Today on December 18, 218 BCE, Hannibal annihilates the Roman legions at the Battle of the Trebia.
The Battle of the Trebia was the first major conflict of the Second Punic War between the Roman Republic and the Carthaginian Empire. Once again, the war pitted the two great rival empires of the Mediterranean Sea against each other. The First Punic War ended in 241 BCE, with Rome emerging victorious over their ancient rival. It resulted in the Republic gaining control over Cathagian territory in Sicily. More than two decades later, Carthaginian General Hannibal Barca launched a second war against the Romans. He was the son of Hamilcar Barca who served as one of the leading commanders during the first war. As a young boy, Hannibal vowed to his dying father that he would one day take revenge against Rome and restore Carthaginian pride.
Many historians consider Hannibal Barca to be one of the greatest generals in history. He masterfully deployed a number of innovative tactics on the battlefield that led to several resounding victories. In preparation for the war, he assembled a massive coalition army in Spain during the summer of 218 BCE, including 37 war elephants. He marched across southern France with little resistance before trekking his entire army through the Italian Alps in freezing cold conditions. His bold move to cross the Alps at this time is considered to be one of the greatest military achievements ever. Hannibal methodically avoided all Roman land garrisons to take his enemy by complete surprise. No one would have expected him to abruptly arrive in northern Italy in December.
The impetuous Roman commander, Tiberius Longus, hastily marched his legions and auxiliary troops to intercept with the invaders. Before the battle, Hannibal ordered his brother Mago to take two thousand of his best soldiers and hide in the brush alongside the River Trebia. As the Romans crossed the river, Hannibal provoked them into a frontal assault against his centerline. As the battle raged on, Mago’s concealed troops suddenly ambushed the Romans from multiple sides. The Romans quickly broke and fled the field in a chaotic fashion. Many fleeing soldiers either drowned in the river or died from hypothermia. The Battle of the Trebia was the first in a string of decisive victories for Hannibal while campaigning in Italy.