In the last days of 218 BC Hannibal defeated the combined Roman consular armies of Scipio and Sempronius at the Battle of Trebia. The Roman Senate was shocked by the defeat but used the winter, when little military activity took place, to renew its efforts in the prosecution of the war against the invader.
The new consuls for 217 BC were Servilius Geminus and Caius Flaminius. Each was given command of a newly levied consular army, bolstered by the survivors of Trebia, for the coming campaign. Hannibal was still the wrong side of the Appenines with only two possible routes into the Italian peninsular. Geminius’ army was posted to Ariminum (modern Rimini) to cover the eastern, and easier route; Flaminius’ army (c. 30,000 men) was posted to Arretium to cover the western route.
As soon as the weather allowed, Hannibal moved south. He chose the western route over the Appenines and then crossed the marshes of the Arno which had flooded after the winter rains. The marshes proved especially difficult going, and for three days the army struggled through them without dry ground on which to rest: Hannibal lost an eye to ophthalmia during this march because conditions did not allow proper treatment. But his strategy was sound. His choice to move early, by the hardest route, allowed him to cross the last major natural obstacle into Italy without interference and he now stood in the fertile plain of Etruria.
Hannibal quickly bypassed Flaminius at Arretium and marched his army (c. 50,000+ men) south, pillaging and burning as he went. It must be remembered that it was immensely humiliating when an enemy violated the fields of a state or its allies without interference and it is doubtful if any consul, at this time, could stand by whilst it was happening. Flaminius had no choice but to follow, and follow quickly, to avenge the insult – he could not, with honor, wait for Geminus to join him.
Hannibal continued south, provoking the Romans with every step he took and every farm and village he sacked and burned. When he reached Lake Trasimene the Romans were only a day’s march behind and coming up fast. Studying the road which led through a narrow defile between the hills at the lake’s northern edge and the lake itself, Hannibal saw an opportunity to deal Flaminius and Rome another devastating blow. During the night of 20 June 217 BC Hannibal set a trap for the Romans by laying an army sized ambush.
Polybius, our best source for the 2nd Punic War, says: “He himself [Hannibal] occupied the hill at the eastern end with his African and Spanish troops. His slingers and pikemen were ordered to make a detour and march round from the front under cover of the hills, and were posted in extended order to the right of the valley. The Celts and the cavalry were moved round to the left of the valley and likewise stationed in a continuous line under the hills, the last of them being posted at the entrance to the defile between the hillside and the lake. All these dispositions were effected during the night, and having surrounded the valley with his troops posted in ambush Hannibal made no further move.”
When Flaminius’ army made camp, on the night of the 20th June, his camp was in sight of Hannibal’s camp. At first light Flaminius led his army into the defile. Being so close behind he must have been sure that he could catch up to Hannibal before the day was out, stop his freedom of movement and deprivations, and bring him to battle. How right and, at the same time, how wrong he was.
Polybius continues: “That morning a thick mist still hung over the lakeside. Then, as soon as the greater part of the Roman army had entered the defile and was already in contact with the Carthaginians [the slingers and Libyan spearmen at the head of the defile, which the Romans wrongfully thought were a rearguard], Hannibal gave the signal for battle, passed the word to the troops who were lying in ambush, and fell upon the Romans from all sides at once.”
Polybius says that 15,000 Romans perished in the valley, amidst the reeds and croaking frogs, or sheltering neck deep in the lake (where they became sport for Punic cavalrymen after most of the fighting was over). Flaminius was killed, fighting bravely, with his men. Up to 15,000 Romans were taken prisoner, including 6,000 Romans who managed to escape as a body by breaking through the troops directly to their front (they were captured without a fight on the following day). Many hundreds managed to escape the valley in small groups, arriving at their homes (including Rome) over the days that followed. Hannibal’s casualties were minimal, perhaps as low as 1,500.
NOTE: There has been much debate over the composition of Flaminius' army. Some authors contest that Flaminius had a standard consular army of 20,000 or so men, but the casualty and prisoner totals go against this. Personally, I favour Flaminius having a standard consular army bolstered by the remnants of a Trebia consular army in addition (about 10,000 extra men). Apart from the quoted casualties, I have three other reasons for this:
Firstly, it would be logistically easier to raise two new consular armies rather than 'refit' two battered ones that had suffered 50% casualties - manpower was not an issue in 217 BC.
Secondly, given that the strategy was to split the consuls to guard both the eastern and western routes into the Italian peninsular, and that two consuls had been defeated at Trebia the previous year, I find it hard to believe that Rome would risk giving battle with an army half that size.
Thirdly, we know that Geminus had 4000 cavalry and this is a double complement. Some argue that the extra were raised from the allies in addition to standard numbers. I think it would be more likely that the standard 1800 were raised for Geminus' standard consular army and the rest were remnants from Trebia - which tends to favour my 'consular army plus' theory.
If nothing else, it makes the game less lop sided.
This scenario was written for use with Ager Sanguinis Punic Wars rules. I have recently spoken to Andrew Hubback of Miniature Wargames Magazine and it looks likely that the rules will be published in that magazine later this year. Hopefully, it will be published in a similar manner to Ager Sanguinis Crusades - a multi-page (12?), advertisement free, centrefold pull out with cover page.
My armies are somewhat larger than most wargame armies for this period so feel free to scale numbers - the rules were not written with only large games in mind.
My Roman Army for Trasimene
The Roman army is split into 6 command groups. Each legion is comprised of a Roman legion and its ala which form two triplex acies formations. My army totals 580 figures.
- Extraordinarii: 1 officer stand, 2 units of 8 cavalry, 2 units of 12 velites, 2 units of 24 hastati.
- Legion 1 (deployed in triplex acies): 1 officer stand, 2 units of 12 velites, 2 units of 24 hastati, 2 units of 24 principes, 2 units of 12 triarii.
- Legion 2 (deployed in column): 1 officer stand, 2 units of 12 velites, 2 units of 24 hastati, 2 units of 24 principes, 2 units of 12 triarii.
- Legion 3 (Trebia remnants, deployed in column): 1 officer stand, 2 units of 12 velites, 2 units of 24 hastati, 2 units of 24 principes, 2 units of 12 triarii.
- Roman cavalry (deployed in column): 1 officer stand(Flaminius), 2 units of 8 cavalry.
- Allied cavalry (deployed in column): 1 officer stand, 4 units of 8 cavalry. Libyan Phalanx 1: 1 officer stand, 3 units of 24 Libyan spearmen, 2 units of 16 Libyan javelinmen.
The Carthaginian Army is split into 7 command groups. Hannibal is a 'floating' officer stand without a command group. My army totals 857 figures.
- Libyan Phalanx 1: 1 officer stand, 3 units of 24 Libyan spearmen, 2 units of 16 Balearic slingers, 1 unit of 16 Numidian javelinmen.
- Libyan Phalanx 2: 1 officer stand, 3 units of 24 Libyan spearmen, 2 units of 16 Libyan javelinmen.
- Spanish infantry: 1 officer stand, 4 units of 36 Spanish scutarii, 2 units of 24 Spanish Caetrati.
- Gauls 1: 1 officer stand, 4 units of 44 Gallic warband, 2 units of 12 Gallic cavalry, 1 unit of 16 Gallic cavalry.
- Gauls 2: 1 officer stand, 2 units of 44 Gallic warband, 2 units of 12 Gallic cavalry.
- Spanish cavalry: 1 officer stand, 4 units of 12 Spanish cavalry.
- Numidians: 1 officer stand, 4 units of 12 Numidian cavalry.
The Romans will use a D10 sequence deck and army die. All commands will used a D10 motivation die, except for the extraordinarii which will use D12.
The Roman army comprises 121 unit integrity points and will draw 6 cards from the characterisation deck; morale chips are doubled.
On the first two initiative rolls of turn 1 Rome will use its initiative second. For the duration of turn 1, all manoeuvre cards will be treated as group manoeuvre cards.
The Carthaginians will use a 12* sequence deck and a D12 army die. Libyan phalanx, Spanish cavalry, Spanish infantry commands and Hannibal will use a D12 motivation die; other commands will use D10.
The Carthaginian army comprises 160 unit integrity points and will draw 7 cards plus a stratagem card from the characterisation deck; the stratagem will be number X - Surprise Attack. Morale chips are doubled.
Here are some shots of the Ilkley Lads Trasimene game at Triples this year. I have now finished with Trasimene and I will not bore you with it any longer!