museum, Zagreb.

War Memorial Altar for Marcus Caelius Rufus.  This military unit had its "genius," a kind of guardian spirit that guided and helped form 'esprit d'corps.' Berlin, German History Museum.



Who exactly were the opponents? Almost no accounts from their side are left.  Some tribes were illiterate. Sadder, those who were literate, like the Etruscans, found their language and culture erased by the triumphant Romans.

We are left with the remains of a few mute wood huts and shards of metal. But, thanks to modern archeology, art history, and science, we can say that most of Rome's opponents did not create peaceable kingdoms.

They maintained their power internally by brute force and compulsion. 

They aggressively sought others' territories.

Sometimes, they defeated the Roman Legions.  Hannibal, as we know, was a brilliant battlefield general who kept the Romans on the run inside Italy for years.

Some were successful in siege warfare.

They could adopt a scorched-earth approach, even of innocent farmers, as ruthlessly as the Romans.

Like the Romans, they sold the defeated into slavery and took booty of all kinds, including women and children.

  The Losers sold into slavery Roman Prisoner of War. The defeated were sold into slavery. Bronze. 2nd c AD, British Museum.


"Remembrance" by Rome of its military victories was about remembering who was in charge: the very few members of an elite aristocracy.

The Roman state did not erect memorials to ordinary soldiers who perished. There was no "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier."

There were no signs of the women, children, and by-standers who died in the wars.

The "Triumph" was the quintessential Roman signature of victory. A Roman Triumph was a grand spectacle-parade-festival, the championship prize for a commander.

The victorious commander petitioned the Senate for permission to stage his Triumph, which the general paid for. The Senate awarded about 300 Triumphs between 750 BC and the reign of Augustus, 700 years later.

Those refused might get a lesser "Ovation" or a special date on the Roman calendar.

The Triumph was held inside the city walls of Rome. The commander would be clothed in purple, his head crowned by a laurel wreath. He rode in a chariot drawn by four white horses. Since this appeared to be flirting pretty close to god-status, a runner whispered in his ear "You are but a man."

The defeated, including families of the leader, were paraded at the front in chains. They were on their way to execution.

Gold and silver, statues and artworks, from the looted cities dazzled the throngs.

Large paintings of the crucial battles were carried along the parade route; the ordinary Roman could feel he was right there, on the battlefield.

Civil War victories such as Pharsalus, Philippi, and Actium presented a special problem. How could a commander parade fellow Romans, aristocrats from the oldest families, in shackles and on their way to execution. No "Triumph" was ever awarded  by the Senate to celebrate a Civil War victory.
  Triumph Celebration of Marius
Triumph of Marius by G.B. Tiepolo, 1729. New York Met .

The defeated King Jugurtha of North Africa, though in chains, is  wrapped in a crimson garment, his head raised high and proud. Unlikely.

Jugurtha is on his way to death by starvation

King Numa Pompilius : The Road Not Taken

In its early days, Rome was a semi-barbaric place. It was peopled by the dispossessed, the desperate, and the destitute.  Essentially, a place for those with nowhere else to go.

To rule over this bunch, there were (maybe) seven Kings of Rome.  Numa Pompilius (7th c BC.) was the second king. He reigned for 43 years, creating order out of chaos, and gave a place for fugitives and runaway slaves.

Numa founded the Temple of Janus. The Temple's doors were to be closed in peace and open in wartime. He decided on peace. The Temple doors were closed and remained closed for 40 years.

The legacy of Numa was "the road not taken" by the Romans. Numa was unable to imprint upon the Romans either a willingness or the ability to live peaceably among their neighbors.

After Numa's reign, the Temple doors were open, that is, "open to war" for nearly 500 years, as Rome fought year after year after year.
  Roman Coin of King Numa PompiliusNuma Pompilius Sacrificing a Goat. Roman coin minted around 100 BC. Courtesy: VRoma.

Camillus : The Second Founder of Rome

In Florence, Italy, you can see a 16th c fresco nearly a wall long inside the Palazzo Vecchio. It's Camillus.  Camillus is gloriously clad as a near-mythological hero, atop a chariot pulled by white horses , with too many legs, gazing at his (imagined) Roman armament. The losers, bound with heads in conquered-slave position are practically underneath the chariot.  

Who was this Camillus? Camillus led the Romans to their first great military success, at Veii against the superior Etruscans.  Then he drove off the invading Gauls.

The Etruscan city-states dominated the central Italian peninsula. Veii, one of the main city-states, was only a few miles north of Rome.  Veii gushed with wealth, and was both culturally and militarily ahead of  Rome. The two cities had fought on-and-off for years.

Camillus crushed them through siege warfare. Their civilization effectively ended.

Ten years later, Camillus, at that time in exile, returned to lead the Romans against an invasion of Gauls.  The Gauls employed a frightening military style: they charged headlong in a fury, scattering their opponents like bowling balls. They sacked Rome, an traumatic event that was seared into Rome's collective memory.

Camillus devised close combat tactics to counter the ferocious charge of the Gauls, and apparently succeeded in training his troops to stand their ground and fight back as a group. Arriving too late to prevent the  sack of Rome (386 BC), he drove the Gauls away from the area before they could assume control of the City and its hinterland.

Most importantly, Camillus persuaded the discouraged people of Rome not to leave their destroyed town. He was indeed "The Second Founder of Rome."

General Camillus' Triumph

Marcus Furius Camillus (c 450-365 BC) Triumph over the Etruscans at Veii. Fresco by Francesco Salviato. 16th c. Florence, Palazzo Vecchio.   Photo: Wikipedia.

Camillus was awarded four military "triumphs." Five times he was named "dictator" --a commander with temporary extraordinary powers to do whatever was needed to save Rome.

Camillus  died of illness, possibly a plague, aged 82.


Generals of the Roman Republic: Marius, Sulla, Pompey, and Caesar

Marius, Sulla, Pompey, and Julius Caesar: able, popular, and aggressive. They could command large armies in different theaters, lead personally on the battlefield, win where others could not, and ruthlessly trump their peers in politics.  Military fame and the  wealth from victories, especially in the "East,"  propelled them far beyond others of their day.

These same characteristics led to fear and envy. To become ever more wealthy, a general had to seek more commands, bribing and intimidating to get them. For each person awarded the military command, someone else equally ambitious lost the chance. With every victory against Rome's external enemies, one more enemy at home was added.  In Republican Rome, no one person was supposed to gain too much permanent power.  The actions of these four, and later of Mark Anthony and Octavian (Augustus) led to long, brutal civil wars. At the end, the heart of the system of shared power was dead.
Roman General Marius   Pompey the Great 
Marius    Pompey 
Roman General and Dictator Sulla     Julius Caesar 
Sulla    Caesar 

Marius: the Hero of the People

Was General Marius the "ideal" type of Roman commander? He's looking straight ahead, with intense, bulging eyes. He has a furrowed brow and bushy eyebrows, a square jaw, somewhat sunken cheeks, and a large forehead. Probably he had a strong nose. The sculptor has given us a man of "virtus," the manly courage and steadfastness that the Romans valued so highly in their military leaders.

Marius showed his brilliance as a general three times: in Spain, in North Africa, and in defense of the City of Rome.

He reformed Rome's political institutions and its Army, making both more favorable to ordinary Romans.

On the darker side, he plunged Rome into terrible Civil Wars. 

Marius started his military ascendancy in Spain. Spain had a vital asset: silver. Marius fought  brutal, guerrilla-style warfare against native inhabitants of Spain. His reward: silver mines.

Marius next took on the threat to Rome's grain supply by the wily King of Numidia, Jugurtha. Fighting in North Africa, Marius captured the King and sent him to Rome, where Jugurtha was starved to death.

Back to Rome:  Tribes from northern Europe, the Cimbri and the Teutones, were migrating southward into southern France. When the tribes unexpectedly decimated all three of the Roman Armies sent to stop them, the road to Rome lay open. Marius was sent after them.  He defeated the tribes decisively. Delirious with relief, the Romans awarded Marius not one but two triumphal parades.

Marius and the common soldier: Rome's traditional, summer-service Army had come from property-owning small farmers. Marius turned it into a long-serving Army, recruited from Rome's poorest citizens, those with little future. They joined up for a regular source of income, food, a chance for booty, and land upon discharge.  They became loyal to him rather than to the Roman Senate and People.

The new, much poorer "boots on the ground" recruit couldn't afford equipment. Marius organized a central armory to issue each soldier a pilum (javelin) and a pugio (dagger).

Marius asked Rome to give its veterans, upon discharge, a plot from Rome's public domain lands to support themselves and their families.

  Roman general Marius  Caius Marius, 157-86 BC.

Marius started gloriously, a genuine war hero and consul an unprecedented 7 times, but ended badly.

His plan to give land to the veterans lay the ground for the Civil Wars. Others were already using the public land for private profit. They deeply resented losing their privileges.

In his later consulships, he became increasingly paranoid. Plutarch tells us Marius "thirsted for blood, and kept on killing all whom he held in any suspicion."

Finally, out of sheer greed, he unseated the rightful military commander in the East, Sulla. With this act, he took Rome into the civil conflict that punched  very deep holes into Rome's social and political fabric.

Marius died seventeen days into his 7th consulship, at age 71.

Sulla: The General Who Killed the Republic

In Munich, you can see an especially ferocious portrait bust. This is Sulla, the man who spelled the end of the Republic. The eyebrows jut in an upward slash, the piercing eyes bulge, the nose must have been substantial. This was a person you would want to give a wide berth to.

Sulla had first made his military reputation in North Africa under Marius in defeating Jugurtha, the King of Numidia.  Jugurtha seemed to excel in bribing Rome's highest officials. Sulla, under Marius' leadership, captured Jugurtha through better treachery--his father-in-law coughed him up.

In 101 BC Sulla joined Marius in the campaigns against the Germanic tribes. He was key in defeating the Cimbri. The Cimbri tribe, women and children as well as the male warriors, was extinguished from the face of the earth. Rome breathed a sigh of relief.

In southern Italy, Rome's allies, who were not "citizens" of Rome, revolted over unequal taxation. After all, they were allies. The Romans thought otherwise--an ally to them was someone they had conquered and then allowed to exist-- and sent Sulla to defeat them.

Was Sulla becoming too successful? The Senate and Sulla tangled, twice. The Senate, led by Marius, took away his command over the Eastern army.  Sulla, tossing aside centuries of Roman tradition and law, led his soldiers in a "March on Rome." The Roman government sent emissaries to reason with him. His soldiers stoned them to death.  Sulla won. Marius fled.

The second time they tangled, Sulla engaged in scorched earth policy from Athens to Rome, sparing neither Roman citizen nor ally. Outside the Colline Gate in Rome, Sulla won a final battle against the Roman Senate and their supporters.

He became "dictator," the first in 120 years.  His victor's speech to the cowering Senate was accompanied by the screams of thousands of soldiers being executed a short distance away in the Forum.

As dictator, Sulla "cleansed" the elite of Rome.
The independence of the old Senate and of elected Roman officials was broken,  the economic underpinnings of rivals wiped out. Sulla's bloodbaths and confiscations against fellow Romans scarred Roman consciousness for the next 80 years.
  Roman general and dictator Sulla
(Lucius Cornelius Sulla, 140-78 BC). Munich: Glypothek.

Sulla had exceptionally fair skin that showed red marks later in life, blue or grey eyes, and a mane of reddish-blond hair. He was fond of good food and dancers and actresses, a dissolute life-style for Romans.

Sulla was the first Roman general to lead a Roman Army against the city of Rome and its duly elected government.

The author Pausanias related several centuries later, with a hint of relish, that Sulla died "seething with maggots (possibly lice). His early apparent good luck came round to so terrible an end."  
Pompey the Great

In this portrait bust, the sculptor has given Pompey a self-satisfied look. As well he might: Pompey was  called "Pompey the Great"  for good reason. At a young age, he raised a private Army and refused to disband it after it won again and again in the long Roman Civil Wars.

The Senate, not knowing quite what to do with him and his Army, decided to forgive all and make his acts legal. They gave him plum military assignments and celebrated his victories with three "triumphs."

Pompey's last triumph was given for his generalship against the most resilient of foes, Mithridates.

Mithridates was the King of Pontus (in northern Turkey on the south shore of the Black Sea). Mithridates had committed an act of atrocity horrifying even by ancient standards. After invading the Roman province of "Asia" (modern Turkey), he had ordered the massacre of every Roman and Italian man, woman, and child, perhaps 80,000 total.

Mithridates and Rome had been at war for 23 years when Pompey arrived. Pompey swept through Asia , and gave Mithridates his final defeat.  Pompey claimed to have killed, captured, or defeated over 12 million people in his Eastern campaigns, and accepted the surrender of 1500 towns and fortified places.

Pompey returned from Asia as one of the wealthiest man in Rome. His ostentatious third "triumph," for his Asia victories, started on his 45th birthday and lasted two  days. He rode in the parade in a chariot studded with pearls. A portrait of him, made of rare pearls and gemstones was prominently displayed. The  captured silver rolling past the spectators was equal to the annual tax revenue of the entire Roman world.

When the throne of Mithridates and a gold statue of the defeated King appeared, no one could doubt that Pompey had made Rome into a true world empire.

  Pompey the Great

Pompey the Great,
(Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, 106 BC-48 BC). Ny Carlsburg Glyptothek, Copenhagen. Photo: courtesy Penelope@chicago.edu

Pompey, once a great general, died a sad death.

Pompey married the only daughter of Julius Caesar. They were very much in love. When she died at a young age in childbirth, Pompey and Caesar's bond broke, and the two led different sides in the subsequent civil war.

Pompey panicked against Caesar at the battle at Pharsalus, northwest of Athens, and lost. Committing the worst of all acts for a Roman General, he abandoned his army and fled to Eqypt. The Egyptians assassinated Pompey and presented his head to Caesar.
 Julius Caesar

Americans know Julius Caesar for three things: "All Gaul is divided into three parts,"  the opening words of his
Gallic Wars;  his affair with Cleopatra; and his murder on the Ides of March, including Shakespeare's words "Et tu, Brute?"

As a military commander, Caesar owned the Roman trait of "virtus" --physical courage, military skills, and moral leadership over his troops.  He could deploy his army with control, paying attention to the smallest details of the units and the combat at hand. 

His ability to see options  on the battlefield and make the brilliant decision was uncanny, and Caesar celebrated four military "triumphs" for his accomplishments. The first for victories in Gaul against many large tribes. The second for victories in Eqypt. The third for his battles in Asia against the Asian ruler Pontus. The fourth for victory in North Africa against the King of Numidia.  Some of his most important victories--those of the Roman Civil Wars--could not be mentioned.

At 19, he received the rarely-award "corona civica"  for personal bravery.  A simple oak wreath, the corona civica  marked a solider as a true hero, one who had saved the lives of other Roman soldiers at considerable risk to himself. When the hero entered a Roman  event such as a festival, all attending, even Senators, rose to their feet in gratitude and respect.

Caesar was just a fearless at 52, when he personally led his Army to defeat the great Pompey at the battle of Pharsalus in the Civil Wars.

Charismatic and empathetic, Caesar connected with his troops. He addressed them as "comrades," and sometimes as "citizens,"  never as "soldiers" or "men." Caesar led his columns in the field, sometimes on horseback, often on foot, showing his officers and men that he expected of himself exactly what he expected of them. 

He trained with his men, leading them on foot, leading at night, leading in the rain, leading over difficult terrain.  He slept in the open air with his soldiers and rode with his cavalry for hours on end, even though he suffered bouts of epilepsy and other ill health.

Julius Caesar didn't think he would have any problem with the gods: his father's family were descended, so he said,  from Venus herself.
  Julius Caesar
Gaius Julius Caesar, (100 BC-44 BC).

Caesar was not particularly wealthy before he became Consul and Commander, but he was witty and charming to men and to women. Rome's most aristocratic women found him irresistible. Women could not play an overt role in politics, but their connections furthered Caesar's political and military careers.

He wrote and spoke (orated) well. Even the great Cicero admired his talents. His connections backed him. He backed himself by taking on huge debt to win in politics.

Caesar was thought to be one of Rome's great lovers. His affairs could be short or long.  He married three times: to Cornelia, to Pompeia, and to Calpurnia, and had a long affair with Servilia, mother of his assassin Brutus. And then there was Cleopatra...

The Etruscans

The Etruscans were an older, more advanced society than the early Romans. At one time, an Etruscan royal dynasty, the Tarquins, may have ruled Rome, producing "Etruscan Rome".  The art and architecture of the early Roman city was certainly Etruscan and Greek, produced by Etruscan craftsmen.

In time, the balance swung. Rome conquered Etruria, and Etruria became Roman, rather than Rome becoming Etruscan.

The city built by the Etruscans became their nemesis and conqueror. Over a period of 300 years, all of the various Etruscan city-states fell to Rome.

Enmity and jealousy pulled them apart. Their own priests said their culture's lifespan was at an end. By 90 BC Etruria had declined into just another region of Italy, ruled by the Romans.

Etruscan culture and language were erased from the face of the earth.

  Etruscans defeated

Roman Triumph over the Etruscans at Veii.
16th c fresco by Francesco Salviato. Florence, Palazzo Vecchio. 

The term "Pyrrhic Victory" comes from one of the strongest opponents of the early Romans:  Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, in northwestern Greece.

The tribes, settlements, and cities of the Italian Peninsula were being threatened by the Romans. They hired Pyrrhus, a Greek King, to get rid of the Romans since they could not do so themselves. He almost succeeded. He twice defeated the well-organized and numerous Romans, at the Heraclea in 280 BC and at Asculum in 279.

Pyrrhus put together a modern-looking army-- professional soldiers, who used pikes in a phalanx, with war elephants to supply the  fear-factor and cavalry for mobility.  As a general, he was a far cry from the tribal chieftain or the faction-bound city-state that the Romans easily toppled.

The cost to Pyrrhus from these victories was heavy. After he Battle of Asculum, Pyrrhus lost his headquarters camp. Personally, he suffered a  life-threatening javelin wound.

Pyrrhus allegedly said that one more such triumph against the Romans would ruin him. 

Worse, the Romans refused to give up and come to terms after their two defeats. This behavior defied the ancient world's military codes. Pyrrhus went home to Greece without a declared victory. In the end, he was not considered a winner.

With Pyrrhus out of the picture, the Romans rapidly defeated those who had hired or sided with him. Roman hegemony over the Italian peninsula appeared unstoppable.

Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, Greece. ( 319-272 BC)Bust, National Archeological Museum of Naples. Courtesy: Wikipedia.

After 'defeating' the Romans, King Pyrrhus returned to the Greek world. While fighting in the city of Argos, a woman on top of a house flung a tile down onto him. Down he went; an enemy soldier ineptly severed his head from his body. No one thought it disgraceful.
Hannibal : the Second Punic War

"The elephants go on and smash everything under their feet: they (i.e., the Roman infantry) go like tomato juice..."
 On Hannibal's wine-fed elephants, by S. Frankello, German elephant trainer. His video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=0gbPIyCuGTA

Hannibal of Carthage: to us, the general with the most exotic, unbelievable, heroic story-line: he leads a large army through the Alps, in winter, with a corps of elephants. After descending to the other side, in Rome’s home court, he smashes the waiting Roman Army.

Hannibal: to the Romans, this commander is nuts. Crossing a high mountain range in winter? With a large army to supply and keep together? Running a gauntlet of mountain tribes situated high above in the narrow passes? With 37 elephants, not known to like snow and cold? With no supply base or allies on the Italian side? 

No Roman general could have thought Hannibal was much of a threat. Rome was the “new-style” power: super-offensive, coming back again and again with endless supplies of manpower, until complete victory. The quality of generalship did not much matter.  “Old-style” powers, like Carthage, could afford to lose only  around 5-10% of their force, so they maneuvered, engaged in siege warfare, and negotiated settlements. 

The Roman Army trained their soldiers in close, hand-to-hand field combat. Their large-scale units could operate in controlled, disciplined formations.  How could an "Old-style" army survive even a week in Italy?

Hannibal broke the mold. He proved that brilliant generalship could win the day. In three stunning victories in Italy within two years—at Trebia, Trasimene, Cannae-- the Romans were decimated. Then sucked into an 18 year war that claimed as many as 1/3 of all Roman males.

Eventually, the Romans wised up and attacked Carthage even though Hannibal was still at large in Italy. Hannibal returned to Carthage to defend his homeland but lost the battle of Zama. After Carthage's surrender, he lived another 20 years. He entered politics, became a reformer, then fell afoul of the Roman authorities in Carthage. He fled to Asia (modern Turkey), where he served various kings fighting the Romans. Soon he was on Rome's Most Wanted list. About to be fingered, he committed suicide around age 66.

Of the 37 original elephants, those who made it over the Alps died in their first year in Italy from an unexpected prolonged freeze.

  Battle of Cannae Map
Hannibal defeats the Romans at the battle of Cannae, 216 BC. The Carthaginians are shown in blue; the Romans in red. Detail of diagram courtesy of US Military Academy.

I've always been moved by how little evidence exists today for battles where thousands lost their lives.Trebia,Trasimene, and Cannae are no different. Little archeological evidence has been uncovered--few pieces of armor, projectiles, or remains of the many soldiers who perished.

For Cannae, no memoirs of those who fought survive. What we know of the battle comes from two ancient Romans writing much later: Polybius and Livy. Nothing from the Carthaginian side survives.

Strength and casualties (approximate)

Trebia: Hannibal 30,000 men; 4,000 lost
            Rome: 42,000 men; 32,000 lost

Trasimene: Hannibal: 30-50,000 men; 1500 lost
               Rome: 30-40,000 men; 15-30,000 lost

Cannae: Hannibal: 50,000; 5500 lost
            Romans: 86,000 men; 67,000 lost

The casualty rate  at Cannae--for a single day's fighting, as a percent of  the force-- was not reached again in the West until World War I.

For the general reader:

The best single volume is by Jonathan P. Roth,   Roman Warfare: the Cambridge Introduction to Roman Warfare. 2009

Adrian Goldsworthy has written a number of recent books on warfare and the army in the early period that are both interesting to read and rely on primary resources. On the Army, try his:  The Roman Army at War; Roman Warfare; and In the Name of Rome.

Goldsworthy's biographies include: A
nthony and Cleopatra; (Julius) Caesar, The Life of a Colossus; and Augustus. Battle-oriented ones are: The Fall of Carthage and the Punic Wars, and Cannae.

Scullard, H. H. , The Elephant in the Greek and Roman World. 1974.

For more advanced readers:

Cornell,T. J.,
The Beginnings of Rome. 1975.

Galinksy, Karl,
Augustus. 2012.

Harris, William.V.,
Rome in Etruria and Umbria.

Osgood, Josiah,
Caesar's Legacy: Civil War and the Emergence of the Roman Empire. 2006.

Rich, John and D. Graham Shipley,
War and Society in the Roman World. 1993.

Updated 21-July-2016. You may contact me, Nancy Padgett, at NJPadgett@gmail.com.

To read the primary sources: Sage, Michael, The Republican Roman Army: a Sourcebook. 2008

Horace translation by A.S. Kline,
Horace: The Epodes and Carmen Saeculare from his web site  http://www.poetryintranslation.com

Internet resources

Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Lacus Curtius


For casual readers and wargame buffs:

BBC History Magazine

Ancient Warfare