Wednesday, November 16, 2005

In the month of November in military 218 BC.

In the month of November in military history….in 218 BC. Carthaginian forces under Hannibal Barca defeat Roman forces under Publius Cornelius Scipio at the Battle of the Ticinus. In early 218 BC, the Carthaginian general, Hannibal Barca had set out from Spain to invade Italy. Instead of sailing for Italy, he decided to go thru France and over the Alps. After he left Spain, P. Cornelius Scipio (the father of Scipio Africanus, the general who eventually defeated Hannibal at Zama) was sent to Massilia (modern day Marseille) to stop him, but missed preventing him from crossing the Rhone River by a few days. Scipio sailed back to northern Italy to prepare to meet Hannibal when he came down out of the Alps.

As Hannibal marched toward Italy, along the way, he recruited members from the assorted Gaulic tribes who were in a constant state of war with Rome. At this time, it should be remembered that northern Italy (called Cisalpine Gaul by the Romans) was considered the "wild, wild west" as the Gaulic tribes which inhabited the Alps had not yet been completely subjugated by Rome. As a result, Hannibal was able to build up his troop strength from these tribes.

Hannibal had been marching down the Po River Valley after having crossed the Alps close to present-day Turin when his forces met the Roman forces of P. Scipio at the bridge over the Ticinus (Ticino in Italian) River close to present-day Pavia, Italy. Both armies made camp to plan for their next moves. The next day, Hannibal sent out a "scouting" party (more like a "reconnaissance in force") comprised of all his heavy and light cavalry. Scipio sent out a scouting force as well, comprised of cavalry and light infantry ("Velites") armed with javelins. When the two forces met, Hannibal’s heavy cavalry started skirmishing with the Roman cavalry. Hannibal’s lighter, Numidian cavalry attacked the velite line flanks (which quickly collapsed) and caused the Roman forces to retreat back to camp. The Romans eventually retreated back to Placentia (modern-day Piacenza) where they stayed until reinforcements from Rome arrived.

Although both forces only suffered minor casualties, the Carthaginians won the battle. When the Gaulic tribes saw that Hannibal could stand up to the Romans, more and more allied themselves with the Carthaginian side and Hannibal’s forces were soon up to strength. With his forces strong enough to challenge the Romans, Hannibal would soon get his chance the next month at the Battle of the Trebbia.


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