Hannibal the Great On Hannibal's Trail


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Hannibal the Great

The Wood brothers cycle through northern Italy from the Valley of Trebbia to Tuscany, before arriving at Cannae, site of the bloodiest battle of ancient history.


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We're on a ten-week journey...

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cycling 3,500km

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on the trail of the great Carthaginian warrior, Hannibal.

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Over 2,000 years ago, Hannibal marched his army from the south of Spain,

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across the Alps and into Italy.

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He launched a spectacular assault on the heart of Roman power.

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Hannibal's brothers, Hasdrubal and Mago, were his generals.

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I'm Danny Wood, I'm a journalist.

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And like Hannibal, I'm travelling with my brothers.

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Ben, a computer expert,

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and Sam, an archaeologist.

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Hannibal marched with over 100,000 soldiers...armed with swords,

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spears...and 37 elephants.

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ELEPHANT TRUMPETS

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-We're armed with three bikes...

-Three tents...

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And a bike cam.

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In the last 29 days, we've cycled 1,600km

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from Cartagena in Spain through southern France and across the Alps.

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Now we're heading for some of the bloodiest battlefields in history

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and following Hannibal's trail on the long, hard road to Rome.

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Week five of our journey, and we're having an easy ride through Piacenza in northern Italy.

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But for Hannibal, in 218 BC, this was hostile territory.

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He knew he was about to face the Romans in battle on their home turf.

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And the Carthaginian army was far from fighting fit.

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Hannibal's men were exhausted and emaciated with hunger

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and they were about to confront a disciplined, well-equipped and highly motivated professional army.

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The Romans would fight to the death to defend their homeland.

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Before his first battle with the Romans, Hannibal gathered his entire army together.

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He wanted to spur them on with a vivid lesson about bravery and the rewards of victory.

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Hannibal lined up all the prisoners he'd taken in battle and offered them the chance to win their freedom.

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All they had to do, he said, was fight each other to the death in single combat.

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The victors would be given a horse and arms and set free.

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Hannibal's men cheered on hundreds of raw and bloody struggles for survival.

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After the slaughter, the winners rode away in freedom.

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Those who refused to fight had chosen slavery.

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They were forced to bury the dead.

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When the bloody spectacle was over, Hannibal turned to his men and hit his message home.

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Hannibal was one of history's great communicators.

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If his men fought well and triumphed, he said liberty, Rome and all its riches would be theirs.

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If they died heroically in battle, they would be spared further suffering.

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But if they refused to fight, then they too would spend the rest of their lives in slavery.

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We're cycling along the river Trebbia.

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The ancient Greek and Roman historians Polybius and Livy

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tell us that Hannibal's first major battle with the Romans

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took place in 218 BC on 21st December -

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the winter solstice.

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Hannibal set up camp on this bank of the river.

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The Romans, on the other side.

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The Carthaginians had fewer troops but Hannibal's strategic genius would give them an advantage.

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The night before the battle, Hannibal sent his brother Mago

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along with a small troop to hide along the banks of the Trebbia.

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His battle plan was already unfolding.

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Early the next morning, long before the Romans even had time to have breakfast,

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Hannibal sent his crack troops, the Numidian cavalry, across the river to provoke them.

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The Romans took the bait and chased the Numidian cavalry back to the river.

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They were unprepared for battle, but now the Roman infantry

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started to wade across the freezing river in full armour.

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Back then it would have been much deeper.

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They'd have been up to their armpits in icy water.

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When they got to the other side, the Romans were frozen to the bone,

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almost incapable of holding their weapons.

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Hannibal had already reduced his enemy to shivering wrecks and the battle hadn't even started.

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Unlike the Romans, the men in Hannibal's camp had eaten breakfast and were well rested.

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They'd been sitting by campfires and warming up their muscles with olive oil and grease.

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When the Romans emerged from the river, the Carthaginians were ready for them.

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Hannibal arranged his foot soldiers in a vast line of 20,000 men.

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10,000 cavalry and 37 elephants took their places at the sides.

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This must have been an impressive sight. An army formation three miles long.

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The Romans faced Hannibal with a similar formation.

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36,000 infantry in the centre and 4,000 cavalry on each wing.

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Then...

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battle began.

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It was a battle of thrusting swords, flying javelins,

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pounding hooves and terrifying elephant charges.

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The Roman cavalry was quickly crushed

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and the Carthaginian cavalry started charging the Roman infantry.

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Now, Mago and his men sprang out from their hiding places by the river.

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No chance to retreat, the Roman infantry found themselves surrounded.

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THEY LAUGH

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That got him.

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Urrgh...

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Hannibal won the Battle of Trebbia using the terrain and the weather to his advantage.

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He'd also came up with a perfect combination of strategy and tactics,

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using both provocation and surprise and clinching his plan with an ambush.

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This was Rome's first real taste of Hannibal's military genius.

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30,000 Roman soldiers were slaughtered at Trebbia.

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News of the crushing defeat was soon sending waves of panic around the Roman Republic.

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And Hannibal's great victory also persuaded more local tribes to rally to his cause.

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This was a disaster for Rome.

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But Hannibal had suffered losses too.

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And according to the Greek historian Polybius,

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all but one of Hannibal's elephants perished in the cold weather that followed the battle.

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Right at the start of Hannibal's campaign in Italy, he'd lost his mighty weapons of terror.

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Hannibal's victory has never been forgotten by the people of this region.

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-Buongiorno.

-Buongiorno.

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Buongiorno.

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So why is your wine named after Hannibal?

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HE SPEAKS ITALIAN

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And is it a popular name in Italy?

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-Great.

-Yes!

-Yes!

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To Hannibal!

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-Buono?

-Si, buono. Very good.

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Could I have two bottles, please?

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Va bene. Non c'e' problema.

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Le do due bottiglie!

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Perfect. Thank you.

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As he marched deeper into Roman territory,

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Hannibal liked to gather intelligence by travelling incognito.

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He used to dress up in a range of disguises to avoid being spotted.

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Polybius tells us that Hannibal even had a number of wigs made and kept constantly changing them.

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He also changed his clothes so that even his troops found it difficult to recognise him.

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The Romans were now desperately trying to predict Hannibal's next move.

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They sent legions to block the two main roads heading south.

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But Hannibal never did anything predictable.

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He decided to take the road nobody would ever expect.

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Across the marshes.

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We've been given special permission to continue our journey through

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one of the last surviving areas of ancient marshland in Italy.

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HE SPEAKS ITALIAN

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And is it dangerous?

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-We're going to try this on our bikes, I think.

-Hmm.

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We'll see you when we're drowning.

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-Good luck.

-Thanks.

-Ciao.

-Bye.

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You go first, Danny.

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Yeah. Sending big brother first when the going gets tough.

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Hurry up, Danny.

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This was one of the hardest stretches for Hannibal's army.

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For four days and three nights they had to force their way through reedy marshes.

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This must have been hard on the troops.

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Their feet constantly wet and no chance of sleep or rest.

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After only a few minutes in these conditions, I'm knackered.

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And these men didn't stop for days.

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Hannibal himself got sick and caught an eye infection here.

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He had to be carried for much of the journey by the sole surviving elephant.

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Hannibal had outwitted the Romans again.

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But it came at a huge personal cost.

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He lost the sight in one of his eyes.

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Lake Trasimene in central Italy.

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About 200km from Rome.

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When Hannibal arrived here in 217 BC, he knew he was

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being followed by two legions, led by a general called Flaminius.

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So Hannibal decided to catch him out.

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The approach to the lake was a gorge that led to a very narrow path

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that went alongside the shore for two or three kilometres.

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The shore of the lake has changed so much since Hannibal's time

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that today it's very hard to imagine that it was a thin trail.

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On 20th June, the Carthaginian army marched along the side of the lake.

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Hannibal then took up position here on top of this hill to ensure that Flaminius would see him.

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Flaminius set up camp just outside the entrance of the gorge, ready to attack the following day.

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During the night, Hannibal quietly divided his men into several troops

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and ranged them on the hills above the lake.

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Hannibal's men hid in the bushes, waiting for the signal to attack.

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The next day was the summer solstice.

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At dawn, the Roman army advanced into the gorge.

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A thick mist was rising from the lake, obscuring the shoreline.

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The Roman army started making its way through the gorge while Hannibal's troops silently waited.

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When the bulk of the Roman army was on this path by the shore, Hannibal gave the signal.

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The Carthaginian infantry swept down the hill.

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At the same time, the cavalry closed off the escape route at the entrance to the gorge.

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The Romans didn't know what had hit them.

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Attacked on all fronts, many tried to escape to the lake.

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But, weighed down by their armour, they drowned or were massacred by Hannibal's men.

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The battle was so fierce that the soldiers didn't even notice

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a violent earthquake that hit as the lake turned the colour of blood.

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In the space of three hours, the Romans lost 15,000 men,

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including Flaminius himself.

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The memory of the battle lives on to this day.

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-Buongiorno, senora.

-Buongiorno.

-Buongiorno.

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HE SPEAKS ITALIAN

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As the first rumours of the defeat at Trasimene reached the city of Rome,

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the people gathered in panic on the streets.

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The senior magistrate addressed the masses in the Forum and conceded,

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"There has been a great battle, but we have been defeated."

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Hannibal's next stop would surely be Rome.

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The Roman Senate took extreme measures.

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For one of the rare times in the history of the Republic,

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they appointed a political leader with unlimited powers,

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a dictator - Quintus Fabius Maximus.

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Fabius was an experienced general and a clever politician.

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He devised a completely new strategy for beating Hannibal.

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He decided to play a long game.

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Fabius decided that if the Roman army avoided meeting Hannibal in full combat,

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he wouldn't have the chance to defeat them again.

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Instead, Fabius would send his troops to follow Hannibal

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and prevent him from getting at food and supplies.

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Fabius's strategy earned him the nickname Fabian the Great Delayer.

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But he also ordered a scorched earth policy wherever Hannibal was likely to pass looking for food.

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This tactic was known as kicking the enemy in the stomach.

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-Buongiorno.

-Buongiorno.

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-We're very hungry. We were wondering if we could have some pizza?

-Si, si.

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Thank you.

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OK. OK.

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THEY LAUGH

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Oh, that's stretched it.

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Do I just shove it in and shove it out? Basically pull it? OK.

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Don't throw my pizza in the fire.

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Here it comes.

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It's quite a good shape.

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How to get it off?

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So which pizza is the best, do you think?

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HE SPEAKS ITALIAN

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Oh, your one. Of course.

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Of course.

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Seriously good.

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-Much better.

-Yeah.

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Fabius played cat and mouse with Hannibal month after month,

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always keeping him on the move

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but never openly challenging him in battle.

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Hannibal decided to strike out for the Adriatic coast

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to find shelter and security for the winter.

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But his plans were discovered by Fabius's spies.

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The quickest way to get across the mountains to the Adriatic coast

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was through a valley known as the Valley of Callicula.

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Fabius decided to adopt some of Hannibal's own tactics.

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Fabius posted 4,000 men at the entrance to the Valley of Callicula.

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They waited to ambush Hannibal's army.

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But Hannibal was always two steps ahead of the Romans.

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He anticipated the trap and devised his own plan to outmanoeuvre Fabius.

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Hannibal ordered his men to collect dry sticks and bind them into torches.

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These torches were then attached to the horns of 2,000 oxen,

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and late that night the torches were lit

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and the oxen were driven up here, to the high ground above the pass.

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When the Roman soldiers saw the passing flames,

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they thought the Carthaginian army was escaping to the hills - so they charged after them.

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Down in the pass, the way was now clear.

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Hannibal's army passed through the Valley of Callicula with no opposition.

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Once they arrived at the Adriatic coast, Hannibal and his troops settled down for the winter.

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We know a great deal about Hannibal's tactics in battle, but next to nothing about his private life.

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But it's said that at this time he had a winter love affair with a woman from this area.

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It must have been quite a passion as people were still talking about it centuries later.

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While Hannibal was falling in love, his troops were taking a well-earned rest.

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We've been on the road for six weeks now and we're ready for a bit of a break ourselves.

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It's like being in a Wild West movie.

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I'm going to be an Italian stallion.

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The best thing is I can't see myself. I might be in for a shock.

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-Very good?

-Very good.

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-OK.

-Nice.

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-Bene?

-Si. Va bene. Grazie.

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-Thank you.

-OK.

-Grazie.

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It looks quite nice. A different style.

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Looks a bit like Mum's.

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LAUGHTER

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-Goodbye.

-Goodbye. Thanks. Ciao.

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In the summer of 216 BC, the Romans were ready to go into battle with Hannibal once again.

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They'd recruited the largest army they'd ever had - about 80,000 soldiers.

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They now outnumbered Hannibal's forces by almost two to one.

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On 2nd August, the two armies faced each other here, at Cannae.

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To avoid another Carthaginian ambush, the Romans decided to fight on this huge open plain.

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They arranged their troops in a formation which would have stretched

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all the way from the river, over there, for almost four kilometres.

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Hannibal could see that the Roman army was much bigger than his,

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so to avoid any risk of being surrounded, he stretched his troops

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into a long, thin, curved line protruding towards the enemy.

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Then battle commenced.

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After hours of fierce fighting, Hannibal's thin front line began to give in the centre.

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The Romans thought they had the upper hand at last.

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But this was exactly what Hannibal wanted them to believe,

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because just either side of his front line, he placed his crack troops - his African heavy infantry.

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The Roman army had been drawn into a trap yet again.

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As the Roman legionaries struggled to fight off the heavy infantry,

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Hannibal's cavalry charged them from behind.

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Now the Romans were completely surrounded.

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What followed was a massacre

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and the Roman army was annihilated.

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Thousands of Roman soldiers were hacked down and left to bleed to death.

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This field was soon covered with mutilated corpses in a sea of blood.

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Cannae is one of the bloodiest battles ever fought.

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Rome lost around 70,000 men.

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It was the largest loss of life in a single day of battle in the history of the world.

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Hannibal had been terrorising Rome for two years now.

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In that time, he'd slaughtered about 100,000 Roman soldiers and one third of the Roman Senate.

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Every Roman household was in mourning.

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Unlike any other enemy in its history, Hannibal had brought Rome to the brink of destruction.

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In the next programme...

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..we make a sacrifice to the gods,

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Hannibal reaches the gates of Rome,

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and the fate of an entire civilisation is decided in one final battle.

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Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

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E-mail [email protected]

0:28:540:28:57

History and travel series in which three Australian brothers - Danny, Ben and Sam Wood - set out cycling on the trail of Hannibal, the Carthaginian warrior who marched from Spain to Rome at the head of an invading army accompanied by elephants.

With the Alps behind them, the brothers cycle through northern Italy from the fertile Valley of Trebbia, where Hannibal's first defeated the Romans on their home turf, to the rolling hills of Tuscany. They continue on through thick marshes before arriving at Cannae, site of the bloodiest battle of ancient history. On the way, the Woods meet a winemaker called Hannibal, attempt to make a pizza in Naples and have a close shave in Trani.