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216BCE

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§Asia

§China

Work continues on the mausoleum, including the thousands of terra cotta warriors, for Qin Shi Huang Di.

§Roman Republic

In the spring of 216 BC, Hannibal took the initiative and seized the large supply depot at Cannae in the Apulian plain. By seizing Cannae, Hannibal had placed himself between the Romans and their crucial source of supply. Once the Roman Senate resumed their Consular elections in 216, they appointed Gaius Terentius Varro and Lucius Aemilius Paullus as Consuls. In the meantime, the Romans, hoping to gain success through sheer strength in numbers, raised a new army of unprecedented size, estimated by some to be as large as 100,000 men.

The Roman and Allied legions of the Consuls, resolving to confront Hannibal, marched southward to Apulia. They eventually found him on the left bank of the Aufidus River, and encamped six miles away. On this occasion, the two armies were combined into one, the Consuls having to alternate their command on a daily basis. The Consul Varro, who was in command on the first day, was a man of reckless and hubristic nature, and was determined to defeat Hannibal. Hannibal capitalized on the eagerness of Varro and drew him into a trap by using an envelopment tactic which eliminated the Roman numerical advantage by shrinking the surface area where combat could occur. Hannibal drew up his least reliable infantry in a semicircle in the center with the wings composed of the Gallic and Numidian horse. The Roman legions forced their way through Hannibal's weak center, but the Libyan Mercenaries in the wings, swung around by the movement, menaced their flanks. The onslaught of Hannibal's cavalry was irresistible, and Hasdrubal (not Hasdrubal Barca) who commanded the left, pushed in the Roman right and then swept across the rear and attacked Varro's cavalry on the Roman left. Then he attacked the legions from behind. As a result, the Roman army was hemmed in with no means of escape.

Due to these brilliant tactics, Hannibal, with much inferior numbers, managed to surround and destroy all but a small remainder of this force. Depending upon the source, it is estimated that 50,000-70,000 Romans were killed or captured at Cannae. Among the dead were the Roman consul Lucius Aemilius Paullus, as well two consuls for the preceding year, two quaestors, twenty-nine out of the forty-eight military tribunes and an additional eighty senators (at a time when the Roman Senate comprised no more than 300 men, this constituted 25%–30% of the governing body). This makes the Battle of Cannae one of the most catastrophic defeats in the history of Ancient Rome, and one of the bloodiest battles in all of human history (in terms of the number of lives lost within a single day). After Cannae, the Romans were not as enthusiastic in challenging Hannibal in pitched battles, instead preferring to defeat him by attrition, relying on their advantages of supply and manpower. As a result, Hannibal and Rome fought no more major battles in Italy for the rest of the war.

The effect on morale of this victory meant that many parts of Italy joined Hannibal's cause. As Polybius notes, "How much more serious was the defeat of Cannae, than those which preceded it can be seen by the behavior of Rome’s allies; before that fateful day, their loyalty remained unshaken, now it began to waver for the simple reason that they despaired of Roman Power." During that same year, the Greek cities in Sicily were induced to revolt against Roman political control, while the Macedonian king, Philip V, pledged his support to Hannibal – thus initiating the First Macedonian War against Rome. Hannibal also secured an alliance with newly appointed King Hieronymus of Syracuse. It is often argued that if Hannibal had received proper material reinforcements from Carthage he might have succeeded with a direct attack upon Rome. For the present he had to content himself with subduing the fortresses which still held out against him, and the only other notable event of 216 BC was the defection of certain Italian territories, including Capua, the second largest city of Italy, which Hannibal made his new base. However, only a few of the Italian city-states which he had expected to gain as allies consented to join him.

2 August — The Battle of Cannae (east of Naples) ends in victory for Hannibal whose 40,000-man army defeats a Roman force of 70,000 led by consuls Lucius Aemilius Paullus (who is killed in the battle) and Gaius Terentius Varro.

Following Hannibal's victory, many regions begin to defect from Rome, while others are conquered by Hannibal's forces. In Apulia and in Bruttium, Hannibal finds many supporters.

As he lacks the catapults and battering rams needed to besiege Rome, Hannibal focuses on laying waste the fields surrounding the city, forcing Rome to import grain at inflated prices.

After the defeat at Cannae, Roman general, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, commands the remnants of the Roman army at Canusium and saves the city of Nola and southern Campania from occupation by Hannibal.

A loan of money and supplies for the Roman army in Sicily is sought and obtained from Hiero II of Syracuse.

The city of Capua switches sides to join Hannibal and the Carthaginian army winters there.

The Roman historian Quintus Fabius Pictor is sent to Delphi in Greece to consult the Oracle for advice about what Rome should do after its defeat in the Battle of Cannae.

§Greece

Philip V of Macedon, still resenting Rome's interference in Illyrian politics, seizes his opportunity to invade Illyria. Ambassadors from Philip V visit Hannibal at his headquarters in Italy. These actions mark the beginning of the First Macedonian War between Rome and Macedonia.

§Egypt

A revolt of the Egyptian peasants is put down by Ptolemy IV.

§Deaths

  • August 2 — Lucius Aemilius Paullus, Roman consul and general (killed in the Battle of Cannae)
  • August 2 — Gnaeus Servilius Geminus, Roman consul 217 BC (killed in the Battle of Cannae)
  • August 2 — Marcus Minucius Rufus, Roman consul 221 BC, Master of the Horse 217 BC (killed in the Battle of Cannae)

§Sources

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