Hannibal’s great victory at Lake Trasimeno
On the land I’m standing on in rural Italy, tens of thousands of people were once killed. Of such a scale was the slaughter that the waters of the nearby lake were reportedly turned red for days. Even as the blood was still flowing, the battle here at Lake Trasimeno was being declared one of the greatest military victories (or losses, depending on how you look at it) to ever occur.
More than two thousand years later, it is still considered to be a defining moment in military history. On the shore of Lake Trasimeno, Hannibal ambushed the Roman army using a technique never seen before. About fifteen thousand Romans were killed while Hannibal’s forces only suffered a loss of about two thousand. It changed the whole direction of the Second Punic War and the recriminations reverberated around ancient Rome.
Today a small museum marks the spot of the great battle. It has few (if any, as far as I could tell) artefacts, but it does tell the story of the event well. Hannibal had lost his elephants by this stage but it only took his forces four hours to annihilate the Romans. Those who weren’t killed or able to escape drowned in the lake.
It’s a part of ancient history that time has not forgotten but the local lifestyle has. These days epic wars of the Roman Empire have less of an effect on the community than the size of the daily haul of fish.
Visiting Isola Maggiore
On the island of Isola Maggiore, two fishermen are tending to their net. They’ve strung it out across the main street of town but there’s no worry – cars aren’t much of a threat around here. The population of the island can get as low as 30 people, when you take the holidaymakers out of consideration.
Isola Maggiore is the only inhabited island on Lake Trasimeno and its history goes back centuries. St Francis of Assisi lived here at one point, a church from the 12th century has preserved artwork on its walls, and the castle was used as an internment camp for political prisoners during WWII.
The local tourism office is trying to encourage more visitors to the island… a real challenge seeing as most people have never heard of the lake, let alone the island. It’s only accessible by boat (obviously), which makes it even more difficult. But the effort is worth it, with some fantastic restaurants along the shoreline and a quiet little pocket of nature and old buildings to explore. It’s serene here and, cut off from the rest of the country, things move slowly and peacefully.
Once, more than ten thousand men stood near here, foreigners from lands far away. They had come in anger with an aim to destroy culture, not to appreciate it. That’s not the sort of people the local businesses want here these days… but it’s the kind of number they could probably only ever dream of.
* Click here for official tourism information about Lake Trasimeno and surrounds
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of the Umbria Regional Tourism Board but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.
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