Battle of Geronium - Hannibal's Response - Battle of Geronium

Battle of Geronium

The nickname of Minucius was Rufus or Red (either he or one of his ancestors had red hair). He probably saw red when he saw the Carthaginians deployed on the hill, thinking that he was going to fight Hannibal in a skirmish rather than in a battle he sent a group of velites to drive them off, unaware that he was sending them towards their fate. In turn, Hannibal reinforced the hill with just enough soldiers to fight the Romans to a stalemate. This caused Minucius to send the Roman and Italian allied cavalry up the hill, which Hannibal immediately countered with his Numidian and heavy Carthaginian cavalry, again seeking a stalemate. With the cavalry engaged, Minucius lost his best tool for scouting the battleground and discovering the trap Hannibal had set for him. After skirmishing for a while, the Roman cavalry slowly began to give ground against their better skilled opponents.

Minucius, observing the situation, now called out his four legions and marched towards and then up the hill. Hannibal had also deployed his infantry beyond the hill and now advanced to meet the advancing Romans. The sequence and timing of events, all planned and orchestrated by Hannibal, did not give the Roman general any time to examine the ground or scout the area. Fabius, who was watching the events unfold from his camp, called his army to arms but did not move out to help his fellow general.

Just as the Roman infantry commanded by Minucius reached the hill and was moving up the slopes, the Roman cavalry broke and began to scatter. The Roman light troops, already hard pressed, were also driven back on the marching legions. The Roman battle formation was disrupted, and before the Romans could regain cohesion, the Carthaginians concealed in the hollows emerged and fell on the exposed flanks and rear of the Roman battle line. Hannibal and his infantry struck the now unbalanced Romans from the front before the shock of the ambush faded or Minucius could take corrective action. Attacked from all sides, some of the Romans broke ranks and fled, while the others became surrounded and were fighting for their lives. A disaster for Rome again loomed, and barring divine intervention, only the actions of a general known for his avoidance of battle could have saved the army of Minucius from certain destruction.

Fabius, later nicknamed “The Delayer”, failed to live up to his reputation. He marched out with his four legions to join the battle. The fleeing Romans of Minucius’ army began to form up beside his legions, the Carthaginians between the armies of Fabius and Minucius then gave way, enabling Minucius and his surviving soldiers to fall back and regroup beside the fresh Roman troops. The genius of Hannibal, combined with the rashness of Minucius had finally drawn the reluctant Fabius to commit his troops in combat. However, the coming Clash of Titans would produce very anticlimactic results. Both armies regrouped and redeployed for battle, but instead of Fabius seeking to avoid the coming confrontation, ironically it was Hannibal, taking a leaf out of Fabius's book, did not allow anything more than skirmishing to develop between the armies, and it was also Hannibal who first broke contact and retired to his camp. Fabius promptly followed suit and the battle was over.

Possibly Hannibal did not wish to fight a battle of attrition against a still superior army, over half of which was fresh while the Carthaginians had been fighting for some time. Strategically, the destruction of the Roman army would not have changed the balance of power significantly for Hannibal at the time. While Carthaginians wintered at Geronium, the Romans would have been free to raise another army to deal with him. On the other hand, if Hannibal lost the battle, he might have lost the war on the spot for Carthage. The Carthaginians had inflicted severe casualties on the Romans, and only the prompt action of Fabius had saved the Rome from dealing with another disaster in the space of six months. Hannibal chose not to gamble, again displaying his understanding of "economy of force", to reinforce success but not to throw good money after bad. Whatever damage the skirmish had done to the morale of his troops had been fully restored, he had dwelt a body blow on the Romans in exchange of the bloody nose they had given him on the previous encounter.

Read more about this topic:  Battle Of Geronium, Hannibal's Response

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