The Spartacus Road continued…

I drove the second longest amount I’ve ever done the next day…600 miles from around Modena, all the way down the west coast, to the bottom of the ‘heel’, across the ‘arch’ of the ‘boot’, to the southern base of the ‘toe’. I was absolutely knackered by the end of it, but thanks to the fact that there’s far less traffic on the motorways than there is here, and that the speed limit is just over 80 mph, I was able to drive fast.

I passed by Ravenna, and the land to the south of it. In ancient times, this area was called Picenum, and it was somewhere here, after his army had turned away from the Alps, that Spartacus beat the combined armies of both consuls. About 150+ miles to the south of this, I passed the immense plateau that is Monte Gargano, or Mount Garganus. This was the site of Crixus’ final battle, some months earlier. It was far far larger than I had imagined – we’re talking a stand alone mountain that is several miles across on its flat top.

On I drove, wanting to get as far as I could before it got dark. Then I saw a sign for the battlefield of Cannae, and I could not ignore it. I’ve been fascinated with Cannae for donkey’s years, and now that I’m also writing about Hannibal, the desire to see it has become a burning flame. Interestingly, the site (which is not definitely the correct one) is still under agricultural cultivation. There are almost no houses, so the olive groves that fill the area give the place a real atmosphere. There’s a small hill, which was used subsequent to Cannae to build a fortress, and it is from that elevation that one can see the sea (!) and get a real sense of what it might have looked like to see Hannibal’s 50,000 men facing up to 80,000+ Roman legionaries. I found it very moving, and terrible. I’ve read enough books on the battle to imagine the scene, the horrific carnage, and the aftermath. When the killing ended, two hours after dark, the Carthaginian soldiers were covered in blood from head to foot, and their horses were stained red from the tops of their chests to their hooves.

Sadly, the museum at Cannae is small, with almost no decent exhibits about the battle. It’s not in a great state of repair either, and with the Italian economy in the dire straits, I don’t imagine that that will change any time soon. The site is still well worth a visit, however.

The drive along the arch of the boot is quite scenic, with the sea on the left as one heads west. I passed a couple of sites where Greek towns had existed, reminding me that in the 8th, 7th and 6th centuries B.C., the area had been settled by Greeks, and was called Magna Graecia. By the time I got to Rossano, a small town at the beginning of the toe, I was very glad to reach my destination, a 300 year old farmhouse picked from my guidebook. This was the most incredible find. For the princely sum of 45 Euros (£40 or so), I got a huge room in a cavernous arched room, an eight (yes, eight) course dinner with wine included, and breakfast the next day. It was real Italian regional cooking too – all small dishes, but really tasty. Lovely!

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  1. Mike Reed
    Posted 30 November 2011 at 19:37 | Permalink

    This is really interesting Ben. There’s never enough you can say about interesting visits like this. That’s how I felt about meeting the ESG in Gloucester last weekend, but let’s stick to your visit to Italy.

    Picenum is a battle (I don’t know if the place gives its name to the battle) which I’ve been getting confused with Lake Trasimene, where Hannibal defeated a Roman army not long after he crossed the Alps. I don’t know if you’ve been there. But the visit to Cannae, however disappionted you sounded with that, will do your Hannibal series the world of good in the long run, so it’s not wasted. I remember you saying before you can’t wait till you write about the Battle of Cannae, and I too look forward to that when I read it.

  2. John Salter
    Posted 2 December 2011 at 08:40 | Permalink

    Great diary of your trip Ben, it brought back memories for me of some of the tasty Italian food I was lucky enough to feast on when I was there and the superb scenery!

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