Battle of Silva Litana

The Battle of Silva Litana was an ambush during the Second Punic War that took place in a forest 75 miles northwest of the Roman city of Ariminum in 216 BC. The Gallic Boii surprised and destroyed a Roman army of 25,000 men under the consul-elect Lucius Postumius Albinus. Only ten men escaped the ambush, few prisoners were taken and Postumius was killed, decapitated and his skull covered with gold by the Boii. News of the military disaster, coming either several days or months after the defeat at Cannae, triggered a renewed panic in Rome and the Romans postponed military operations against the Gauls until the conclusion of the Second Punic War.

Battle of Silva Litana
Part of the Second Punic War
DateAugust or Autumn 216 BC
Forest of Litana, 75 miles northwest of Ariminum
Result Boii victory
Boii Roman Republic
Commanders and leaders
Unknown Lucius Postumius Albinus 
Unknown 25,000
Casualties and losses
Unknown 24,990 killed or captured


In 216 BC, the Romans elected Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro as consuls. The consuls gave a legion to Lucius Postumius Albinus to punish the Gallic tribes in Cisalpine Gaul that had supplied troops to Hannibal's Carthaginian army. After Hannibal's crushing victory at the Battle of Cannae, Postumius was elected Roman consul for the third time and in absentia, since he was in command of the Roman legion in Cisalpine Gaul.[1]

Postumius' army strength was increased to two Roman legions and he raised allied troops along the Adriatic coast, raising the number of his soldiers to 25,000.[2]


Postumius' army marched through a large forest called Litana by the Gauls.[2] The Boii had cut the trees so that unsupported, they would remain standing, but if given a slight push would topple over.[2] As the Romans went along a road in the forest, the Boii secured a perimeter outside it and pushed over the trees on the outer edges.[2] The trees fell on each other and crashed onto the road from both sides, killing Roman soldiers and horses and destroying equipment.[2] Most of the soldiers died under the weight of the trees trunks and branches and the panicked survivors were slaughtered by the Boii waiting outside the forest.[2] A party of Romans tried to escape across a river, but were captured by the Boii who had already taken the bridge over it.[2] Few Roman prisoners were taken and only ten men survived the disaster.[2]

Postumius fought to avoid capture but was killed, decapitated and his head taken to a Boii sacred temple, where the skin was scraped off and the bare skull covered with gold.[2] It was used as a cup for drinking by the Boii high priest.[2] The Boii also took a vast amount of loot, with the Roman goods handily concentrated along the forest road.[2]


A panic hit the city of Rome upon arrival of the news.[2] The Roman Senate ordered aediles to patrol the streets, open shops and disperse any sign of defeatism.[3] Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, master of horse and also consul-elect for 215 BC, consoled the Senate by emphasizing the importance of defeating Hannibal, with the Gauls only a secondary priority for Roman strategy.[4]


  1. Livy 2006, p. 162.
  2. Livy 2006, p. 163.
  3. Livy 2006, p. 164.
  4. Livy 2006, pp. 162–164.


  • Livius, Titus (2006). Hannibal's War: Books Twenty-One to Thirty. Translated by J.C. Yardley, introduction and notes by Dexter Hoyos. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-283159-3.