Tag Archives: Battle of Cannae

Hannibal’s Roman prisoners


I couldn’t get this video to embed correctly. This is a video created by the History Channel on the Battle of Cannae. There were also some enjoyable YouTube videos of Cannae as well; however, I could not figure out how to give due dilligence.

August 2 of 215 BC, on the field of Cannae 50,000 Romans lay dead. Eight-thousand prisoners have been captured and the victorious Hannibal following the customs of war had made preparations to capitalize on the situation. Modern scholars and historians Livy and Polybius alike speculate Hannibal was in need of provisions in particular financial support for his campaign and fresh troops. As such, Hannibal may not have wanted take Rome, rather it is possible he only wanted to decrease its power and therefore sent an embassy of roman prisoners to settle the negotiations of defeat.

Note: Roman prisoners of war lost their citizenship and patriarchal rights afforded to them. In effect they became the property of the enemy to be exploited or killed as the victor saw fit. However, a roman prisoner of war could gain his freedom by paying his ransom, being recaptured (treated), or possibly petition for freedom if he escaped (Brill’s New Pauly, 878).

Unfortunately for Hannibal, at some point at the during the close of the First Punic War, the customs of prisoner exchange had changed in Rome. The governing body in Rome felt no obligation to uphold the customs of the world which they helped establish (Hopkins, 17-18). This change was an ethical change in society which now held strong belief of honor and what it meant to be a soldier of Rome. Romans were not apt to negotiate terms upon their defeat. Hannibal may have underestimated the pride and society of the Roman state (Lazenby, 42).

Perhaps this Roman notion of honor is best understood from the senator T. Manlius Torquatur, who was under the persuasion to disallow the liberation of the prisoners of war despite the public opinion. He argued two points. First, the prisoners were idle cowards who made no attempt to save themselves. And second, they didn’t truly defend the camp, and in actuality gave up, reserved to their fate as prisoners of war (Livy, 22.60).Further Livy records the senators held other reservations against the ransoming of the captive Romans, the most noteworthy being monetary (22.61). O’Connell coincides that the refusal for the ransoming of the slaves was strictly a monetary one. As he makes claim that the families of the captive soldiers were denied that ability to pay the ransom (168).

Nonetheless, upon these points the senate voted against the ransoming of the prisoners. The decision from the senate was to Hannibal’s dismay, the prisoners we sold into slavery and some slaughtered (O’Connell, 168). Hannibal was ineffective in convincing Roman allies to defect. Thus, Hannibal’s plan was then thwarted as his ability acquire necessary provisions for his army and his ability to create battle with the learning Romans.

Works cited:

“Hannibal Leads Carthaginians.” 2012. The History Channel website. Feb 22 2012, 9:29 http://www.history.com/videos/hannibal-leads-carthaginians-over-romans.

Hopkins, Tighe. Prisoners of War. London : Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton and Kent Co 1914.

Livy, Titus. “Livy’s History of Rome: Book 22 The Disaster of Cannae.” The History of Rome, Vol. III  http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/etcbin/toccer-new2?id=Liv3His.sgm&images=images/modeng&data=/texts/english/modeng/parsed&tag=public&part=2&division=div1  18 Feb. 2012. Online.

Lazenby, John. Was Maharbal Right?. Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies, 41: (1996) 39–48. Print. doi: 10.1111/j.2041-5370.1996.tb01912.x

Messer, Rick Jay. The influence of Hannibal of Carthage on the art of war and how his legacy has been interpreted. MA thesis. Kansas State University Manhattan, Kansas 2009. Print.

O’Connell, Robert L. The ghosts of Cannae : Hannibal and the darkest hour of the Roman republic. New York : Random House, 2010. Print.

“Romans as Prisoners of War.” Brill’s New Pauly: Encyclopedia of the Ancient World. Antiquity Vol. 11 English Ed. 2007.


Filed under Uncategorized