Ancient Rome was one of the most potent and significant civilizations that lasted for around a thousand years. It ran under both republic and empire through a military system.
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
|Location||Near the Silva Arsia (a forest near Rome)|
|Combatants||the Roman Republic against Tarquinii and Veii|
The Battle of Silva Arsia was one of the attempts by Tarquin to reclaim the throne. The event is also considered the conflict between the Etruscan cities and the ever-expanding Roman state.
The Roman Monarchy ended in 509 BC, and the Roman Republic existed with the election of the first consuls. The retired King Lucius Tarquinius Superbus gained the support of the Etruscan cities of Veii and Tarquinii.
These armies of two cities obeyed the order of Tarquin. Soon they met the Roman consuls, Publius Valerius and Lucius Junius Brutus. When the battle began, the king placed his son, Aruns Tarquinius, with cavalry.
In the battle, Aruns and Brutus, who were cousin brothers, died, killing each other. But the army of Tarquinii drove the Romans away with the help of their right-wing.
But soon, Etruscan soldiers escaped the field, and the Romans claimed the victory.
19.Battle of Heraclea
|Date||July 280 BC|
|Location||Heraclea, Basilicata, southern Italy|
|Combatants||Greeks against the Roman Republic|
Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, led Greeks from Tarentum, Thurii, Epirus, Metapontum, and Heraclea in this battle. On the other hand, the Roman force was under the command of consul Publius Valerius Laevinus.
Tarentum was a part of Magna Graecia or a Greek colony, and had two factions. The leading factions were against Romans, whereas the second faction was the Roman supporters.
When Romans began entering Tarentum, Tarentines requested Pyrrhus to help them. Pyrrhus 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. However, Romans were outnumbered Greeks by 10,000 soldiers.
So, at one moment, Pyrrhus lost his hope in conquering the battle. But, when Romans cheered on the false news that he was dead, he bare-headed jumped into the fight and deployed his war elephants.
By Pyrrhus’ action, Greek soldiers were filled with energy and confidence, and ultimately, they won the battle. According to Dionysis, Romans lost 15000 soldiers while Greeks faced 11000 casualties.
18.Battle of Beneventum
|Location||Beneventum (modern Benevento), Italy|
|Combatants||the Roman Republic against Epirus|
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. Later he returned to Italy and engaged in a war against Romans without Samnite support.
To combat Romans, he divided 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.
After some struggles and losses, Romans forced Pyrrhus to end the campaign in Italy and return to Epirus. When Pyrrhus departed, Romans conquered Samnites.
Three years later, the fall of Magna Graecia helped the Romans to control the Italian peninsula.
17.The Battle of Agrigentum
|Combatants||the Roman Republic against Carthage|
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. Romans needed four legions and consular armies to take the victory.
When the garrison of Agrigentum called for reinforcements, the Carthaginian force approached them. Carthaginians under the command of Hanno smashed the base of Roman supply at Erbessus.
But they received the supplies from Syracuse and constructed the walls. Soon the disease spread among the Roman army, and supplies in Agrigentum ran out.
This led both Romans and Carthaginians to engage in the war. Romans won the battle, but those who defended Agrigentum escaped. Now, Agrigentum was under the control of the Romans.
At last, Romans sacked the city and enslaved the populace.
16.Battle of the Trebia
|Date||December 218 BC|
|Location||The bank of Trebia River, Today's north Italy|
|Combatants||the Roman Republic against Carthage|
The battle of the Trebia was known as the first significant clash of the Second Punic War fought between Romans and Carthaginians.
In the battle, Romans were under the command of Sempronius Longus, whereas Hannibal was leading Carthaginians.
When the war broke out, Hannibal led armies out of Iberia through Gaul, across the Alps, and into Cisalpine Gaul. Then, 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
|Date||21 June 217 BC|
|Location||The shore of Lake Trasimene, Italy|
|Combatants||Carthage (Hannibal) against Rome (Gaius Flaminius)|
The First Punic War, fought between Romans and Carthage, ended in 241 BC after 23 years. Then, the Second Punic War 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. In this conflict, Carthaginians defeated the Roman army at the Battle of the Trebia.
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
|Date||2 August 216 BC|
|Combatants||the Roman Republic and Carthage|
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 followed 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. After recovering the losses, they decided to face Hannibal at Cannae.
There Hannibal was ready with 40,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalries at the battlefield. Romans with 86,000 soldiers and allied troops collected their heavy infantry to initiate the fight.
Hannibal had already blocked the Aufidus River, the primary water source in the area, compelling Romans to face the south. Then, the Romans headed southwest. There they succeeded in driving back the enemy force for some moment.
But using the double envelopment tactic, Hannibal surrounded the Roman army. Then, the African, Gallic, and Celtiberian troops of Hannibal slaughtered Romans.
With this defeat, Romans lost their soldiers ranging from 55,000 to 70,000. Only 15000 Roman garrisons who had not taken part in the battle were alive.
This defeat compelled several Italian city-states, including Capua, to defect Carthage from the Roman Republic.
13.Battle of Ilipa
|Date||Spring 206 BC|
|Location||East of Ilipa or modern Seville, Spain)|
|Combatants||the Roman Republic against Carthage|
The battle of Ilipa was considered the most brilliant victory of Scipio Africanus in his military career in the Second Punic War in 206 BC. In the battle, Scipio was facing two enemies Mago Barca and Hasdrubal Gisco, from Carthage.
Scipio’s pre-battle strategy and his reverse Cannae formation helped Romans disturb Carthaginians every time. Then, in the spring, Mago joined the party with Hasdrubal Gisco and attacked the Romans.
As Scipio had anticipated this, he hid his army behind the hill and threw back the enemy. Then, after his successful deception, he attacked Carthaginians at daybreak.
The Carthaginians sailed to gain war supplies without breakfast and became hungry and tired. This helped Scipio attack with light troops and destroyed the wings of Carthaginians.
The war elephants of Carthaginians, madden by Romans, trampled their army. Finally, Romans massacred Carthaginians, and those who survived surrendered in their camp.
12.Battle of Zama
|Date||19 October 202 BC|
|Location||Zama, Carthage (near today's Siliana, Tunisia)|
|Combatants||Roman Republic and Kingdom of Numidia against Carthage|
|Result||Roman victory and End of the Second Punic War|
Romans had already defeated Carthaginian and Numidian armies at the battles of Utica and the Great Plains. So, Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio imposed a peace treaty on Carthaginians.
The Carthaginians then brought Hannibal’s army from Italy. After joining Hannibal’s force, Carthaginians broke the truce with Romans. This resulted in confronting Scipio and Hannibal against each other near Zama Regia.
Hannibal had 36,000 infantry, whereas Scipio collected 29,000. Also, most of the Numidian cavalry of Hannibal defected to the Romans. Finally, Hannibal employed 80 war elephants, but Scipio’s soldiers drove them away.
Thus, Roman and Numidian cavalry overcame the Carthaginian cavalry subsequently. They chased Carthaginians from the battlefield employing first, second, third, and fourth lines of soldiers.
Finally, Scipio and his army captured 8,500–20,000 Carthaginians and killed 20,000–25,000. But Romans also lost some soldiers to defeat Carthaginians.
Defeating Hannibal on his home ground, Romans sued the Carthaginian ruling elite. And Carthaginians accepted the humiliating defeat and ended the 17-year war.
11.Battle of Cynoscephalae
|Location||Cynoscephalae Hills, Thessaly|
|Combatants||Roman Republic and Aetolian League allies against Macedon|
The second punic war was in favor of Rome in 201 BC. But Macedonian king Philip V had continuously attacked Roman client states for 20 years in the Mediterranean.
When The Greek city-states called for help, Romans, along with allies from the Aetolian League, departed for Pherae to hunt Philip. Though the storms blocked their way, Romans under Flamininus arrived in Thessaly in 200 BC.
The soldiers from both sides formed the maneuver and prepared for the battle. They struggled hard on the hills. Finally, Philip and Flamininus sent their soldiers against one another.
Flamininus even deployed the war elephants. When Macedonians signaled for surrender, Romans ignored it and surrounded them. Toward the end of the battle, 8000 Macedonians were killed and 5,000 captured.
After the battle, Philip’s influence was removed in Greece. Also, a series of campaigns by Flaminius helped Greek cities be independent of Macedonian power by 196.
10.Battle of Pydna
|Date||22 June 168 BC|
|Combatants||the Roman Republic against Macedon|
|Result||Roman victory and Fall of Macedon|
It was during the Third Macedonian War when the battle of Pydna took place. The Roman army was under the command of Aemilius Paullus while Perseus, Macedonian king, was leading Macedon.
Perseus had a good relationship with Greece and strengthened the position of Macedon. This dissatisfied Rome that later waged war against Perseus, and the third Macedonian war began in 171 BC.
The king won the war in the initial years, and Senators of Rome assigned Paullus to end the war. But when he arrived in Greece, he started the preparation for the war. And the Battle of Pydna took place.
In the battle, Paullus compelled Macedonians to fight in rugged terrain. As a result, Macedonian phalanx struck the Roman legions, but the spikes of phalanx stuck in the Roman shields.
Conversely, Romans pierced the hole in the Macedonian lines with fire that helped them slaughter the entire Macedonians. The Roman army killed 20000 Macedonians in an hour, losing about 1000 legionaries.
This way, Romans won the battle of Pydna and the third Third Macedonian war.
9.Battle of Aquae Sextiae
|Location||Modern Aix-en-Provence, France|
|Combatants||the Roman Republic against Teutones and Ambrones|
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
|Date||30 July 101 BC|
|Location||Vercelli in Cisalpine Gaul, Northern Italy|
|Combatants||the Roman Republic against Cimbri|
The battle of Vercellae is also known as the battle of the Raudine Plain. In the battle, Rome was under the command of the consul Gaius Marius and Germanic-Celtic of the Cimbri under Cimbric king Boiorix.
The Cimbri under Boiorix attacked northern Italy and defeated 20,000 men under consul Quintus Lutatius Catulus. To join Catulus, Marius reached with 32,000 soldiers after beating Teutones at Aquae Sextiae.
Romans and the Cimbri met near the residence of Vercellae in Cisalpine Gaul. Roman had intense domination and thus won the battle.
Marius was backed up strongly by Lucius Cornelius Sulla, who was Proconsul Catullus’s legate.
The Cimbri was destroyed and lost 65,000–160,000 killed and 60,000 captivated. Nevertheless, this victory of Marius became a solid base for the transition of the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire.
7.Battle of Carrhae
|Date||6 May 53 BC or 9 June 53 BC|
|Location||Near Carrhae (Harran), Upper Mesopotamia|
|Combatants||the Roman Republic against Parthian Empire|
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.
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.
Along with around 35,000 heavy infantry, 4,000 light infantry, and 4,000 cavalries, he arrived in Syria in late 55 BC. There, he received the aid of about 6,000 cavalries from Artavasdes, the Armenian king.
Artavasdes advised him to go through Armenia. He also suggested avoiding the desert and promised to help more with other soldiers. But Crassus rejected his advice and offers.
He led his Roman army through the deserts of Mesopotamia. Soon he 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.
On the other hand, with his decisive tactics, Surena deployed his horse archers, who harmed Crassus’ troops heavily. To stop it, Crassus sent his son Publius who committed suicide before enemies captured him.
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.
But when the negotiation became violent, Crassus and his general were killed. After Crassus’ death, the Parthians poured the molten gold in his mouth to mock his greed.
6.The Battle of Alesia
|Date||September 52 BC|
|Combatants||the Roman Republic against Gallic confederation|
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 the last major clash between Romans and Gauls in which Romans won.
In this battle, the Roman army was led by Julius Caesar against the Gallic tribes under Vercingetorix of the Arverni. After the battle, the Celtic dominance in Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Northern Italy ended.
Gauls had built a hilltop fortress that Caesar couldn’t storm. So, he planned to surround the enemies and starve them out.
When he learned of the Gallic cavalry reinforcements coming near, he made the wall to block Gallic tribes off.
When Caesar and his army struck, the Gallic soldiers inside their fortress struggled for their way. Then, he targeted his cavalry to end the enemy soldiers.
When the battle ended, 250,000 Gallic armies were killed, and 40,000 captivated. This way, Gaul territory became a part of Rome. After the war, the Roman senate declared 20 days of thanksgiving for Caesar’s victory.
But due to some political reasons, he refused to participate in the ceremony. After two years later, political tension grew severe, and Caesar took part in the Roman Civil War of 49–45 BC.
5.Battle of Pharsalus
|Date||9 August 48 BC|
|Combatants||Caesarians against Pompeians|
After this battle, Gaius Julius Caesar, who was the Roman general, ended the Roman Republic. This event also ended the civil war and helped Caesar acquire legitimacy in power.
The Roman Republic was under the command of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus or Pompey the Great. He had the majority support of the senators.
Through this support, the number of his armies was higher than the veteran Caesarian legions.
Caesar was weaker in army position than Pompay. Moreover, he was isolated in a hostile country with only 22,000 legionaries.
Therefore, Pompeii, which had an army about twice as large in number, planned to delay the attack.
He thought that the enemy would surrender after suffering from starvation. But the pressure from senators compelled Pompeii to begin the war against Caesar.
Though Caesar and his allies had a decreased number of soldiers, they won the battle. Pompeii and his remaining armies then fled their camps disguised as ordinary citizens.
Later, Pompeii was killed by orders of Ptolemy XIII in Ptolemaic Egypt.
4.Battle of Munda
|Date||17 March 45 BC|
|Location||Campus Mundensis, near modern southern Spain|
|Combatants||Caesarians against Pompeians|
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 troop. Caesar then took his legions and crumbled Gnaeus’ army.
This way, Caesar won the battle, and Optimates lost 300000 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
|Date||2 September 31 BC|
|Location||the Ionian Sea, near the promontory of Actium in Greece|
|Combatants||Romans supporting Octavian against Romans supporting Antony and Ptolemaic Egypt|
|Result||Victory for Octavian|
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
|Date||September 9 AD|
|Location||Osnabrück County, Lower Saxony|
|Combatants||Germanic tribes against Roman Empire|
|Result||Germanic victory and Roman Empire's withdrawal from Germany|
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 20000 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
|Date||June, July, or August 251 AD|
|Location||Abritus, Moesia Inferior|
|Combatants||Goths against Roman Empire|
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.
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.