Thus the Campanian Greeks, particularly Neapolis, courageously withstood the attack of Hannibal in person: in Magna Graecia Rhegium, Thurii, Metapontum, and Tarentum did the same notwithstanding their very perilous position. Croton and Locri on the other hand were partly carried by storm, partly forced to capitulate, by the united Phoenicians and Bruttians; and the citizens of Croton were conducted to Locri, while Bruttian colonists occupied that important naval station. The Latin colonies in southern Italy, such as Brundisium, Venusia, Paesturn, Cosa, and Cales, of course maintained unshaken fidelity to Rome. They were the strongholds by which the conquerors held in check a foreign land, settled on the soil of the surrounding population, and at feud with their neighbours; they, too, would be the first to be affected, if Hannibal should keep his word and restore to every Italian community its ancient boundaries. This was likewise the case with all central Italy, the earliest seat of the Roman rule, where Latin manners and language already everywhere preponderated, and the people felt themselves to be the comrades rather than the subjects of their rulers. The opponents of Hannibal in the Carthaginian senate did not fail to appeal to the fact that not one Roman citizen or one Latin community had cast itself into the arms of Carthage. This groundwork of the Roman power could only be broken up, like the Cyclopean walls, stone by stone.

Attitude Of The Romans

Such were the consequences of the day of Cannae, in which the flower of the soldiers and officers of the confederacy, a seventh of the whole number of Italians capable of bearing arms, perished. It was a cruel but righteous punishment for the grave political errors with which not merely some foolish or miserable individuals, but the Roman people themselves, were justly chargeable. A constitution adapted for a small country town was no longer suitable for a great power; it was simply impossible that the question as to the leadership of the armies of the city in such a war should be left year after year to be decided by the Pandora's box of the balloting-urn. As a fundamental revision of the constitution, if practicable at all, could not at least be undertaken now, the practical superintendence of the war, and in particular the bestowal and prolongation of the command, should have been at once left to the only authority which was in a position to undertake it--the senate--and there should have been reserved for the comitia the mere formality of confirmation. The brilliant successes of the Scipios in the difficult arena of Spanish warfare showed what might in this way be achieved. But political demagogism, which was already gnawing at the aristocratic foundations of the constitution, had seized on the management of the Italian war. The absurd accusation, that the nobles were conspiring with the enemy without, had made an impression on the "people." The saviours to whom political superstition looked for deliverance, Gaius Flaminius and Gaius Varro, both "new men" and friends of the people of the purest dye, had accordingly been empowered by the multitude itself to execute the plans of operations which, amidst the approbation of that multitude, they had unfolded in the Forum; and the results were the battles on the Trasimene lake and at Cannae. Duty required that the senate, which now of course understood its task better than when it recalled half the army of Regulus from Africa, should take into its hands the management of affairs, and should oppose such mischievous proceedings; but when the first of those two defeats had for the moment placed the rudder in its hands, it too had hardly acted in a manner unbiassed by the interests of party. Little as Quintus Fabius may be compared with these Roman Cleons, he had yet conducted the war not as a mere military leader, but had adhered to his rigid attitude of defence specially as the political opponent of Gaius Flaminius; and in the treatment of the quarrel with his subordinate, had done what he could to exasperate at a time when unity was needed. The consequence was, first, that the most important instrument which the wisdom of their ancestors had placed in the hands of the senate just for such cases--the dictatorship--broke down in his hands; and, secondly--at least indirectly--the battle of Cannae. But the headlong fall of the Roman power was owing not to the fault of Quintus Fabius or Gaius Varro, but to the distrust between the government and the governed--to the variance between the senate and the burgesses. If the deliverance and revival of the state were still possible, the work had to begin at home with the re-establishment of unity and of confidence. To have perceived this and, what is of more importance, to have done it, and done it with an abstinence from all recriminations however just, constitutes the glorious and imperishable honour of the Roman senate. When Varro--alone of all the generals who had command in the battle --returned to Rome, and the Roman senators met him at the gate and thanked him that he had not despaired of the salvation of his country, this was no empty phraseology veiling the disaster under sounding words, nor was it bitter mockery over a poor wretch; it was the conclusion of peace between the government and the governed. In presence of the gravity of the time and the gravity of such an appeal, the chattering of demagogues was silent; henceforth the only thought of the Romans was how they might be able jointly to avert the common peril. Quintus Fabius, whose tenacious courage at this decisive moment was of more service to the state than all his feats of war, and the other senators of note took the lead in every movement, and restored to the citizens confidence in themselves and in the future. The senate preserved its firm and unbending attitude, while messengers from all sides hastened to Rome to report the loss of battles, the secession of allies, the capture of posts and magazines, and to ask reinforcements for the valley of the Po and for Sicily at a time when Italy was abandoned and Rome was almost without a garrison. Assemblages of the multitude at the gates were forbidden; onlookers and women were sent to their houses; the time of mourning for the fallen was restricted to thirty days that the service of the gods of joy, from which those clad in mourning attire were excluded, might not be too long interrupted--for so great was the number of the fallen, that there was scarcely a family which had not to lament its dead.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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