If you look at a satellite image of the region round the hill of Cannae, with the river Ofanto – the ancient Aufidus – running in a more or less north-easterly direction from the bottom left corner, you can just about make out the hill of Cannae in the very centre of the shot.
Obviously, I've enhanced the course of the river; the hill of Cannae should still be clear in the centre. The problem with the obvious identification is that it’s based simply on the assumption that this is a good, handy, flat space that would have been an obvious spot for a fight. Quite right, but unfortunately the sources rule out this location, at least if we take them at face value.
|Yes, I'm using the drawing in my book. So sue me.|
In 1981, however, Peter Connolly dropped a very astute bombshell onto this increasingly cosy consensus. It was all very well working on the basis of the texts, he pointed out, but we only have two items of geography to correlate with our literary evidence, and while the hill of Cannae is conveniently stationary, rivers have a habit of moving. What, he asked, if the Aufidus had flowed rather further north in 216 BC than it had done in his day?
- First, he says, Kromayer requires Hannibal’s camp to be in the open plain rather than on higher ground at the modern San Ferdinando – of this he says "there could have been no intrinsic value to such a position apart from the pressure it applied on the enemy by its proximity to their camp".
- Second, he argues that the location where Varro offered battle, according to Kromayer, is no less suited to cavalry combat than that location declined by Paullus the previous day.
- Third, he points out that we have no reason to believe the course of the Aufidus in 216BC was anywhere near where it is now, and it could well have been much further north as per Connolly’s theory.
- Finally, he says that Connolly has overestimated – and Kromayer has grossly overestimated – the frontage that a Roman army of 76,000 men would need. It would be possible, he argues, to squeeze an enormous Roman army into a battlefield only two kilometres wide – and with one Roman flank anchored on the river and the other flank anchored on the hill of Cannae or thereabouts, the Romans would be able to thwart any attempts by Hannibal’s cavalry to outflank and surround them.
If Hannibal did control the hill of Cannae it would have been suicidal for the Romans to have anchored their left flank on it, exposing their men to a potential bombardment of missiles from above – such missiles might not just include the heavy stones that Hannibal’s Balearian slingers could hurl for great distances, but even such simple things as rooftiles! Again, this doesn’t definitively refute Goldsworthy’s thesis, but again it should cause us to pause before swallowing it.