UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.
Cunctator, or the Delayer, which the Romans had conferred in mockery upon
Fabius, became his badge of distinction.
The winter of B. C. 217-216 was passed by Hannibal at Geronium. His hopes
of an Italian uprising had proved completely abortive. No material aid had
been given him from any quarter, and the astute genius of the Carthaginian
perceived that he must beat or be beaten by the Romans single-handed. The
latter, meanwhile, divided into parties, though both were agreed on the
main issue of prosecuting the war. After the defeat of Flaminius, who was
the popular leader, the nobility gained the ascendancy. Fabius himself was
of this party, and it was hoped that under his auspices the old
aristocratic principles would in some measure be revived. But in the new
consular election of B. C. 216 the people's party was again triumphant, and
Caius Terentius Varro was elected over Lucius AEmilius Paullus.
The season was already well advanced when Hannibal broke up his camp at
Geronium, and posted himself at Cannae, on the south side of the river
Aufidus, in Apulia. Thither he was followed in midsummer by the Romans, who
took up a position on both sides of the river within striking distance of
the Carthaginians. Varro was now in command. It was his determination not
any longer to avoid battle. Choosing his own field he arranged the legions
with great care, the cavalry guarding the wings, his right resting against
the Aufidus. The legionaries of the center were commanded by Servilius and
Minucius; the right wing, by Paullus; the left, by Varro in person.
Hannibal's arrangement was in the same manner; the infantry occupying the
center; Hasdrubal, with the Spanish and Gaulish cavalry, holding the left,
and Hanno, commanding the Numidian horse, the right. The battle was begun
on both sides at the same time. The conflict was the fiercest which had
ever been witnessed in Italy; but from the first it was evident that the
Romans had staked every thing only to lose. Nothing could stay the terrific
charges of the Carthaginian cavalry. The Roman legions were crowded
together against the river, and the carnage became dreadful. The
Carthaginians gave no quarter. Escape there was none. Seventy thousand
Roman soldiers-so Livy records the butchery-were heaped in piles of dead on
that fearful field of slaughter. Of the general officers only Varro
escaped. All the rest, including eighty members of the Senate and many
knights, were slain. Never was the annihilation of an army more complete.
The loss of Hannibal was six thousand men.
Any people less resolute than the Romans would have been overwhelmed with
such a disaster. Since the days of the Gauls no such a calamity had fallen
upon the city of Romulus. Great was the alarm in the capital, for it was
confidently expected that the knock of the Carthaginian would soon be heard
at the gates. The nerves of the Senate, however, were unshaken. A tone of
confidence, born of native energy and fearlessness, was assumed, and the
people were reassured. In such times of peril the factions in Roman
politics generally made common cause. So in the present danger the feuds of
the commons and the aristocracy were laid aside to the end that the state
might be rescued from the clutches of her assailant.
The course pursued by Hannibal after his great victory of Cannae has been
the subject of much discussion. By some it has been thought that he became
the victim of a strange fatuity which prevented him from pressing home his
advantage and destroying Rome. Certain it is that he failed to reap what
appeared to be the natural fruits of his triumph. Why did he not at once
march on Rome and fulfill on her the oath made to his father? Many and
diverse answers have been given. Maharbal, the able commander of the
Numidian cavalry, besought him to press forward and consummate the work.
"Give me the horse," said he, "and in five days you shall dine in the
Capitol." But the general had his own purposes. Perhaps he still hugged the
delusion of an uprising among the states. Perhaps