The 216 BCE Battle of Cannae, fought during the Second Punic War, was one of the earliest, and most successful, examples of the double envelopment, or pincer movement, in order to complete a battle of annihilation. Since crossing the Alps into Italy, the Carthaginian general, Hannibal Barca, had already achieved decisive victories over the Romans at the battles of Trebia and Lake Trasimene, reducing the Romans to using a ‘scorched earth’ strategy to avoid open battle. Roman pride demanded the invader be crushed, and a vast army of eight legions, plus allied contingents – a total of 16 legions – marched to confront Hannibal at Cannae, on the Apulian plain. Greatly outnumbered, Hannibal’s battle plan exploited the relative strengths of the two armies. Advancing with his centre to the fore, his superior cavalry overwhelmed their counterparts on first the Roman right, then left flanks. Meanwhile his centre steadily withdrew before the close ranks of Roman infantry: at the critical moment, Hannibal’s infantry moved in from the flanks and cavalry engaged the Roman rear creating a ‘killing zone’. The Roman army, unable to manoeuvre, was methodically destroyed.
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