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Delenda est Carthago!
--Cato, his closing statement after every speech
The Plains of Lake Trasimeno Where Hannibal Conquered.

The Battle of Lake Trasimeno

After the battle of the Trebia,1 the Romans left northern Italy and waited for Hannibal at the two main possible march routes over the Apennines, Ariminum and Arretium (Rimini and Arezzo).  Despite this, Hannibal circumvented the Romans and mercilessly plundered the rich Chiana valley thereby drawing the Roman Consul Flaminius down from his position in Arezzo.  The other Consul, Geminus, was coming up the Via Flaminia with his Army and had sent his calvary ahead to reinforce Flaminius.

Flaminius was recklessly2 pursuing Hannibal along the north shore of Lake Trasimeno (drawn there, we can imagine, by Hannibal who was a master at choosing the location of his battles3) with his column of 25,000 soldiers trapped between the hills and the lake.  Livy says that there was a mist that morning which prevented the Romans from seeing the Carthagians4 and it wasn’t until the head of the column encountered the first resistance that they realized the trap.  The newly won allies, the Gauls, attacked from their positions along the mountain flank together with the calvary whereas the Spanish and Libyan heavy infantry attacked the head of the column.5 Between Montecolognola (a hilltop village in the northeast corner of Lake Trasemeno) and the lake were the light Balearic Infantry through which, ultimately, 6,000 Romans managed to escape (and were caught and captured the next day).  The rest, however, were essentially destroyed, followed a few days later by Geminus’ 4,000 calvary.  And all this was accomplished without any elephants as they had all perished by this point.

Now Rome was panicked and expected Hannibal to march on them (which he didn’t, one of the biggest ‘what-ifs’ of ancient history).  A dictatorship was established under Fabius who proceeded to fight a limited-engagement shadowing action which earned him an entry in the dictionary6 and the disdain of the Roman people.  When two new Consuls were elected, Varro and Paullus, they promptly lead the Roman army into its bloodiest defeat in their history, the Battle of Cannae.7

Hannibal never lost a battle in Italy, yet lost the war when forced to return to his African home and his army was destroyed defending against invading Romans.  It certainly gives one pause to consider the advantage of being on the offensive.

The Battle of Lake Trasimeno.

The Castro Wars

In 1537, Pope Paul III8 granted the largest and richest papal territory, the Duchy of Castro, to his son Pierluigi Farnese.9 In addition to making his son a papal vassal, Paul III also made him a duke in his own right by literally separating a part of the Papal States and creating the independent Duchy of Parma and Piacenza in the Po Valley.  Nepotism at its finest.

Skip forward to the great-great-great grandson of Paul III, Odoardo Farnese (1612-1647), the distant heir of Pierluigi.  Tempted, as were many during the 30 year war, to cover himself with military glory, Duke Odoardo went into great debt to raise a series of armies.  He borrowed this money from the Roman money market and covered his debts with the proceeds from the Castro fiefdom’s grain profits.10 Falling grain prices, however, resulted in a shortfall of revenue and Odoardo went personally in 1639 to his villa at Caprarolo 28 miles north of Rome to help negotiate an improvement in his position.

The powerful family of the day (and no coincidence holders of the papacy) was the Barberini’s, and they, hoping to benefit from Odoardo’s financial difficulties, invited him to Rome.  Duke Odoardo accepted on the conditions that he not be expected to give ceremonial precedence to Taddeo Barberini (who had been made Prefect of Rome by his Pope uncle) and that Urban VIII grant a reduction in interest payments.

This two month visit did not go well, however.  Odoardo regarded the Barberini’s as social upstarts and the Barberini’s, some of the richest men of their day because of the lengthy papacy of their uncle, wanted either a marital alliance or the acquisition of another powerful fief such as the Castro Duchy to assure their family position upon the Pope’s death.  While being deferential to the Pope, Odoardo ridiculed the suggestion of marriage between the families to Cardinal Francesco (another papal nephew) and a series of etiquette breaches led to such a damage in relations that “There was no longer an authority powerful enough to calm the hatreds aroused.” When Odoardo stormed away in January 1640, the seeds of the Castro war were clearly sown.

Despite promising to help the Farnese (and, in fact, the Pope did reduce his interest payments by 300,000 scudi), in March 1641, Pope Urban VIII permitted the apostolic chamber headed by another nephew, Cardinal Antonio, to revoke the right of the Castro Duchy to export grain and papal authorities immediately confiscated a grain shipment (thereby causing panic in the money markets - curiously, many Roman religious institutions as well as individuals owned shares in Odoardo’s debt).  When it was reported in August 1641 that Odoardo was arming Castro and Ronciglione, Urban VIII ordered that the fortifications be dismantled and the gathered soldiers discharged.  He justified his decision to the College of Cardinals by stating Odoardo’s repeated refusals to obey him and claims that the Duke had left Roman creditors without any security for the 1.5 million scudi he owned them.

On October 12th, 1642, the Marchese Luigi Mattei, with 12,000 infantry and 3,00011 cavalry, meeting very little resistance, forced Castro to surrender after which the army was split into three and sent to Bologna, Ferrara and back to Rome.  Taddeo Barberini, the Commander in Chief of Papal forces, traveled himself to Bologna to review the border fortress strengths of the Papal States, and, we must assume, to organize the next phase of the campaign once the winter was past.

Other Italian powers were concerned that the Barberini’s had greater ambitions than merely punishing the rebellious Odoardo and when Taddeo placed a garrison in the independent fortress of Mirandola in July 1642 (only fifty miles from Parma), and Cardinal Francesco ordered fortifications between the Castro and Tuscan borders, there was concern throughout Italy.  Three weeks after Urban VIII announced on August 11th, 1642 that he would force Odoardo to surrender, Venice, Modena and Tuscany concluded a mutual defense pact.  Odoardo, flush with monetary support from France, Venice and Tuscany, not to mention their general opposition to the papal campaign, struck first when he invaded the Papal States near Bologna and started a panic in Rome.12 Continuing south, by October 1642, Odoardo was less than a hundred miles from Rome when he heard that Cardinal Antonio was heading north to confront him.  Heavily laden with plunder from the Papal States and only 45 miles from Castro, he decided to call it a season on October 9th and headed home.

The spring of 1643 heralded a new series of developments, namely the entry of Venetian, Modenese and Tuscan troops (instead of only their money) into the conflict.  Suddenly the Pope was facing hostile armies in Southern Tuscany (Odoardo), the Tuscans at Lake Trasimeno, the Venetians in the Po Delta and an allied force in Ferrara.  Urban VIII threatened to excommunicate anyone who helped Odoardo, but the allied powers stated this was not an attack on the papacy, rather only against the Barberini family.  (Apparently this loophole sufficed).  Taxes were increased, armies raised and the war continued with Cardinal Antonio doing well against the Venetians and Modenese and the Papal forces suffering significant defeats in the area around Lake Trasimeno at the hands of the Tuscans (the famous Battle of Mongiovino and the purpose of this exercise), nevertheless, when November rolled around, the situation was basically static and neither side could claim an advantage after two years of extremely expensive war.

Finally, in March 1644, after a final military engagement against the Venetians in which Cardinal Antonio barely escaped with his life, a peace treaty was signed with the Duchy of Castro returned to the Duke of Parma (Odoardo Farnese).  The new taxes, to the great distress of the Roman citizens, continued13 and there was a general rejoicing when Maffeo Barberini or Pope Urban VIII died on July 29th, 1644. 

Details of the Battle of Mongiovino

(With many thanks to the scholarship of Dr. Niccolò Capponi and excerpted from his treatise, Le Palle di Marte: Military Strategy and Diplomacy in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany under Ferdinand II de’Medici) the spring of 1643 all negotiations (with the papal states) came to a standstill and the following June a Tuscan army of roughly 8,000 soldiers, half of them militiamen, entered Umbria with a train of eighteen artillery pieces under the command of Prince Mattias de’Medici, but in the reality of the gifted Alessandro dal Borro.  Both were veterans of the Thirty Years’ War, and the Emperor had agreed only with the deepest reluctance to free himself of dal Borro’s services.  The Tuscan army took a series of pontifical fortresses in Umbria forcing the Pope to send to the area an army under the command of his nephew Taddeo.  But on 6 September the vanguard of the Barberini forces, 2,500 strong, were caught by Mattias and dal Borro under the castle of Mongiovino, near Perugia.  Well-directed Tuscan artillery fire broke up the papal ranks even before the Medicean infantry and cavalry closed in for the kill.  The Barberini suffered 200 dead, and at least 1,000 wounded and prisoners, against 154 on the Tuscan side.  (“Relatione della vittoria ottenuta dall’arme toscane contro le ecclesistiche a dì 6 di settembre 1643 in Mongiovino,” ff. 11r-12v, ins. 4, 3712 MP, ASF).  For Urban VIII it was a costly and humiliating defeat that seriously threatened papal rule in the area, given that most of Perugia’s citizenry was ready to open the city gates to the Tuscans.  Ferdinand II, however, preferred not to pursue such a plan, likely to open a political can of worms, and settled instead for a desultory blockade of the city.