THE ROMAN DEFENSIVE
THE INVASION OF SPAIN 218 b.c.—215 b.c.
THE successful invasion of Hannibal’s military base by the two Scipios is of very great importance in the war. Only the barest outline of the events stands clear in the evidence, but the greatness of the achievement of the Roman generals in difficult hostile country is unmistakeable. For the battles fought in Spain were no skirmishes and the forces engaged, if smaller than those of the war in Italy, yet were far from negligible. Livy with unerring artistic and historical insight notes how the Roman successes in Spain formed a balance to the disasters in Italy. Indeed if the real objective of war and particularly Hannibal’s objective in this war was ‘the subjection of the enemy will,’ these successes must be given their full value in accounting for the defeat of Hannibal’s strategy. The Roman invasion was accomplished by two legions only of Roman troops, commanded by cautious, efficient, but never brilliant generals. The Carthaginians had larger forces at their command and a vast area from which to recruit, but these advantages were largely offset by the necessity of dividing their forces and of posting them immense distances apart in order to hold the newly conquered lands. It is clear that the defence of Spain was a difficult task, and the Carthaginian generals were not equal to it.
When Publius Scipio decided at the Rhone that the Roman offensive against Spain should be carried out as planned, he sent his brother Gnaeus with part of the fleet and two legions to land at Emporium, as it was then called, the chief trade-mart in North Spain of the powerful Roman ally Massilia. Massiliote trade had, no doubt, been seriously damaged by the spread of the Carthaginian empire in Spain to the Ebro, and she could be relied upon for vigorous co-operation in providing money and supplies for the invasion. Consequently, Gnaeus’ plan of campaign in September 218 bc was to make full use of the fleet, bases, and local knowledge of the Greeks in Northern Spain in order to secure a sure footing before the winter. At once he marched south, and near Cissa a few miles inland from Tarraco (Tarragona) he met Hanno who had collected in this fortress the baggage-train which Hannibal had left behind on his march. Two Roman legions faced the 11,000 troops of Hanno augmented by a few local tribesmen. The Roman victory was complete; Hanno and Andobales, the tribal chief, were captured with all the stores and military equipment. The Carthaginians in Spain had been taken entirely by surprise owing to the rapidity of the Roman action. When Hasdrubal arrived, marching with all speed from Nova Carthago, he was too late to do anything except capture some scattered detachments of sailors on the coast. In less than two months the Carthaginians had been driven out of Spain north of the Ebro, and the Romans were free to create a secure base at Tarraco.
In the early summer of the next year (217 bc) Hasdrubal, mustering all his forces, decided to carry out a combined attack by sea and land upon the Roman position at Tarraco which the lateness of the season had prevented in the previous year. Crossing the Ebro, he encamped near its mouth with his fleet of forty ships in the excellent bay formed by the river delta. Scipio, although his fleet reinforced by the Massiliote vessels only numbered thirty-five ships, decided to attack the Carthaginian fleet from the sea. This rather surprising decision was perhaps due in part to the urgency of the Greeks, who were eager to protect their Spanish trade by destroying at once the Carthaginian navy. The Romans, too, were anxious to answer the challenge to the naval supremacy which they had won in the First Punic War and Hasdrubal’s land forces by now perhaps held sufficient numerical superiority to make Scipio unwilling to hazard an open engagement on land, which if disastrous would mean abandoning Spain.
Gnaeus sailed swiftly to the mouth of the Ebro to attack the Carthaginian sailors who, either surprised, or as Polybius thinks ordered by Hasdrubal to fight close inshore under cover of their infantry, offered little resistance, and the Romans sailing right inshore were able to destroy six and capture twenty-five ships. An interesting fragment of the Greek historian Sosylus ascribes the Roman victory in a large measure to the daring and naval skill of the Massiliote sailors. The naval victory had far-reaching effects upon Carthaginian strategy. It deepened the profound distrust in the Punic marine as a fighting force which all the Punic admirals in the war seem to have shared, and for the rest of the war the operations of Punic fleets are limited to rapid raids of negligible value owing to the fear of their commanders of being brought to an engagement by a Roman fleet. Later in this same year after the Ebro defeat, Livy narrates a half-hearted attempt made by the Carthaginian government to dispute the Roman command of the seas. A fleet of 70 ships sailed from Carthage to Sardinia and then to Pisa hoping to establish contact with Hannibal, news of whose march through Etruria and victory at Trasimene had just arrived. But when a Roman fleet of 120 sail under Servilius the consul, who had been transferred to naval operations, put to sea, the Carthaginians fled precipitately home. The sole achievement of the raid was the destruction of a Roman convoy bound for Spain, and the seas were left clear for the Romans to send Publius Scipio with twenty more warships, 8000 men and supplies to reinforce his brother in Spain.
Hasdrubal had retreated to Nova Carthago after the naval disaster at the Ebro river, and in the autumn of 217 bc the two Roman generals with their combined forces were emboldened to cross the Ebro for the first time and make a military demonstration as far as Saguntum to win over the Spanish tribes. But they were neither strong enough nor daring enough to attempt the capture of the Carthaginian fortresses, and the following year 216 saw a continuation of Roman penetration without any serious threat to the Carthaginian hold on Spain. On his side, Hasdrubal was engaged in reducing a rebellion of the Turdetani on the Baetis river in the south. Thus the war had come almost to a standstill in Spain, neither side feeling strong enough to attack the other. But the advantages which the Romans had won in the first three campaigns were immense. They had taken and kept the offensive, north-east Spain was securely occupied, and the loyalty to Carthage of many of the Spanish tribes south of the Ebro had been undermined.
In the next year 215 bc the Carthaginians decided upon a fresh offensive against the Scipios. The time seemed ripe for an attempt to crush the Roman army in Spain. Hasdrubal received reinforcements, 4000 infantry, and 1000 cavalry, and another army was sent over to Spain under Himilco to safeguard the area of the recent revolts in the south in order that Hasdrubal might be set free to move against the Romans. The Scipios were laying siege to a city on the north bank of the Ebro, Dertosa, when in midsummer news of Hasdrubal’s advance arrived. The armies were probably fairly equally matched, about 25,000 on each side. Hasdrubal drew up his army with his Spanish levies in the centre extended in a thin line; on his right wing were the best African troops, the Libyphoenicians, with Numidian horse in front of them, while on the left were posted the rest of the African levies also preceded by a cavalry wing. The Romans adopted the usual close formation of three succeeding waves of infantry with the cavalry on the wings. It is clear that Hasdrubal was attempting the tactics by which Hannibal had destroyed the Roman armies at Trebia and Cannae, using a weak extended centre to enable the wings to outflank and if possible surround the Roman army. But the key to success was the resistance of the centre. At the Trebia 10,000 Romans had cut through. In this battle the Spanish levies were too weak to resist the massed attack of the Roman legionaries and the Carthaginian army was cut in two before the cavalry could perform any encircling movement. The defeat of Hasdrubal was complete, and the losses suffered by his best African troops were very heavy.
The results of the battle were far-reaching. A Roman defeat would have probably meant withdrawal from Spain, and the Carthaginians would then have been free to send one Spanish army to Italy. The Roman victory was a real challenge to the Carthaginian empire in Spain. At Rome it restored the confidence in the citizen troops, and throughout Italy the news coming in the darkest period after Cannae must have done much to strengthen the loyalty of the Roman allies.
THE NEW CARTHAGINIAN STRATEGY
When Hannibal’s brother Mago announced the victory of Cannae in the Carthaginian Senate before a heap of golden rings taken from Roman equites killed in the battle, the Carthaginians realized that the decisive period of the struggle had arrived. Hannibal himself was able by now to gauge the real strength of the Roman confederation, and his despatches can have held out no prospects of the immediate collapse of Rome in Italy. The sending of a large army to Italy by sea at the risk of another Aegates Islands disaster was neither requested by Hannibal nor refused by the home government, as later tradition asserted. Ultimate victory would not be assured by doubling in Italy the forces which had won Cannae. These were the calculations of Hannibal. Instead, he conceived a new strategy which held out greater hopes of success. The whole strength of Carthage was to be employed in extending the war to new areas to produce the encirclement of Italy. His own task would be to prosecute vigorously the war in Italy, detaching such cities as he could until the Roman Senate was willing to accept a settlement which reversed the verdict of the First Punic War and left Carthage mistress in Spain. It was the task of the home government to prepare the way for it by pushing the Romans out of Spain, by regaining Sardinia and above all by re-establishing themselves in Sicily. The Gauls of the Po valley mattered less, and it is not impossible that Carthage would let them go in the end. What mattered was to regain control of the Western Mediterranean and force Rome to become once more an Italian power and that alone. To that end they could look across the Adriatic for an ally in the king of Macedon, who had already shown how bitterly he resented the Roman protectorate in Illyria. If he could be encouraged to drive out the Romans thence, it would be in his interest to stand by Carthage in maintaining the hoped-for settlement. Finally, with Macedon the ally of Carthage, the Greeks of South Italy and of Sicily would find no new Pyrrhus to help them to real independence. Such, it seems probable, was the Carthaginian strategy—subtle and farsighted, yet tempting to hesitation and to indecisive action and to opportunism which might lag behind opportunity. In seeking to win the peace, Carthage failed to win the war; but her sacrifices and her achievements are not to be despised. Eleven years were to pass before the over-mastering strength of Rome broke through the meshes that Carthage wove around her.
It was not until the year 215 that the first effects of the Carthaginian strategy were felt. In Italy Hannibal needed some reinforcements to keep his army at full strength and to garrison cities which came over to him and needed such support or control. It was at first proposed to send with Mago 12,000 infantry, 1500 cavalry and 20 elephants, but events in Spain diverted these, and, as Italy could wait, the Carthaginians contented themselves with landing what was presumably a small force at Locri, escorted there by the admiral Bomilcar, who succeeded in . evading the Roman fleet off Sicily (summer, 215). In the same year, while Mago was dispatched to Spain, another fair-sized army was sent under Hasdrubal the ‘Bald’ to Sardinia, where the Romans had only one legion. The Sardinians had already learnt to loathe the harsh rule of the Republic, the governor Q. Mucius was sick and the opportunity of supporting a native rising seemed too good to miss. But the enterprise miscarried. A storm drove the Carthaginian fleet out of its course to the Balearic islands and there was considerable delay before it could proceed. Meanwhile, the Romans had superseded Mucius by T. Manlius Torquatus who brought another legion. He knew the island and people well, having campaigned there when consul twenty years before. With prompt energy he attacked and scattered the insurgents before the Carthaginian force arrived. Hasdrubal, however, succeeded in landing and rallied the rebellious Sardinians to his standard. Torquatus with two legions considerably outnumbered Hasdrubal and forcing him to an engagement won a decisive victory. Hasdrubal himself and other Carthaginian nobles were captured. The remains of the Carthaginian expedition as it .sailed home crossed the path of the praetor Otacilius who had been raiding North Africa. Seven ships were lost, the remainder scattered in flight. The Sardinians, whose leader Hampsicoras had taken his own life, were forced to submit and pay for their daring. Hostages were surrendered and Manlius returned to Italy with his troops announcing, with reason, that the island was mastered. In Spain, equally, Carthaginian hopes were disappointed in consequence of events in Africa, where the Numidian chief Syphax revolted and compelled the hasty recall to Africa of Hasdrubal and part of the army of Spain.
The diplomatic offensive, on the other hand, was far more successful. As is described elsewhere, Philip V of Macedon, in the early summer of 21 y, decided that the time had come, and sent envoys to Hannibal. Presumably he had grounds for supposing that his envoys would be welcome. An alliance was made, the text of which has been preserved in Polybius. Macedon was to make war on Rome, and the Carthaginians pledged themselves to make Philip’s possession of the Illyrian coast, Corcyra and Pharos, a condition of peace with Rome. In case of need each of the allies was to reinforce the other in such way as they might agree upon. This clause implied a limited liability natural for states which were seeking each their own ends though both at the expense of Rome. From the Carthaginian point of view, Philip’s activities would distract the energies of her enemy and so hasten her success. Of perhaps greater importance were the clauses in which the two powers pledged themselves to a defensive alliance after the war was over. Roughly speaking, each power was to make its own gains and then help the other to retain them. The fact of the alliance was soon known to the Senate, for Philip’s envoys were caught on their way from Italy and there was delay while a new set of envoys were sent to complete the negotiations. The extent of the distraction of Rome proved a disappointment to Carthage and Philip failed to receive the naval help which, above all, was what he needed. But for the moment the Roman Senate had to face a new danger, and the alliance with Carthage of the king of Macedon had its repercussions in Greek sentiment. It may, indeed, have assisted the carrying through of the next part of the Carthaginian plan, the promotion of an anti-Roman movement among the Greeks of Sicily.
THE WAR IN SICILY
In the early summer of 215 King Hiero died. There was not wanting in Syracuse a party which, despite the prosperity enjoyed for a generation in alliance with Rome, were strongly in sympathy with Carthage. The news of the Roman disaster at Cannae and the revolt of Roman allies in Italy no doubt encouraged them in their belief that the war would end in Rome’s defeat. Furthermore, Hiero’s son, Gelo, who till then had studiously supported his father’s policy, now began a secret understanding with them. But death removed him a few months before his father, a stroke of fortune which was fraught with fatal consequences to the royal dynasty. For the heir to the throne was Hiero’s grandson Hieronymus, a boy of only fifteen years of age, and Hiero had appointed by his will a regency cabinet of fifteen members, including his sons-in-law Adranodorus and Zoippus. The cabinet was short-lived. Adranodorus on the plea that Hieronymus, who was indeed of presumptuous and head-strong nature, was already fit to rule, resigned himself and forced the resignation of the others. After this astute move the regency was reconstructed in the persons of three men, Adranodorus, Zoippus and a certain Thraso, who alone had access to the king in the royal palace. Finally Thraso was falsely implicated in a plot to murder the young prince and judicially put to death. He had been strong in his loyalty to Rome, and by his removal the way was clear for the regency of the sons-in-law to open negotiations with Hannibal. Hannibal sent at once two sharp-witted agents, Hippocrates and Epicydes, of mixed Carthaginian and Greek blood, who stayed in Syracuse and arranged an alliance with their master. When Roman envoys arrived to renew the old-standing Roman alliance, they were unceremoniously rebuffed, and a treaty was ratified at Carthage on the basis of the agreement reached with Hannibal. It seems that Hieronymus in the first draft demanded as the price of the alliance one half of Sicily, as far as the river Himeras. Later he opened his mouth wider and demanded the whole of Sicily, ‘since Carthage could have Italy.’ Again Carthage acquiesced; the immediate acquisition of Syracuse was of immense value to her for the war, whereas the terms of the bargain could not be kept if Carthage lost, and probably need not be kept if Carthage won.
Thus events had moved very rapidly in Sicily since Hiero’s death. Syracuse was already opening hostilities by sending an expedition to attempt the capture of various Sicilian cities held by Roman garrisons, when suddenly in the summer of 214 bc at the dependent city of Leontini Hieronymus was assassinated in the midst of his army. It was a heaven-sent chance for the Romans to regain the ground they had lost in Syracuse, for with the city in the throes of revolution foreign policy might be deflected. The Roman army of occupation in Sicily at the time consisted of the two disgraced Cannae legions, whose combined strength was probably not more than 12,000 men. On the urgent representations of the praetor Appius Claudius the Senate, now more confident in Italy, sent in the autumn of 214 bc the victorious consul M. Marcellus with one legion to take charge of Sicily. Meanwhile the fleet under Appius Claudius was raised to one hundred ships. The political strife at Syracuse had also for the moment taken a turn in favour of Rome. The regicides, uniting in their support those who had hated Hieronymus with those who favoured Rome, had gained the upper hand and murdered first Adranodorus and then all the women-folk of the royal house. Envoys were sent to discuss the renewal of the old treaty with Rome.
This complexion of affairs however endured for a very short time, and the Romans missed their opportunity for intervention. The savage murder of the royal house soon produced a revulsion of feeling. When at the elections the new republic proceeded to elect its officers, the two Carthaginian agents, Hippocrates and Epicydes, who had stood aloof from the bloodshed, were unexpectedly nominated and elected Generals. Appius Claudius made a demonstration with the Roman fleet off Syracuse, but he came too late, and his appearance only served to fan the flames of nationalism, the desire for independence and hostility to Rome. At the same time, the news that a Punic fleet was off Cape Pachynus gave the Carthaginian party in the city confidence. And then there arrived from Leontini envoys asking for armed protection against a feared Roman attack. The Syracusans sent Hippocrates with 4000 men, drawn from those who were most active against the interests of Rome. The Roman and Greek lines were now almost contiguous in front of Leontini, and, as constantly happens in such circumstances when feeling is embittered, a small event precipitated war. Small raids across the border of the Roman province ended in the massacre of an outpost by Hippocrates. Marcellus at once informed the Syracusans that the peace had been broken and demanded that Hippocrates and Epicydes should be sent away from Sicily. Epicydes, seeing that even now he might not be able to win over the Syracusans to open war, escaped to join his brother in Leontini, where they declared the city independent of Syracuse whatever the Syracusans might decide. Upon the refusal of his demands, Marcellus in the spring of 213 bc marched on Leontini, ordering Appius Claudius to attack from the opposite side. The legionaries, incensed at the recent massacre of their companions, carried the town at the first assault. The city was sacked with the ferocity which was habitual with the Romans when a city was taken by assault. And, later, 2000 Carthaginian sympathizers were scourged and beheaded.
Meanwhile the Syracusan army, 8000 strong, had marched out to succour Leontini. They were immediately confronted with the news of the fall of the city and with exaggerated tales of Roman severity. Hippocrates and Epicydes, who had cleverly escaped during the assault, appeared opportunely and were received by the soldiers with enthusiasm. With the passions of the army inflamed by the fate of Leontini, it was an easy task for the Carthaginian agents to persuade the troops to return to Syracuse and to satisfy their vengeance by a massacre of the Roman party in the town. All wavering was now at an end. The population was unanimous in its determination to defy the Romans, and elected once again Hippocrates and Epicydes as their Generals to make preparations to defend the city. Thus, finally, the brilliant and indefatigable machinations of these two Carthaginian agents had their reward. Syracuse, the capital of western Hellenism, had abandoned the cause of Rome for Carthage.
The Romans were now as quick to act as they had before been slow to intrigue. Five days were given up to preparations for an assault by land and sea. Appius then brought up his pent-houses and scaling-ladders and attempted the wall at Hexapylon opposite the Trogilus harbour where the cliffs are not steep, while Marcellus with sixty ships, carrying siege-engines, attacked the lowest part of the wall of Achradina where it descends to the shore. However, the assault upon the impregnable walls of Dionysius could only hope to succeed by surprise or through treachery amongst the defenders. But these defenders were desperate men, some of them deserters from the Roman armies, who expected no quarter in defeat; they were ably led and the walls bristled with engines and siege devices designed by the greatest practical mathematician and engineer of the ancient world, Archimedes. Polybius describes how great beams swung out from the battlements and released weights of many hundredweight to destroy the Roman hide-covered scaling-ladders or sambucae. which each mounted on two ships lashed together, were brought into position for mounting the walls. The assault having failed, the Romans settled down to a regular siege, part of their army encamped near the Olympieum with the fleet in the Great Harbour and the other part at Leon on the north-west, thus commanding the main roads from Syracuse along both coasts.
At Carthage the news of the revolt of Syracuse and the repulse of the Roman attack, backed by an urgent despatch from Hannibal, roused the citizens to desperate energy. Nothing could appeal more directly to their merchant patriotism than the vision of Sicily reconquered. An army of 25,000 infantry, 3000 cavalry and 12 elephants under Himilco succeeded in landing at Heraclea Minoa, which fell, closely followed by the second city of the island, Agrigentum. Marcellus, meanwhile, unable to detach any considerable force from the siege of Syracuse, could do little. With one-third of the army he had reduced to Roman servitude the dependent cities of Hiero’s ancient kingdom, Helorus, Herbessus and Megara Hyblaea, but he arrived too late to strengthen the garrison in Agrigentum. However, he succeeded on his return march in cutting to pieces at Acrillae near Acrae a considerable Syracusan force under Hippocrates which had slipped out of Syracuse to join Himilco.
This success checked further revolts, but the Romans had been badly surprised by the energy of the Carthaginian home government, and the presence of a large Carthaginian army placed the Roman prospects of recovering Sicily in serious jeopardy. Reinforcements of another legion were quickly sent from Italy, making the Roman forces in Sicily four legions. Meanwhile Himilco, joined by Hippocrates, had encamped on the Anapus, eight miles from Syracuse and hoped to surprise this Roman legion, which had been landed at Panormus, as it came across the centre of the island. But a warning was sent in time so that the legion took the coast route round the north of the island to Syracuse. Thus the summer of 213 bc ended in stalemate. The Carthaginian army was not strong enough to assault the entrenched positions of the Romans north and south of Syracuse and could do little to hinder the siege. But a significant incident shows how strong was the hatred of Rome in many of the cities of the interior of the island held by Roman garrisons. At Enna the Roman commander discovered that the city was to be betrayed and his garrison cut to pieces. Repaying treachery with treachery, he launched his troops on the people met unarmed in the marketplace and perpetrated a ferocious massacre, which was later approved by Marcellus. By such acts of deliberate terrorism the cities were taught the quality of Roman vengeance. One only, Murgantia, which contained large quantities of Roman stores, betrayed its garrison and was occupied by Himilco and used as winter quarters. Meanwhile the Carthaginian fleet of fifty ships under Bomilcar, finding itself outnumbered two to one, had retired to Carthage, abandoning any attempt this summer to relieve Syracuse.
The next year 212 bc was the decisive year in the siege. In the early spring by a brilliant stroke Marcellus got possession of parts of Epipolae. Taking advantage of the drunkenness which accompanied the festival of Artemis in the city he sent in the night a scaling party over a low portion of wall on the north circuit, which succeeded in opening the Hexapylon gate so that the whole of the northern Roman army was introduced before Epicydes was fully awake to the danger. Two important suburbs of the town, Neapolis and Tycha, were plundered by the Roman troops. For a time their position was precarious, since Achradina was strongly held and divided off from Epipolae by a defensive wall, and on the other flank lay Euryalus, the impregnable fort built by Dionysius I. Suddenly, however, the Greek governor of this fort lost his head and surrendered the position to the Romans so that Marcellus was made secure from any attack in the rear. To relieve the position the Syracusans within the city made a sortie from Achradina while Himilco’s army attacked the Roman camp on the Great Harbour, but both attacks were unsuccessful. Carthage, also, to encourage the defenders had sent in the spring Bomilcar with a fleet of ninety ships; favoured by a strong wind he sailed into the Great Harbour and anchored at Ortygia before the Romans could put out to oppose him. Equally successfully he slipped back again later, leaving fifty-five ships to help the city. As the summer wore on, the pestilential marshes of the Anapus which had so often saved Syracuse from her enemies now proved fatal to her allies. An epidemic of terrible virulence spread swiftly and swept away the entire Carthaginian army with the generals Himilco and Hippocrates. The Roman troops did not escape, but on the healthier higher ground and with better discipline and understanding of military sanitation their losses were not fatal.
By this intervention of Apollo the whole situation in Sicily was changed. The plague is the turning point in the Roman recovery of Sicily. While the large Carthaginian army was intact, though the Romans were steadily closing the siege of Syracuse, yet the inconstant fortune of war made a surprise and defeat always possible. But now the reduction of Syracuse and of the rest of Sicily was certain before the overwhelming Roman forces. However in the next spring, 211 BC Carthage made a final effort to help the city. Bomilcar with a fleet of 130 ships protecting a large convoy arrived off Cape Pachynus where he was held by contrary winds so that the Roman fleet of 100 ships sailed from Syracuse to meet him. Much might have resulted from a great Carthaginian victory. But the actual issue was prophetic of the dominant race. For the First Punic War had undermined the morale of the Punic navy. Bomilcar suddenly crowded on all sail, ordered his transports to return to Africa and with his fighting ships made off for Tarentum, leaving Syracuse to its fate. Thus the Carthaginian fleet had proved itself singularly ineffective in co-operating with the revolt in Sicily, and at the same time Philip of Macedon looked in vain for the naval assistance which might have altered the complexion of affairs in Greece. Epicydes, who had slipped out from Syracuse to meet Bomilcar, was unable or unwilling to return and retired to Agrigentum to help organize yet another relief army from troops which the Carthaginians had sent over under Hanno, while Hannibal had dispatched from Italy his best cavalry officer Muttines. But meanwhile discipline was broken in Syracuse, new generals were elected and assassinated, and a Spanish commander of mercenary troops was persuaded to open one of the gates on Ortygia. Thus Syracuse fell after a siege of two and a half years. Marcellus, according to the Roman custom, after securing the royal treasure abandoned the city to the plunder and rapine of his troops. Archimedes was killed by a common soldier as he sat absorbed in geometrical problems drawn in the sand. Treasures and works of art collected during three centuries of high culture were mutilated or carried off according to the ignorant caprice of peasant soldiery. Much was transported to Italy as soldiers’ loot, to be eagerly sought after in later years as the profound change in Roman taste developed. The dedications of Marcellus in shrines near the Porta Capena became one of the Museums of Rome.
Marcellus was eager to finish the war and hold the triumph he had so well deserved by his masterly conduct of the siege of Syracuse. Moving to the river Himeras he encountered the small Carthaginian army. The Numidian horse mutinied, and the battle was a rout, but Agrigentum received the beaten troops, and the season was too late to begin a siege. Marcellus returned to Rome and held a spectacular ovatio adorned by the spoils of Syracuse. In his stead a praetor M. Cornelius Cethegus was sent, who during the winter successfully reduced some small towns of the interior which gave trouble. Then, finally, late in the summer of 210 bc one of the consuls, M. Valerius Laevinus, arriving with fresh forces secured the betrayal of Agrigentum by taking advantage of the quarrels between Muttines, the commander of the Numidians, and Hanno. All resistance was speedily stamped out in Sicily. The resettlement of the island as a Roman province was taken in hand.
Nothing shows the vigour of the Senate’s direction of the war better than the successful reconquest of Sicily. But it must be said that fortune favoured Rome in many ways in addition to the plague. The revolt of Syracuse hung in the balance for a long time and only came to a head three years after Cannae, when the position in Italy had been retrieved. Nor is the effort of the Carthaginian government in the sending of armies and fleets to be minimized. But the effort was wasted through the death of Himilco, the incompetence of Hanno and the pusillanimity of Bomilcar, so that the spread of revolt was speedily checked and, most important of all, the great sea fortresses in the west, Lilbaeum and Panormus, which had once been Carthaginian, were never in serious danger of attack.
THE ADVANCE AND DEFEAT OF THE SCIPIOS
Success in Sicily was soon counterbalanced by defeat in Spain. After the great victory over Hasdrubal at the Ebro in 215 bc, the Romans for a time reaped the fruits of their earlier cautious penetration. Many of the Celtiberian tribes changed sides, so that Carthage lost a recruiting area which had provided some of the finest troops in Hannibal’s army. To prevent a further landslide the Carthaginians had to dispatch at once to Spain under Mago, a brother of Hannibal, who had shown good leadership at the Trebia and Cannae, another army of 12,000 infantry, 1,500 cavalry and 20 elephants with a fleet of 60 ships which had been expressly recruited for Hannibal and was on the point of sailing to Italy. But at this point Carthage was seriously embarrassed. Syphax, king of the powerful Numidian tribes of the Masaesyli in Africa had thrown off his allegiance to Carthage and Hasdrubal was recalled from Spain with an army to deal with the revolt. Consequently during the next three years (214-212 BC) the Scipios were able to carry the Roman arms into the heart of the Carthaginian empire in Spain. Saguntum was recaptured in 212 bc and amongst many others the important city of Castulo in the Upper Baetis valley opened its gates to their army. When the exaggerations of the annalist narrative have been discounted it remains clear that by the successes of these campaigns the two Scipios earned a just memory as ‘the two thunderbolts of war. For the greatness of the achievement in planning and executing the victorious offensive in Spain cannot be gainsaid. While valuable parts of Italy and Sicily had been lost to Rome, the Scipios had won from Carthage one-third of her empire in Spain.
By the end of 212 bc the war in Africa was over. Syphax had been defeated by Hasdrubal and driven from his kingdom. But aided by forces from a king of the Mauri in Morocco he had reestablished himself, and the Carthaginians made peace with him in order to turn their attention to Spain. Three armies were sent over. Hasdrubal returned in the autumn of 212 bc from Africa, Mago brought over another army, in which Masinissa a young Numidian chief twenty-six years of age commanded a picked force of Numidian cavalry, and the third army was led by Hasdrubal son of Gisgo. The Scipios meanwhile had steadily augmented their army by very large drafts of Celtiberian troops. Livy, no doubt exaggerating, says that 20,000 had been enlisted. Relying on these new levies the Roman army had been split into two halves and had very probably operated as two units in the campaign of 212 bc, for Publius wintered at Castulo in the Upper Baetis valley, and Gnaeus at Urso. The division of forces had made possible greater range of action and ease of commissariat, while Spain was almost denuded of Carthaginian troops; but it was now to prove fatal.
For at the opening of the campaign of 211 b.c. in the Upper Baetis valley the Celtiberian troops with Spanish fickleness deserted en masse from the two Roman armies. Cut off from one another between the three Carthaginian armies and greatly outnumbered, the Scipios suffered complete disaster. Publius Scipio, leaving Tiberius Fonteius in his camp with a small force, made a night march to intercept and surprise the native chief Indibilis, who was marching with 7500 Suessitani to join Mago. It was a desperate venture and failed. During the encounter next day the Numidian cavalry arrived and enclosed his wings while still later in the day the Carthaginian heavy infantry came on the scene to block his rear. He fell, and his army was destroyed. The fate of Gnaeus soon afterwards was the same. The swift Numidian horse forced a halt in their attempted retreat, and the three Carthaginian armies stormed an improvised barricade of pack-saddles, lumber, and kit to massacre the defenders. The small force under Fonteius, joined by fugitives from the two battles, made good its retreat away to the Ebro and under the command of a Roman knight, L. Marcius Septimus, elected commander by the soldiery, succeeded in preventing further defections of tribes north of the Ebro. But the disaster lost the Romans all Spain south of the Ebro and left them desperately weak in North Spain. There was real danger that everything which the victorious offensive in Spain had won would be lost.
THE ROMAN RESISTANCE IN ITALY AFTER CANNAE
Thus by the year 211 bc the Carthaginian attempts to recover Sardinia and to re-establish their influence in Sicily had failed. During the same period the alliance with Macedon had not involved Rome in any great naval or military effort. As will be seen elsewhere, Philip had failed to win the Greek seaports of Lower Illyria; a Roman fleet of some fifty quinqueremes and an army which may be set at less than one full legion had assisted the clients of Rome to limit his successes and in 212 BC an alliance with the Aetolians enabled the Senate to do even less and at the same time to see Philip kept in check. In Spain on the other hand, after various vicissitudes, the two Scipios had met with disaster and there was a real danger that Hasdrubal would appear in Northern Italy bringing an army to rally to himself the Celts of the Po valley and then to join his brother. To prevent this and to regain the slowly won Roman ascendancy on that front the Senate had to find a new commander and another army besides the troops which were sent in haste to hold the Ebro line. This they were able to do. The failure of the Carthaginians elsewhere and above all the state of things in Italy itself made it possible. In Italy, despite Hannibal’s genius, the balance of the war had reached equilibrium or had even begun to incline against the Carthaginians. It remains to describe the slow and laborious process by which this was achieved.
Never does the national character of the Roman people appear finer or stronger than in the months that followed the greatest disaster in her history since the day of the Allia. With just pride Livy records how the Senate assumed control and took measures to allay the terrors of the populace, sending Q. Fabius Pictor on a special mission to the oracle at Delphi. The democratic party abandoned its opposition to the Senate and ceased to support political agitators for the command of armies. The patres with wise conciliation, and perhaps with a touch of irony which the later annalists did not appreciate, thanked the returning Varro for not despairing of the Republic and even continued him in command of a legion in Picenum for three years. The two weak legions which he brought back with him from the survivors, having no motive of political exigency to save them, were disgraced and were sent next year to serve in Sicily without winter furlough for the remainder of the war.
The next concern of the Senate was to organize resistance to Hannibal. Two legions were in Spain, one in Sardinia, two in Sicily, two in the valley of the Po, while recruits were training for two legiones urbanae at Rome which were not yet ready to take the field. Of these legions none could be simply withdrawn from their several stations without very serious risk. For the following year 215 BC the Sicilian legions were recalled to Apulia to be replaced, as has been said, by the legions formed from the survivors of Cannae. The supply of allied troops from Apulia, Samnium, and South Italy was now cut off. Yet the need for more troops was urgent to prevent further revolts to Hannibal, and time must elapse before the reserves could be called up from Umbria, the Sabine country, Picenum and Etruria. In this desperate situation the unprecedented step was taken of purchasing the freedom of slaves ready to volunteer as soldiers to increase the force in Campania and to provide garrisons in the Roman fortresses. A Dictator M. Junius Pera with Ti. Sempronius Gracchus as his magister equitum was entrusted with the supervision of these operations.
The calmness of the Senate in the crisis is enhanced by a significant notice which shows the suppressed excitement of the populace, which demanded human sacrifice to appease its superstitions; a Gaulish man and woman and a Greek man and woman were buried alive under the Forum Boarium. Indulgence was the best temporary medicine for such superstition, but for the sake of discipline and the exchequer the severe decision was published that prisoners of war would no longer be ransomed, and Hannibal’s offer to exchange his prisoners for a price was curtly refused. Such was the temper of Romans at bay. Then in November, almost before the elections for 215 bc were finished, news came of a fresh disaster. L. Postumius, the commander of the two legions in Cisalpine Gaul, had hardly been declared consul in his absence before it was known that he had been surprised by the revolted tribesmen and his force cut to pieces. It was not until 214 bc that the Senate was able to send fresh legions there.
Yet there is another side to this picture of the desperate plight of Rome. No Latin city had revolted, no city of Umbria, Picenum or Etruria. In the midst of Samnium stood the impregnable fortresses of Beneventum and Venusia. Among the Greek cities Rhegium and Tarentum were strongly held. In Apulia, Luceria and Canusium threatened Arpi which had revolted; while in Campania a ring of walled cities, Cumae, Neapolis, Nola, Saticula, Cales and Teanum, connected by Roman roads, provided the points d'appui for the strategy which was to foil Hannibal in Italy. The war of battles now became a war of sieges. The new Roman strategy of Fabius, which was pursued faithfully to the very end of the war in Italy, avoided all pitched battles, admitting without further challenge the absolute tactical mastery of the Carthaginian general. But small armies using Roman roads and fortresses could operate simultaneously in many different parts of Central and South Italy, besieging and reducing the revolted cities when Hannibal was engaged elsewhere. Embarrassed by the necessity of defending his newly won allies, Hannibal would be constrained to abandon his offensive and conform to the tactics of his opponents. His army would steadily dwindle in size, since the fine fighting stocks of Samnium and Apulia, although many of them had welcomed the opportunity to throw off the yoke of Rome, yet were unwilling to fight for interests which ceased to concern them; meanwhile the Romans, drawing upon the vast reserves of central Italy, steadily increased their strength, until in 212 twenty-five legions or about 200,000 men were in the field. In Italy alone by then there were two legions on the Po, two at Rome, two in Etruria, six in Campania, two in Apulia and two in Lucania.
Once the skill of Hannibal had been discounted, numerical superiority must prove decisive in the end. Yet no time limit could be set for success in such defensive strategy and only the tenacity of the Roman character and the solidity and fidelity of her older allies made it possible. And the cost to Italy was prodigious; the fairest and most fertile regions of the land had to be abandoned according as the caprice of the invader or his requirements for provisioning dictated. Very prophetic indeed was the dream which Hannibal is said to have dreamed at his halt in 218 bc on the Ebro river, when he looked back and saw behind him ‘the dragon of the destruction of Italy.’ Lastly the plan depended upon the Roman command of the seas. To maintain a fleet of between 150 and 200 ships of the line the financial resources of the people were also drained. In 215 bc and successive years the tributum or war-tax was doubled, in 214 bc a special loan for the fleet was raised in addition, inflation was practised by debasing the currency, and every financial expedient was adopted. It is indeed true that owing to the lesson of the First Punic War and to the maintenance of the Roman armament at full strength, Carthage never challenged this supremacy of Rome at sea in the war. She knew that Rome could and would outbuild her as she had done in the previous war. The Romans, in turn, realized that only by maintaining this dominance would they be able to conquer Spain and to prevent Carthage from sending frequent or considerable reinforcements to Hannibal.
At the elections for 215 bc Ti. Sempronius Gracchus gained the consulship, having proved his skill in command of cavalry. And in place of Postumius killed in Gaul M. Claudius Marcellus was nominated. But when the Senate made strenuous opposition to the principle of two plebeian consuls and pointed to the disasters for which plebeian consuls had in the last two years been responsible, Marcellus with patriotic wisdom withdrew, whereupon Q. Fabius Maximus was elected consul to carry out the strategy which he had inaugurated.
Hannibal wintered at Capua. The ridiculous annalistic fable that the luxurious quarters undermined the discipline of his army so that ‘Capua was Hannibal’s Cannae’ comes from the pen of a rhetorician ignorant of military affairs and willing, for the sake of his moral, to ignore the testimony of Polybius that Hannibal was never beaten before Zama. In Campania, Atelia and Calatia, two small towns, had joined Hannibal when Capua changed sides. Now, in the spring, Hannibal hoped to gain the rest of Campania. However, despite diplomacy and intrigue, none of the ports, Cumae, Neapolis, or Puteoli, were willing to abandon the Roman confederation. To lay siege to them was futile so long as they could be provisioned from the sea. Nola gave some hopes of success since here as in Capua a democratic party was ready to use any means to gain its ends. Hannibal marched to the gates of the city, but Marcellus had foreseen the danger and had brought a small army to reinforce the pro-Roman government. After a slight skirmish, which appears as a serious battle in the Livian aristeia of Marcellus, Hannibal retreated after winning over two more small towns, Acerrae and Nuceria. And at the same time the very important fortress Casilinum, which commanded the narrow pass of the Volturnus into Samnium, surrendered to him after a siege lasting through the winter of 216—5.
This was the limit of Hannibal’s successes in Campania now that he was opposed by three Roman armies, each of two legions. At the south end of the plain Marcellus had chosen a position of immense strength (the modern Cancello) on the foothills above Suessula, almost equidistant from Capua and Nola, which he fortified and called the Castra Claudiana. The Via Latina was defended by Fabius at Teanum and Cales, and Gracchus watched the Via Appia and the coast towns from Sinuessa. Hannibal himself formed an immense fortified camp on the triangular plateau of Mt Tifata behind Casilinum. The strategic position was ideal, threatening Campania yet with secure communications through Samnium into Apulia or southwards to Lucania; and the fertile upland plain provided excellent grass for his cavalry. Checked in Campania, he remained inactive except for raids to Nola and Cumae for the rest of the campaigning season of 215 bc, since he had depleted his own army to reinforce Hanno strongly in Lucania and Bruttium. In this area great successes were recorded. The reduction of Petelia and Consentia had ended the resistance in the interior, and the inhabitants of the Greek coastal cities whose fortifications had been allowed to decay were not made of the stuff to resist unassisted the Carthaginian forces aided by Bruttians eager for plunder. Croton, Locri and Caulonia submitted, leaving Rhegium alone in the extreme South in Roman hands.
The elections for 214 bc reflected the confidence of the people in the Senate’s conduct of the war. Fabius was re-elected consul with M. Claudius Marcellus as his colleague. For the coming campaign the number of the legions was raised from fourteen to twenty. Two were sent once again to Gaul to prevent Hannibal from recruiting in that area and two legiones urbanae of raw recruits were again enrolled and kept at Rome according to the usual practice which had been interrupted in the difficulties of the previous year. This year too Laevinus was reinforced at Brundisium until the troops with his fleet were counted as a legio classica. With these in the summer he crossed the Adriatic to defend the Illyrian coast against Philip. A legion was also stationed in Picenum under Terentius Varro.
Hannibal moved from his winter quarters in Apulia to Mt Tifata and decided upon a concentrated effort to break the Roman position in Campania. Hanno was recalled from South Italy to join the main army which again made vain attempts to surprise Puteoli and Nola. While he was traversing the territory of the Hirpini, Tiberius Gracchus, issuing from Beneventum, blocked his route and succeeded in inflicting upon his army, composed largely of Bruttians and Lucanians, a sharp defeat. The reverse made Hannibal suddenly change his plans and attempt by a rapid march to surprise Heraclea and Tarentum. But the Roman fleet from Brundisium was able to reinforce the garrisons and save both towns, whereupon Hannibal again retreated to Apulia for the winter. However, Marcellus in the meantime, taking advantage of the withdrawal of Hannibal from Campania, laid siege to Casilinum, which surrendered at the beginning of the winter. In other regions the Romans were equally successful in 214 bc; Compsa the chief city of the Hirpini was recovered after the battle of Beneventum, and Aecae in Apulia early in the season while Hannibal was in Campania. Hannibal in this year had not only been held, but had lost ground.
Consequently for 213 bc the people in high hopes elected the son of Q. Fabius consul to accompany his father in command of one army and Ti. Sempronius Gracchus for the second time to command the other. Massing four legions round Arpi, based on the ring of fortresses Salapia, Herdonea, Canusium, Aecae and Luceria, Fabius was able to negotiate with success for the betrayal of Arpi, entering the city by night in sufficient force to overpower the garrison. But this solitary gain was offset by very considerable losses. For Hannibal, perhaps deliberately leaving Arpi as a decoy for the Roman armies, again marched on Tarentum. This time he found the city in an uproar because the Romans had thrown from the Tarpeian rock some Tarentine hostages who had attempted to escape, and traitors were ready to open the gates, so that he entered by night and gained possession of the town. Metapontum, Thurii and Heraclea joined in the revolt which was part of a general alienation from Rome of Greek sentiment in Magna Graecia, following the lead of Syracuse. Carthaginian propaganda and the Greek passion for political freedom had combined to make the cities forgetful of the solid advantages of the pax Romana. The negligence both of the garrisons and of the Roman legionary commanders supplied with overwhelming superiority of force in Italy was culpable. The citadel of Tarentum, a rock fortress of great strength, remained in the hands of the Romans and by its position nullified a great part of Hannibal’s success. For it commanded the narrow entry to the harbor and threatened the town. Hannibal thereupon built a wall and ditch to defend the town against incursions from the citadel and freed the ships in the harbour by transporting them on rollers across the isthmus. However the year 213 BC had retarded the progress of Rome towards winning the war. Laevinus in Illyria had held Apollonia and Dyrrhachium, but Philip had taken Lissus and won successes at the expense of Rome’s clients in the interior of the country. The revolt of Syracuse in the spring, followed by Agrigentum and the landing in Sicily of a large Carthaginian army, caused the greatest anxiety. By the autumn two legions and Marcellus had been transferred for the siege of Syracuse. In Italy the removal of the energy and dash of Marcellus was soon apparent, the commanders accomplished nothing except the recovery of Arpi, the siege of Capua was not begun, and all the Greek cities of Italy except Rhegium were now in the hands of the Carthaginians.
THE TAKING OF CAPUA
The dissatisfaction of the people was seen in the elections for' the year 212 bc. Neither Fabius, father or son, was continued in command. There was a cry for new men and greater energy in the conduct of the war. The two new consuls were Q. Fulvius Flaccus who had been consul twice before in 237 bc and 224 bc and Appius Claudius Pulcher who as praetor and propraetor had been commanding since 215 b.c. in Sicily. All the commands in Italy were changed except one; Ti. Sempronius Gracchus remained in Lucania with his two legions. In Picenum there were now two legions under a new praetor C. Claudius Nero, in Apulia Cn. Fulvius Flaccus a brother of the consul took over the command, and the two consuls commanded in Campania. The total of legions in this year reached its highest number of the war, twenty-five. The Romans intended to begin the siege of Capua, and the inhabitants had been prevented from sowing or harvesting their crops in the previous year. Hannibal consequently ordered Hanno to march to Campania from Bruttium collecting on the way convoys of supplies in Samnium. The campaigning season had not yet opened, but the Roman consuls, encamped at Bovianum, when they learned of Hanno’s approach, arranged that Q. Fulvius Flaccus should secretly enter Beneventum and that Gracchus should march into Campania. While Hanno was engaged in a foraging expedition Flaccus surprised the strongly entrenched Carthaginian camp and captured immense supplies. All provisioning of Capua was effectively stopped. The Romans, however, were not able to prevent Hannibal himself from marching into Campania to raise the siege of Capua. But the decisive factor now as in the two previous campaigns was that Hannibal could no longer feed his army for more than a few days in Campania. The plain had been continually scoured by three Roman armies and all provisions withdrawn into the fortresses. Hannibal’s presence only depleted the reserves of Capua. Consequently once again he retreated into South Italy, and the Romans completed the fosse and rampart closing the lines round Capua. Meanwhile Ti. Sempronius Gracchus was surprised and killed by Numidian cavalry, some said by treachery in Lucania, others while bathing near Beneventum. He had shown energy and resolution in the darkest days of the war and deserved well of the Republic. His two legions of slaves enrolled after Cannae, the volones now leaderless, were disbanded.
Through the winter and the succeeding year the consuls were continued in command of the siege operations of Capua with C. Claudius Nero. The consuls of 211 bc were Cn. Fulvius Centumalus and P. Sulpicius Galba, and the total of twenty-five legions was maintained, the legiones urbanae of the preceding year taking the place of the disbanded valones, while two fresh legions of recruits were enrolled at Rome. The Sicilian fleet was kept at a hundred, and the fleet under Laevinus in Greek waters reduced to twenty-five. In Italy alone in 211 bc. Rome had sixteen legions, two on the Po, two in Etruria, two at Rome, four in Apulia and six in Campania. At last the effect of this overwhelming force was beginning to outweigh the strategic genius of Hannibal.
The Romans had recovered most of the revolted cities in Samnium and Apulia, and Capua was reduced to dire straits by the siege. Hannibal saw himself more and more confined to South Italy by a solid central Italy defended by large forces. Yet he determined to make one further effort to relieve Capua and perhaps force an engagement. Leaving behind his baggage train, he marched rapidly with a picked force to Mt Tifata and suddenly descended into Campania and attacked the besieging Roman armies. The Roman entrenchments had been designed for such an event, and without siege-engines and a large force nothing could be accomplished. Having failed in his attempt at surprise, Hannibal determined upon a bold move to draw off by a feint the Roman armies and entice them to battle. He withdrew from Campania into Samnium as suddenly as he had come, and marching by the upper reaches of the Volturnus to disguise his intentions, arrived near Venafrum. Here he changed his direction and joining the Via Latina near Casinum advanced unopposed across the Anio until he encamped within three miles of the walls of Rome. With his cavalry he rode up to the Colline Gate. The boldness of the demonstration—for no foreign enemy had been at the gates of Rome since the battle of the Allia—may have caused some consternation in the city. Polybius records that the superstitious women-folk swept the pavements of the temples with their hair to invoke the assistance of the gods. But the walls of Rome were of immense strength, and there happened to be in the city, in addition to the two legions of newly-enrolled recruits, two of last year’s legions, which had not yet been sent to Apulia. Fabius prevented any panic resolution to recall the armies from Campania, and Hannibal, disappointed of his hopes, after a small skirmish with the consul Sulpicius Galba returned to Bruttium, abandoning Capua to its fate. The march of Hannibal on Rome is a dramatic event which left a lasting impression upon the memory of the Romans. Its strategic ineffectiveness is the measure of the vast superiority of defence over attack in ancient warfare.
The Capuans when they knew that Hannibal could not help them surrendered at discretion. As a preliminary to wholesale confiscations of land to the Roman State the surviving senators and thirty notable citizens were executed or allowed a more lingering death in prison. Some few others were sold into slavery, but the remainder of the population retained its liberty, and Capua, deprived of all self-government, was administered as a dependent community by a praefectus elected yearly at Rome. The fall of Capua was of immense significance for the war in Italy, signalizing the triumph of the Roman strategy of defence. In the same year the fall of Syracuse had assured the collapse of the revolt in Sicily, so that when the news came of the terrible disaster of the Scipios in Spain the Senate could send a fresh army to Spain without jeopardizing the ultimate success of the campaign against Hannibal.
The rebellion of Sicily was at an end and in the East an advantageous alliance had been concluded with the Aetolian League in the late autumn of 212 bc against Philip of Macedon. The two men responsible for these successes were elected consuls for 210 BC, M. Claudius Marcellus and M. Valerius Laevinus. Laevinus’ election seems to have been designed both as a reward for his services and as an opportunity for sending a fresh commander to Greece, the consul Sulpicius Galba. Laevinus had not as yet shown any marked military ability, and his administrative gifts were to be employed for the next four years as governor of Sicily. The recent disaster in Spain caused a division of opinion in the Senate as to the policy to be pursued. Should the Romans content themselves with holding the territory north of the Ebro ? None of the experienced commanders came forward eager and confident of succeeding where the Scipios had failed. Consequently a praetor C. Claudius Nero who had commanded an army in the siege of Capua was sent out with two legions to drive the Carthaginians from Spain north of the Ebro. Meanwhile for the first time in the war the forces in the field were reduced after the exhausting effort required for the siege of Capua and the reduction of Sicily. In two vital areas of the war the Romans could now breathe more freely and the twenty-five legions were reduced to twenty-one; the number in Italy alone being reduced from sixteen to a total of eleven, including the two in Etruria and the legiones urbanae at Rome. This reduction enabled weak legions to be disbanded and others strengthened so that the almost complete loss of two full legions in Spain could be partly met by two new legions sent there this year and still further met in the following year.
With only four legions between them the consul Marcellus and Cn. Fulvius Centumalus, the consul of the preceding year, contented themselves with a cautious policy, slowly attempting to recover more towns from Hannibal. Salapia, south-east of Arpi, and two small fortresses in the Samnite highlands amongst the Hirpini were taken. But Cn. Fulvius was quite inexperienced in military command and, allowing himself to be trapped by Hannibal into battle near Herdonea in Apulia, was killed himself with many of his officers and several thousand troops. Marcellus acted with more circumspection, and in a skirmish with Hannibal near Venusia held his ground. Meanwhile, the Roman garrison in Tarentum was for a short time reduced to severe straits, since the Tarentine fleet succeeded in sinking a convoy from Sicily despite the overwhelming Roman command of the sea. It was a year of minor operations, the vigorous offensive being temporarily abandoned. This slackening of effort had a serious indirect result in the autumn when the new recruits were called for from the allies for the legiones urbanae. Twelve out of the thirty Latin colonies refused to send their contingents; they were Ardea, Nepete, Sutrium, Alba, Carsioli, Cora, Suessa, Circeii, Setia, Cales, Narnia and Interamna. Fortunately the disaffection spread no further, but it was a most disquieting indication that the exhaustion produced by the protracted conduct of the war was endangering Rome’s vital arteries of man-power.
In the next year, however, 209 bc, the cautious Roman strategy which seemed to be weakening the loyalty of her allies in the North was rewarded in the South by a success of some moral value. Hannibal opened the campaign by marching into Apulia where his manoeuvres were countered by Marcellus. At the same time Q. Fulvius Flaccus, one of the consuls marching from Rome through the Hirpini into Lucania, was able to win back a number of hill tribes and small towns, including Vulci in Lucania, which Hannibal’s movement across the Apennines left exposed. But the Romans had in view a more striking enterprise which was entrusted to the other consul Fabius himself. Collecting at Brundisium two legions sent from Sicily, where the pacification was complete, he moved upon Tarentum, capturing Manduria on his march. With the help of thirty quinqueremes sent by Laevinus he was able to press the siege by sea and land. Hannibal had returned to Bruttium to defend his base threatened by this large concentration of Roman forces. He set out to relieve Tarentum, but before he could arrive the treachery of the Bruttian garrison commander had done its work, and Tarentum was once more in the hands of Rome. Embittered and exasperated by the long war Fabius permitted his soldiers to sack the city, although it had not been taken by assault, and sold the 30,000 inhabitants into slavery. Despite this blow to Hannibal’s security and prestige, the war in Italy seemed to be reaching a deadlock, and many must have wondered whether the war could be won or whether some approach must be made to a peace with Carthage by mutual concessions. But at this very moment there had arisen the one man of genius on the Roman side, whose brilliant campaigns and leadership were to bring victory, complete, decisive and irrevocable.