The Battle of Trasimene: Excerpt from WIP In the Wake of Hannibal

Today, June 21st, is the anniversary of the Battle of Lake Trasimene in 217 B.C. in which Carthaginian forces under Hannibal trapped a Roman Army under the command of Gaius Flaminius in a defile and slaughtered some 15,000 Romans. It was to be the third of four set-piece victories for Hannibal as he moved down the Italian countryside after crossing the Alps.
This is an excerpt from my work in progress, In the Wake of Hannibal, concerning this battle.
The narrator is Gisco, an officer in Hannibal’s army and a close friend of Hannibal’s brother Mago:
The battle of Trebia had taken place on the winter solstice; this next battle would take place on the summer solstice.
It seems that solstices are not auspicious for the Romans! When we reached Lake Trasimene, Hannibal deployed his forces in readiness for ambuscade all along the defile between the mountains and the lake. I was with the African and Spanish troops on the hill at the eastern side of the valley. The Balearic slingers and pike men were posted at the right end of the valley and the Gauls and cavalry occupied the left end of the valley. Flaminius and his men had no idea what awaited them.
The fog was intensely thick when Flaminius marched his men into the defile along the lake. We waited until all of them had come into our trap and then we attacked. It was a slaughter. The Romans had nowhere to run except into the lake and if they did that their heavy armor caused them to drown. It is believed that we killed 15,000 Romans that day. The Consul Flaminius was said to have been killed by one of our allied Gallic chieftains, a man named Ducarius. It was sweet revenge for an attack on his tribe that the Consul made some years before. Flaminius’ body was never found. He was the first Roman Consul to die at the hands of our army, but he would not be the last.
There was a vanguard of Roman cavalry, some 6,000 men, who fought their way through our ranks and took refuge in an Etruscan village. The next day Hannibal sent Maharbal and his Numidian cavalry to hunt them down. Maharbal surrounded the village and told their military tribune through an interpreter that if they surrendered they would be released with a single garment. The group agreed to surrender and delivered up their weapons, armor and horses. Maharbal then herded them back to our camp.
“Maharbal,” said Hannibal, “I did not authorize you to make a deal with the Romans. If we release them with a single garment we will have to fight these same men again in the near future, and they are trained cavalrymen who present the greatest threat to our army. We have to eliminate these men as a threat. I have been in contact with Greek slave traders who work both sides of the Adriatic. We’ll profit from the sale of these captives. I may consider releasing those who are from tribes allied with the Romans. They may be persuaded to go to their people and convince them to ally with us. But the Romans must be sold as slaves.”
“I am sorry, Hannibal,” said Maharbal. “Now that you have explained your reasoning, I must agree. I won’t do this again.”
I was assigned to supervise the handling of the prisoners. I had my men put them in chains. We had little food to spare, so they got only a meager bowl of porridge a day. They were a sullen looking lot, but then I suppose I would also be sullen if I were in their situation. Sosylus wandered around the compound taking notes. “That boy looks too young to be a soldier.” He said to me, indicating a beardless youth. “I wonder if I might talk to him.” I suspected that Sosylus might have an erotic interest in the comely young man. Neither Phoenicians nor Romans approve of erotic relations between men, but it seems that the Greeks, in general, and Spartans, in particular, have no problem with it. I have heard that Spartan boys, upon reaching the age of puberty, routinely acquire an adult lover, and Spartan women, upon their nuptials, cut their hair short and dress like boys in order to arouse their new husbands. I looked on with amusement as Sosylus approached the young man.
He smiled. “Ephebos, do you speak Greek?” The boy looked surprised but said “Yes.”
“You seem young to be in the Roman cavalry. How old are you?” asked Sosylus.
“I’m seventeen,” replied the boy.
“I’m amazed that such an inexperienced soldier as you could have survived this battle! How did you do it?”
The boy shrugged. “I rode through the enemy lines and whenever anyone attacked me I killed them with my sword. What else could I do? Who are you and why do you ask?”
“I’m Sosylus of Sparta” said Sosylus. “I plan to write a history of this war. You speak Greek very well. Who taught you?”
“My teacher was Livius Andronicus,” replied the young man.
“Livius Andronicus the playwright?” asked Sosylus.
“Yes,” said the boy. “My father was a client of Tiberius Servilius Livius, who was Andronicus’ patron, and I was allowed to study with him along with Livius’ sons.
“And what is your name?” asked Sosylus.
“Enneus Tullius,” the boy replied.
“Well, Enneus,” said Sosylus. “I would advise you to tell them you are Campanian. Hannibal may well release any Campanians without ransom.”
“I’m a Roman,” replied Enneus. “Lying is for Carthaginians.”
That remark abruptly ended any hope of Sosylus rendering assistance to the brat. I had sufficient authority to order young Enneus to be beaten or flogged, but I just said, “Enough of your insolence! If you talk this way to the man who will be your master, he will have you flogged!” I derived more satisfaction just from seeing the expression on the brat’s face than from any beating or flogging I might have inflicted. Sosylus politely excused himself and I left young Enneus Tullius to his misery.

Speak Your Mind

*