Roman Battlefields | Ancient Rome Battlefield List

Fifteen hundred years after the fall of Rome, one key aspect of Roman history can still be experienced through the exploration of Roman battlefields. Boasting one of the most advanced armies of the ancient world, the legions of Rome were the foundation from which Roman power expanded. Indeed, in the imperial age it was the army who often held ultimate power, long after the sway of senators or the people had diminished.

Given the vital nature of warfare to the Roman world, it is no surprise that so many of the most crucial points in Roman history took place on the battlefield. From crushing defeats to epic victories, Rome’s story was often forged in the blood and chaos of battle. Today, a number of these decisive battles can still be accurately located and visited, while others can be traced to a general region. So if you’re keen to find out more about the most important battles in Roman history, then check out our Roman battlefields list below.

Roman Battlefields | Ancient Rome Battlefield List: Site Index

Photo by carolemadge1 (cc)

Alesia

Alesia was the site where Julius Caesar defeated the Gauls in 52 BC.

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Alesia is an archaeological site on Mount Auxois in the Côte-d'Or and the place where Roman emperor Julius Caesar won his decisive victory over the Gauls in 52 BC. By this time, much of southern France was already within the Roman Empire, having been annexed in around the second century BC, but other regions were still holding out.

At Alesia, Caesar met and defeated one of his most formidable adversaries, the Gaulish Chieftain, Vercingetorix, leader of the Gauls’ uprising against the Romans. Yet, whilst Caesar was successful, he only won after a long siege, known as the Siege of Alesia.

The remains which have been uncovered in Alesia show that it became a prosperous Gallo-Roman city by the first century AD. Visitors to the Alesia archaeological site can see the ruins of several houses as well as public buildings and areas such as a theatre, a Roman administrative centre (basilica) and shops, all centred on a forum.

Also part of the Alesia site is the statue of Vercingetorix erected under the orders of Napoleon III in 1865, showing how this leader perceived this historic figure.

An impressive interpretative centre and archaeological museum have also recently opened here.

It is worth noting that there have been debates as to whether Alesia is the true site of this battle, with some historians claiming it occurred elsewhere.

Photo by Jörg Schulz (cc)

Cannae Battlefield

Cannae Battlefield is the location of Hannibal’s greatest victory in 216 BC over a huge Roman army led Consuls Varro and Paullus.

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Cannae Battlefield marks the site of the famous Battle of Cannae, fought in 216 BC between Hannibal of Carthage and a huge Roman army led by Consuls Varro and Paullus. It stands as Hannibal’s greatest victory and Rome’s greatest defeat. However, not even this massive loss of life stopped the Roman war machine from losing the battle but winning the war.

With Hannibal having already invaded Italy and defeated large Roman armies at both Trebbia and Trasimene, the Roman leadership was under significant pressure to turn the tide of war. To try and stop Hannibal, Rome gathered the biggest army it had ever put in the field: more than 80,000 men. Outnumbered two to one, Hannibal used a new and brilliant tactic, known today as double envelopment, and massacred the Romans.

One historian has compared the result to an atomic bomb: 80,000 men died that day, possibly the most casualties ever in a single battle. This defeat brought Rome closer to total collapse than at any time during its history.

The site has one monument to the battle of Cannae within the archaeological site of Cannae di Battaglia which itself is a village from the middle ages.

To find the monument you have to enter and walk to the furthest point of the site. There is a single column which commemorates the battle. If you stand at this column and look north over the countryside, this is the area where most historians feel the battle was fought. The entrance to the site has some relevant information and memorabilia.

Contributed by Sam Wood, Ride and Seek Historical Bike Tours

Photo by kevincure (cc)

Carrhae Battlefield

Carrhae Battlefield was the setting for one of the most crushing Roman defeats, inflicted at the hands of the Parthians.

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Carrhae Battlefield near the modern town of Harran in Turkey was the setting for one of the most crushing Roman defeats, inflicted at the hands of the Parthians.

The battle took place in May 53 BC and was the culmination of a Roman invasion of Parthia, led by the wealthy Roman aristocrat and Triumvir Marcus Licinius Crassus. Leading his army directly into Parthian territory, Crassus was defeated – largely due to the Roman inability to deal with the Parthian horse archers and heavy cataphract cavalry – and Crassus himself was killed during the ensuing negotiations.

There is no precise location for Carrhae Battlefield, but it is thought to have been sited to the east of ancient Carrhae, now the modern city of Harran.

Photo by Evgeni Dinev (cc)

Pharsalus Battlefield

Pharsalus Battlefield was the setting for the most decisive battle of Caesar’s civil war and saw the final defeat of Pompey the Great.

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Pharsalus Battlefield was the setting for one of the most decisive and important battles of ancient Rome – the defeat of Pompey the Great by Julius Caesar. It was a battle which Caesar won against the odds and it all but confirmed his position as ruler of Rome, a key moment in the transition from Republic to Empire.

The civil war between Caesar and his senatorial enemies had been underway for over a year when this decisive clash took place. Caesar had followed the senatorial armies, led by Pompey, to Greece and had generally come off second best in the sparring which had taken place since crossing the Adriatic. Most notably Caesar had suffered a defeat at the Battle of Dyrrhachium and his forces were slowly being hemmed in and stripped of supplies by the far larger senatorial army.

While Pompey was in favour of starving Caesar out, his compatriots from the senate favoured a decisive engagement and, against his better judgement, Pompey relented. The Battle of Pharsalus took place on the 9th August 48 BC and saw Pompey’s army decisively defeated and routed. Pompey himself fled the battlefield and was later killed when attempting to find sanctuary in Egypt.

The exact location of Pharsalus Battlefield has been the subject of much debate and there is no absolutely definitive setting which is universally accepted. Likewise, today there are no monuments to the battle and there is nothing to see at the most accepted location, marked on the map, which is just outside the modern Greek city of Farsala.

Photo by wallygrom (cc)

Philippi Battlefield

Philippi Battlefield is the location of the Battle of Philippi, where Mark Antony and Octavian defeated the forces of those who had assassinated Julius Caesar.

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Philippi Battlefield in modern Greece is the location of one of the most important engagements in Roman history, where Mark Antony and Octavian defeated the forces of those who had assassinated Julius Caesar – notably Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus.

After Caesar’s assassination in 44 BC a short, uneasy truce between those who supported Caesar and those who killed him soon denigrated into open conflict. The forces of the two sides eventually met in Greece near the ancient city of Philippi.

The battle actually took place in two separate engagements, one on October 3rd 42 BC and one on October 23rd. The first engagement saw successes for both sides – though Cassius took his own life believing the battle to be lost. The second engagement was a victory for Antony and Octavian and Brutus also committed suicide in the battle’s aftermath.

Today the battlefield of Philippi is believed to be located outside the modern town of Krinides in north-west Greece. The important archaeological site of Philippoi (Filippoi) is located at the site and contains the impressive remains of the ancient city which thrived here both before and after the battle.

Photo by niai (cc)

Trasimene Battlefield

Trasimene Battlefield is the location of major defeat of the Roman army by Hannibal during the Second Punic War.

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Trasimene Battlefield marks the site of the Battle of Trasimene, fought in 217 BC between Hannibal of Carthage and the Consul Flaminius of Rome. It was one of the major battles of the Second Punic War and a crushing defeat for Rome.

During the encounter, Hannibal - a gifted strategist - tricked the Roman consul into following him along the northern side of Lake Trasimene through thick fog. Meanwhile the Carthaginian general had ranged his troops along the slope above the lake's edge where Flaminius marched, and the Roman army walked straight into a trap. The Romans were attacked on all sides and, with no visibility, re-organising and issuing effective orders was impossible.

As the trap was sprung, the Romans were in complete disarray and Polybius says “death took them unawares while they were still wondering what to do” (III. 84). The Romans were slaughtered where they stood or forced back into Lake Trasimene where they were picked off by the cavalry or drowned. Fifteen thousand Romans died, Flaminius among them.

Today there are picture boards describing the events of the battle all along the former coast of Lake starting from the coordinates marked on the map. Winding to Sanguineto (named after the battle literally meaning ‘running with blood’) and on to Tuoro.

It is a beautiful area with many fantastic towns within easy reach including Cortona and Perugia and there are many Roman/Hanniballic references in the area, such as streets being named after the historical figures involved. Furthermore excavations both terrestrial and underwater are on-going here to locate the exact site of the battle.

Contributed by Sam Wood, Ride and Seek Historical Bike Tours

Photo by Dani4P (cc)

Trebbia Battlefield

Location of the first major battle of the Second Punic War between Hannibal and the Roman consuls Scipio and Longus.

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Trebbia Battlefield marks the location of the Battle of Trebbia, the first significant clash of the Second Punic War. Fought in 218 BC, it was a resounding defeat for the Roman armies under the consuls Scipio and Longus and a major victory for the great Carthaginian general Hannibal.

A resounding defeat for Rome, the Battle of Trebbia was the first real example of Hannibal’s ingenuity. Hannibal took advantage of the impetuous nature of the Roman consul Longus and drew him into a battle he had little chance to win. At first light, the Carthaginian general sent his Numidian cavalry in to action to harass the Roman camp and lure them out. Longus eagerly complied and sent his men across the swollen and freezing river towards the Carthaginian army. The Romans were now cold, wet and hungry (they hadn’t even had breakfast) and for these reasons they were perhaps beaten before they had even started to fight. They were so cold in fact, that they had trouble drawing their weapons when they reached the other side of the river after wading through its freezing rapids.

Waiting for the Romans on the other bank the Carthaginians were fresh, had breakfasted and had kept warm around their campfires. They had already gained the upper hand in the early engagements before Hannibal’s brother, Mago, sprung from his hiding spot - “a manouevre which threw the whole Roman army into confusion and dismay” (Polyibus III.74) and all was lost for the Romans.

The river is little more than a stream now, but the area is very atmospheric. A lovely green valley extends upriver - it so captivated Ernst Hemingway when he was here during World War II that the local sparkling water quotes him as describing it as ‘the most beautiful valley in the world.’

The exact location of Trebbia Battlefield on the river is not known, however it is thought to be somewhere north of Rivergaro. There are however numerous references to Hannibal and his passing including a Hannibal winery! A war elephant also stands as monument to the battle at the co-ordinates marked.

Contributed by Sam Wood, Ride and Seek Historical Bike Tours