The Romans had one of the largest and longest-lasting civilizations in the history of the world. Stretching from Britain all the way to Africa and the Middle East, Rome truly wasn't built in a day. Instead, it was built over centuries of military conquest and constant vigilance. A beast as large as Rome must be constantly fed with an influx of new riches and slaves to keep the economy going, which is why capturing new territory was so essential. The most important battles in ancient Rome weren't just for glory, they were key to the continued survival of the society as a whole.Whether it be subjugating the Gauls, defending against Germanic tribes, or winning a civil war, the Romans lived for combat and victory. Near the end of the Empire's existence, they lost more battles than they won - however, even in their final days, they were a force to be reckoned with. Read on below to learn about some of their most fascinating conflicts.
In a battle that also coined a well-known idiom, the Romans faced off against the Greeks, who were commanded by King Pyrrhus. After a diplomatic incident drew both sides into conflict, Pyrrhus fielded a massive army that even included war elephants, though the Romans still outnumbered the Greeks by about 10,000 men. Pyrrhus set his forces by a river to protect his flank, but when the Romans managed to cross, he had to pull back.The subsequent battle raged on for a long time with many losses, but the Roman legions were unable to pierce though the Greek phalanx and vice versa. Desperate, Pyrrhus sent out his war elephants, which were able to scare the Roman legions into falling back. Though Pyrrhus won the battle, both sides suffered from massive casualties - thus the term "Pyrrhic victory" came into being.
Battle of Cannae (216 BCE)
Seen by many as the single greatest military defeat in Rome's history, the Battle of Cannae was also Hannibal's greatest triumph. Rome sent a massive army against him, dwarfing his forces with sheer numbers. When the Romans attacked, Hannibal's center of infantry immediately retreated. When the Romans pressed, the center held its ground while Hannibal's spearmen hit the Romans on each flank. A cavalry charge from the rear had the Roman army completely enveloped, thus their numbers counted for nothing.
Battle of Lake Trasimene (217 BCE)
Hannibal set his sights on an army commanded by the new Roman consul Flaminius. Hannibal positioned himself so the Romans were pursuing his forces until they thought they had him cornered at Lake Trasimene. The Romans charged, only to realize hidden infantry were now blocking off their line of retreat. Hannibal's cavalry then charged the Roman's only exposed flank. With three of their sides full of enemies and a lake behind them, the Romans were surrounded and massacred.
The Battle of Alesia was the crown jewel of Caesar's campaign in Gaul. Caesar had the Gauls held up in a hilltop fortress he couldn't storm, so he surrounded them and starved them out. When Caesar heard Gallic cavalry reinforcements were on their way, he built a wall to block them off. When they did attack, the Gauls inside their fortress stormed out. Caught between two armies, Caesar attacked the cavalry from the rear and destroyed them. The rest of the Gauls surrendered and their territory became part of Rome.