The Policy of Fabius Maximus -- Rashness of Minucius Rufus -- Hannibal caught in a Trap -- His Escape from Fabius -- Carthage refuses to send Renforcements to Hannibal -- The New Consuls -- Their Disagreement
But divine Providence turned Hannibal away toward the Adriatic, where he ravaged the sea-coast and gathered
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vast plunder. The consul Servilius, marching parallel with him, came to Ariminum, being distant from Hannibal by one day's march. He retained his army there in order to hearten those Gauls who were still friendly to Rome. When Fabius Maximus, the dictator, arrived, he sent to Rome Servilius, who could be no longer either consul or general after a dictator had been chosen. Fabius followed Hannibal closely, but did not come to an engagement with him, although often challenged. He kept careful watch on his enemy's movements, and lay near him and prevented him from besieging any town. After the country was exhausted Hannibal began to be short of provisions. So he traversed it again, drawing his army up each day and offering battle. Fabius would not come to an engagement, although his master of horse, Minucius Rufus, disapproved of his policy, and wrote to his friends in Rome that Fabius held back on account of cowardice. As Fabius had occasion to go to Rome to perform certain sacrifices, the command of the army fell to Minucius, and he had a sort of a fight with Hannibal, and as he thought he had the best of it he grew bolder and wrote to the Senate accusing Fabius of not wanting to win a victory; and the Senate, when Fabius had returned to the camp, voted that his master of horse should share the command equally with him.
They accordingly divided the army and encamped near each other; and each held to his own opinion, Fabius seeking to exhaust Hannibal by the lapse of time and meanwhile to receive no damage from him, while Minucius was eager for a decisive fight. Shortly afterward Minucius joined battle, and Fabius looked on to see what would happen, holding his own forces well in hand. In this way he was enabled to receive Minucius when he was beaten, and to drive Hannibal's men back from the pursuit. Thus did Fabius save Minucius from a great disaster, bearing him no malice for his slander. Then Minucius, recognizing his own want of experience, laid down his command and delivered his part of the army to Fabius, who held to the belief that the only time for a skilful captain to fight is when it is necessary. This maxim, at a later time, was often brought to mind by Augustus, who was slow to fight and preferred to win by art rather than by valor. Fabius continued to watch Hannibal as before and prevented him from ravaging the country, not coming to an engagement with his whole army but merely cutting off stragglers, well knowing that Hannibal would soon be short of supplies.
They were now approaching a narrow pass of which Hannibal was ignorant. Fabius sent forward 4000 men to occupy it, keeping the remainder of his force at the other extremity where he encamped on a strong hill. When Hannibal discovered that he had been caught between Fabius and the defended pass he was more alarmed than he had ever been before, for there was no way of escape, but all the country round about was rugged and precipitous. He could not hope to overcome Fabius or those defending the pass, on account of the difficulties of the ground. In this desperate situation he put to death his 5000 prisoners lest they should add a new tumult to the danger. Then he tied torches to the horns of all the cattle he had in the camp (and there were many), and when night came he lighted the torches, extinguished all the camp fires, and commanded the strictest silence. Then he ordered the most courageous of his young men to drive the cattle up the rocky places between Fabius and the pass. These, urged on by their drivers and burned by the torches, ran furiously up the mountain side, and if any of them fell down they would get up and run on again.
The Romans on either side when they observed the silence and darkness in Hannibal's camp and the many and various lights on the mountain side, could not exactly make out what was taking place, because it was night. Fabius, indeed, suspected that it was some stratagem of Hannibal's, but not being sure he kept his army in its position on account of the darkness. But those who held the pass imagined, just as Hannibal wished, that in his extremity he was trying to escape by scaling the cliffs above. So they hastened away to the place where they saw the lights, in order to catch Hannibal there in difficulties. The latter, when he discovered that the pass was deserted, advanced with a flying detachment, in dead silence and without light, in order to conceal the movement. Having seized the pass and strengthened his position he made a signal by trumpet, and the army in camp answered him with a shout and immediately relighted the fires. Then the Romans saw that they had been deceived. The remainder of Hannibal's army and those who drove the cattle now advanced to the pass without fear, and when he had brought them all together he moved forward. Thus did Hannibal succeed beyond expectation and rescue his army from danger. Thence he advanced to Geronia, a city of Apulia, which was well stored with provisions. This town he captured, and here went into winter quarters in the midst of abundance.
Fabius, pursuing the same policy as before, followed and encamped at a distance of ten stades from Geronia, with the river Aufidus flowing between them. The six months which limited the terms of dictators among the Romans now expired, and the consuls Servilius and Atilius resumed their offices and came to the camp, and Fabius returned to Rome. During the winter frequent skirmishes took place between Hannibal and the Romans in which the latter were generally successful, and showed to the better advantage. Hannibal was all the time writing exultingly to the Carthaginians about the events of the war, but now, having lost many men and being in want of assistance, he asked them to send him soldiers and money. But his enemies, who had jeered at all of his doings, replied that they could not understand how Hannibal should be asking for help when he said he was winning victories, since victorious generals did not ask for money but sent it home to their own people. The Carthaginians followed their suggestion and sent neither soldiers nor money. Hannibal, lamenting this short-sighted policy, wrote to his brother Hasdrubal in Spain, telling him to make an incursion into Italy at the beginning of summer with what men and money he could raise, and ravage the other extremity so that the whole country might be wasted at once and the Romans exhausted by the double encounter. Such was the situation of Hannibal's affairs.
The Romans, distressed by the magnitude of the disasters to Flaminius and Centenius, and considering such a succession of surprising defeats unworthy of their dignity, and that a war within their own territory was not to be tolerated, and furious against Hannibal, levied four new 304 legions in the city to serve against him, and hurried the 305 allied forces from all quarters to Apulia. As consuls they chose Lucius milius, who had acquired military fame in the war against the Illyrians, and Terentius Varro, a demagogue who had won popular favor by the usual high-sounding promises. When they sent the consuls forward they begged them as they were leaving the city to end the war by battle, and not to exhaust the city by delay, by conscriptions, by taxes, and by hunger and idleness due to the devastation of the fields. The consuls on taking command of the army in Apulia had altogether 70,000 foot and 6000 horse, and they encamped near a village called Cann. Hannibal's camp was near by. Hannibal, who was always ready to fight and impatient of idleness, was especially so now because he was troubled lest his supplies should fail, for which reason he continually offered battle. He feared also lest his mercenaries should desert him, as they had not received their pay, or disperse through the country in search of food. For this reason he challenged the enemy daily.
The opinions of the consuls were diverse. milius thought that it was best to exhaust Hannibal by delay, as he could not hold out long for want of provisions, rather than come to an engagement with a general so skilled in war and an army so accustomed to victory. But Varro, like the demagogue he was, reminded his colleague of the charge which the people had laid upon them at their departure, that they should bring matters to a speedy decision by battle. Servilius, the consul of the previous year, who was still present, alone sustained the opinion of milius. All the senators and the so-called knights who held offices in the army agreed with Varro. While they were still disputing, Hannibal set upon some detachments of theirs that were collecting wood and forage, and he pretended to be defeated, and about the last watch put the bulk of his army in motion as if in retreat. Varro, seeing this, led out the army with the thought of pursuing Hannibal in his flight. milius even then forbade the movement, and as Varro did not obey he consulted the omens alone, according to the Roman custom, and sent word to Varro, just as he was starting, that the day was unpropitious. The latter thereupon came back, not venturing to disregard the omen, but he tore his
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hair in the sight of the whole army, and cried out that victory had been snatched from him by the envy of his colleague; and the whole crowd shared his anger.