The Battle of Cannae

AEmilius sent also a message to Fabius, declaring to him that it was not his fault that a battle had been risked with Hannibal. He had done all in his power, he said, to prevent it, and had adhered to the policy which Fabius had recommended to the last. Lentulus having received these messages, and perceiving that the Carthaginians were close upon him in pursuit, rode away, leaving the consul to his fate. The Carthaginians came on, and, on seeing the wounded man, they thrust their spears into his body, one after another, as they passed, until his limbs ceased to quiver. As for the other consul, Varro, he escaped with his life. Attended by about seventy horsemen, he made his way to a fortified town not very remote from the battle-field, where he halted with his horsemen, and determined that he would attempt to rally there the remains of the army.


The Carthaginians, when they found the victory complete, abandoned the pursuit of the enemy, returned to their camp, spent some hours in feasting and rejoicing, and then lay down to sleep. They were, of course, well exhausted by the intense exertions of the day. On the field where the battle had been fought, the wounded lay all night mingled with the dead, filling the air with cries and groans, and writhing in their agony.

Early the next morning the Carthaginians came back to the field to plunder the dead bodies of the Romans. The whole field presented a most shocking spectacle to the view. The bodies of horses and men lay mingled in dreadful confusion, as they had fallen, some dead, others still alive, the men moaning, crying for water, and feebly struggling from time to time to disentangle themselves from the heaps of carcasses under which they were buried. The deadly and inextinguishable hate which the Carthaginians felt for their foes not having been appeased by the slaughter of forty thousand of them; they beat down and stabbed these wretched lingerers wherever they found them, as a sort of morning pastime after the severer labors of the preceding day. This slaughter, however, could hardly be considered a cruelty to the wretched victims of it, for many of them bared their breasts to their assailants, and begged for the blow which was to put an end to their pain. In exploring the field, one Carthaginian soldier was found still alive, but imprisoned by the dead body of his Roman enemy lying upon him. The Carthaginian’s face and ears were shockingly mangled. The Roman, having fallen upon him when both were mortally wounded, had continued the combat. with his teeth when he could no longer use his weapon, and had died at last, binding down his exhausted enemy with his own dead body.

The Carthaginians secured a vast amount of plunder. The Roman army was full of officers and soldiers from the aristocratic ranks of society, and their arms and their dress were very valuable. The Carthaginians obtained some bushels of gold rings from their fingers, which Hannibal sent to Carthage as a trophy of his victory.