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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