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TRASIMENUS

TRASIMENUS LACUS1, Trasumennus. ( Τρασουμέννα or Τρασυμένα λίμνη, Strab.; Τρασιμένη λίμνη, Pol.: Lago di Perugia), one of the most extensive and important of the lakes of Etruria, situated between Cortona and Perusia. It is the largest of all the lakes of Etruria, being above 10 miles in length by 8 in breadth: and differs from all the other considerable lakes of that country in not being of volcanic origin. It is merely formed in a depressed basin, surrounded on all sides by hills of moderate elevation, and having no natural outlet. The hills on the N. side of the lake, which extend from Crotona to Perusia, are considerably more elevated than those that form the other sides of the basin, but even these scarcely rise to the dignity of mountains. The lake itself is of small depth, nowhere exceeding 30 feet, and its banks are almost everywhere low, flat, and covered with reeds. No considerable [p. 2.1222]siderable town was situated on its shores: Perusia, from which it derives its modern name of the Lago di Perugia, stands on a lofty hill about 10 miles to the E. of it; Clusium is situated about 9 miles to the SW. and Cortona between 6 and 7 to the NW. The highroad from Arretium to Perusia followed the northern shore of the lake for a considerable distance.

The lake Trasimenus derives its chief celebrity from the great victory obtained upon its shores by Hannibal over the Roman consul, C. Flaminius, B.C. 217, one of the greatest defeats sustained by the Roman arms during the whole course of their history. The circumstances of this battle are more clearly related and more readily understood with reference to the actual localities than those of any of the other great battles of Hannibal. The Carthaginian general, after crossing the Apennines, and effecting his toilsome march through the marshes of Etruria, had encamped in the neighbourhood of Faesulae (Pol. 3.80, 82). Flaminius was at this time posted with his army at Arretium, and Hannibal, whose object was to draw him into a general battle, moved along the upper valley of the Arnus, and passing within a short distance of the consul's camp, advanced along the road towards Rome (i. e. by Perusia), laying waste the country as he advanced. Flaminius on this hastily broke up his camp, and followed the Carthaginian army. Hannibal had already passed the city of Cortona on his left, and was advancing along the N. shore of the lake, which lay on his right hand, when, learning that Flaminius was following him, he determined to halt and await his attack, taking advantage of the strong position which offered itself to him. (Pol. 3.82; Liv. 22.4.) The hills which extend from Cortona to the lake, called by Livy the “montes Cortonenses,” and now known as the Monte Gualandro, descend completely to the bank of the lake, or at least to the marshes that border it, at a point near the NW. angle of the lake, now marked by a village and a round tower called Borghetto. This spur of the hills completely separates the basin of the lake from the plains below Cortona, and it is not until after surmounting it that the traveller by the modern road comes in sight of the lake, as well as of the small plain or valley, shut in between its N. shore and the Gualandro, which was the actual scene of the catastrophe. “Arrived at the highest point of the road, the traveller has a partial view of the fatal plain, which opens fully upon him as he descends the Gualandro. He soon finds himself in a vale, enclosed to the left, and in front, and behind him by the Gualandro hills, bending round in a segment larger than a semicircle, and running down at each end to the lake, which obliques to the right and forms the chord of this mountain arc. The position cannot be guessed at from the plains of Cortona, nor appears to be so completely enclosed, unless to one who is fairly within the hills. It then indeed appears a place made as it were on purpose for a snare, ‘locus insidiis natus.’ (Liv. 22.4.) Borghetto is then found to stand in a narrow marshy pass close to the hill and to the lake, whilst there is no other outlet at the opposite turn of the mountains than through the little town of Passignano, which is pushed into the water by the foot of a high rocky acclivity. There is a woody eminence branching down from the mountains into the upper end of the plain nearer to the site of Passignano, and on this stands a village called Torre” (more properly Tuoro). (Hobhouse, Notes and Illustrations to Childe Harold, canto iv. st. 63.)

From this description of the localities by an eyewitness, which agrees almost exactly with that given by Livy (22.4), the details of the battle are rendered perfectly clear. Hannibal occupied the hill last-mentioned with the main body of his troops, his heavy-armed African and Spanish infantry, while he sent round his light-armed troops to occupy the slopes of Monte Gualandro on his right, so as to threaten the left flank of the advancing Roman army, while he posted his cavalry and the Gaulish troops on the hills on the left between Borghetto and the present road. Flaminius advanced the next morning almost before daylight, while a thick fog rising from the lake still further concealed the position of the enemy. He therefore advanced through the pass, in ignorance of the bodies of troops that hung upon both his flanks, and, seeing only the array in front on the hill of Tuoro, began to draw up his forces for battle in the plain in front of them. But before he was able to commence the engagement, he found himself suddenly attacked on all sides at once: the surprise was complete, and the battle quickly became a mere promiscuous massacre. Flaminius himself fell early in the day, and numbers of the Roman troops were driven into the lake, and either perished in its waters or were put to the sword by the enemy's cavalry. A body of about 6000 men having forced their way through the enemy, occupied a hill on which there stood an Etruscan village, but finding themselves wholly isolated, surrendered the next day to Maharbal. Sixteen thousand Roman troops perished in this disastrous battle: the site of the chief slaughter is still marked by a little rivulet which traverses the plain, and is known at the present day by the name of the Sanguineto.2 (Hobhouse, l.c.) The details of the battle are given by Polybius (3.83, 84) and Livy (22.4-6). It is remarkable that in this instance the localities are much more clearly and accurately described by Livy than by Polybius: the account given by the latter author is not incompatible with the existing local details, but would not be easily understood, unless we were able to correct it by the certainty that the battle took place on this particular spot. The narratives of Appian and Zonaras add nothing to our knowledge of the battle. (Appian, Annib. 9, 10; Zonar. 8.25.) Numerous allusions to and notices of the memorable slaughter at the lake of Trasimene are found in the later Roman writers, but they have preserved no additional circumstances of interest. The well-known story related by Livy, as well as by Pliny and later writers, that the fury of the combatants rendered them unconscious of the shock of an earthquake, which occurred during the battle, is easily understood without any prodigy, such shocks being frequently very local and irregular phenomena. (Plin. Nat. 2.84. s. 86, 15.18. s. 20; Cic. de N. D. 2.3, [p. 2.1223]de Div. 2.8; Eutrop. 3.9; Flor. 2.6.13; Oros. 4.15; V. Max. 1.6.6; Sil. Ital. 1.49, 5.1, &c.; Ovid, Ov. Fast. 6.770; Strab. v. p.226.)

The lake is now commonly known as the Lago di Perugia, though frequently called on maps and in guide-books the Lago Trasimeno.

[E.H.B]

1 This is the form universally found in the best MSS. of Latin writers: there is no good ancient authority for the orthography of THRASIMENUS or THRASYMENUS, so generally adopted by modern writers.

2 The name of Ossaja, a village on the road from Cortona to the lake, has been thought to be also connected with the slaughter of the battle, but this is very improbable. Ossaja is several miles distant from the lake, and on the other side of the hills. (Hobhouse, l.c.) It is probable moreover that the modern name is only a corruption of Orsaja Orsaria. (Niebuhr, Lectures, vol. ii. p. 102.)

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