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Losses at Cannae

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I once read (or heard in a lecture) the proportion of the adult male population of Rome that was lost in one day at the Battle of Cannae. Can anyone provide this figure and a source for it?

Thanks

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The men it the army at the time of Cannae all owned property so many of them probably did not live in the city itself. I could only find population numbers for later dates which make the put the Roman population arround 1,000,000 two hundered years later so it would have been smaller at the time of the Second Punic War. between 45,000 and 80,000 Romans were killed or captured at Cannae so even if the battle took place when Rome had 1,000,000 people and then 1 in 20, possibly more would have been lost ad Cannae. Of this population of 1,000,000 more then half of theose would have been non-citizens or Women. It is important to note that most of Romes allies who fought with them against Hannibal were not full citizens.

Edited by the5500th

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"Such was the outcome of the battle at Cannae between the Romans and Carthaginians, a battle in which both the victors and the vanquished displayed conspicuous bravery, as was evinced by the facts. For of the six thousand cavalry, seventy escaped to Venusia with Terentius, and about three hundred of the allied horse reached different cities in scattered groups. Of the infantry about ten thousand were captured fighting but not in the actual battle, while only perhaps three thousand escaped from the field to neighbouring towns. All the rest, numbering about seventy thousand, died bravely. Both on this occasion and on former ones their numerous cavalry had contributed most to the victory of the Carthaginians, p291and it demonstrated to posterity that in times of war it is better to give battle with half as many infantry as the enemy and an overwhelming force of cavalry than to be in all respects his equal. Of Hannibal's army there fell about four thousand Celts, fifteen hundred Spaniards and Africans and two hundred cavalry." (Polybius, 3.117)

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I'd recommend reading Frank Tenney's "Roman Census Statistics from 225 to 28 BC" which is available on JSTOR.

 

In summary, Livy reports the Roman census of 234 BC to be 230,714 (18 years before Cannae). While there is debate over counting procedures and validity, the assumption is that this represents the male population including freedmen and those without voting rights.

 

In 209 BC (7 years after Cannae) the population is reported as 137,108.

 

Clearly, the reduction is a reflection of major losses in the 2nd Punic War including those at Cannae. The sources (Polybius, Livy, Appian and Plutarch, etc.) provide a wide range of potential casualties at Cannae ranging from about 50,000 to 70,000 men. While some modern historians discount these numbers as superfluous, let's assume ancient source accuracy. If Rome lost somewhere in the proximity of 100,000 men in various battles of the 2nd Punic War (Trebia, Tresimene, Cannae, etc.) then it's easy to make the relationship between the census of 234 and 209.

 

However, as Tenney explains in his article, the custom was not to count legionaries stationed in provinces. There was a significant number of men in Hispania, Cisalpine Gaul, Sicilia and Sardinia that could have numbered as many as 50,000 men. It also doesn't account for cities that had defected to or were under the control of Hannibal at the time (ie Capua). Tenney also suggests that this could have accounted for another 50,000 men.

 

What I'm getting at is that we simply can't be sure how the population figures match up to casualties and other census taking factors. What we can make a reasonable assumption about though are the losses at Cannae vs. the population of Rome in 234 BC. Assuming the average of ancient source material on the losses (which would be roughly 60,000 men) the losses at Cannae would have made up about 25% of the male population of Rome prior to the start of the war.

 

Assuming the worst case that the change in population from 230k to 137k from 234 to 209 BC was from a direct loss of life and not from other factors, then the percentage of loss would have equaled roughly 39% of the 234 BC population.

 

Hope that helps.

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Polybius' numbers don't really add up. His figures for the losses total to more than the size of the figures that he gave for the whole army at the beginning of the battle.

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I've always had trouble believing that an army of 40-45000 could annihilate an army of over 86000. I think Brunt, DeSanctis et al are right in thinking Polybius either misunderstood the Roman term for a legion and its ala of allies, or was exaggerating the disaster for the greater glory of the Scipiones. There was, in fact, an alternate tradition (preserved in Livy (xxii.36)) that there were only four reinforced legions present, rather than eight. Destruction of 30-40000 men in a single day was catastrophe enough...worse than Antietam, almost as bad as Borodino or the first day on the Somme in 1916 from a much smaller population!

 

In "Italian Manpower" (pg 419-420) Brunt estimates that on the eve of Cannae (216) the Romans had mobilized about 90000 men since 218 and had suffered losses of about 25000. Leaving about 65000 men in the field (13 legions). He estimates 15000 citizens lost at Cannae (a low estimate?) and another 9000 lost when 2 legions were destroyed in Gaul in 215. This from a pool of about 230000 qualified citizens. Four new legions (at reduced strength) were raised in 216-215 (not counting the freed slaves recruited by Gracchus) so that, he says, about 108000 men were mobilized between 218 and 215 and about 50000 lost (not counting allies or proletarii). He argues that in 215 the property qualification for legionary service was reduced due to these losses, allowing 5 new legions to be raised in 214 and two in most subsequent years of the war.

Edited by Pompieus

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