In this blog post, I will talk about three major defeats of the Roman Empire. They were Cannae, Carrhae, and Tutoburger Wald.
The battle at Cannae was not the first military disaster of the Roman empire. The battle of Trebia had done that. Why Cannae was so important was the death of one man, a general, as well as many men.
The battle was fought between the consul, Varro, of Rome and Hannibal Barca, brother of Hamilcar Barca, leader of Carthage. In this war, the Second Punic War, Hannibal had made an assault on Italy. He had won many victories due to superior generalship, and, since his forces were much smaller than the Roman Armies, he certainly didn’t enjoy superior numbers, and he didn’t need them. The Romans had 58,000 Legionaries, 16,000 Light auxiliaries, and 6,000 cavalry, that included both the Roman cavalry and Allied cavalry.
Meanwhile, Hannibal only had 32,000 infantry, 8,000 Light auxiliaries, and 10,000 Cavalry, which included Numidian cavalry and Gallic and Spanish Cavalry. Hannibal’s advantage lay not in his infantry or his Light troops, nor in anyone from the Carthaginian Empire, but the Gallic and Spanish cavalry.
The battle began with the Light troop skirmishes, and soon have both sets of infantry battering each other. Hannibal draws the Roman General Paullus and most of the Legionaries into a trap. Meanwhile, his cavalry batter down the Roman and allied cavalry. The Numidian cavalry are held off, but the Spanish and Gallic are victorious. Finally, they go behind the Roman forces, sealing their fate.
Half of the Roman force is killed, as well as Paullus himself, at the cost of very little Carthaginian lives. Despite these victories, Hannibal did not feel strong enough to attack Rome. Not too long later, he was called back to Carthage, where he was defeated by general Scipio at the battle of Zama. Through all of Rome’s battles, it has been shown that Roman foot soldiers are the strong point, and the cavalry are the weak spot. Many of Rome’s enemies won over them sometimes because of superior horsemanship.
Carrhae was the worst defeat of the Romans in the Middle East. Recently, Rome had come up against the Parthian Empire. General Licinius Crassus prepared an invasion. It seemed that he would be unbeatable, with 32,000 infantry, 4,000 Gallic and Roman cavalry, and 6,000 Arab cavalry. They were only faced by 11,000 Parthian cavalry, but the Romans underestimated their enemy.
The Parthians and the Roman cavalry slugged out for a while. What the Romans didn’t know was that the Parthians had two different kinds of cavalry. They knew about the Horse archers, but not about the heavily armed Cataphracts, a kind of Super-heavy cavalry. They charged at the Roman forces with the cover of the Horse archers, and destroyed the Roman force. Crassus and more than 20,000 soldiers died, and 5,000 soldiers were taken prisoner and never seen again. It was thought that they were killed.
The Romans always took the Parthians seriously after this. They wouldn’t suffer another defeat for more than fifty years. The next one came during the Roman empire, and it was one of the greatest military disasters of all time. Its name is Tutoburger Wald….
Tutoburger Wald is probably one of the most famous military defeats of all time. The one general who caused all this was related to emperor Augustus. He was Publius Quinctilius Varus. Augustus had put him in charge of the Germans, mainly the Cherusci tribe. Under Varus, the Germans were brutally suppressed, which lost him much local support. Varus still thought that the Cherusci were loyal to him and liked him.
Not too long afterwards, Varus went to crush a rebellion in Germany. He was in control of three legions, about 15,000 men, along with cavalry and auxiliaries, making for a grand total of 21,000 men. But to get there, Varus had to go through the forest of Tutoburger Wald. For that, chief Arminius of the Cherusci and some of his guides were used by the Romans.
Suddenly, the Germans disappeared, but soon came back with an army of about 31,000 men. They slowly attacked the exhausted Roman soldiers. It had been raining, making shields heavy and useless. The Romans were broken apart and slowly destroyed.
Finally, realizing that he had made a massive mistake, Varus committed suicide, while all of his other men died around him. At the end of the battle, Only a handful of Romans survived. In memory of these lost legions, Rome never again used the numbers 17, 18, or 19. These were the legion numbers that Varus had. Tutoburger Wald went on to become Rome’s greatest defeat ever, and perhaps the greatest in ancient times.
Rome is not invincible, and that was showed during these battles. Tutoburger Wald ended Roman invincibility, and the Romans never again invaded Germany.