Battle of Ticinus, November 218 BC

Battle of the Second Punic War significant mainly as Hannibal's first battle against the Romans on Italian soil. Having recently entered Italy, Hannibal was faced only by local forces. The two main Roman armies had been spent to Spain and Sicily. Indeed, Hannibal had had a close encounter with the army heading west for Spain under Publius Scipio at the River Rhone, where their routes had crossed. Unknown to Hannibal, Scipio had left his troops to continue on to Spain, while he returned to Italy to take control. When Hannibal learnt of Scipio's presence, he must have believed that his army had also returned and that he now faced a much larger force. This challenge would have to be met. To refuse to fight this early in his campaign would have greatly reduced the number of Gauls willing to side with Hannibal, and so he marched down the River Po towards the Romans. Confidence was also high on the Roman side. Scipio had showed a willingness to fight earlier on the Rhone, and repeated that now, also marching along the Po. Once the scouts made contact, both armies camped. The next day, both Hannibal and Scipio led strong scouting forces out - Hannibal probably took most of the remaining 6,000 cavalry, while Scipio took all of his cavalry and some velites (light infantry armed with javelins). Hannibal had the advantage in numbers, but Scipio may have considered his troops to be superior after their earlier encounter, when he had apparently defeated some of the Punic cavalry.

The two scouting forces soon came into contact. Scipio formed up for a typical cavalry battle of the day, all dashing attacks to throw javelins, with his velites in front as a skirmish line. However, this plan was soon abandoned by both sides in favour of a melee, possibly with the cavalry dismounted to fight. This stage of the battle was quite evenly matched, but Hannibal had placed his Numidian cavalry on his flanks, ready to outflank the Romans, and when they finally did so the velites fled, allowing the Numidians to charge the rear of the Roman line, which collapsed in some chaos. Scipio himself was badly wounded at this stage and needed rescue, either by a Ligurian slave, or in a less likely version by his son, the future Scipio Africanus. Regardless of which story is true, Scipio returned safely to the Roman camp, where the bulk of his army remained intact.

It was Scipio's actions after the cavalry battle that gave this battle what significance it had. While Hannibal prepared for what would have been the main battle, Scipio, possibly with his morale destroyed by his wound, decided to retreat south of the Po, and pulled back to the Roman colony at Placentia. Hannibal arrived a few days later, and formed up to offer battle, but Scipio refused. Roman control over the Gauls was not secure and this further sign of weakness, so soon after the defeat at Ticinus, started to encouraged the Gauls to side with Hannibal. 2,200 from Scipio's own army changed side after killing the Romans camped nearest them, while the Boii made an alliance with him.

Hannibal's Oath - The Life and Wars of Rome's Greatest Enemy, John Prevas. A good biography of Hannibal, covering his entire life from childhood to his death in exile, as well as the famous period of dramatic victories over the Romans in Italy. Pitched at the interested non-historian, and covers his entire life story, from childhood, through the long years of war in Italy to exile in the east. Paints a picture of an obsessed figure whose career in Italy peaked early, and who spent most of his time in Italy unable to find a way to come to grips with the Romans, before continuing to campaign against them even when in exile (Read Full Review)
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cover The Punic Wars, Adrian Goldsworthy. An excellent work which covers all three Punic wars. Strong on both the land and naval elements of the wars.
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J. (31 March 2002), Battle of Ticinus, November 218 BC,

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