Top 20 Rome’s Greatest Battles

Ancient Rome was one of the most potent and significant civilizations that lasted for around a thousand years.

Rome had extended from today’s Britain to Africa and the Middle East but wasn’t built in a day. Instead, hundreds of wars and battles were fought with competing powers to extend the territory.

Several battles were on a large scale in character and ended with thousands of lost lives. Romans had robust military size, and they won many battles but they also faced humiliating defeats that resulted in remarkable changes.

Many Consuls, Sanates, Emperors were changed throughout these great battles. Let’s learn the top 20 Roman greatest battles that changed the history of Rome.

20.Battle of Silva Arsia

Date509 BC
Location Near the Silva Arsia (a forest near Rome)
Combatantsthe Roman Republic against Tarquinii and Veii
Result Roman victory
An image portraying the Battle of Silva Arsia
An image portraying the Battle of Silva Arsia

The Battle of Silva Arsia was one of the attempts by Tarquin to reclaim the throne. The event was also considered the conflict between the Etruscan cities and the Roman state.

The Roman Monarchy was replaced by the Roman Republic in 509 BC which led to the rule of the consuls and the government officials.

However, King Lucius Tarquinius Superbus wanted to return and rule the city once again. He was supported by the Etruscan cities of Veii and Tarquinii.

King along with Tarquin met the Roman consuls, Publius Valerius and Lucius Junius Brutus, but the result was the opposite of what they wished for. So, Arun Tarquinius was placed with the cavalry at the beginning of the battle.

The battle was fought for several days where Arun and Brutus killed each other. And, the army of Tarquinii was able to drive Roman’s way using their right-wing.

However, the overtaking of the Tarquinii could not last long and was overtaken by the Romans. Since then, the Romans have ruled leading to numerous innovations and inventions.

19.Battle of Heraclea 

DateJuly 280 BC
LocationHeraclea, Basilicata, southern Italy
CombatantsGreeks against the Roman Republic
ResultGreek victory
A map portraying the places of the Battle of Heraclea
A map portraying the places of the Battle of Heraclea

The battle of Heraclea was between the Greeks and the Romans. The Greeks were led by Pyrrhus, king of Epirus whereas the Romans were led by consul Publius Valerius Laevinus.

Greeks marched from Tarentum, Thurii, Epirus, Metapontum, and Heraclea. The Tarentum was a part of Magna Graecia which had two major factions, one being in support of the Romans and the other against them.

When Romans began entering Tarentum, Tarentines requested Pyrrhus to help them. So, he decided to help Tarentines and waited for his allies’ reinforcements. 

When reinforcements didn’t arrive, he planned to battle against Romans on a plain near the river Siris between Heraclea and Pandosia. But, he was unaware of the number of armies the Romans had.

Romans had about 100000 more men than the Greeks which scared Pyrrhus and his hope of conquering the battle also ended. He somehow managed to send the false news about his death which led Romans to celebrate.

He took the advantage of that moment and invaded the Romans with his war elephants leading to the victory of the Greeks. The Romans were left with 15000 casualties whereas the Greeks only had 11000 casualties

18.Battle of Beneventum 

Date275 BC
LocationBeneventum (modern Benevento), Italy
Combatantsthe Roman Republic against Epirus
ResultRoman victory
An image of the Battle of Beneventum
An image of the Battle of Beneventum

The battle of Beneventum was the final battle of the Pyrrhic War between Rome and Epirus. During the battle, the Roman army was under consul Manius Curius Dentatus, whereas Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, led Epirus.

Pyrrhus had suffered heavy losses in the recent wars in Sicily and earlier disputes with Romans. Moreover, his army size was smaller than Romans when Greek city-states asked Pyrrhus to help them against the Carthaginians.

He went to Sicily and captured all the Carthaginian domains except Lilybaeum and returned to Italy.

He then planned on dividing his army into two groups, one was sent after Cornelius Lentulus and another against Manius Curius.

He also deployed the battle elephants, but Romans drove the animals away. The battle lasted for some time and eventually, Romans forced Pyrrhus to end the campaign in Italy and return to Epirus.

17.The Battle of Agrigentum

Date262 BC
LocationAgrigentum, Italy
Combatantsthe Roman Republic against Carthage
ResultRoman victory
the Battle of Agrigentum
the Battle of Agrigentum

The battle of Agrigentum was the initial battle during the First Punic War that lasted until the 2nd century BC. Romans won this battle after a long siege, and they kicked the Carthaginians off Sicily. 

It was the first victory for Romans in the Italian mainland which required four legions and consular armies to function. The battle led not only to the Roman victory but also to the beginning of the Roman control over Sicily.

16.Battle of the Trebia 

DateDecember 218 BC
LocationThe bank of Trebia River, Today's north Italy
Combatantsthe Roman Republic against Carthage
ResultCarthaginian victory
the memorial of the modern battle of Piacenza
the memorial of the modern battle of Piacenza

The battle of the Trebia was known as the first significant clash of the Second Punic War fought between Romans and Carthaginians. 

Romans were under the command of Sempronius Longus, whereas Hannibal was leading Carthaginians. While Hannibal was leading armies out of Iberia through Gaul, across the Alps, and into Cisalpine Gaul, the Romans attacked Carthaginians. 

Publius Scipio had led the light infantry personally, but he was severely wounded. So when the Romans reached near Placentia, they joined Scipio’s army.

There Sempronius was already eager to wage war, but he fell into the trap of Numidian cavalry from Hannibal. Numidian cavalry lured him to step out of his camp and meet Hannibal on the battlefield.

There Carthaginians destroyed the outnumbered Roman army. Romans lost 20000 lives, killed and captured. And 10000 men survived and received the safety of Placentia. 

15.Battle of Lake Trasimene 

Date21 June 217 BC
LocationThe shore of Lake Trasimene, Italy
CombatantsCarthage (Hannibal) against Rome (Gaius Flaminius)
ResultCarthaginian victory
The Battlefield of Lake Trasimene
The Battlefield of Lake Trasimene

The First Punic War, fought between Romans and Carthage, ended in 241 BC. The end of the first was followed by the Second Punic War which resulted in the Battle of Lake Trasimene in 217 BC.

In 219 BC, Hannibal had already besieged and sacked the Roman town of Saguntum. Infuriated by this, Romans waged war on Carthage and Hannibal, which compelled Hannibal to leave Iberia. 

When Hannibal reached Cisalpine Gaul, north Italy, Romans proceeded north and this conflict resulted in the defeat of the Romans by the Carthaginians.

Next Spring, Romans placed two groups of armies on each side of the Apennines. But Carthaginians crossed the mountains to surprise the Romans.

They headed south into Etruria, destroying small villages and towns and killing adult men encountered. Then, Flaminius, who was in charge of the near Roman army, started chasing the Carthaginians.

Hannibal then prepared the ambush on the north shore of Lake Trasimene and trapped Flaminius and the Romans. He captured and killed all 25,000 Romans.

Seven days later, Carthaginians destroyed the entire cavalry contingent of the other Roman army.

14.Battle of Cannae 

Date2 August 216 BC
LocationCannae, Italy
Combatantsthe Roman Republic and Carthage
ResultCarthaginian victory
An action during the Battle of Cannae
An action during the Battle of Cannae

The battle of Cannae was fought during the Second Punic War and became one of the worst defeats in Roman history. 

The Carthaginians and their allies were led by Hannibal in the battle, whereas Romans were under the consuls Lucius Aemilius Paullus and Gaius Terentius Varro.

Romans were already suffering heavy losses from the Battle of Trebia and the Battle of Lake Trasimene but still decided on facing Hannibal at Cannae.

Hannibal was ready with 40,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalries at the battlefield while Romans had 86,000 soldiers. The Roman allied troops collected their heavy infantry to initiate the fight. 

Hannibal had already blocked, the primary source of water, the Aufidus River, that compelled Romans to face the south. However, the Romans were able to drive back the enemy force for some moment. 

Despite the tactic used by the Romans, they could not save themselves from the double envelopment tactic used by Hannibal to surround them.

The strategy used by Hannibal led to the slaughtering of over 700,000 soldiers and the dramatic defeat of the Romans.

13.Battle of Ilipa 

DateSpring 206 BC
LocationEast of Ilipa or modern Seville, Spain)
Combatantsthe Roman Republic against Carthage
ResultRoman victory
A map showing the routes of the Battle of Ilipa
A map showing the routes of the Battle of Ilipa

The battle of Ilipa was considered the most brilliant victory of Scipio Africanus in the Second Punic War in 206 BC. Scipio was facing two enemies Mago Barca and Hasdrubal Gisco, from Carthage and was able to defeat them with his strategy.

Scipio had anticipated the attack that was planned by Mago and Gisco for which he hid his army behind the hill and threw back the enemy. The strategy worked in his favor and was able to attack the Carthaginians at daybreak. 

12.Battle of Zama 

Date19 October 202 BC
LocationZama, Carthage (near today's Siliana, Tunisia)
CombatantsRoman Republic and Kingdom of Numidia against Carthage
ResultRoman victory and End of the Second Punic War
An image during the Battle of Zama
An image during the Battle of Zama

Romans had already defeated Carthaginian and Numidian armies at the battles of Utica and the Great Plains. For this, the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio imposed a peace treaty on Carthaginians.

The Carthaginians then brought Hannibal’s army and broke the truce with the Romans. This resulted in the confrontation of Scipio and Hannibal against each other near Zama Regia.

Hannibal had 36,000 infantry and 80 war elephants, whereas Scipio had about 29,000 infantry. The war elephants were driven away by Scipio’s army leading to the victory of the Romans.

Scipio and his army had captured around 8,500–20,000 Carthaginians and killed 20,000–25,000 during the process.

11.Battle of Cynoscephalae

Date197 BC
LocationCynoscephalae Hills, Thessaly
CombatantsRoman Republic and Aetolian League allies against Macedon
ResultRoman victory
An image during the Battle of Cynoscephalae
An image during the Battle of Cynoscephalae

The Battle of Cynoscephalae was the battle fought between the Roman Army and the Antigonid dynasty of Macedon. The Roman army was led by Titus Quinctius Flamininus while the Macedon was led by Philip V.

King Philip V was continuously attacking in the Mediterranean and the Greek city-states called for help, Romans, along with allies from the Aetolian League, departed for Pherae to hunt Philip.

Roman troops led by Flamininus arrived in Thessaly in 200 BC and both the armies formed the maneuver preparing for the battle.

The Macedonians were submissive as the Romans had deployed massive soldiers along with the war elephants. The battle continued even after the surrender of the Macedonians and ended after killing about 8000 Macedonians and capturing about 5000.

10.Battle of Pydna 

Date22 June 168 BC
LocationNear Pydna
Combatantsthe Roman Republic against Macedon
ResultRoman victory and Fall of Macedon
the Battle of Pydna - 168 BC
the Battle of Pydna – 168 BC

The battle of Pydna took place during the Third Macedonian War where the Roman army was under the command of Aemilius Paullus. The Macedonians were led by Perseus, the Macedonian King.

Perseus had a good relationship with Greece and strengthened the position of Macedon. This dissatisfied Rome leading it to wage war against Perseus, and the beginning of the third Macedonian war in 171 BC.

The king won the war in the initial years, and Senators of Rome assigned Paullus to end the war. However, when he arrived in Greece, he started the preparation for the war that resulted in the Battle of Pydna.

Paullus compelled Macedonians to fight in rugged terrain that resulted in the struck of the Roman legions by the Macedonian phalanx. 

Romans, in return, pierced the hole in the Macedonian lines with fire that helped them slaughter the entire Macedonians. The Roman army killed 20,000 Macedonians and won the Battle of Pydna and the Third Macedonian War.

9.Battle of Aquae Sextiae 

Date102 BC
LocationModern Aix-en-Provence, France
Combatantsthe Roman Republic against Teutones and Ambrones
ResultRoman victory
An image of the Battle of Aquae Sextiae
An image of the Battle of Aquae Sextiae

Romans had faced several defeats from Germanic tribes. But when Teutones and Ambrones tried to intercept the Alps into Italy, Romans under general Gaius Marius beat them.

Marius positioned himself on a selected hill and lured Teutones into attacking. When Teutones attacked, the hidden Roman force of 4,000 destroyed the enemy’s force.

They held a surprise attack on the Teutonic force from behind. So, opposite troops became confused and were routed.

Romans wiped out Teutones and Ambrones, killing 200,000, including their King Teutobod and capturing 90,000. The captured lives included children and women who were sold as slaves.

Those who survived became the rebelling gladiators in the Third Servile War. One year later, Marius, along with proconsul Quintus Lutatius Catulus engaged in a war against the Cimbri and won.

8.Battle of Vercellae 

Date30 July 101 BC
LocationVercelli in Cisalpine Gaul, Northern Italy
Combatantsthe Roman Republic against Cimbri
ResultRoman victory
A portrait of the Battle of Vercellae
A portrait of the Battle of Vercellae

The battle of Vercellae is also known as the battle of the Raudine Plain. This was the battle fought between the Romans and the Germanic-Celtic.

The Romans were under the command of the consul Gaius Marius while the Germanic-Celtic of the Cimbri were under Cimbric king Boiorix.

Initially, the Cimbric attacked northern Italy and defeated 20,000 men under consul Quintus Lutatius Catulus. Marius in order to help Catulus went on with 32,000 soldiers after beating Teutones at Aquae Sextiae.

Romans and the Cimbri met near the residence of Vercellae in Cisalpine Gaul and since then the Roman had domination leading to their victory.

The Cimbri was destroyed losing about 65,000–160,000 and captivating 60,000 soldiers. This battle and the victory of the Romans became a solid base for the transition of the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire.

7.Battle of Carrhae

Date6 May 53 BC or 9 June 53 BC
LocationNear Carrhae (Harran), Upper Mesopotamia
Combatantsthe Roman Republic against Parthian Empire
ResultParthian victory
The Battle of Carrhae
The Battle of Carrhae

The battle of Carrhae was one of the most humiliating defeats in Roman history. It resulted from the Roman invasion of Parthia and ended up with 20000 Romans killed and 10000 captured.  

The battle was a result of the unauthorized invade of Crassus in Parthiaa. Crassus was the wealthiest man and member of the First Triumvirate and in Rome. He decided to invade Parthia without the official consent of the Senate. 

Crassus, as per his strategy, arrived in Syria in 55 BC with 35,000 heavy infantry, 4,000 light infantry, and 4,000 cavalries. He received additional 6,000 cavalries from Artavasdes, the Armenian king.

Artavasdes advised him to go through Armenia and also suggested avoiding the desert. However, the suggestion and the offer to help with more soldiers were ignored by Crassus.  

He led his Roman army through the deserts of Mesopotamia and encountered Surena’s army near the town of Carrhae. Then, Crassus instructed his troops with strategy, but they didn’t get profit out of it.

Crassus was attacked from the other side by Surena who deployed horse archers and harmed the troops of Crassus. Crassus, in return, sent his son Publius to defend but he committed suicide before being captured by the enemies.

Ensuring Publius’ death and heavy loss of Romans, Surena sent a message to negotiate with Crassus. Though Crassus didn’t want to meet Surena, his Roman armies compelled him to do so. 

The negotiation turned into a violent situation where Crassus and his generals were killed.

6.The Battle of Alesia 

DateSeptember 52 BC
LocationAlise-Sainte-Reine, France
Combatantsthe Roman Republic against Gallic confederation
Result Roman victory
The Fortification in Alesia built by Julius Caesar
The Fortification in Alesia was built by Julius Caesar

The Battle of Alesia is also known as the Siege of Alesia. It is considered one of Caesar’s most significant achievements in his military career.

The battle was fought between the Romans and the Gallic tribes where the Romans were led by Julius Caesar and the Gallic by Vercingetorix of the Arverni.

Gauls, to protect themselves, had built a hilltop fortress that Caesar couldn’t storm. However, the fortress could not stop Caesar from attacking the Gauls.

Caesar then planned to surround the enemies and starve them out. They began striking at the Gauls which made the Gauls struggle for their way out. This strategy led to killing about 250000 and captivating 40000 Gauls.

The territory too was taken over by the Romans and the victory was celebrated for 20 days as the 20 days of thanksgiving.

5.Battle of Pharsalus 

Date9 August 48 BC
LocationPalaepharsalus, Greece
CombatantsCaesarians against Pompeians
ResultCaesarian victory
Deployment of the army at the Battle of Pharsalus
Deployment of the army at the Battle of Pharsalus

The battle of Pharsalus was the battle fought between the troops of the battle Gaius Julius Caesar and Pompeii.

The result of this war was the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Roman Empire. Initially, the Roman Republic was under the command of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus

Pompeii had the support of Senators and with this support, the number of his armies was higher than the veteran Caesarian legions. 

However, despite being outnumbered Caesar fought with the troops of Pompeii and managed to defeat them. The victory of the Romans due to Caesar’s bravery was listed as one of the most celebrated victories.

4.Battle of Munda 

Date17 March 45 BC
LocationCampus Mundensis, near modern southern Spain
CombatantsCaesarians against Pompeians
ResultCaesarian victory
A portrait of the Battle of Munda
A portrait of the Battle of Munda

The battle of Munda was the final battle during Caesar’s civil war against the Optimates’ leaders. Julius Caesar won this battle after the death of Titus Labienus and Gnaeus Pompeius.

Optimates had already faced defeat at the battle of Pharsalus and the battle of Thapsus. So, Pompey’s sons, Gnaeus and Sextus Pompeius raised the army with the help of General Titus Labienus in Hispania.

When Caesar’s generals called him to avoid the war against Pompeians, he arrived with several legions. He quickly released Ulipia but couldn’t take Corduba from Pompeians.

But by capturing Ategua, Caesar had destroyed the confidence of Gnaeus’ native troops. And many soldiers defected to Caesar’s troops. Caesar then took his legions and crumbled Gnaeus’ army.

This way, Caesar won the battle, and Optimates lost 3,00,000 lives. After this battle, Caesar elected Roman dictator. And after his death, the Roman republic died out, and the Roman Empire began.

3.Battle of Actium 

Date2 September 31 BC
Locationthe Ionian Sea, near the promontory of Actium in Greece
CombatantsRomans supporting Octavian against Romans supporting Antony and Ptolemaic Egypt
ResultVictory for Octavian
Battle of Actium
Battle of Actium

The Battle of Actium is the naval battle and last war of the Roman Republic. The battle took a decade to reach its climax after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC.

Octavian, Antony, and Lepidus had formed the resultant alliance to search for and defeat Caesar’s assassins. They had succeeded in their job at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC.

When political tension rose, Lepidus was exiled in 36 BC. And in 32 BC, another civil war started. Finally, in early 31 BC, Antony and Cleopatra were positioned in Greece, where Octavian overcame them.

Agrippa, who was naval commander of Octavian, cut off the primary source of Antony and Cleopatra in the sea route. This compelled Antony’s army to join Octavian. 

Antony sailed through the bay of Actium on the western coast of Greece to escape the blockade. But soon, commanders Agrippa and Gaius Sosius chased Antony and Cleopatra and defeated them in Alexandria. 

With this defeat, Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide.

2.Battle of the Teutoburg Forest 

DateSeptember 9 AD
LocationOsnabrück County, Lower Saxony
CombatantsGermanic tribes against Roman Empire
ResultGermanic victory and Roman Empire's withdrawal from Germany
An action during the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest

The battle led the Germanic tribes to destroy the three legions of the Roman Empire. In the battle, Arminius was leading Germanic tribes, whereas Roman legions were under the command of Publius Quinctilius Varus.

The Roman army decided to march to the Teutoburg Forest. But when they entered the forest, they struggled to walk on a muddy and narrow route. Soon, they were attacked by Arminius’ army.

Most men in the Roman army were camp followers and inexperienced combatants. Germanic tribes then rained down the spears to intruders. Though Romans were saved that night, they couldn’t escape the forest. 

Their march had blockage everywhere due to trench and earthen walls. Romans tried to intrude on the wall but failed and were soon stormed by the tribesmen.

Germanic tribes slaughtered around 20,000 Romans and enslaved the survivors. The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest was one of the two battle disasters for Romans in history, including the battle of Cannae. 

1.The Battle of Abritus

DateJune, July, or August 251 AD
LocationAbritus, Moesia Inferior
CombatantsGoths against Roman Empire
ResultGothic victory
A depiction of the Battle of Abritus
A depiction of the Battle of Abritus

The Battle of Abritus was a disaster for Roman history. It was the struggle between Gothic king Cniva and Rome led by Trajan Decius and Herennius Etruscus.

The large populace from the east was creating troubles to make Rome unstable. At the same time, a Gothic-led coalition of tribes intruded into the Roman frontier.

When a Roman force with three legions was sent to confront the Gothic, Romans were severely defeated. Along with this defeat, the Roman emperors Decius and his son Herennius Etruscus were slaughtered. 

They were the first Roman emperors to be slaughtered by the hand of a foreign enemy. After the battle, the new Roman emperor Trebonianus Gallus had to release Goths with their loot and prisoners.

Historians portray this battle as one of the worst defeats of the Roman Empire against Germanics.

Conclusion

This list includes the Roman battles in ascending order with a date. Romans faced both fates, sometimes winning and sometimes losing. 

Out of these battles, great militants emerged, for example, Julius Caesar, Marcus Antonius, and Lucius Cornelius Sulla.

Historical battles always excite me to read, and Roman history is filled with many such events. The events such as the battle of Vercellae, the battle of Cannae, and Zama changed the face of Rome. 

Which Roman battle do you think is the most important one in the history of Rome? If any battle or war is missed in the piece, you can write it in the comment section.

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