The long deserted Roman town of Canne is situated on the small hill known locally as the Monte di Canne, (Mount of Canne ) and strategically located six miles inland, beside the river Aufidus now called by the modern name of the Ofanto river.
Only a village in the era of the Roman Republic, it later expanded and grew to the status of town or Municipium by the time of the Empire.
From its position on the mount, Canne commands a dominating aspect across the plain of Ofanto with a view that extends to the distant hills of the Gargano. These attributes of a fertile flat valley, natural water supply and a defensive position made it a natural choice for human settlement.
The archeological site of Canne contains a museum, in which is displayed four distinct strata of the settlement, and includes the exhibit of a full set of burial ceremonial armour from a Daunian warrior.
The Neolithic Stone Age artifacts on display from the 4th to the 2nd Millennium BC give way to remnants of the Messapian and Daunian settlements that predated the Roman ascendency.
There are a wealth of Roman relics on show and more from medieval times after the fall of the Empire caused the area to fall with the rest of Western Europe into the Dark Ages.
The site today has a strata of buildings and monuments, with megalithic caves and graves, portions of ancient walls and a large stone Menhir linked by legend to the classical hero Diomedes.
Later in Roman times, huge Latifundia worked by slaves, produced vast amounts of grain from the area.
The wealth thus produced, enabled the funding and construction of a fortress and grain stores , so vital in feeding the population of Rome.
A spur road leads from the main Roman highways of the Via Appia and the Via Traiana to the towns gridwork of ruined streets today. Buildings along these streets, stripped of much of their stone walls, still exhibit remnants of Roman mosaics, Roman houses and workshops which jostle for space with shrines and the Agora still marked out by the remains of its pillars.
The public Forum, lost most of its stone to the later construction of the Medieval walls and the Castle of Canne with its Basilica and crypt which includes the surviving sarcophagus of Saint Ruggiero – a native of the town and one of its early bishops.
Alas, these settlements with their defenses and fortifications were to no avail, as the town was sacked and destroyed not once but four times in its bloody history. Once by the Lombards in 586 after the Empires collapse, again by the Saracens and Turks in 862, after its recovery it was pillaged yet again by Robert Guiscard, the Norman overlord, who razed it to the ground and deported its survivors by force to Barletta in 1083 Eventually in 1276 the few inhabitants still existing by scraping a living amongst the shadows of its past, abandoned the area and the town finally died.
So why do we remember this obscure, insignificant little Roman settlement, and what is its relevance in the modern age that causes its name to be mentioned in military training academies worldwide ?
Because, Canne was propelled into notoriety in the Ancient world, by an event that shocked and awed the emerging civilisations of the Mediterranean basin, that shook the much vaunted and rapidly expanding Roman Republic to its core and brought Rome itself to her knees.
The cataclysmic event also caused the town to gain a new nometure, Canne della Battaglia or “Canne of the Battle” that it is still known by today.
In 216 BC, the two ruling Roman consuls Paulus and Varro took the largest army Rome had ever assembled before to bring the Carthaginian General Hannibal to battle, and so avenge the earlier defeat at Lake Trasimene that the Republic had endured at his hands.
With a superbly equipped and well trained force of legionaries and auxiliary cavalry numbering 88,000 men divided into 8 legions, the Roman Army brought to battle the Carthaginian army of less than 40,000 troops including their irregular Iberian and Gallic allies.
The battle should have been a walk over,… and it was.
Though Carthaginian horsemen on the flanks managed to drive off the Roman cavalry wings, Hannibal’s weak centre slowly gave ground to the massed ranks of advancing Roman legionaries, more and more Roman units were funneled into the centre ready to exploit the moment when the weakening Carthaginian centre finally broke and routed. The Romans pressed tighter and tighter pushing a massive bulge in their enemies front line, at this moment, observing the struggle below him from the Mount of Canne, Hannibal played his ace.
The Carthaginian reserve who had finished assembling unseen behind the flanks of the battle, now fell upon the Romans at sides of the bulge, simultaneously the Carthaginian cavalry had returned and charged the Romans in the rear.
Deliberately enticed into the trap born of Hannibal’s military genius, and unable to manoeuvre, due to the massed pressure from all sides, many Roman soldiers were unable to even draw their weapons or turn and face their new adversaries to defend themselves.
According to a Roman observer of the battle, who had watched the deliberately yielding centre that drew in his countrymen to their doom, the days slaughter only finished when the Carthaginians warriors were too weak with exhaustion to wield their swords further.
Up to 60,000 Roman soldiers died that day along with most of Rome’s senate and almost all of their leading citizens, 23,000 were captured and sold into slavery, barely 5,000 escaped in small groups and made their way back to the Eternal City to relate the disaster. Hannibal buried just 6,000 of his own.
It was many years before Rome was able to assemble enough men, and muster the courage to face Hannibal again, but rather than risk facing him at home, they sent their army to fight lesser generals on the fields of Carthage itself. Finally Hannibal was recalled by his city, to fight the Romans once more under the shadow of his home towns walls in the Battle of Zama.
And Canne ?
The Battle of Canne , was the worlds first major example of the military manoeuvre that wartime commanders still dream of and aspire to – the classic “Double Encirclement” , and even now – 2,200 years later – there are few graduates of Military Academies, who have not studied the Battle of Canne as part of their training.
If you can pull yourself away from the luxury of our Villas amenities, and you drive 90 minutes to a trip back in time, then stand on the Monte di Canne as Hannibal did, and view in your mind that epic battle raging beside the river below you, as General Hannibal once did, so many years ago.