But Hannibal ordered his light- armed troops to climb the heights which rose immediately alongside of the road, and to drive before them a number of oxen with lighted faggots on their horns, so that it seemed as if the Carthaginian army were thus marching off during the night by torchlight. The Roman division, which barred the road, imagining that they were evaded and that further covering of the road was superfluous, marched by a side movement to the same heights. Along the road thus left free Hannibal then retreated with the bulk of his army, without encountering the enemy; next morning he without difficulty, but with severe loss to the Romans, disengaged and recalled his light troops. Hannibal then continued his march unopposed in a north-easterly direction; and by a widely-circuitous route, after traversing and laying under contribution the lands of the Hirpinians, Campanians, Samnites, Paelignians, and Frentanians without resistance, he arrived with rich booty and a full chest once more in the region of Luceria, just as the harvest there was about to begin. Nowhere in his extensive march had he met with active opposition, but nowhere had he found allies. Clearly perceiving that no course remained for him but to take up winter quarters in the open field, he began the difficult operation of collecting the winter supplies requisite for the army, by means of its own agency, from the fields of the enemy. For this purpose he had selected the broad and mostly flat district of northern Apulia, which furnished grain and grass in abundance, and which could be completely commanded by his excellent cavalry. An entrenched camp was constructed at Gerunium, twenty-five miles to the north of Luceria. Two-thirds of the army were daily despatched from it to bring in the stores, while Hannibal with the remainder took up a position to protect the camp and the detachments sent out.

Fabius And Minucius

The master of the horse, Marcus Minucius, who held temporary command in the Roman camp during the absence of the dictator, deemed this a suitable opportunity for approaching the enemy more closely, and formed a camp in the territory of the Larinates; where on the one hand by his mere presence he checked the sending out of detachments and thereby hindered the provisioning of the enemy's army, and on the other hand, in a series of successful conflicts in which his troops encountered isolated Phoenician divisions and even Hannibal himself, drove the enemy from their advanced positions and compelled them to concentrate themselves at Gerunium. On the news of these successes, which of course lost nothing in the telling, the storm broke, forth in the capital against Quintus Fabius. It was not altogether unwarranted. Prudent as it was on the part of Rome to abide by the defensive and to expect success mainly from the cutting off of the enemy's means of subsistence, there was yet something strange in a system of defence and of starving out, under which the enemy had laid waste all central Italy without opposition beneath the eyes of a Roman army of equal numbers, and had provisioned themselves sufficiently for the winter by an organized method of foraging on the greatest scale. Publius Scipio, when he commanded on the Po, had not adopted this view of a defensive attitude, and the attempt of his successor to imitate him at Casilinum had failed in such a way as to afford a copious fund of ridicule to the scoffers of the city. It was wonderful that the Italian communities had not wavered, when Hannibal so palpably showed them the superiority of the Phoenicians and the nullity of Roman aid; but how long could they be expected to bear the burden of a double war, and to allow themselves to be plundered under the very eyes of the Roman troops and of their own contingents? Finally, it could not be alleged that the condition of the Roman army compelled the general to adopt this mode of warfare. It was composed, as regarded its core, of the capable legions of Ariminum, and, by their side, of militia called out, most of whom were likewise accustomed to service; and, far from being discouraged by the last defeats, it was indignant at the but little honourable task which its general, "Hannibal's lackey," assigned to it, and it demanded with a loud voice to be led against the enemy. In the assemblies of the people the most violent invectives were directed against the obstinate old man. His political opponents, with the former praetor Gaius Terentius Varro at their head, laid hold of the quarrel--for the understanding of which we must not forget that the dictator was practically nominated by the senate, and the office was regarded as the palladium of the conservative party--and, in concert with the discontented soldiers and the possessors of the plundered estates, they carried an unconstitutional and absurd resolution of the people conferring the dictatorship, which was destined to obviate the evils of a divided command in times of danger, on Marcus Minucius,(4) who had hitherto been the lieutenant of Quintus Fabius, in the same way as on Fabius himself. Thus the Roman army, after its hazardous division into two separate corps had just been appropriately obviated, was once more divided; and not only so, but the two sections were placed under leaders who notoriously followed quite opposite plans of war. Quintus Fabius of course adhered more than ever to his methodical inaction; Marcus Minucius, compelled to justify in the field of battle his title of dictator, made a hasty attack with inadequate forces, and would have been annihilated had not his colleague averted greater misfortune by the seasonable interposition of a fresh corps. This last turn of matters justified in some measure the system of passive resistance. But in reality Hannibal had completely attained in this campaign all that arms could attain: not a single material operation had been frustrated either by his impetuous or by his deliberate opponent; and his foraging, though not unattended with difficulty, had yet been in the main so successful that the army passed the winter without complaint in the camp at Gerunium.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book