The history of the world is marked by the clash of weapons. We celebrate victories but it is well known that lessons can only be learned from defeats. Tomorrow – on the occasion of the cycle of publications proposed by Il Messaggero to its readers and dedicated to The Great Battles of Ancient Rome – the third issue arrives on newsstands, The battle of Lake Trasimeno recalling a tragic defeat. It is a key moment of the Second Punic War (218-202 BC), a clash that took place on the morning of 21 June 217 BC at the north-western shores of Lake Trasimeno between the Roman army – led by consul Gaius Flaminio Nepote – and the Carthaginian one, led by Annibale Barca. Precisely because of his strategic skills and his shrewdness, Hannibal was disliked by the Romans, as they shunned deceptions and lying tactics, seeking a noble death in battle. As proof of this, Tito Livio wrote a famous portrait of the Carthaginian leader, recalling his courage but nailing him for cruelty and treachery, as a man “who has no sense of truth or of the sacred”. Hannibal was double, cheeky and deceitful, which is why this defeat was so painful for the Romans.
In the book by Nic Fields, from tomorrow on newsstands (translated by Lorenzo Vecchi, embellished with the illustrated tables by Donato Spedaliere) we admire the masterpiece of the Carthaginian leader who in 218 BC, first crossed the Alps and then won some clashes, settling on the Po Valley while its ranks grew significantly thanks to the fury of the Celts. Rome elected two consuls Gaio Flaminio Nepote and Gneo Servilio Gemino, assigning them 25 thousand units each to defend Etruria, garrison Rimini and avert the enemy’s descent towards Rome. To escape this pincer, Hannibal chose to cross the swamps of Etruria: it was a daring move, he lost men, beasts and provisions (the leader himself, will lose an eye for an infection) but arrived in the area of Lake Trasimeno, he ordered a fatal ambush. He decided to deploy the heavy infantry in the open field to lure the Romans into the Val di Chiana while the Celtic cavalry and infantry were hidden by the thick vegetation of the area. And, finally, behind the hill on which Hannibal himself was deployed, he brought the light infantry to close any escape route. As if that were not enough, on the morning of June 21, 217 BC even the fog complicated the situation and the Romans marched straight into the jaws of the enemy, also due to the arrogance of Flaminio who did not send even a squad to advance.
As soon as the Roman troops got trapped, the Celts attacked them from the hills as cavalry and light infantry encircled them. It was a grueling battle lasting over three hours that reached a tragic end when Flaminio was killed by Ducario, a Celtic knight. It was a massacre: only 6,000 will be able to escape and the next day they will be captured, exhausted but alive. And on the wave of desperation, the Roman senate appointed a dictator, Quinto Fabio Massimo to save Rome but arriving at the fatal battle of Cannae.