Annibale and Olive Trees

by Paola Emilia Rubbi

Canne della Battaglia, ancient unaltered plains with limitless horizon, where a column of granite is a reminiscence of the exploits of the victorious and the defeated.


Olive trees, olive trees, olive trees and, again, olive trees. And silence. And a cobalt-blue sky, the colour it probably was on that August 2, 216 B.C. when was fought one of the greatest and most famous battles of the antiquity, which was to determine supremacy on the Mediterranean between the two greatest powers of the time: Rome and Carthage.
Here, Annibale annihilated the Roman legions of Lucio Emilio Paolo and Gaio Terenzio Varrone, involved in the second Punic war. Here, from what has been written, an impetuous wind helped the Carthaginian condottiere by blowing in the eyes of his enemies gusts of very light dust which blinded them. Here met, according to estimates, 140 thousand men and around 60 thousands died (of which 40 thousands were Roman), including Consul Lucio Emilio Paolo. Here shined the tactical and strategic genius of Annibale, one of the most famous condottieri of all times.
But here where? In a place that is for many only a toponym in history books, but which, on the contrary, still creates intense emotions and evocative fantasies, keeping unaltered, in its essential elements, the scenario of a most renowned battle: the river, lower Ofanto, the battle plain stretching out of sight,
the windy Volturno, the blinding reflection of the sun during warm summers, the stronghold of the citadel where in vain two thousand fleeing Roman soldiers looked for escape, and the surrounding hills and the treacherous valleys, which facilitated the tactic of encirclement carried out by Annibale, and the routes that led both armies to the theatre of this unprecedented massacre.
Yet, this piece of land in Puglia between Canosa and Barletta, though it can be defined as historical, has been for centuries enveloped by a veil of forgetfulness, and its historical and archaeological value has slowly been brought to light only


Photo - Ruins of Canne della Battaglia

in the nineteenth century, thanks to the interest of European travellers: English, French and German and, in the twentieth-century, to archaeological excavations, still taking place.
This is how re-emerged the very long historical adventure of a land of which the first forms of establishment are referenced around the 5th millennium B.C.
Of the epic battle, little remains from an archaeological point of view. On the West side of the hill, at the end of the route among the very interesting rubbles of the Roman and medieval citadel, it is remembered by a column of granite, three meters high, found during the first excavations, on which base there are two inscriptions. One by Tito Livio: No other people would have resisted such ruin and the other by Polibio: They were men of courage and worthy of Rome.
Now, this whole area is an archaeological park of great interest, with testimonies
of the Neolithic and medieval periods, as well as the Byzantine and Swabian periods. The excavations have brought to light the remains of Roman walls and houses. On the hill of San Mercurio, are the rubbles of the basilica, the castle and the medieval walls. An "Antiquarium" holds many artefacts that allow visitors to relive

Photo - Plains of Canne della Battaglia

the life of the centro daunio from prehistory to medieval times: from the six sections where is organized the expository route, the first five are in chronological order, and the last one is dedicated to the presence of Annibale in Italy during the second Punic war, with models that reconstruct the Canne area at the time of the battle. There are vases and personal ornaments of the iron age; a Corinthian helmet of the VI century A.C.; numerous archaeological finds originating from the cave tombs of Canne Antenisi and Canne Fontanella; very rich testimonies of late antiquity to the medieval age; fragments of sarcophagi and worked marble, women's jewellery in silver and bronze, very bright ceramics of the XIII century and, a true rarity, a love cup, or courting dish, with an erotic scene. It is really the Roman period that is less represented, till now, in the fascinating "Antiquarium": but it is sufficient to reach the famous column of granite which dominates the ancient, unaltered plains and look at the boundless horizon reminiscing of the exploits of the victorious and the defeated on that August 2, 216 A.C.
This is a meeting with history that cannot be missed.