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Final Blog Post VI- Alaric’s Sack of Rome

In 410 C.E., led by King Alaric, the Visigoths successfully sacked the city of Rome. This catastrophic event was the culmination of a few years’ attempts, and left the symbolic heart of the Roman Empire in a state of chaos.

Under the emperor Theodosius I, Alaric was actually a strong ally of Rome, as Theodosius realized the benefit of having a great barbarian hoard under his control. Alaric also saw how he could gain power through the arrangement, but when Theodosius died, and his conniving adviser Stilicho, a part-Vandal himself, became “ruler of the West” for the young Emperor Honorius, things began to fall apart for the Visigoth king (Bunson, 2002, p. 12).

At first Stilicho tried to use Alaric and the Goths to his advantage politically and as a pool for recruits. Soon after though, Alaric saw that his people were doing all the dirty work, and became angry at the situation. Stilicho saw the shift of the Goth’s mood, so he attacked Alaric and drove the Goths to the East in 402 C.E. (Bunson, 2002, p. 12). Alaric’s “aggressive intentions” toward Rome at this time can be strongly attributed to the fact that he wasn’t compensated for offering military support when called upon to defend the borders of the empire (Constable, 2003, p. 166). With Stilicho vying for power and the tension growing between the Eastern and Western Empires, Alaric saw that his “position in the East was no longer secure,” which may have also contributed to his invasion of Italy and subsequent sacking of Rome (Bayless, 1976, p. 67).

In retaliation for being crossed, Alaric had actually tried to take Rome in 408 C.E., but was given a large sum to leave in peace. He returned the following year, but was repulsed and “kept outside the Aurelian Wall” (Constable, 2003, p. 167). As part of the deals made to appease Alaric’s lust for power, he was appointed the “magister militum per Illyricum” (Master of the Soldiers in Illyria) (Bayless, 1976, p. 66). However, none of these deals and payments were able to dissuade Alaric, as he set out once again in 410 to try show his dominance in the region and bring Rome to its knees.

Alaric had put all his time and effort “in the siege, and had not been able either by force or by any other device to capture the place,” so he devised a great plan (Procopius, 1916 Trans., p. 13). Alaric chose 300 “youths in the army whose beards had not yet grown,” but “possessed…valor beyond their years,” and offered them as slaves to the Roman nobles (Procopius, 1916 Trans., p. 13). These young men were to “display much gentleness and moderation and serve…eagerly” until a set date when they would slip away and kill the guards at the Salarian gate (Procopius, 1916 Trans., p. 15). Meanwhile Alaric would pull some of his men back and make it appear that the siege was lifted. The foolish Romans fell for the Trojan Horse-like trick and suffered dearly for it.

On the appointed day, the young men rushed the guards at the gate and opened it for Alaric’s waiting army. The Visigoths entered Rome, burned down some buildings, then continued to “[plunder] the whole city and [destroy] the most of the Romans” (Procopius, 1916 Trans., p. 17). Alaric’s looting and burning of the city lasted three days, but it was a “relatively restrained affair” compared to the sacking of the Vandals a few decades later (Constable, 2003, p. 167). In the image below, the Goths are shown wreaking havoc on the city, as well as pulling down a Roman monument (Sylvestre (Wikipedia), 1890). It must have been horrifying to awake to the sounds of Goths slaughtering your people and demolishing everything you treasure.

Painting of Visigoths pulling down a monument after entering Rome. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sack_of_Rome_by_the_Visigoths_on_24_August_410_by_JN_Sylvestre_1890.jpg

Painting of Visigoths pulling down a monument after entering Rome. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sack_of_Rome_by_the_Visigoths_on_24_August_410_by_JN_Sylvestre_1890.jpg

Alaric’s sack of Rome was a crippling loss for the Roman Empire. While power had already shifted to other cities like Ravenna and Constantinople, the invasion into the symbol of greatness was the pinnacle event in the fall of the Western Empire. In my opinion, this was also one of their most humiliating defeats, all thanks to the arrogance and stupidity of the Roman elite.

Works Cited

Bayless, W. (1976). The Visigothic Invasion of Italy in 401. The Classical Journal, 72, 65-67. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3296883

Bunson, M. (2002). Alaric. In Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire (p. 12). New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc.

Constable, N. (2003). Historical Atlas of Ancient Rome. New York, NY: Checkmark Books.

Procopius. (1916). History of the Wars: Books III-IV (H. B. Dewing, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sylvestre, JN. (Artist). (1890). Sack of Rome by the Visigoths on 24 August 410 by JN Sylvestre 1890 [Web Photo]. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sack_of_Rome_by_the_Visigoths_on_24_August_410_by_JN_Sylvestre_1890.jpg

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Final Blog Post V- The Battle of Adrianople

In 376 C.E., the Visigoths’ lands around the Danube River were being invaded by the Huns, so they pleaded for the help of the Eastern emperor, Valens. The Ostrogoths also sought refuge, and Valens saw the situation as a great opportunity to strengthen his position. By allowing the Goths to settle across the Danube, he could get “hardy troops as well as revenues,” giving him a great advantage over his enemies (Burns, 1973, p. 336). So Valens “allowed the Visigoths to cross the frontier and settle in Thrace,” under the condition that they “surrender their arms and submit all male children as hostages” (Scarre, 2000, p. 228; Bunson, 2002, p. 5).

Not long after Valens let the Goths settle within the Empire’s borders, a “general rebellion threatened the entire Danube front,” all thanks to the “avarice and extortion” of the local Roman officials (Bunson, 2002, p. 5; Scarre, 2000, p. 228). The administrators failed to meet the food demands of the many Germanic peoples, which led to a lot of tension among them. As a sign of good faith, a Roman commander called Lupicinus led a large group of Goths to Marcianopolis, a city where he said they would be fed. Instead there was a plot to eliminate the German leadership. Luckily for the Goths, it failed, and one of the leaders that managed to escape Marcianopolis, the Visigoth chief Fritigern, led them in retaliation. After a victorious battle against Lupicinus, Fritigern and his men “armed themselves with Roman arms” and prepared to meet more of their so-called protectors in battle (Burns, 1973, p. 338). It seems the Goths often armed themselves with the fallen Romans’ superior equipment, which must have added to their humiliation when they lost against their own weapons!

While the Western emperor Gratian was working to deal with the angry Goths, Valens realized that he had another opportunity to better his standing- not only to put the barbarian uprisings to rest, but to receive recognition for the great achievement. So in 378 C.E., Valens marched his army of around 60,000 men against the Gothic force of over 100,000 (Bunson, 2002, p. 5). Overestimating his chances, and refusing to wait for Gratian’s legions to arrive, he came upon the Gothic laager (wagon camp), and both armies formed up to fight (Burns, 1973, p. 342).

The two armies “dashed together like beaked ships” and alternated in intensity “like waves at sea” (Ammianus Marcellinus, 1939 Trans., p. 473). The Visigoths were pushed back into their wagon camp, but like cornered animals, they refused to give in. Once the Goths managed to overwhelm the left wing of the Roman army, though, the tide of battle quickly turned. As the image below illustrates, the Gothic cavalry (mostly Ostrogothic) was also able to flank the Roman line and surprise them, dealing heavy casualties (Elias84 (Wikipedia), 2010). Amid the chaos, the Roman line fell apart, and they all “scattered in flight over unknown paths,” abandoning Valens’ dream of glory (Ammianus Marcellinus, 1939 Trans., p. 477). Even some of Valens’ great generals made a hasty retreat to get away from the onslaught of the frenzied Germans. Because of the lack of good leadership and the might of the German army, the Roman forces became helpless, but in spite of realizing all hope was lost, they still fought on. Some say that the Ostrogoth charge “revitalize[d] military tactics for the next thousand years,” showing the effectiveness of shock and awe battle tactics (Bunson, 2002, p. 5). Emperor Valens, along with 40,000 Roman soldiers, was slain in battle, although his body was never found (Ammianus Marcellinus, 1939 Trans., p. 479).

Illustration showing how the Romans were beaten at Adrianople. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Battle_of_Adrianople_378_en.svg

Illustration showing how the Romans were beaten at Adrianople. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Battle_of_Adrianople_378_en.svg

The battle at Adrianople was a major sign of the Roman Empire’s decline. The loss of an emperor was irreparable, and on top of this the Romans were never able to “defeat and disperse this vast group of barbarian tribesmen,” instead offering them land and allowing them to serve as foederati (non-Roman nations that would provide military assistance) (Burns, 1973, p. 336). Perhaps if Valens hadn’t gone off to be a hero, he and Gratian could have mustered up a large enough army to crush the Gothic rebellion, but it seems his pride, like so many other Roman generals before, was his downfall. As a result of the great upset at Adrianople, the barbarians knew they could press the boundaries, that the ideals of Rome were far from invincible, and that it was only a matter of time before Rome itself would fall.

Works Cited

Ammianus Marcellinus. (1939). Ammianus Marcellinus Volume III (J. Rolfe, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bunson, M. (2002). Adrianople. In Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire (p. 4-5). New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc.

Burns, T. (1973). The Battle of Adrianople: A Reconsideration. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte. Bd. 22, H. 2, 336-345. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4435342

Elias84. (Artist). (2010). Battle of Adrianople 378. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Battle_of_Adrianople_378_en.svg

Scarre, C. (2000). Chronicle of the Roman Emperors: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial Rome. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson.

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Final Blog Post IV- The Battle of Teutoberg Forest

One of the most well-known Roman defeats occurred in Teutoberg Forest in 9 C.E. It was in those Germanian woods that the Roman ‘general’ Quintilius Varus and his forces were annihilated by the Cheruscans under the leadership of Arminius. After other successful ventures in Germania, Emperor Augustus had started to “push for full provincial development of the wild German interior” (Bunson, 2002, p. 529). To aid in the Romanization of the Germans, the great administrator Varus was made governor of the region, but while he may have been a great diplomat, Varus was far from what one would call a military leader.

Soon after Varus arrived, revolts began, being led by the Cheruscan prince Arminius, who was actually a former auxiliary of the Roman army (Bunson, 2002, p. 40). Interestingly, another Germanic tribe leader, Segestes, was loyal to Rome and tried to get Varus to see Arminius’ treachery. He even suggested that Varus put all the Germanic leaders, including himself, “in bonds,” because without leaders the people wouldn’t revolt anymore, and in this situation Varus would be more able to determine who his true allies were (Tacitus, 2004 Trans., p. 29). But the inexperienced Varus would not heed his advice, instead “[falling] to fate and Arminius’ violence” (Tacitus, 2004 Trans., p. 29).

Varus, tricked by his German advisers, left camp with the three legions under his command, and marched them through the rugged and nigh impenetrable terrain of Teutoberg Forest. Slowed down by their baggage train and unable to move forward, nearly 20,000 Romans were slaughtered in a Cherusci ambush (Bunson, 2002, p. 529). The Germans at this time, as the image below shows, weren’t exactly heavily armored (Koch (Wikipedia), 1909). The Romans clearly had the advantage in equipment and discipline, but because the German army vastly outnumbered them, was “powerfully helped by the terrain,” and the Romans were being led by the militarily incompetent Quintilius Varus, they were doomed to destruction (Thompson, 1958, p. 12).

Painting depicting the intense fighting during the Battle of Teutoberg Forest. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Otto_Albert_Koch_Varusschlacht_1909.jpg

Painting depicting the intense fighting during the Battle of Teutoberg Forest. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Otto_Albert_Koch_Varusschlacht_1909.jpg

As the Germans started cutting the Romans down, Varus was wounded. However, Varus “met his death by a blow from his own luckless right hand,” that is, he killed himself because of his great fear, and while the remaining officers and soldiers fought on bravely, they were eventually defeated (Tacitus, 2004 Trans., p. 32). The few that did survive the onslaught were burned alive in wicker cages. This brutal response to Roman expansion sent a strong message to Rome- that the Germanic tribes would not remain subject to oppressive outside forces.

As a result of the defeat, Varus and his entire force were disgraced. The loss of the legions was a huge blow to the development efforts of Augustus, hindering the flow of Roman influence in this region, and he was deeply affected by the event. While his stepson Tiberius “moved swiftly to the Rhine frontier to prevent any German invasion of Gaul,” he began a period of mourning (Scarre, 2000, p. 24). He stopped cutting his hair and his beard, and was also said to have cried “Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!” (Scarre, 2000, p. 24). The remains of Varus and his men remained unburied until six years later when the Roman general Germanicus brought his own forces in to avenge Rome’s loss at Teutoberg Forest and suppress the Germanic tribes, but the crushing loss couldn’t have been forgotten.

Works Cited

Bunson, M. (2002). Arminius; Teutoberg Forest. In Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire (p. 40; p. 529). New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc.

Koch, O. (Artist). (1909). Otto Albert Koch Varusschlacht 1909 [Web Photo]. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Otto_Albert_Koch_Varusschlacht_1909.jpg

Scarre, C. (2000). Chronicle of the Roman Emperors: The Reign-by-Reign Record of the Rulers of Imperial Rome. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson.

Tacitus. (2004). The Annals (A. J. Woodman, Trans.). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.

Thompson, E. A. (1958). Early Germanic Warfare. Past & Present, 14, 2-29. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/650090

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Final Blog Post III- The Battle of Carrhae

In 53 B.C.E., the Roman Triumvir Marcus Licinius Crassus led his army against that of the Parthians in the arid land of Carrhae in Mesopotamia. Crassus’ intentions were all but noble, as he was most likely invading Parthia with the either the “desire to rival the military exploits of Caesar and Pompey,” or “add to his already legendary fortune” (Mattern-Parkes, 2003, p. 387). Parthia had been going through a lot of internal conflict over succession after King Phraates IV died, so Crassus was under that impression that he could easily conquer the Parthians amid the chaos. Without the consent of the Senate, Crassus led his army of around 36,000 men across the Euphrates River and began his campaign (Bunson, 2002, p. 97). Among his officers were his son, Publius Crassus, and Cassius, who would later be involved in the assassination of Julius Caesar (Bunson, 2002, p. 97).

Shown below are the generals of this great battle- the bust of Crassus and a bronze statue that is most likely of the Parthian general Surena (cjh1452000 (Wikipedia), 2009; Julia W (Wikipedia), 2010).

Bust of Marcus Licinius Crassus. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Marcus_Licinius_Crassus_Louvre.jpg

Bust of Marcus Licinius Crassus. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Marcus_Licinius_Crassus_Louvre.jpg

Bronze statue believed to be Surena. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Arm_less_man_edit_3.jpg

Bronze statue believed to be Surena. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Arm_less_man_edit_3.jpg

The Parthian successor Orodes was not oblivious to Crassus’ moves, and gave command of all the Parthian forces to a general named Surena, who, despite having a much smaller army than Crassus, had a number of advantages for the battle. For one thing, the Parthians’ mostly cavalry force was made up of “heavy-armed cataphracts and mounted archers” that were “legendarily accurate bowmen,” giving them the edge on the flat plains of Carrhae (Mattern-Parkes, 2003, p. 388; Bunson, 2002, p. 97). A huge mistake Crassus made that benefited the Parthians was that he left the Euphrates River, his only supply line, to meet General Surena’s army (Mattern-Parkes, 2003, p. 388). Without those supplies, the Roman soldiers, who were unaccustomed to the region, would feel the horrible effects of hunger and thirst in the deserts of Carrhae.

If the circumstances weren’t bad enough, Crassus’ army was encircled and ambushed by Surena, causing his soldiers to panic. Crassus hastily ordered the formation of a defensive square, but his son Publius charged the Parthians to buy the Romans more time to form up. Publius’ bravery was short-lived, though, as he was separated from the main line of Roman forces, and his whole detachment was slaughtered, his own head being cut off and put on a spear (Bunson, 2002, p. 97). His death was demoralizing to the rest of the troops, and Crassus was unable to console them.

The disheartened Romans were doomed from the start, due to the superior Parthian tactics, “[f]or if they decided to lock shields” to block the incoming arrows, “the pikemen were upon them in a rush,” but “if they extended their ranks to avoid this, they would be struck with the arrows” (Dio Cassius, 1914 Trans., p. 437). The Parthian army “fought at long range” and on horseback, so the legions were unable to engage their more “mobile opponents” (Matyszak, 2003, p. 179). Crassus tried to keep his men in order, but with the Parthians raining down arrows on them, they broke down and retreated, “abandoning 4,000 wounded to certain death” (Bunson, 2002, p. 97). Crassus “was in the very extremity of fear, and was distraught by the terror of the calamity” (Dio Cassius, 1914 Trans., p. 445). His troubles were far from over, though, as he was pursued by the unrelenting Parthians and the scorching Mesopotamian sun.

With great reluctance, Crassus agreed to hold a negotiation meeting with Surena, but he was killed in the encounter. There is speculation whether Crassus was killed by a Parthian or “one of his own men to prevent his capture alive,” but whatever the case, his forces were subsequently wiped out, with many others being captured, and their eagles, the standards symbolizing legionary power, were taken by the victorious Parthians (Dio Cassius, 1914 Trans., p. 447). As for Crassus, the Parthians “poured molten gold into his mouth in mockery” of his excessive wealth and greed, and held a mock triumph to further insult the Romans (Dio Cassius, 1914 Trans., p. 447).

Crassus’ military campaign could be labeled an “unjust war,” as it was fought on the grounds of personal gain and glory, not retaliation for a past Parthian offense (Mattern-Parkes, 2003, p. 392). With the death of Crassus came the fall of Roman Republic and the emergence of the Empire, as the two surviving triumvirs, Pompey and Julius Caesar, would fight for sole dominance over Rome. Unfortunately for Crassus’ surviving forces, retaliation was out of the question because Rome would become involved in a heated civil war, so the disastrous events that unfolded at Carrhae were never truly reconciled. Carrhae was a horrible loss for the Romans, and a sign that Rome’s greed would only result in tragedy and death.

Works Cited

Bunson, M. (2002). Carrhae. In Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire (pp. 96-97). New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc.

cjh1452000. (Photographer). (2009). Marcus Licinius Crassus Louvre [Web Photo]. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Marcus_Licinius_Crassus_Louvre.jpg

Dio Cassius. (1914). Dio’s Roman History Volume III (E. Cary, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Julia W. (Photographer). (2010). Arm less man edit 3 [Web Photo]. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Arm_less_man_edit_3.jpg

Mattern-Parkes, S. (2003). The Defeat of Crassus and the Just War. The Classical World, 96, 387-396. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4352789

Matyszak, P. (2003). Chronicle of the Roman Republic: The Rulers of Ancient Rome from Romulus to Augustus. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson.

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Final Blog Post II- The Battle of Arausio

In 105 B.C.E., the Romans felt the backlash of the Germans at the great battle of Arausio, which is now known as Orange, France.  As the Roman Republic began expanding its territory, they had to deal with “unrest and hostility” all across their lands, and as such, became involved in a number of conflicts (Cornell and Matthews, 1982, p. 60).  In the various wars being fought at the time, “[t]he Romans incurred…some heavy defeats, notably at Arausio” (Crawford, 1969, p. 80).  Arausio was part of an “unprecedented series of military reverses,” as the Roman army clearly had the better equipment and discipline (Cornell and Matthews, 1982, p. 60).  Their forces were spread far too thin, and with a large army marching through their territory, it seems they should have tried to avoid engaging the enemy at all costs.

Map showing the warpath of the massive Germanic army. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cimbrians_and_Teutons_invasions.svg

Map showing the warpath of the massive Germanic army. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cimbrians_and_Teutons_invasions.svg

The image above shows the victories (green swords) and defeats (red swords) of the massive Cimbri and Teuton force that swept through Europe and Roman territory (Pethrus (Wikipedia), 2010).  This Germanic army, estimated at around 300,000 men, was marching from the north, crushing all opposition, and while they did suffer some losses, as the map shows, these were only minor setbacks to their cause (Matyszak, 2003, p. 152).  Unfortunately for the Romans, the battle at Arausio was no different.

The Roman army of around 80,000 men came out to meet them, being led by the consul Mallius Maximus and proconsul Quintus Servilius Caepio (Matyszak, 2003, p. 152; Hornblower, et al, p. 1354).  Arausio turned out to be more of a massacre that “left Italy at the mercy of the Germans” (Cornell and Matthews, 1982, p. 60).  “According to Valerius Antias, 80,000 soldiers and 40,000 servants and camp followers of the Romans were slain at Arausio” (Lendering: Livy, Book 67).  “Caepio, who had caused the defeat by his rashness, was convicted” (Lendering: Livy, Book 67).  Apparently, Caepio had disregarded the authority of Mallius Maximus, “[refusing] to co-operate” with him, which “led to the disaster at Arausio” (Hornblower, et al, p. 1354).  As part of his punishment for attacking the Germanic army rather than trying to negotiate, as Mallius intended, Caepio’s wealth was seized, he lost all his power in the senate, and he was forced into exile.

The humiliating defeat at Arausio was an early example of unrest among the Germanic tribes, even before the empire had begun.  It was a clear sign that peace times in the empire would be few and far between, and that the oppressed peoples under Roman rule would be anything but submissive.  Luckily for the Romans, though, the barbarian hordes’ conquest took them west to Spain instead of east into Italy, where no Roman army would have been available to hold them back (Pethrus (Wikipedia), 2010).  This gave the new Roman consul Gaius Marius the chance to make reforms to the military, as he is well-known for (Matyszak, 2003, p. 152).  He altered the training, such as by having the soldiers practice fighting gladiator style, and adjusted “the Roman battle array to resist the barbarian assault” (Matyszak, 2003, p. 152).  While these military revamp measures benefited the Roman army for years to come, the horrible defeat at Arausio couldn’t have been forgotten, because “at that moment Rome was faced with complete extinction” (Cornell and Matthews, 1982, p. 60).

 

Works Cited

Cornell, T., & Matthews, J. (1982). Atlas of the Roman World. New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc.

Crawford, M. (1969). Coin Hoards and the Pattern of Violence in the Late Republic. Papers of the British School at Rome, 37, 76-81. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40310672

Hornblower, S., Spawforth, A., & Eidinow, E. (Eds.) (2012). Caepio, Quintus Servilius. In The Oxford Classical Dictionary (Fourth Edition) (p. 1354). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Lendering, J. (March 23, 2014). Livy: Periochae 66-70. Livius.org. Retrieved March 23, 2014, from http://www.livius.org/li-ln/livy/periochae/periochae066.html#66

Matyszak, P. (2003). Chronicle of the Roman Republic: The Rulers of Ancient Rome from Romulus to Augustus. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson.

Pethrus. (Designer). (2010). Cimbrians and Teutons invasions [Web Photo]. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cimbrians_and_Teutons_invasions.svg

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Final Blog Post I- The Battle of Cannae

At Cannae in 216 B.C.E., the Roman army faced off against the Carthaginians led by Hannibal. Here, “Hannibal won his greatest victory” and caused “one of Rome’s worst military disasters” (Cornell and Matthews, 1982, p. 46). As part of a “renewed effort from Rome” during the Second Punic War, two large consular armies were sent out to crush Hannibal (Matyszak, 2003, p. 95). Tension and conflict were high at this time, with both Rome and Carthage executing bold strategies in attempts to devastate the other, but in the decisive battle at Cannae, Hannibal was the victor.

The two elected consuls of Rome- Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro- were put in charge of the legions for this battle, but it was ultimately the folly of Varro that caused the loss. Aemilius had “argued against a battle, since the surrounding area was flat and treeless, and the enemy had cavalry superiority,” but the inexperienced Varro superseded his advice and marched on the Carthaginian camp (Polybius, 2010 Trans., p. 215). Hannibal launched a surprise attack with his cavalry and light infantry that “caused considerable disruption in the Roman column,” but the Romans were able to recover from the blow (Polybius, 2010 Trans., p. 215). They set up a defensive screen, and it appeared that they “had the advantage all over the field,” especially because Hannibal “had no reserves to speak of” (Polybius, 2010 Trans., p. 216).

After the skirmish ended, the two forces separated and made preparations for the battle that would ensue. The Romans set up two palisaded camps on either side of the river Aufidus, with the Carthaginians setting up only one. With tensions rising and a major conflict inevitable, Varro had all the Roman soldiers form up, with nearly 80,000 infantry and 6,000 cavalry (Polybius, 2010 Trans., p. 218). Hannibal moved his own troops (40,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry) into a “single, straight line,” but then had them create a “crescent-shaped bulge,” a brilliant tactical move that would come into play later in the battle (Polybius, 2010 Trans., p. 218).

The heavy infantry of the Romans were able to fight back the Iberians and Celts in the center of Hannibal’s army, destroying the crescent bulge. With their lines too thin, Hannibal drew them back and proved his strategic genius. The Romans had unknowingly rushed after the retreating Celts, only to become trapped by the Libyan portions of the Carthaginian army. They were flanked on both sides and completely helpless. As the image below shows, Hannibal defeated the Romans with a “classic envelopment maneuver,” surrounding their forces by collapsing the middle of his own line (GhePeU (Wikipedia), 2006; Matyszak, 2003, p. 95). The Numidian cavalry, which “were most effective and dangerous once they had the enemy on the run,” followed the fleeing Romans and cut them down (Polybius, 2010 Trans., p. 220).

Around 70,000 Romans died in the battle, along with their great leader Aemilius and other generals. Most of those that survived were captured, but a few managed to escape, including the one “largely responsible” for the loss, Varro, who was from then on labeled “a man of no redeeming qualities” (Matyszak, 2003, p. 98; Polybius, 2010 Trans., p. 221). While the Carthaginians sustained thousands of casualties, the Romans suffered far greater.

Image showing the layout of the battle of Cannae.  Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Battle_cannae_destruction.gif

Image showing the layout of the battle of Cannae. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Battle_cannae_destruction.gif

The impacts of this defeat were severe for the Romans, as their loss was a sign of weakness to their allies. Strong alliances during this time would have been crucial, as Rome and Carthage were involved in the Second Punic War. After Cannae, there were “some defections…among the allies, and large areas of the south [in Italy], went over to Hannibal” (Cornell and Matthews, 1982, p. 46). “[T]he defection of Roman allies in the aftermath of Cannae” allowed Hannibal to continue to fight, although he was “forced to forego his march on Rome” due to “[t]he lack of a permanent base of supply” (Shean, 1996, p. 168; p. 174). In fact, many historians believe that “Hannibal’s best opportunity for a decisive victory was immediately following” the battle fought at Cannae (Shean, 1996, p. 159).

There is no doubt that Cannae was a military catastrophe for the Romans, and it could have meant Rome’s doom, but despite the shift of power in the region, “[t]he Romans’ blind refusal to admit defeat” made them tough to extinguish (Cornell and Matthews, 1982, p. 46). If things had gone the way Hannibal planned, it is likely that Rome itself would have fallen, but the “constitution and…sound deliberation” of the Romans “enabled them to regain dominion over Italy,” enact their revenge on Hannibal and Carthage, and make themselves “masters of the entire known world” (Polybius, 2010 trans., p. 222).

Works Cited

Cornell, T., & Matthews, J. (1982). Atlas of the Roman World. New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc.

GhePeU. (Artist). (2006). Battle cannae destruction [Web Photo]. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Battle_cannae_destruction.gif

Matyszak, P. (2003). Chronicle of the Roman Republic: The Rulers of Ancient Rome from Romulus to Augustus. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson.

Polybius. (2010). The Histories (R. Waterfield, Trans.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Shean, J. (1996). Hannibal’s Mules: The Logistical Limitations of Hannibal’s Army and the Battle of Cannae, 216 B.C. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Bd. 45, H. 2, 159-187. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/4436417

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The Bayeux Tapestry: Scene 65

The Bayeux Tapestry is “certainly one of the most important works of pictorial narrative art” (Noxon, 1968, p. 29). At around 230 feet long, the embroidered “tapestry” depicts the story of Harold Godwinson, William of Normandy, and William’s eventual succession of Edward the Confessor’s throne. According to the tapestry, Harold, an English noble, broke an oath of fealty he had made to William while in France, and claimed the throne for himself, resulting in William’s invasion of England and the bloody Battle of Hastings in 1066. The Bayeux Tapestry gives the complete series of events, being one of “the fullest pictorial record[s] of a medieval battle in existence” (Bartlett, 2010). Despite its cartoony representation, the expressive images of the tapestry can tell us not only about the happenings associated with Harold and William, but also about warfare during the Medieval period.

The tapestry is a “complex dramatized narrative, part truth and part fiction” (Noxon, 1968, p. 29). The Normans won the battle and William became king, making it likely that the tapestry was made as a commemorative piece. Because they did win, there could very well have been some embellishments to the story. It is obvious that the tapestry was a “sponsored, propaganda work, designed for an illiterate mass audience,” that was probably commissioned by William’s half-brother Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux (Noxon, 1968, p. 30). It would have been important for the makers to represent Harold as a “brave warrior” with the “fatal flaw[s]” of “overweening pride and vanity,” rather than as a power-hungry villain, because he still had many supporters in England (Noxon, 1968, p. 30).

The scene from the tapestry below depicts the Battle of Hastings in all its brutality (Wilson, 1985, Scene 65). The middle and largest band shows the “brutal clash between the onrushing [Norman] cavalry and the stolid, heavily armored group of [English] foot soldiers” (Noxon, 1968, p. 34-35). The bodies of the dead can be seen in the lower margin, including one near a broken sword (Wilson, 1985, Scene 65).

The scene depicts the intense fighting during the Battle of Hastings.

Scene 65 from the Bayeux Tapestry, Wilson. The scene depicts the intense fighting during the Battle of Hastings.

As can be seen by looking at the scene, the Bayeux Tapestry is without a doubt the “best pictorial source of information about the arms and armour of the Normans,” as it illustrates much the equipment and weapons used by their army (“Weaponry,” 2006). The tapestry scene displays many of the characteristics that set the Normans apart in battle. A Norman soldier usually wore a “knee-length mail shirt called a hauberk that…was split from hem to fork to facilitate riding” (“Weaponry,” 2006). The use of chain mail armor allowed for greater movement, which would have been very important for cavalry. Additionally, the Norman horseman would wear a conical steel helmet, with a “wide [nasal] to protect the nose” (“Weaponry,” 2006). The most popular shield was kite-shaped, which provided more protection to the soldiers than the common round shield that was often used. The basic weapon for the Norman cavalry and infantry was the spear, but the cavalry also made use of swords. These were crucial because, “unlike the lance or spear that was easily broken and usually discarded during battle,” swords were much more durable and also highly “valuable [possessions]” for the Normans (“Weaponry,” 2006). Another weapon that may have been even more devastating than the spear and sword was the axe. “If the Bayeux Tapestry is to be believed it could inflict more dire wounds than any other weapon on the battlefield,” and if the Normans fought the battle mostly from horseback, it appears that the English actually made more use of these fierce weapons (“Weaponry,” 2006).

In this panel, the Latin inscription tells us that “[h]ere at the same time English and French fell in battle” (Wilson, 1985, p. 173). It shows the battle getting more intense, with an axe getting “decapitated,” a horse being struck in the head, and a number of soldiers wielding swords and axes “with great abandon” (Wilson, 1985, p. 192). This all would have been taking place after the English “broke ranks to pursue” the Normans, and were lured “into a more vulnerable position,” where the Norman forces could finish them off (Bartlett, 2010).

This panel from the Bayeux Tapestry, with its vivid colors and dramatic fighting, sheds a lot of light on the subject of Norman battle tactics, and will surely continue to be one of history’s greatest pictorial narratives.

 

Works Cited

Bartlett, R. The Bayeux Tapestry. (August 3, 2010). Retrieved March 26, 2014 from http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ahistoryoftheworld/2010/08/the-bayeux-tapestry.shtml   bbc.co.uk/blogs.

Noxon, G. (1968). The Bayeux Tapestry. Cinema Journal, 7, 29-35. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/view/1224876

Weaponry: Norman Arms and Armour. historynet.com. (June 12, 2006). Retrieved March 27, 2014 from http://www.historynet.com/weaponry-norman-arms-and-armour.htm

Wilson, D. M. (1985). The Bayeux Tapestry. New York, NY: Thames & Hudson, Inc.

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