Battle of Ticinus

The Battle of Ticinus was a battle of the Second Punic War fought between the Carthaginian forces of Hannibal and the Romans under Publius Cornelius Scipio in late November 218 BC. The battle took place in the flat country on the right bank of the River Ticinus, to the west of modern Pavia in northern Italy. Hannibal led 6,000 African and Iberian cavalry, while Scipio led 3,600 Roman, Italian and Gallic cavalry and a large but unknown number of light infantry javelinmen.

Battle of Ticinus
Part of the Second Punic War

Eighteenth-century depiction of the battle, showing the younger Scipio rescuing his wounded father
DateLate November 218 BC
West bank of the lower Ticino River, in present-day Italy
45°15′0″N 8°52′0″E
Result Carthaginian victory
Carthage Roman Republic
Commanders and leaders
Hannibal P. Cornelius Scipio (WIA)
6,000 cavalry 3,600 cavalry
Up to 4,500 velites
Up to 2,000 mounted Gallic infantry
Casualties and losses
Light Heavy

War had been declared early in 218 BC over perceived infringements of Roman prerogatives in Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal) by Hannibal. Hannibal had gathered a large army, marched out of Iberia, through Gaul and over the Alps into Cisalpine Gaul (northern Italy), where many of the local tribes were at war with Rome. The Romans were taken by surprise, but one of the consuls for the year, Scipio, led an army along the north bank of the Po with the intention of giving battle to Hannibal. The two commanding generals each led out strong forces to reconnoitre their opponents. Scipio mixed a large number of javelinmen with his main cavalry force, anticipating a large-scale skirmish. Hannibal put his close-order cavalry in the centre of his line, with his light Numidian cavalry on the wings. On sighting the Roman infantry the Carthaginian centre immediately charged and the javelinmen fled back through the ranks of their cavalry. A large cavalry melee ensued, with many cavalry dismounting to fight on foot and many of the Roman javelinmen reinforcing the fighting line. This continued indecisively until the Numidians swept round both ends of the line of battle, and attacked the still disorganised velites; the small Roman cavalry reserve, to which Scipio had attached himself; and the rear of the already engaged Roman cavalry, throwing them all into confusion and panic.

The Romans broke and fled, with heavy casualties. Scipio was wounded and only saved from death or capture by his 16-year-old son. That night Scipio broke camp and retreated over the Ticinus; the Carthaginians captured 600 of his rearguard the next day. After further manoeuvres Scipio established himself in a fortified camp to await reinforcements while Hannibal recruited among the local Gauls. When the Roman reinforcements arrived in December under Tiberius Sempronius Longus, Hannibal heavily defeated him at the Battle of the Trebia. The following spring, strongly reinforced by Gallic tribesmen, the Carthaginians moved south into Roman Italy.

Primary sources


The main source for almost every aspect of the Punic Wars[note 1] is the historian Polybius (c.200c.118 BC), a Greek sent to Rome in 167 BC as a hostage.[2] His works include a now-lost manual on military tactics,[3] but he is now known for The Histories, written sometime after 146 BC.[4][5] Polybius's work is considered broadly objective and largely neutral as between Carthaginian and Roman points of view.[6][7] Polybius was an analytical historian and wherever possible personally interviewed participants, from both sides, in the events he wrote about.[8][9][10] The accuracy of Polybius's account has been much debated over the past 150 years, but the modern consensus is to accept it largely at face value, and the details of the battle in modern sources are largely based on interpretations of Polybius's account.[2][11][12] The modern historian Andrew Curry sees Polybius as being "fairly reliable";[13] while Craige Champion describes him as "a remarkably well-informed, industrious, and insightful historian".[14]

Livy, who relied heavily on Polybius,[15] is the other major source for this battle and the events around it.[16] The classicist Adrian Goldsworthy considers Livy's "reliability is often suspect", especially with regard to his descriptions of battles,[note 2][18] and he is generally considered untrustworthy by modern historians.[19][15] Other, later, ancient accounts of the battle exist, although often in fragmentary or summary form.[20] Modern historians usually take into account the writings of various Roman annalists, some contemporary; the Sicilian Greek Diodorus Siculus; Plutarch; Appian; and Dio Cassius.[note 3][21] Other sources include coins, inscriptions, archaeological evidence and empirical evidence from reconstructions such as the trireme Olympias.[22]



The approximate extent of territory controlled by Rome and Carthage immediately before the start of the Second Punic War.

The First Punic War was fought between Carthage and Rome, the two main powers of the western Mediterranean in the 3rd century BC struggled for supremacy primarily on the Mediterranean island of Sicily and its surrounding waters, and also in North Africa.[23] The war lasted for 23 years, from 264 to 241 BC, until the Carthaginians were defeated.[24][25] The Treaty of Lutatius was signed by which Carthage evacuated Sicily and paid an indemnity of 3,200 talents[note 4] over ten years.[27] Four years later Rome seized Sardinia and Corsica on a cynical pretence and imposed a further 1,200 talent indemnity.[note 5][28][29] The seizure of Sardinia and Corsica by Rome and the additional indemnity fuelled resentment in Carthage.[30][31] Polybius considered this act of bad faith by the Romans to be the single greatest cause of war with Carthage breaking out again nineteen years later.[32]

Shortly after Rome's breach of the treaty the leading Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca led many of his veterans on an expedition to expand Carthaginian holdings in south-east Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal); this was to become a quasi-monarchial, autonomous Barcid fiefdom.[33] Carthage gained silver mines, agricultural wealth, manpower, military facilities such as shipyards and territorial depth which encouraged it to stand up to future Roman demands.[34] Hamilcar ruled as a viceroy and was succeeded by his son-in-law, Hasdrubal, in the early 220s BC and then his son, Hannibal, in 221 BC.[35] In 226 BC the Ebro Treaty was agreed, specifying the Ebro River as the northern boundary of the Carthaginian sphere of influence.[36] A little later Rome made a separate treaty with the city of Saguntum, well south of the Ebro.[37] In 218 BC a Carthaginian army under Hannibal besieged, captured and sacked Saguntum.[38][39] In spring 219 BC Rome declared war on Carthage.[40]

War in Cisalpine Gaul

It was the long-standing Roman procedure to elect two men each year, known as consuls, to each lead an army.[41] In 218 BC the Romans raised an army to campaign in Iberia under the consul Publius Scipio, who was accompanied by his brother Gnaeus. The major Gallic tribes in Cisalpine Gaul (modern northern Italy), antagonised by the founding of several Roman towns on traditionally Gallic territory, attacked the Romans, capturing several towns. They repeatedly ambushed a Roman relief force and blockaded it in Tannetum.[42] The Roman Senate detached one Roman and one allied legion from the force intended for Iberia to send to the region. The Scipios had to raise fresh troops to replace these and thus could not set out for Iberia until September.[43]

Carthage invades Italy

Hannibal's route from Iberia to Italy

Meanwhile, Hannibal assembled a Carthaginian army in New Carthage (modern Cartagena) over the winter, marching north in May 218 BC. He entered Gaul to the east of the Pyrenees, then taking an inland route to avoid the Roman allies along the coast.[44][45] Hannibal left his brother Hasdrubal Barca in charge of Carthaginian interests in Iberia. The Roman fleet carrying the Scipio brothers' army landed at Rome's ally Massalia (modern Marseille) at the mouth of the Rhone in September, at about the same time as Hannibal was fighting his way across the river against a force of local Allobroges at the Battle of Rhone Crossing.[46][47][45] A Roman cavalry patrol scattered a force of Carthaginian cavalry, but Hannibal's main army evaded the Romans and Gnaeus Scipio continued to Iberia with the Roman force;[48][49] Publius returned to Italy.[49] The Carthaginians crossed the Alps with 38,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalry[44] early in 217 BC, surmounting the difficulties of climate, terrain[44] and the guerrilla tactics of the native tribes.[50]

Hannibal arrived with 20,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry and 37 elephants[51][52] in what is now Piedmont, northern Italy. The Romans had already withdrawn to their winter quarters and were astonished by Hannibal's appearance. His surprise entry into the Italian peninsula led to the cancellation of Rome's planned campaign for the following year: an invasion of Africa by an army under the consul Ti. Sempronius Longus.[53] The Carthaginians needed to obtain supplies of food, as they had exhausted their reserve, and obtain allies among the north-Italian Gallic tribes from which they could recruit, in order to build up their army to a size with which it could effectively take on the Romans. The local tribe, the Taurini, were unwelcoming, so Hannibal promptly besieged their capital, (near the site of modern Turin) stormed it, massacred the population and seized the supplies there.[54][55] The modern historian Richard Miles believes that with these brutal actions Hannibal was sending out a clear message to the other Gallic tribes as to the likely consequences of non-cooperation.[56]

Cisalpine Gaul in 218 BC, depicting the Gallic revolt and the Carthaginian invasion

Hearing that Publius Scipio was operating in the region, he assumed that the Roman army in Massala which he had believed en route to Iberia had returned to Italy and reinforced the army already based in the north.[note 6] Believing that he would therefore be facing a much larger Roman force than he had anticipated, Hannibal felt an even more pressing need to recruit strongly among the Cisalpine Gauls. He determined that a display of confidence was called for and advanced boldly down the valley of the Po. However, Scipio led his army equally boldly against the Carthaginians, causing the Gauls to remain neutral.[58][57] Both commanders attempted to inspire the ardour of their men for the coming battle by making fiery speeches to their assembled armies. Hannibal is reported to have stressed to his troops that they had to win, whatever the cost, as there was no place they could retreat to.[59]

After camping at Piacenza, a Roman colony founded earlier that year,[note 7] the Romans created a pontoon bridge across the lower River Ticinus and continued west. With his scouts reporting the nearby presence of Carthaginians, Scipio ordered his army to encamp. The Carthaginians did the same.[60] Next day each commander led out a strong force in order to personally reconnoitre the size and make up of the opposing army, things of which they would have been almost completely ignorant.[61][62]

Opposing forces

Carthaginian cavalry of Hannibal's army, as depicted in 1891

Anticipating an engagement as he closed with the Romans, Hannibal had recalled all of his scouts and raiding parties[63] and took with him an exclusively cavalry force which included almost all of his 6,000-strong mounted contingent. Carthage usually recruited foreigners to make up its army. Many were from North Africa which provided two main types of cavalry: close-order shock cavalry (also known as "heavy cavalry") carrying spears; and light cavalry skirmishers from Numidia who threw javelins from a distance and avoided close combat.[64][65] Iberia provided also experienced cavalry: unarmoured close-order troops[66] referred to by Livy as "steady", meaning that they were accustomed to sustained hand-to-hand combat rather than hit and run tactics. Hannibal's cavalry contingent would have consisted almost entirely of these three types, but the numbers of each are not known.[67]

Most male Roman citizens were eligible for military service and would serve as infantry, with a better-off minority providing a cavalry component. Traditionally, when at war the Romans would raise two legions, each of 4,200 infantry[note 8] and 300 cavalry. Approximately 1,200 of the infantry, poorer or younger men unable to afford the armour and equipment of a standard legionary, served as javelin-armed skirmishers, known as velites. They carried several javelins, which would be thrown from a distance, a short sword, and a 90 centimetres (3.0 ft) shield.[70] An army was usually formed by combining one or several Roman legions with the same number of similarly sized and equipped legions provided by their Latin allies; allied legions usually had a larger attached complement of cavalry than Roman ones.[71][41] Scipio's army consisted of four legions, with approximately 16,000 infantry and 1,600 cavalry.[72] A further 2,000 Gallic cavalry and a large number of infantry were also serving with the Romans.[73] Scipio led out all of his 3,600 cavalry and, anticipating that they would be outnumbered, supplemented them with a large but unknown number of the 4,500 or so available light infantry javelinmen.[61]


Neither the precise date nor the precise location of the battle are known: it took place in late November 218 BC on the flat country on the west bank of the Ticinus, not far from modern Pavia.[74][75][59] Livy and Polybius both give accounts of the battle, which agree on the main events, but differ in some of the details.[76] Formal battles were usually preceded by the two armies camping one to seven miles (2–12 km) apart for days or weeks; sometimes forming up in battle order each day. In such circumstances either commander could prevent a battle from occurring, and unless both commanders were willing to at least some degree to give battle, both sides might march off without engaging.[77][78] Many battles were decided when one side's infantry force was attacked in the flank or rear and they were partially or wholly enveloped. It was unusual, prior to Ticinus, for one side's more mobile cavalry to be similarly enveloped.[65][79] During these periods when armies were encamped in close proximity it was common for their light forces to skirmish with each other, attempting to gather information on each other's forces and achieve minor, morale-raising victories. These were typically fluid affairs and viewed as preliminaries to any subsequent battle.[61][80]


Hannibal placed his cavalry in a line with the close-order formations in the centre and the Numidian cavalry on the flanks, possibly held back slightly.[81][76] Scipio, who had gained a low opinion of the Carthaginian cavalry from the clash near the Rhone, expected an extended exchange of javelins and hoped that his velites, being smaller targets and better able to shelter behind their shields than the Carthaginian horses, would come off best. He arranged the 2,000 Gallic cavalry to the front of his formation  many or all of them would have carried a javelinman riding behind each of the cavalrymen, as was their tradition. Scipio positioned the velites in close support of the Gauls.[81][61][80][82] On sighting the enemy, the velites sallied forward from behind their cavalry in order to advance within javelin-hurling range. On seeing this, the whole of the Carthaginian close-order cavalry promptly charged them. The Roman light infantry, realising that they would be cut down if the Carthaginians came into contact with them, turned and fled, making no attempt to throw their missiles.[83] The Roman cavalry, who were all close order  which is to say that they had their horses arrayed relatively closely together, and that their main role was to engage in hand-to-hand combat  attempted to counter charge the Carthaginians.[note 9] They were obstructed by the large number of their infantry attempting to pass through their ranks to the rear, and in the case of the Gallic cavalry, possibly by still having a javelinman riding into battle behind each of the cavalrymen.[81] The modern historian Philip Sabin comments that the Roman cavalry and infantry got into a "dreadful tangle".[82]

The cavalry did not move into contact at speed, but at a fast walk or slow trot; any faster would have "ended in a growing pile of injured men and horses".[85] Once in contact with the enemy, many of the cavalrymen dismounted to fight; this was a frequent occurrence in Punic War cavalry combat.[86][82][61] There is debate among modern scholars as to the reasons for this common tactic.[note 10] Certainly the second men on some, and possibly all, of the 2,000 Gallic cavalry's horses dismounted and joined the fight.[81] Some of the Roman javelinmen also reinforced their cavalry comrades, but the extent to which this occurred is unclear.[89] The ensuing melee is recorded as continuing for some time, with no clear advantage being gained by either side.[90][91]

Then the Carthaginian light cavalry swept round both ends of the line of battle, and attacked the still disorganised velites, the small Roman cavalry reserve, to which Scipio had attached himself, and the rear of the already engaged Roman cavalry, throwing them all into confusion and panic.[83][61] The velites, still aware of their vulnerability to cavalry, immediately fled. The Roman reserve cavalry attempted to protect the rear of the fighting line, but were surrounded and Scipio was badly wounded. The main force of Roman cavalry, attacked from both sides, routed and suffered heavy losses.[92][81] In the confusion Scipio's 16-year-old son, of the same name, leading a small group, cut his way through to his father and escorted him away from the fight, saving his life.[note 11][83] The losses suffered by each side are not known, but the Roman casualties are believed to have been severe.[93]

The surviving Roman forces regathered at their camp, still held by their heavy infantry. Aware that the Carthaginians could now use their superiority in cavalry to isolate his camp, Scipio withdrew during the night back over the Ticinus.[90] He left a force behind to dismantle the pontoon bridge so the Carthaginians would be unable to follow. Hannibal pursued the next day and captured 600 men from this rearguard, but not before the bridge had been rendered impassable.[90]


The Trebbia today at Rivergaro, at the foot of the hills in which Scipio sought refuge from Hannibal's army.

The Romans withdrew as far as Piacenza. Two days after Ticinus the Carthaginians crossed the River Po, and then marched to Piacenza. They formed up outside the Roman camp and offered battle, which Scipio refused. The Carthaginians set up their own camp some 8 kilometres (5.0 mi) away.[94] That night 2,200 Gallic troops serving with the Roman army attacked the Romans closest to them in their tents, and deserted to the Carthaginians; taking the Romans' heads with them as a sign of good faith.[73][25] Hannibal rewarded them and sent them back to their homes to enroll more recruits. Hannibal also made his first formal treaty with a Gallic tribe, and supplies and recruits started to come in.[94] The Romans abandoned their camp and withdrew under cover of night. The next morning the Carthaginian cavalry bungled their pursuit and the Romans were able to set up camp on an area of high ground by the River Trebia at what is now Rivergaro. Even so, they had to abandon much of their baggage and heavier gear, and many stragglers were killed or captured.[95] Scipio waited for reinforcements while Hannibal camped at a distance on the plain below and gathered and trained the Gauls now flocking to his standard.[96]

Shocked by Hannibal's arrival and Scipio's setback, the senate ordered the army commanded by Tiberius Longus, in Sicily, to march north to assist Scipio.[96] When Longus arrived in December, Hannibal enticed him into attacking without support from Scipio's army and heavily defeated him at the Battle of the Trebia; only approximately 10,000 of the Roman army of 40,000 were able to fight their way off the battlefield.[97] As a result the flow of Gallic support became a flood and the Carthaginian army grew to 60,000.[93] Hannibal settled into winter quarters to rest his men,[98] while the Romans drew up plans to prevent Hannibal from breaking into Roman Italy.[99]

In 204 BC Publius Cornelius Scipio, the same man who fought as a youth at Ticinus, invaded the Carthaginian homeland and defeated the Carthaginians in two major battles and won the allegiance of the Numidian kingdoms of North Africa. Hannibal and the remnants of his army were recalled from Italy to confront him.[100] They met at the Battle of Zama in October 202 BC[101] and Hannibal was decisively defeated.[101] As a consequence Carthage agreed a peace treaty which stripped it of most of its territory and power.[102]

Notes, citations and sources


  1. The term Punic comes from the Latin word Punicus (or Poenicus), meaning "Carthaginian", and is a reference to the Carthaginians' Phoenician ancestry.[1]
  2. The historian Phillip Sabin refers to Livy's "military ignorance".[17]
  3. Sources other than Polybius are discussed by Bernard Mineo in "Principal Literary Sources for the Punic Wars (apart from Polybius)".[21]
  4. 3,200 talents was approximately 82,000 kg (81 long tons) of silver.[26]
  5. 1,200 talents was approximately 30,000 kg (30 long tons) of silver.[26]
  6. The Roman army in Massala had, in fact, continued to Iberia under Publius's brother, Gnaeus; only Publius had returned.[57]
  7. It was the settling of Roman colonists at Piacenza and Cremona that had been the cause of several of the Gallic tribes initiating their campaign against Rome earlier in the year.[42]
  8. This could be increased to 5,000 in some circumstances,[68] or, rarely, even more.[69]
  9. One of cavalry's main advantages in close combat was their impetus; they were at a considerable disadvantage if struck by opposing cavalry while stationary.[84]
  10. The stirrup had not been invented at the time, and Archer Jones believes that its absence meant that cavalrymen had a "feeble seat" and were liable to come off their horses if a sword swing missed its target.[87] Sabin states that cavalry dismounted to gain a more solid base to fight from than a horse without stirrups.[82] Goldsworthy argues that the cavalry saddles of the time "provide[d] an admirably firm seat" and that dismounting was an appropriate response to an extended cavalry versus cavalry melee. He does not suggest why this habit ceased once stirrups were introduced.[88] Nigel Bagnall doubts that the cavalrymen dismounted at all, and suggests that the accounts of them doing so reflect the additional men carried by the Gallic cavalry dismounting and that the velites joining the fight gave the impression of a largely dismounted combat.[81]
  11. An ancient historian writing a century after the event claimed that it was a household slave, not Scipio's son, who saved him.[92] The younger Scipio was to go on to be Rome's most successful general of the war.[90]


  1. Sidwell & Jones 1998, p. 16.
  2. Goldsworthy 2006, pp. 20–21.
  3. Shutt 1938, p. 53.
  4. Goldsworthy 2006, p. 20.
  5. Walbank 1990, pp. 11–12.
  6. Lazenby 1996, pp. x–xi.
  7. Hau 2016, pp. 23–24.
  8. Shutt 1938, p. 55.
  9. Goldsworthy 2006, p. 21.
  10. Champion 2015, pp. 98, 101.
  11. Lazenby 1996, pp. x–xi, 82–84.
  12. Tipps 1985, p. 432.
  13. Curry 2012, p. 34.
  14. Champion 2015, p. 102.
  15. Champion 2015, p. 95.
  16. Hoyos 2015b, p. 167.
  17. Sabin 1996, p. 62.
  18. Goldsworthy 2006, p. 222.
  19. Lazenby 1998, p. 87.
  20. Goldsworthy 2006, pp. 21–23.
  21. Mineo 2015, pp. 111–127.
  22. Goldsworthy 2006, pp. 23, 98.
  23. Goldsworthy 2006, p. 82.
  24. Lazenby 1996, p. 157.
  25. Bagnall 1999, p. 97.
  26. Lazenby 1996, p. 158.
  27. Miles 2011, p. 196.
  28. Scullard 2006, p. 569.
  29. Miles 2011, pp. 209, 212–213.
  30. Hoyos 2015, p. 211.
  31. Miles 2011, p. 213.
  32. Lazenby 1996, p. 175.
  33. Miles 2011, p. 220.
  34. Miles 2011, pp. 219–220, 225.
  35. Miles 2011, pp. 222, 225.
  36. Goldsworthy 2006, pp. 143–144.
  37. Goldsworthy 2006, p. 144.
  38. Collins 1998, p. 13.
  39. Goldsworthy 2006, pp. 144–145.
  40. Goldsworthy 2006, p. 145.
  41. Goldsworthy 2006, p. 50.
  42. Goldsworthy 2006, p. 151.
  43. Zimmermann 2015, p. 283.
  44. Mahaney 2008, p. 221.
  45. Briscoe 2006, p. 47.
  46. Lazenby 1998, p. 41.
  47. Fronda 2011, p. 252.
  48. Zimmermann 2015, p. 291.
  49. Edwell 2015, p. 321.
  50. Lazenby 1998, pp. 43–44.
  51. Erdkamp 2015, p. 71.
  52. Hoyos 2015b, p. 107.
  53. Zimmermann 2015, pp. 283–284.
  54. Goldsworthy 2006, p. 168.
  55. Hoyos 2005, p. 111.
  56. Miles 2011, p. 266.
  57. Goldsworthy 2006, pp. 168–169.
  58. Lazenby 1998, p. 52.
  59. Goldsworthy 2006, p. 169.
  60. Goldsworthy 2006, pp. 169–170.
  61. Goldsworthy 2006, p. 170.
  62. Lazenby 1998, p. 98.
  63. Miles 2011, p. 268.
  64. Goldsworthy 2006, pp. 32–34.
  65. Koon 2015, p. 80.
  66. Goldsworthy 2006, p. 32.
  67. Lazenby 1998, p. 48.
  68. Bagnall 1999, p. 23.
  69. Goldsworthy 2006, p. 287.
  70. Goldsworthy 2006, p. 48.
  71. Bagnall 1999, pp. 22–25.
  72. Lazenby 1998, pp. 50–51.
  73. Rawlings 1996, p. 88.
  74. Lazenby 1998, p. 99.
  75. Daly 2002, p. 13.
  76. Fronda 2011, p. 243.
  77. Goldsworthy 2006, p. 56.
  78. Sabin 1996, p. 64.
  79. Sabin 1996, p. 66.
  80. Koon 2015, p. 83.
  81. Bagnall 1999, p. 172.
  82. Sabin 1996, p. 69.
  83. Lazenby 1998, p. 53.
  84. Jones 1987, pp. 103–104, 144–145.
  85. Koon 2015, p. 85.
  86. Koon 2015, pp. 85–86.
  87. Jones 1987, pp. 9, 103.
  88. Goldsworthy 2006, pp. 170–171.
  89. Koon 2015, p. 87.
  90. Goldsworthy 2006, p. 171.
  91. Koon 2015, p. 86.
  92. Hoyos 2015b, p. 108.
  93. Zimmermann 2015, p. 284.
  94. Bagnall 1999, p. 173.
  95. Goldsworthy 2006, p. 172.
  96. Goldsworthy 2006, p. 173.
  97. Bagnall 1999, pp. 175–176.
  98. Goldsworthy 2006, p. 180.
  99. Lazenby 1998, p. 61.
  100. Miles 2011, p. 310.
  101. Miles 2011, p. 315.
  102. Goldsworthy 2006, pp. 308–309.


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