Story of Rome - Mary Macgregor

The Battle of Cannae

Winter was nearly over, and spring, the usual time for the new Consuls to begin their duties, was at hand. Fabius therefore resigned his Dictatorship, as the Consuls would be able to carry on the war.

The people had chosen Varro, a man hated by the patricians, to be one of the Consuls. He was the son of a butcher, so it was declared; but be that as it may, his birth had not kept him from holding positions of trust in the state.

His colleague was Æmilius, a member of a noble family, who had, three years earlier, held the post of Consul.

Spring passed, and in summer of the same year, 216 B.C., Hannibal again marched into Apulia and seized the citadel of Cannæ, where the Romans had stored a large quantity of provisions for the army.

This, Hannibal was well aware, would force the Romans either to retreat or to give battle, for their army now consisted of eight legions, and without food, and a large supply of food, the Consuls would be compelled to take action.

Now Æmilius and Varro commanded the army on alternate days. The patrician Consul, who before leaving Rome had said: 'I will rather seek in my conduct to please and obey Fabius than all the world besides,' urged Varro not to fight on the plains of Apulia.

Fabius, he knew, would never have risked a battle on the plains, where the cavalry of Hannibal would have every advantage. And his cavalry was without doubt his greatest strength.

But Varro refused to listen to the advice of his colleague. When it was his turn to command, he drew up his army close to the village of Cannæ, and hung his scarlet coat outside his tent. This was a signal that the Consul meant to fight, and Hannibal at once ordered his men to prepare for battle.

As the wind at the time was blowing violently, carrying with it a cloud of dust, the Carthaginians took up their position with their backs to the storm, so that the dust swept harmlessly past them. But it dashed into the faces of the Roman legions, wellnigh blinding them.

In the centre of his army, and a little in advance, Hannibal had placed the soldiers on whom he could least depend. The bravest and most loyal men were in the wings.

This he did because he foresaw that the Romans would first attack the centre, and as the less resolute soldiers fell back, they would press forward. Then, as they continued to push back the Carthaginian centre, Hannibal meant to bid the men on the right and left wings to close in and envelop the enemy.

So when the Romans charged the centre of the Punic army, pushed it well back and were already beginning to think of victory, the wings closed in and charged upon their flanks. Then the centre, seeing how it was supported, took fresh courage, and charged the front of the enemy with sudden determination.

Slowly but surely the Roman infantry was pressed closer and closer together, until they were unable to strike a blow, unable even to move.

Those on the edge were cut down at once, while thousands in the centre were compelled to stand and look on, awaiting their fate.

For a whole day the slaughter never ceased, and when the sun sank there was no longer any Roman army left. Hannibal had cut to pieces wellnigh the whole eight legions, which was the largest army that Rome had ever sent to the field.

Æmilius had been wounded at the beginning of the battle. In spite of this he had tried to remount, to rally his men. But he was too severely injured to be able to sit in his saddle, and he fell again, unnoticed, and was slain.

Minucius, who was on the field, was also killed, as well as eighty senators who had taken part in the battle.

The plebeian Consul, Varro, escaped, with about seventy horsemen, to the town of Venusia, where scattered troops of soldiers gradually rejoined him.

Maharbal, the mast of Hannibal's cavalry, begged to be sent at once to Rome. 'If you will let me lead the horses and follow quickly, you shall dine in the Capitol in five days,' he said with perfect confidence.

But Hannibal refused to march on Rome, and offered her terms of peace instead.

Then Maharbal turned sadly away, muttering, it is said, these words: 'You know how to win a victory, Hannibal, but not how to use it.'

The terms offered by Hannibal, Rome in her pride refused, although the loss of her eight legions had left her wellnigh helpless in the hands of her conqueror.

Hannibal seemed indeed not to know how to use his victory. He turned away from Rome, and marched to the wealthy city of Capua, in the south of Italy. The gates were thrown wide to the victorious general, and here he entered and set up his camp.


Front Matter

The Lady Roma
The She-Wolf
The Twin Boys
Numitor's Grandson
The Sacred Birds
The Founding of Rome
The Sabine Maidens
The Tarpeian Rock
The Mysterious Gate
The King Disappears
The Peace-Loving King
Horatius Slays His Sister
Pride of Tullus Hostilius
King Who Fought and Prayed
The Faithless Friend
A Slave Becomes a King
Cruel Deed of Tullia
Fate of the Town of Gabii
Books of the Sibyl
Industry of Lucretia
Death of Lucretia
Sons of Brutus
Horatius Cocles
Mucius Burns Right Hand
The Divine Twins
The Tribunes
Coriolanus and His Mother
The Roman Army in a Trap
The Hated Decemvirs
The Death of Verginia
The Friend of the People
Camillus Captures Veii
The Statue of the Goddess
Schoolmaster Traitor
Battle of Allia
The Sacred Geese
The City Is Rebuilt
Volscians on Fire
Battle on the Anio
The Curtian Lake
Dream of the Two Consuls
The Caudine Forks
Caudine Forks Avenged
Fabius among the Hills
Battle of Sentinum
Son of Fabius Loses Battle
Pyrrhus King of the Epirots
Elephants at Heraclea
Pyrrthus and Fabricius
Pyrrhus is Defeated
Romans Build a Fleet
Battle of Ecnomus
Roman Legions in Africa
Regulus Taken Prisoner
Romans Conquer the Gauls
The Boy Hannibal
Hannibal Invades Italy
Hannibal Crosses the Alps
Battle of Trebia
Battle of Lake Trasimenus
Hannibal Outwits Fabius
Fabius Wins Two Victories
Battle of Cannae
Despair of Rome
Defeat of Hasdrubal
Claudius Enjoy a Triumph
Capture of New Carthage
Scipio Sails to Africa
Romans Set Fire to Camp
Hannibal Leaves Italy
The Battle of Zama
Scipio Receives a Triumph
Flamininus in Garlands
Death of Hannibal
Hatred of Cato for Carthage
The Stern Decree
Carthaginians Defend City
Destruction of Carthage
Cornelia, Mother of Gracchi
Tiberius and Octavius
Death of Tiberius Gracchus
Death of Gaius Gracchus
The Gold of Jugurtha
Marius Wins Notice of Scipio
Marius Becomes Commander
Capture of Treasure Towns
Capture of Jugurtha
Jugurtha Brought to Rome
Marius Conquers Teutones
Marius Mocks the Ambassadors
Metellus Driven from Rome
Sulla Enters Rome
The Flight of Marius
Gaul Dares Not Kill Marius
Marius Returns to Rome
The Orator Aristion
Sulla Besieges Athens
Sulla Fights the Samnites
The Proscriptions of Sulla
The Gladiators' Revolt
The Pirates
Pompey Defeats Mithridates
Cicero Discovers Conspiracy
Death of the Conspirators
Caesar Captured by Pirates
Caesar Gives up Triumph
Caesar Praises Tenth Legion
Caesar Wins a Great Victory
Caesar Invades Britain
Caesar Crosses Rubicon
Caesar and the Pilot
The Flight of Pompey
Cato Dies Rather than Yieldr
Caesar is Loaded with Honours
Nobles Plot against Caesar
The Assassination of Caesar
Brutus Speaks to Citizens
Antony Speaks to Citizens
The Second Triumvirate
Battle of Philippi
Death of Brutus
Antony and Cleopatra
Battle of Actium
Antony and Cleopatra Die
Emperor Augustus