And the waters ran red with blood…

By Alexandra Redisch at Lago Trasimeno


Last April I found myself in a palazzo in Umbria, listening to enthusiastic Hannibal scholar, professor Giovanni Brizzi. He walks me through the epic battle that played out on the banks of Lake Trasimeno more than two thousand years ago. This is where the Roman army met the fearsome Hannibal of Carthage, in what is probably the most successful ambush in military history.


The Battle of Lake Trasimeno

Let your mind wander back to 217 BC: Hannibal of Carthage has been closely followed by Roman general Gaius Flaminius. He has found the ideal location, Hannibal has; a wide field with an entrance through a narrow vale, ridges on all sides. He has positioned his legions at strategic places around the field, and when the Romans advance on the field through the foggy vale, they hear the sound of trumpets and soon all hope is lost. The Romans face attack from all sides. With no time to form their usual fighting formations, Flaminius’ legions are forced to engage in hand to hand fighting, facing Gauls, Iberians, Africans and Celts.

Three hours later, the bodies of six thousand slaves and ten thousand Roman soldiers scatter the ground, including that of Flaminius himself. Hannibal, in contrast, has lost only fifteen hundred men. The surviving Romans flee, but are soon captured and killed, or sold as slaves later. Extra legions come to help, some four thousand men. They are captured the next day and completely annihilated. Defeat is total.

Here, Flaminius is decapitated by Ducarius the Gaul.


Sylvestre Ducar decapite Flaminius (Trasimene) – Wikimedia commons


Roman historian Livy states that the massacre was so terrible that neither army noticed an earthquake that destroyed cities, mountains and rivers, was happening parallell to the battle. There is also an ancient tradition in the area that says that for three days, blood from the slain soldiers filled the lake. A small stream feeding the lake was thus named Sanguineto (Blood River). In the surrounding areas of Lake Trasimeno, there are many places which also bear witness to that terrible battle; Ossaia (Place of Bones), Sepoltaglia (Sepulchre), Caporosso (Cape Red), Pugnano (Place of Battles) and Pian di Marte (Field of Mars).


Lake Trasimeno, once red with blood


Rome is in turmoil. The elect a new dictator, Fabius Quintus Maximus, but soon dispose of him as he does nothing to better the situation. Rome decides to wait out Hannibal, who ravages Apulia for the next year. Two new consuls, Paullus and Varro, are given charge of the Roman Empire, and thus ensues the even more crushing battle of Cannae (one of the greatest tactical feats of military history, and, in numbers killed, one of the bloodiest days in all of history).

Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam, said Cato the Elder, and though he gets his way in 146 BC, Hannibal is now at the top of his game. The world is his.


Our most excellent guides at Lake Trasimeno, Claudia Governatori og Vittorio Viterbi. And a centurion


Do you enjoy learning about the history of where you are?

PS: Hungry for more travel photos? Head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for your weekly fix.


Disclosure: In Lake Trasimeno, I was a guest of Trasimeno Tourist Office and Umbria Regional Tourism Board. As ever, all opinions are mine.



About Alexandra Redisch

One of the kids in ‘travel with kids’, avid traveller, mystery writer, chocoholic, currently working on a WWII biography.

33 Responses to “And the waters ran red with blood…”

  1. bonooobong 4 March 2013 1949 #

    But after that, the Roman Empire took revenge on Carthage in the 3rd punic war, in a really bloody battle without any mercy. I guess Hannibal and the battle you’ve described might be during the 1st punic war, but I am not sure it was a long time ago when I learned roman history… Btw I think it’s really cool and inspirational to get to know the historical background of the new places you visit, I try to do so as well;)

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 5 March 2013 1402 #

      The Battle of Lake Trasimeno was in the 2nd Punic War – and yes, the Romans got their revenge later, for sure. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  2. Mette - Italian Notes 4 March 2013 1952 #

    I’ve always been fascinated by that story and would love to have met professor Brizzi.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 March 2013 0926 #

      Hope you get an opportunity to meet him.

  3. Angela 5 March 2013 0118 #

    Interesting piece of Italian history and lovely pictures!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 March 2013 0927 #

      Italy is chock full of historical gems, but then you know that 🙂

  4. Andrea 5 March 2013 1816 #

    I am intrigued by the earthquake no one noticed! Always good lessons from these old military stories…

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 March 2013 0927 #

      Can you imagine not noticing an earthquake…

  5. Leigh 6 March 2013 1759 #

    It sounds to me like you had a very good teacher – and you’be brought history to life with this post. You’d never appreciate the violence that rocked this area by looking at your photos.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 March 2013 0929 #

      Many times have I looked at fields (perhaps even fields of flowers) that were once scenes of the most gruesome battles. Almost surreal.

  6. budget jan 7 March 2013 0147 #

    I do like the history of the places I visit, but I really enjoy it if it is presented in a fun way. When we did a Fat Tire Bicycle Tour of Barcelona our guide Buddha imparted so much knowledge and in such a fun way that I did not even realize I was getting a history lesson!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 March 2013 0929 #

      That sounds like such a fun tour, Jan. Now to check if they have Fat Tire Bicycle Tours in other cities, too…

  7. budget jan 7 March 2013 0151 #


    I loved the photo of your guides, they look like they were great fun. I can tell that you enjoyed your history lesson as well!

  8. Jackie Smith 7 March 2013 0425 #

    We are so taken with history that we love reading about it before and during our travels and learning as much as we can while there. We also love historic hotels (thus the start of our Travel Classics feature on our blog). This was so informative – and fun!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 March 2013 0930 #

      I love hotels with a story, too – especially old stories.

  9. I thought the history you shared is incredible. It’s so hard to imagine the battle that took place in such a serene location.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 March 2013 0931 #

      It really is, isn’t it…

  10. [email protected] 7 March 2013 0824 #

    A fascinating history and so well told! I didn’t realise all this took place at Lake Trasimeno.It certainly makes a difference knowing the history of an area when you visit.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 March 2013 0932 #

      Knowing a little of the history or quirks of a place does make it so much more interesting, I think.

  11. Muza-chan 7 March 2013 0910 #

    Very interesting story 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 March 2013 0932 #

      Thanks for stopping by, Muza 🙂

  12. InsideJourneys 7 March 2013 1407 #

    What an enormous loss of life! Almost incredible that such a serene beautiful place has that as a major part of its backstory. Thanks for sharing, Alexandra.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 March 2013 0933 #

      Enormous loss and in such a short time. Boggles the mind a bit, it does…

  13. Sensibletraveler 7 March 2013 1515 #

    We spent several days in Tuscany this past summer, but never made it to Umbria. I never thought about all the history in the area–I was too enamoured with the views.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 March 2013 0933 #

      Easy to get lost in the views in this part of Italy.

  14. EverywhereAmy 7 March 2013 1738 #

    I try to always read up on the history of a place before we visit. Sometimes it is not possible, and I have to learn as we go along, but I really like having the background in my head as I view the landscape.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 March 2013 0934 #

      Me, too. Especially old battlefields, for some reason.

  15. Add me to the list that enjoys learning about history while traveling! It really adds a depth to destinations. Enjoyed this post and this would be one of the things I’d do when visiting Umbria.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 March 2013 0934 #

      Hope you make it to Umbria soon, Debbie.

  16. Nancie 9 March 2013 0029 #

    That first photo is so tranquil, Hard to imagine such a battle being fought there. To answer your question, yes I love to hear about the history of an area that I travel to, or read about it before I go.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 12 March 2013 0935 #

      Difficult to imagine the lake red with blood, isn’t it…

  17. David Bennett 13 March 2013 2354 #

    Great writing style – very punchy and engaging.

  18. Gerald 20 June 2013 2027 #

    Despite the morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims, the fact remains that Countries exist because of wars fought against their neighbours or rivals. Independence is largely secured through the employment of armed forces and the willingness to fight if threatened, this alone prepares us all for such an eventuality.

    I commend you on your site it contains a lot of quality information and is well done.

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