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Index of documents > Euromeetings Magazine > Euromeetings Number 21

The battle of Lake Trasimene

Today, Lake Trasimene, with all of its villages, is an enjoyable area for holidays. However, a long time ago, a terrible battle took place there between the Carthaginians army under Hannibal and the army under the Roman consul Gaius Flaminius.

On June 24th in the year 217 BC, a major battle took place in the Second Punic War. The Carthaginians army under Hannibal defeated the Romans under the consul Gaius Flaminius near Lake Trasimene. At the beginning of the year 217 BC, Hannibal’s army crossed the Apennines and followed the river Arno. The Roman General Gaius Flaminius was staying with his legions at Arretium (today Arezzo) having planned to stop the progression of Hannibal. Flaminius was not a patriotic, he was a rather populist commoner who was ambitious and arrogant and wanted to influence public opinion in his favour. He was very much criticised by the Roman historian Livio because he left Rome without having carried out the appropriate rituals after he was elected consul.

Hannibal changed his trajectory in Etruria Arno and passed through the marsh during four days and three nights. A lot of his Celtic allies became ill and Hannibal lost his right eye because of an infection. Hannibal started devastating the country to attract the Romans to battle. Instead of walking south through the Val di Chiana, he stopped and waited sot that he could pursue Flaminius’ army. From there, he went to Perusia (today Perugia) following the north cost of Lake Trasimene in the town of Curtun (today Cortona).

In the night, the Romans camped outside the Val while the forces of Hannibal took their positions in the surrounding hills.

In the morning, Flaminius did not send any explorers to search for enemies and marched with his army along the road that passes by Lake Trasimene. He decided to cross the valley that goes from Borghetto to Tuoro, without controlling any of the hills. The Romans walked one kilometre in line and did not know that in the heavy fog was hiding Hannibal’s army. Hannibal sent a small group of African and Iberian veterans at the end of the valley to face the Romans, but when all of the Romans entered the plain, the Carthaginians cavalry and the infantry descended the hills and attacked the Romans from the three sides.

The ambush that was carefully prepared by Hannibal’s army massacred without any pity the Roman troops and a lot more suffocated with their heavy armour or were immobilised by mud. The unexpected rapidity of the attack and the bad visibility caused by the fog made it impossible for the Romans to organise themselves in battle formation and they were forced to have a hand-to-hand combat.

The British Historian soldier Basil Liddell Hart called the Trasimene battle “the largest ambush in history”. At least 15.000 Romans died, and amongst them Flaminius, killed by Gaul Ducarius and 15.000 more were made into prisoners. Hannibal only lost 1500 men.

When Ducarius saw Hannibal shouting to his compatriots: “Here is the man that killed our legions, who devastated our cities and our lands! I offer you this man as a sacrifice for my assassinated compatriots”.

It is said that amongst the militia of Hannibal, it was not a custom to bury the dead, and so only 30 Carthaginian leaders had a decent burial. The rest of them, after having taken their belonging, were incinerated in the conic wells dug in the ground, several were found near Tuoro.

Rome was horribly moved by the terrible defeat and it discouraged for a long time their expansionism ambitions.

Egidio Ramondetti