The Romans had one of the largest and longest lasting civilizations in the history of the world. Stretching from modern-day 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 or defending against Germanic tribes, 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.
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 began their operation, Hannibal's center of his team 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 enveloped, thus their numbers counted for nothing.
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 strike, the Gauls inside their fortress stormed out. Caught between two armies, Caesar targeted the cavalry from the rear and ended them. The rest of the Gauls surrendered, and their territory became part of Rome.
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 men 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 slain.
Battle of Ilipa (206 BCE)
While many Romans were dealing with Hannibal in Italy, their star general, Publius Cornelius Scipio, was hunting down Hannibal's brother's forces in Spain. Scipio had been using the same formation for many battles, but when Carthaginian reinforcements became offensive, he inverted his deployment to lure the Carthaginian opposing army in and surround them. Scipio used Hannibal's own tactic at Cannae to destroy the very reinforcements he was counting on, which meant Hannibal was stranded in Italy with a battle-weary force.