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The Battle of Cannae

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  • The Battle of Cannae

    Anyone know how long the Battle of Cannae lasted (any references?).
    I've seen 'in a single day' and 4 hrs.

    Conservatives in the U.S. won't be happy until Jim Crow returns and "White Heterosexual Only" signs are legalized.

  • #2
    Livy in his Book XXII in Penguin Classics, The War with Hannibal, does not give a specific length in time but a couple of sections suggest that it was about half a day. In section 47, "The Romans faced south, the Carthaginians north; and luckily for both the early morning sun ... shone obliquely on each of them...."
    In section 51, "Meanwhile the victorious Hannibal was surrounded by his officers offering their congratulations and urging him to take some rest during the remainder of the day and the ensuing night, and to allow his tired troops to do the same...."

    In section 52, the Carthaginians spent "much of the [following] day" in collecting the spoils.
    Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

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    • #3
      Half a day would make sense. Thank you. That helps a lot.
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      • #4
        How long was the actual contact time would seem to the question. Does that include chase groups returning after a time of they finally reached their limit of how far and long in distance and time to kill straggling opponents that were fleeing the slaughter?
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        • #5
          Originally posted by Salinator View Post
          How long was the actual contact time would seem to the question. Does that include chase groups returning after a time of they finally reached their limit of how far and long in distance and time to kill straggling opponents that were fleeing the slaughter?
          The "Meanwhile" was described by Livy in section 50 about the Roman survivors who had gathered into "two camps were leaderless, most of their weapons gone." ... A tribune "led his comrades in wedge formation, straight through what oppositions there was. Some Numidians on their right, and exposed, flank discharged their javelins at them, but they shifted their shields over and forced their way, some 600 of them, to the larger camp. From there, without further delay and with a great accession of numbers, they reached Canusium in safety."

          This suggests the Roman had already been defeated, reinforcing the idea that main fight was over in a few hours.
          Last edited by R.N. Armstrong; 06 Jan 20, 06:00.
          Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by R.N. Armstrong View Post

            The "Meanwhile" was described by Livy in section 50 about the Roman survivors who had gathered into "two camps were leaderless, most of their weapons gone." ... A tribune "led his comrades in wedge formation, straight through what oppositions there was. Some Numidians on their right, and exposed, flank discharged their javelins at them, but they shifted their shields over and forced their way, some 600 of them, to the larger camp. From there, without further delay and with a great accession of numbers, they reached Canusium in safety."

            This suggests the Roman had already been defeated, reinforcing the idea that main fight was over in a few hours.
            I've read Livy, but was hopping that from your experience in studying battles, how much time to set up formation and to then to fully disengage might add to the actual main battle.
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            • #7
              Polybius gives us the sequence of the battle: Romans advance, Carthaginians pull back and light infantry moved to the flanks, Carthaginian heavy cav drove back Roman Cav. Roman infantry continued to advance. Hannibal signals for trap to close. Light infantry hit Roman flanks, and Carthaginian cav hits Roman rear. At that point the Roman infantry is broken, too cramped to fight, panics to breakout/run. The fight ends rapidly. The initial maneuvers and engagements would not have been long, just several hours. Four to six hours works for me.
              Leadership is the ability to rise above conventional wisdom.

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              • #8
                Interesting question, in terms of specifics regarding Cannae. The battle reached a point from where the sinister simplicity in the way Hannibal encircled the double-consular army gave way to horrendous slaughter. It must have lasted hours after which the poor, numerous Romans became helpless once being so tightly hemmed into a colossal trap until the battle ended.

                Judging by Hannibal’s character for the harshness of the times, he could have effected a surrender in an age of automatic weaponry. It was really amazing how this was his intent - to win a battle so demonstrably and bring the Romans to the table. The solidarity of their federation did finally crack, but not enough for his political strategy to achieve ultimate victory. No battle per se could gave been more destructive upon an enemy army, yet we never read of the Romans considering peace talks as they did a couple generations earlier against Pyrrhus, who hardly pummeled them to the same degree. But some Roman nobles wanted to ‘escape’ Italy across the Adriatic.

                James

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                • #9
                  It seemed to be the case in ancient battles that once an army loses, they lose quickly. Once it falls apart, those that can will run, and those that can’t will die. I doubt that it lasted more than 6 hours though. You just can’t swing a sword that long. After a while you need to stop, rest and at least drink some water. By then, during a slaughter, most of the enemy has either surrendered or run away.

                  What is really staggering is the numbers in such a small area. What? A couple of football fields? 100 thousand plus all hacking each other to death? I can see how it would be over in short time if one side is getting the worst of it. The fear, lack of line, lack of command. I think at that point panic would take over the whole army and the killing would be like hunting quail.
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                  • #10
                    ...You just can’t swing a sword that long. After a while you need to stop, rest and at least drink some water. By then, during a slaughter, most of the enemy has either surrendered or run away...
                    I agree for the most part, but Cannae was unique; the men who effectuated the encirclement couldn’t just accept surrender from tens of thousands of trapped men who vastly outnumbered them in these times, and the preponderance of the encircled ones simply couldn’t run away. But you’ve made a good point - the hacking and thrusting upon the trapped enemy by Hannibal’s men (we know he recently armed his infantry primarily with swords) could not have gone on indefatigably, although there must have been intervals in some fashion involved to get to the outer parts of the encircled mob. There must have been some gaps for mobs of men to escape piecemeal.

                    James
                    Last edited by SpartanJM; 18 Feb 20, 18:21.

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