A Rash Roman Pursuit
On June 24th, 217 BC, after he had goaded a Roman army’s commander into a rash pursuit, Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca lured him into a trap along the northern shore of Lake Trasimene. There, he sprang on his pursuers what is considered, in terms of the number of combatants involved, history’s largest tactical ambush. The prelude began when Hannibal defeated two Roman armies in northern Italy in 218 BC. Rome’s consuls for 217 BC were sent at the head of two armies to deal with him. One of the consuls, Gaius Flaminius, gathered the survivors of the earlier defeats. Reinforced by new recruits, he formed his men them into an army of about 30,000 men, and marched south to defend Rome. Hannibal followed him, and marched faster. The Carthaginian overtook and passed Flaminius, and got his own army between that of the Romans and their home city.
It was one of history’s earliest examples of a successful strategic turning movement, to get between a defender and his base. Hannibal sought to draw out Flaminius and goad him into battle. He began to devastate and burn the countryside as he marched south. Flaminius had to hurry his army to catch up with Hannibal before the Carthaginian reached Rome. As Hannibal continued his march southward, with Flaminius in hot pursuit, the Carthaginian came upon a suitable spot for an ambush at Lake Trasimene, about eighty miles north of Rome. There, a stretch of the road passed through a defile, hemmed in between the lake’s northern shore and forested hills. Hannibal set up his camp on the eastern end of the defile, so as to be within clear of sight of Flaminius when he got there. He a baited a hook, and Flaminius bit.