Thus caught in a trap the Italian horse were completely annihilated, and so, before the heavy infantry of the two armies met each other, not a Roman cavalry soldier remained alive and unwounded on the field.
The Roman infantry now advanced to the charge, and from the nature of Hannibal’s formation their centre first came in contact with the head of the salient angle formed by the Gauls and Spaniards. These resisted with great obstinacy. The principes, who formed the second line of the Roman infantry, came forward and joined the spearmen, and even the triarii pressed forward and joined in the fight. Fighting with extreme obstinacy the Carthaginian centre was forced gradually back until they were again in a line with the Africans on their flanks.
The Romans had insensibly pressed in from both flanks upon the point where they had met with resistance, and now occupied a face scarcely more than half that with which they had begun the battle. Still further the Gauls and Spaniards were driven back until they now formed an angle in rear of the original line, and in this angle the whole of the Roman infantry in a confused mass pressed upon them. This was the moment for which Hannibal had waited. He wheeled round both his flanks, and the Africans, who had hitherto not struck a blow, now fell in perfect order upon the flanks of the Roman mass, while Hasdrubal with his victorious cavalry charged down like a torrent upon their rear. Then followed a slaughter unequalled in the records of history. Unable to open out, to fight, or to fly, with no quarter asked or given, the Romans and their Latin allies fell before the swords of their enemies, till, of the seventy thousand infantry which had advanced to the fight, forty thousand had fallen on the field. Three thousand were taken prisoners, seven thousand escaped to the small camp, and ten thousand made their way across the river to the large camp, where they joined the force which had been left there, and which had, in obedience to Varro’s orders, attacked the Carthaginian camp, but had been repulsed with a loss of two thousand men. All the troops in both camps were forced to surrender on the following morning, and thus only fifteen thousand scattered fugitives escaped of the eighty-seven thousand two hundred infantry and cavalry under the command of the Roman consuls.
Hannibal’s loss in the battle of Cannae amounted to about six thousand men.
The exultation of the Carthaginians at the total destruction of their enemies was immense, and Maharbal and some of the other leaders urged Hannibal at once to march upon Rome; but Hannibal knew the spirit of the Roman people, and felt that the capture of Rome, even after the annihilation of its army, would be a greater task than he could undertake. History has shown how desperate a defence may be made by a population willing to die rather than surrender, and the Romans, an essentially martial people, would defend their city until the last gasp. They had an abundance of arms, and there were the two city legions, which formed the regular garrison of the capital.