Quora Question: What Was the Greatest Military Comeback in History

I’d have to give that to the Romans in the Second Punic War. The Carthaginian general Hannibal brought an army over the Alps in 218 B.C. During the next two years he won four battles: Ticinus, 2300 Roman casualties, Roman Consul wounded. Trebia 28,000 Roman Casualties. Trasimene, 15,000 Romans killed, 15,000 captured, Roman Consul killed. Cannae Nearly fifty thousand Romans and allies killed, nearly 20,000 captured, one Roman Consul killed. It is said that in these four battles twenty percent of Italian men of military age perished.

After Cannae, Hannibal believed that the Romans would sue for peace and submit to a treaty on his terms. He was wrong. The Roman Senate declared it a crime to even mention the word “peace,” and the Romans settled in for the long haul. After Cannae, nearly all of Rome’s Italian allies, except for the tribes of Latium, deserted Rome and allied themselves with Hannibal. Any observers would have believed that Rome was finished. Philip V of Macedon thought so and allied himself with Hannibal.

Under the leadership of Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus Cunctator, the war became one of attrition. The Romans largely stopped meeting Hannibal on his own terms, and instead gradually clawed back the gains he had made among their erstwhile allies. They besieged and eventually conquered Capua, making examples of the Capuan leaders by scourging and beheading them. In his last Consulship Fabius took back Tarentum by a ruse. By 206 B.C. Hannibal was confined to a small area of Italy in Bruttium.

In 211 B.C. the Romans suffered a major setback in Spain. Both of the Proconsuls there, Publius Cornelius Scipio and his brother Gneius Scipio were killed in the Battles of the Upper Baetis and 24,000 of the 32,000 Roman legionaries were killed. The 8000 survivors assembled in their camp at Tarraco and fought off the Carthaginian generals Mago Barca and Hasdrubal Son of Gisco when they came to finish them off.

The Scipio brothers were replaced by Marcus Claudius Nero, who did not stay long. Nero was replaced by Publius Cornelius Scipio, the 25 year old son of the Publius Cornelius Scipio who was killed at one of the Battles of the Upper Baetis. Scipio brought his legions south and conquered New Carthage, which was meagerly defended. He defeated Hasdrubal Barca, the brother of Hannibal, the next year at the Battle of Baecula. In 206 B.C. he defeated the forces of Mago Barca and Hasdrubal Son of Gisco at the battle of Ilipa. Both Carthaginian generals fled Spain. In four years he had cleared Spain of all Carthaginian troops. Hasdrubal Barca succeeded in taking an army over the Alps in 207 B.C. in an effort to join Hannibal, but the Romans annihilated his forces at the battle of the Metaurus River and he was killed.

Scipio went on to invade Africa and defeated Hannibal at the Battle of Zama in 202 B.C. Carthage was forced to submit to a treaty on Roman terms.

Nobody would have predicted this outcome after the Battle of Cannae in 216 B.C.

If interested in Fabius Maximus and the war of attrition, read my book Maximus, Warts and All. It’s available on Amazon and Kindle.

Comments

  1. Duncan Kinder says

    All quite true.

    The Soviet comeback after Hitler invaded in 1941 was also remarkable.

    It would be difficult to compare the two.

  2. It was indeed. The Russians have an ally that has helped them more than once-Winter.

  3. It was indeed. The Russians have an ally that has helped them more than once-Winter.

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