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 numbers they could probably only ever dream of.
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of the Umbria Regional Tourism Board but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.
15 thoughts on “Where the water turned red from blood”
If I was going to do Italy, I would definitely put this place on my list. It looks wonderful. So tranquil. I can understand tourism offices wanting more visitors as long as they still maintain the original balance. Unfortunately so many places change once mass tourism hits it
The whole Umbrian region is beautiful – it all looks like this. But the lake was particularly spectacular. Hopefully there isn’t too much tourism and you get a chance to see it as it is now.
Hi. I visited Lago Trasimeno in July 2019. I love the whole region of Umbria and Tuscany and am returning to visit in April this year. Will be staying in Florence, Gubbio, Montepulciano and Volterra before retuning home from Florence.
Lovely post, it’s interesting to see the places where momentous events of the history I’ve always studied in school have happened.
Thanks, Angela. It’s probably a bit different now to back then, but still nice to see it in person. Did you actually study ancient history?
Some great photos. I especially like the the second one with the sun over the mountains.
Thanks. It was such a photogenic place. The sun setting just added to it all!
They are all truly great and wonderful places indeed! I love the first photo because it is very refreshing to see the sea.
Thanks Danyelle. That first photo is actually Lake Trasimeno, which is a large lake near Perugia in Italy.
There is definitely a lot of history that happened at Lake Trasimeno. After seeing the beautiful pictures you posted, it’s hard to see such violence that took place there. Thanks for sharing!
I know – that’s the strange thing. It’s all so beautiful and peaceful these days that when you try to imagine a huge battle with tens of thousands of people, it’s really difficult.
I’ve read very evocative accounts of the battle, but never actually been to the museum. On my list…
To be honest, the museum isn’t the most exciting place you’ll ever go to. There’s a lot of good information there that is well-presented but there isn’t much to actually ‘see’.
Hannibal. You have seen one of my most personally inspired places I want to visit. The Punic Wars are an interesting part of the worlds history. If only we could go visit Carthage.
I think he still had 3 or 4 of his elphants left at the time of that battle.
The problem with visiting is that there isn’t a whole lot to see these days. But if you’re a fan of that part of history, I’m sure you would be able to imagine the battles a bit more vividly than the rest of us.