Hannibal of Carthage

          Hannibal 

  The Roman Dictator  Q.Fabius Maximus (The Delayer)

       Prelude to the Battle of Cannae

          After Trasimene, Hannibal had an open road to Rome and is often criticized as after Cannae, although to a lesser degree, on why he did not march to his enemies gates. Hannibal, however, was not short-sighted as many would be led to believe. He possessed no siege machines to batter the Roman walls. With the population in the city for defence, even if he did succeed in taking the city by storm, he would be hard pressed to keep the city should he succeed in her capture. He also had no desire to sack the city. His plans were to get the cities of Italy to renounce their support of Rome, isolate the city, and after establishing another capitol to govern the country, hope that Rome would fall into what would amount to a secondary city status which would not threaten Carthage in the future.  He also desperately needed a walled-city to welcome him so that he could use as a base of operations for his campaigns. Also needed was a city along the coast which had a port which would allow him to regain communication with Carthage. After three victories over the Romans, and the destruction of two consular armies, he had neither.

          Meanwhile, in Rome, no mention was made of surrendering to Hannibal. The staunchness of the Roman people, the desire to never accept defeat, was seen now as it had never been seen before. This was their own soil that had bled Roman blood, their own land that was ablaze with fire, and their own soil that their enemy was operating upon as they wished. Their armies that they had sent forth to stop them were crushed. The entire area of northern Italy was in Hannibal's control. The Ligurians and the Gauls were in open revolt and had joined Hannibal and Carthage against them. Such desperation called upon the opportunity to elect a dictator to lead the city in their despair. According to law the two consuls were the ones who only could appoint such a man, however, one was dead and the other was distant so the senate gave the populace the choice of who would be dictator and they chose a former consul, Q. Fabius Maximus as such. The consul Servilius was then ordered to relinquish his power and report back to Rome.

           Fabius was from a long line of distinguished family members. His was one of the old aristocratic families.  Fabius possessed a mild temper and slowness in speaking, especially in front of large audiences. As a child, he had difficulties in learning, which was perceived by other children to be a sign of inferiority and he was frequently made fun of. However, according to Roman historians, these traits proceeded from stability, greatness of mind, and his controlling temper. According to accounts, by the time he reached adulthood, his virtues exerted themselves, and his slowness was revealed to be a symptom of his energy, passion, prudence, and  from taking the time to ponder situations before acting upon them with rashness. During his first consulship, he scored a crushing victory over the Ligurians and drove them from northern Italy and into the Alps. He was instrumental in gaining Roman footholds over northern Italy. He probably participated in the First Punic war although there is no record of such. After this war, and preceding the current war he rapidly advanced his political career. He served twice as consul and once as censor, and in 218 BC he was at such stature in Rome that he took part in the embassy to Carthage that had demanded the surrender of Hannibal and his brother's after the fall of Saguntum. It was another Fabius, a relative, who formally declared war in the Carthaginian senate by stating, after Carthage had refused to surrender their generals, "within the folds of my toga I hold war or peace, it shall be war". Fabius quickly installed M. Minucius Rufus as his "master of the horse" (his second-in-command). The two were bitter political rivals and it is not known for sure why Fabius appointed him to this post as Minucius did not favor the delaying policy of Fabius and preferred open engagement with Hannibal.  

          Fabius at once conformed to all religious practices, even ones that had been long ago abandoned. Roman historians tell us that Fabius believed that the disaster at Lake Trasimene was due, in part, to the fact that the Gods had become neglected by the Romans after they had defeated Carthage in the first war. Before that battle, a series of omens had been witnessed, including a series of lightning bolts, which Fabius had believed were warnings from the Gods. He had warned Flaminius of this, but Flaminius had ignored the warnings. And so Fabius, as Dictator, sought next to please the Gods. He ordered a massive sacrifice of animals throughout the whole of Italy, in particular that of cows, goats, swine, and sheep.  It is not known if Fabius truly believed that these actions had won the Gods over to the Roman side, although the actions probably did (as intended) convince the average Roman that the Gods had finally been won over and would look upon them with favor.

          Fabius was well aware of the military superiority of the Carthaginians. He knew full well that Hannibal was an excellent general and that Roman generals were no match. He also knew full well that the core of Hannibal's army, the men who had crossed the Alps with him, were in a league far superior to any that Rome could match against them. Even the Ligurians and the Gauls, suspect as they were at times, were now a formidable force when commanded by Hannibal. The revenge that they were extracting from Rome only fueled their reliability. Fabius refused to meet him in a pitched battle. Instead he kept his troops close to Hannibal, hoping to exhaust him in a long war of attrition. Fabius was able to harass the Carthaginian foraging parties, limiting Hannibal's ability to wreak destruction while conserving his own military force. Slowly he would sap the strength of Hannibal's army while the Roman armies were able to be rebuilt. The delaying tactics earned Fabius the nickname 'the delayer". Fabius also directed people to burn their crops and anything else that would be useful to Hannibal's army when he approached, thereby limiting the resources that Hannibal had at his disposal to feed his army. He then directed them to flee to the nearest walled-city for protection. Fabius called this policy the " scorched earth "policy and it was without a doubt, extremely effective in hindering Hannibal's army.  

          Meanwhile, as the stage was being set for the next round in Italy, action spurred again in the Iberian theater at the Battle of the Ebro River.   This battle was a naval battle fought between a Carthaginian fleet of approximately 40 quinqueremes under the command of Himilco and a Roman fleet of 55 ships under Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio near the mouth of Ebro River in the spring of 217 BC. Hasdrubal Barca had launched a joint expedition to destroy the Roman base north of the Ebro River which they had secured following the Battle of Cissa the previous year. Gnaeus Scipio had spent his time consolidating his hold on the Iberian regions north of the Ebro and raiding the Iberian territory of Carthage south of the Ebro from his base at Tarraco. During this time he was able to somewhat gain control over these people on the north side of the Ebro, not without difficulties however.  He had received no major reinforcements from Rome to augment his forces due to the perils that Rome was facing in Italy opposite Hannibal. Meanwhile, Hasdrubal had raised a number of Iberian levies to expand his army substantially. His diplomatic skills were apparently very good as he frequently was able to raise large bodies of levies.  The Punic naval contingent in Iberia contained 32 quinqueremes and 5 triremes in 218 BC when Hannibal had departed from Iberia. During the winter of 218 BC, Hasdrubal had added a further 10 quinqueremes to this fleet and trained additional crews among the Iberian contingents in his army to man them.  Hasdrubal himself commanded the army, the exact number of which is unknown , and his deputy Himilco led the fleet. The naval expedition followed the army upon the coastline, with the ships beaching beside the army at night.

          Gnaeus Scipio, fearing that the Carthaginian army outnumbered his own, resolved to fight a naval battle, whereupon he was counting upon that if he was victorious, Hasdrubal would be obliged to return to southern Iberia in order to prevent a Roman force from landing there via his navy. Although he could only man 35 quinqueremes (25 ships were sent back to Italy after a Carthaginian raid had caused severe casualties among the crews, and some sailors may have been posted in garrisons), the allied Greek city of Massilia had provided 20 ships for his fleet.

           

          After reaching the Ebro, the Carthaginian fleet anchored inside the mouth of the river. The sailors and crew left their ships for foraging as all the ships were of the war variety and there were no transports carrying provisions with the fleet. Although Hasdrubal had posted scouts to detect the activities of the Romans, Himilco had foolishly sent no ships out at sea scouting for Roman ships. A pair of Massilian ships located the Punic fleet as it lay at anchor, and slipped away undetected to warn Gnaeus of the Carthaginian presence. The Roman fleet sailed from Tarraco and was positioned only 10 miles to the north of the Carthaginian position when the warnings reached Gnaeus Scipio. Gnaeus manned his ships with the best of his legionaries, and now sailed down to attack the unsuspecting Punic fleet.

         Hasdrubal's army scouts detected the approaching Roman fleet before the Punic navy and warned their fleet of the coming danger through fire signals. Most of the crews had been foraging, and they hastily had to man their ships and sail out in a disorderly manner. There was little coordination and some ships were undermanned because of the surprise achieved by the Romans. As Himilco sailed out, Hasdrubal drew up his army on the shore to give encouragement to his fleet of war.

          Not only did the Romans have the advantage of total surprise and numbers (40 against 55 ships), but the combat effectiveness of the Carthaginians is not reflected in the number of ships as 1/4 of their fleet was newly trained. The Romans formed 2 lines with the 35 Roman ships in front and the 20 Massalian ships behind them, with the formation and the naval skill of the Massalians nullifying the superior manoeuvrability of the Carthaginian fleet. The Romans engaged the Carthaginian ships as they came out of the river, ramming and sinking 4 ships and boarding and capturing 2 more. The Carthaginian crews then lost heart, beached their ships and sought safety among the army. The Romans grappled and hauled away 23 of the beached ships.         

          The defeat proved to be decisive in the long run. Hasdrubal was obliged to march back to Cartagena, fearing seaborne attacks on Carthaginian territories. With the Iberian contingent of the Carthaginian navy shattered, Hasdrubal was forced to either call Carthage for reinforcements or build new ships. He did neither. The performance of Iberian crews had been poor in the battle, and their dismissal would spark a rebellion in the Trudetani tribe, forcing Carthage to send 4,000 infantry and 500 cavalry to Hasdrubal. Hasdrubal would spend all of 216 BC subduing the rebels.

          Although the main Carthaginian fleet captured a supply fleet headed for Iberia in 217 BC off Cosa in Italy, Publius Cornelius Scipio arrived in Iberia with 8,000 soldiers in the fall of that year and instructions from the Roman Senate to prevent any help from reaching Hannibal in Italy from Iberia. This is the only reinforcement the Roman Republic would send to Iberia before 211 BC. The Scipio brothers would raid Carthaginian Iberia, and meet Hasdrubal at the Battle of Dertosa in 215 BC.

Gnaeus Scipio had ensured that Roman seaborne supplies would not be intercepted by Carthaginian ships based in Iberia, and that the Roman fleet in Iberia could raid the Carthaginian domain at will. The only major naval expedition against the Romans from Iberia would be that of Mago Barca to Italy in 204 BC. The Carthage main fleet based in Carthage would also not win a single engagement during the war, although they would intercept one Roman fleet that was traveling from Rome to Spain with supplies.

                  

          Back in Italy, the tactics that Fabius had enacted was playing a heavy toll on Hannibal's army. As said, the people of Italy were to burn anything of use to Hannibal when his army approached and flee to a walled-city. As time wore on Hannibal was faced with increasing difficulty in foraging for food to feed his army and to prevent desertion from his newer recruits. His army was also suffering from sickness and fatigue that arrives from the way of the camp.   As time wore on the Romans began to grow impatient and critical with this defensive strategy. Hannibal, finding out from his spies that this was the case, used another brilliant idea to force the battle that he needed for his opportunity at victory. As he spread terror around the city of Rome, he devastated the countryside, giving strict orders that the huge estate that Fabius owned in the country to be left unmolested. He did this so that the enemies of Fabius in Rome would perhaps come to the notion that Fabius had some sort of understanding with Hannibal to not give battle and that Hannibal, in turn, would not molest his property. As Hannibal had hoped, Fabius' enemies began to circulate this idea through the senate walls.

          During this time Hannibal struck in a leisure fashion towards the south from the area of Hartia. His army, rested, restored to health, retrained and re-equipped with Roman armor and weapons from the dead at Lake Trasimene, cut a path of destruction through central Italy as they collected grain, cattle, provisions and supplies during the march. Hannibal followed the coastal plain before turning west, with Fabius following, shadowing the Carthage army at a safe distance. . Near the town of Arpi, the Roman army made contact with the Carthaginian army and camped at Aecae, six miles away from the Carthaginian camp. Hannibal drew up his army and offered battle, placing his cavalry on the wings of his infantry, but Fabius ignored the offer and ordered the Roman army remained in their camp.

          The following months saw Fabius to continue to employ what would later be known as Fabian Strategy, and earn him the title of "The Delayer". Despite whatever provocation Hannibal thought to entice the Romans into battle, the Roman army always refused to fight pitched battles, shadowed the Carthaginians from a distance at the dismay of Hannibal, maneuvered to keep to the high ground to deny the Carthaginian cavalry any advantage and always moved to keep between Rome and their enemy. The Roman army sought to encamp on grounds which were unlikely to be attacked by the Carthaginians, and Roman foragers were covered by flying columns of light infantry and cavalry at all times. Carthaginian foragers and stragglers, although protected for the most part by the Numidian cavalry, at times were caught at a disadvantage were slain whenever possible. With this strategy, Fabius left the initiative to Hannibal and failed to prevent the Carthaginian army from looting and destroying Roman and Italian allied property, but the Roman army gained invaluable combat experience and remained intact, and the threat of intervention, although slim,  by Fabius, kept the wavering and distraught Italian allies from defecting to Carthage. Thus a deadly game of cat and mouse was played in a grand scale between two hostile armies in Italy during the summer of 217 BC as the people of Italy watched to see what would play out, with Hannibal leading and Fabius always following him, resulting in the destruction of a large portion of the Roman economic assets and trying the patience of the Roman people, eager to defeat their enemy, to the limit.

          Hannibal marched west into Samnium, and then marched to the city of Beneventum, ravaging the countryside at will. Fabius cautiously followed the Carthaginians keeping to the high ground. From Beneventum, which had shut its gates against Hannibal, the Carthaginians moved north and was able to capture a minor town called Venosia. From this place Hannibal struck southwest towards Ager Falernus, a fertile river plain which lay on the south of Latium, and to the north of the city of Capua, who Hannibal had been informed could soon be willing to part ways with Rome. After going through Allifae, Callifae, across the Volturnus River to Cales, and then down on the plain, the Carthaginians finally arrived near Casilinum, do to a mistake by one of Hannibal's guides. Instead of taking his army to nearby Casinum, which Hannibal had directed, the Carthaginian army was suddenly situated in a fertile valley with only several exits and Fabius, quick to see the Carthaginians blunder, quickly occupied the high ground and guarded the exits of which Hannibal could use to leave the valley.  Hannibal, realizing the mistake of his guide when it was too late, had him flogged in an uncharacteristic act of fury.  Hannibal, pondering how best to escape this trap, let loose his soldiers on the rich land, and all through the summer collected a rich booty of cattle, grain, supplies and prisoners unmolested by any Roman military activity, as Fabius continued to hold Hannibal at bay.  Although there were eight possible routes out of Ager Falernus, but being positioned north of the Volturnus River, and with all the bridges in Roman hands, there were only three that Hannibal could take to leave the river plain and all were strongly occupied by Fabius. Hannibal soon became aware that to fight his way out would prove very costly as his cavalry would be rendered useless.

         All the Romans now had to do was wait until the Carthaginians ran out of supplies and then were forced to take desperate measures.

          Having covered all possible routes Hannibal could take to leave the plain, Fabius sat tight, observing the Carthaginian army but doing nothing to force a decisive engagement. With this strategy Fabius kept his army safe but his political position began to suffer even more in Rome. His staff and the Roman senate demanded swift action to crush Hannibal since the Carthaginians were already trapped. When a Roman officer named L. Hostilius Mancinus, sent by Minucius to scout the Numidians with 400 horsemen, dared to engage the Carthaginians, he was killed and his entire force destroyed by the Carthaginian cavalry under Carthalo, prompting the Romans to stick to the waiting game for the time being. Fabius in the meantime had left Minucius in charge and visited Rome to perform certain religious duties that was expected of him in his position as dictator. . The Roman aristocracy were feeling the pinch with Hannibal destroying their property, so defending his strategy and gauging their temperament and that of the populace, was another reason for this visit.          

          Hannibal, after procuring all the supplies that were available in the valley and plain, decided to leave, choosing not to winter there. While Fabius, with secure supply lines, had the luxury to sit and wait until his term as dictator expired or the Carthaginians finally attacked him, Hannibal, having stripped the area bare of all supplies, could not afford to stay put indefinitely and ultimately face a supply shortage. The Romans, guided by Fabius, still refused to attack him despite whatever provocation he came up with. Hannibal, on the other hand, did not wish to suffer severe casualties by a head-on assault on the Romans settled in fortified camps on the high ground. Since both commanders sought to fight on favorable conditions, the stalemate continued. The Carthaginian army finally moved east towards the pass beside Mount Callicula through which they had originally entered the plain. Fabius, anticipating the move, had blocked the pass with 4,000 troops, and encamped on a nearby hill with the main army. Minucius then joined this army with his contingent.         

          Hannibal made careful preparations to break out of the trap, but not through a pitched battle the Romans had hoped for. The day before Hannibal put his plan in motion, he had most of his men eat a hearty supper and go to bed early while leaving the campfires burning. 2,000 oxen from the captured herds were selected, along with 2,000 camp followers to drive the cattle and 2,000 Libyan spear men to guard both camp followers and cattle. Dry wood and fagots were tied on the horns of the oxen. An officer called Hasdrubal, no relation to Hannibal, in charge of army supplies as his role as Quarter master general (the same who would later lead the heavy cavalry at Cannae), oversaw the whole operation. Once the preparations were complete, this group was to move towards the pass being guarded by 4,000 Romans under cover of darkness, with the dry wood attached to the oxen horns ablaze, to trick the Romans into thinking that the Carthage army was attempting to fight their way out of the valley. However, combat with the Romans or capturing the pass was not to be their objective. There was a saddle below the camp of Fabius to the east, and on the north west of the pass, at the foot of Mount Callicula. The Carthaginian spear men were to capture and hold the saddle.          

          At the appointed time, after the third part of the night had ended, the Carthaginian army roused itself and made ready to march as silently as possible. The picked  force with the oxen marched to the saddle, and when they approached the slopes, the wood and fagot tied to the horns were, as said before, lit by the camp followers. The terrified oxen began to flee and stampede up the slopes of the saddle, creating an illusion of thousands of torches moving up the mountainside. The lights and sounds of the spectacle attracted the attention of the Romans in the camp of Fabius, and also the Roman detachment guarding the pass. The reaction of the forces were different.

          Fabius refused to move from his camp despite the pleas of his officers and the urgings of Minucius. The Roman army made ready and stood at arms but did not move out. Fabius did not want to fight a night battle, fearing a Punic trick to draw the Romans into a battle over broken, uneven ground, where Roman infantry will lose their edge as their lines would be broken, and communication would be hampered. Hannibal had previously hoodwinked and destroyed two Roman armies at Trebbia and Trasimene and the cautious Fabius did not want his army to be the third. Thus, although Hannibal still managed to trick the Romans, the Romans only suffered lose of face but not the loss of another army.

          The Roman force stationed at the pass, with no Fabius to restrain them, deserted their posts at the head of the pass to attack what they thought was the main Carthaginian army trying to outflank their position and escape across the saddle. As soon as the Romans left their position, Hannibal's main army left camp, with the African infantry leading, the cavalry, the baggage train and the cattle herds marching in line after them, and Celts and Iberian infantry guarding the rear. The Carthaginian army moved through the pass unmolested, as Fabius was not aware that he was escaping. The Roman force attacking the saddle was bewildered confused when they confronted the lights on the saddle. The cattle ran amok, breaking their lines, the Carthaginian spearmen ambushed them, and a wild melee ensued. As dawn broke to make matters clear, a group of Iberian infantry was seen scaling the saddle walls to join the ongoing pandemonium on the saddle. The Iberians, being experts in mountain warfare , engaged the now scattered Roman soldiers and killed over 1,000 of their number, and managed to rescue the Carthaginian camp followers, the spearmen guard, and some of the cattle well before the main Roman army could intervene. 

           When news arrived in Rome that Hannibal had escaped the trap and was, once again free to march wherever he wanted throughout Italy, the Senate and populace became infuriated at Fabius and now longed for the day that his year would be up and they could appoint a new leader who would fight. The strategy that Fabius enacted and demanded was in part also ruined because of a lack of unity in the command of the Roman army, since Fabius' Master of the Horse, Minucius, was a political enemy of Fabius as said before. At one point, Fabius, who was shadowing Hannibal's army, was again called by the priests to assist with certain religious sacrifices in Rome, and as such, Fabius left the command of the army in the hands of Minucius during his absence. Fabius had told Minucius not to attack Hannibal in his absence, but Minucius disobeyed Fabius and attacked anyway. The attack, though of no strategic value, resulted in the retreat of several enemy units, and so the Roman people, desperate for good news, believed Minucius to be a war hero, despite the "battle" only being a minor skirmish (1st "Battle" of Geronium). Upon hearing of this, Fabius became enraged, and as dictator, he could have ordered Minucius' execution for his disobedience. One of the Plebian Tribunes,  (chief representatives of the people) for the year, Metilius, was a political ally of Minucius, and as such he sought to use his power to help Minucius within the senate walls and among the populace, who were looking for any positive actions against Hannibal. The tribunes were the only magistrates who were independent of the dictator, and so with his protection, and the favor of the populace, Minucius was relatively safe. Roman historians state that Metilius "boldly applied himself to the people in the behalf of Minucius", and had Minucius granted powers equivalent to those of Fabius. By this, the Roman army was essentially split into two armies, one commanded by Fabius and the other to be commanded by Minucius. 

          Fabius, outraged as he was,  did not attempt to fight the promotion of the overly-ambitious Minucius, but rather decided to wait until Minucius' rashness caused him to run headlong into some disaster unleashed by Hannibal just as had happened earlier. He realized what would happen when a man so favored by the people served them worse than did the man who had been so ill-treated by them as was the case with him at this juncture.  Fabius, we are told, reminded Minucius that it was Hannibal, and not himself, who was the enemy. Minucius had proposed at first that they share the joint control of the army, with command rotating between the two every other day. Fabius rejected this, not wanting to risk the destruction of the entire Roman army, should conflict arise against Hannibal on a day that Minucius was in command, and instead let Minucius command half of the army, as said before, while he himself commanded the other half. Minucius openly claimed to the populace that Fabius was cowardly because he failed to confront the Carthaginian forces.          

          The results of the situation being played out in Rome between Fabius and Minucius had not caused Hannibal to alter any strategic plans that he was planning for the rest of the year. His main winter base at Geronium still remained secured and he was resting his men and horse while the wounded and sick were recovering He had not planned any major operations for the time being. The Roman army still outnumbered the Carthaginian army, and Hannibal did not wish to engage it unless he could ensure some decisive tactical advantage for his soldiers to win any future engagements with the minimal casualties as he was still not in direct communication with Carthage and could not count on any reinforcements from the city. He had also been informed of his nephews defeat at the Battle of Gissa in Spain and was aware that for the time being help would not arrive from that theater either.   A war of attrition was a luxury he could not afford, being cut off from regular reinforcements from Carthage and adrift in hostile territory. Furthermore, when his veterans fell in battle, they were replaced by less reliable men.

          When informed of the division of the Roman army, however,  Hannibal would reconsidered his strategic defensive position and studied the possibility of destroying part of the Roman army in a pitched battle. He was also informed by his spy network that Minucius was opposite of Fabius. The Roman armies, although at all times near one another, were camped separately, so one army could be drawn out and engaged under favorable conditions before the other could intervene. It was a foregone conclusion among Hannibal and his staff officers that Minucius was far more likely to offer battle and that  whatever bait laid out by Hannibal could prove decisive, as Fabius had shown himself to be immune to all forms of Punic provocations throughout the summer of 217 BC. There was also concern that Fabius would not even assist Minucius should the latter become involved with a desperate situation. So, it became a question of getting Minucius to fight before Fabius did anything, if indeed he even would. Hannibal's next challenge was to formulate a plan to entrap and destroy the Roman army commanded by Minucius. After a careful study of the terrain, Hannibal devised a tactical plan which would take advantage of the aggressiveness of Minucius and the geographical features of the chosen battle site. The plan was to entice Minucius with a careful and timed maneuver into thinking that he was fighting a repeat of the skirmish he had earlier fought at Geronium, while springing a trap similar to the one Hannibal had sprung on the Romans at the Battle of Trebia in 218 BC on the unsuspecting army of Minucius. It had been suggested that Hannibal had deliberately lost the skirmish on purpose to obtain this very opportunity, but that speculation seems a bit far fetched.

          Hannibal earlier had either took Geronium by assault after his terms had been refused by the population, or he simply took possession of the town because the inhabitants had fled after burning the town buildings, because part of the town wall had collapsed, making it vulnerable. The Carthaginians turned the town into a large storage area for storing their grain and housing their animal herds, then set up a camp outside the town to watch over the city, and finally surrounded the town and the camp with a trench and palisade. While the sick and wounded recovered in the camp, as said before, thousands of foragers fanned out throughout the plain to harvest the corn while others pastured their cattle and horses on the mountainside. Two thirds of the army was employed in these operations while the rest guarded the camp as winter was approaching and food and supplies were of severe importance.

           In the valley between the Italian city of Larino and Geronium, Minucius had decided to openly confront Hannibal and led his army of 40,000 men near the Punic army. As he neared Hannibal's army, Minucius was soon aware that the hill outside of Geronium, which he had  occupied during his skirmish victory over Hannibal a month earlier, was occupied by a small contingent of Carthaginian forces. As Hannibal had anticipated, Minucius promptly sent out his light infantry (velites) to drive them off. In turn, Hannibal reinforced the hill with just enough soldiers to fight the Romans to a stalemate. This caused Minucius to send the Roman and Italian allied cavalry up the hill, which Hannibal immediately countered with his Numidian and heavy horsemen, again seeking a stalemate. With the cavalry engaged, Minucius lost his best tool for scouting the battleground and discovering the trap Hannibal had set for him. After skirmishing for a while, the Roman cavalry slowly began to give ground against their better skilled opponents.

          Minucius, observing the situation and seeing his horse giving way, now called out his four legions in reserve, yet to enter into the battle, and marched towards and then up the hill. Hannibal had also deployed his infantry beyond the hill and now advanced to meet the advancing Romans. The sequence and timing of events, all planned and orchestrated by Hannibal and his subordinates, did not give the Roman general any time to examine the ground or scout the area to his flanks and rear.  Fabius, who was watching the events unfold from his camp, called his army to arms but did not move out to help his fellow general and comrades.

          Just as the Roman infantry commanded by Minucius reached the hill and was moving up the slopes, the Roman cavalry, which had been slowly giving ground to Hannibal's cavalry,  broke and began to scatter. The Roman light troops, already hard pressed at the top of the hill, were also driven back, with these men fleeing into the advancing legions. The Roman battle formation was thus disrupted, and before the Romans could regain cohesion, the Carthaginians concealed on their flanks and rear, fell upon these unsuspecting men with heavy slaughter.  Hannibal and his infantry now moved forward from the front as well and struck the now comprised Romans before the shock of the ambush faded or Minucius could take corrective action. Attacked from all sides, some of the Romans broke ranks and fled, while the others became surrounded and were fighting for their lives. A disaster for Rome again loomed, and barring divine intervention, only the actions of a general known for his avoidance of battle could have saved the army of Minucius from certain destruction.

          Fabius, "The Delayer”, failed to live up to his reputation, despite severe reservations to avoid entering his army into the debacle. He marched out with his four legions to join the battle. Hannibal is said to have remarked to his generals, “That cloud on the mountains has broken in storm at last!”, when he saw Fabius approaching with his army. The fleeing Romans of Minucius’ army began to form up beside his legions at their encouragement and the Carthaginians between the armies of Fabius and Minucius then gave way, enabling Minucius and his surviving soldiers to fall back and regroup beside the fresh Roman troops. The genius of Hannibal, combined with the rashness of Minucius, had finally drawn the reluctant Fabius to commit his troops in combat. Hannibal, however, did not wish to further commit now that his trap had played out as it had and was now facing the possibility of fighting the Romans on terms that he did not favor. Possibly Hannibal did not wish to fight a battle of attrition against a still superior army, over half of which was fresh while the Carthaginians had been fighting for some time.  Strategically, the destruction of the Roman army would not have changed the balance of power significantly for Hannibal at the time. While the Carthaginians wintered at Geronium, the Romans would have been free to raise another army to deal with him. On the other hand, if Hannibal had lost the battle, he might have lost the war on the spot for Carthage. The Carthaginians had inflicted severe casualties on the Romans, and only the prompt action of Fabius had saved  Rome from dealing with another disaster in the space of six months. Hannibal chose not to gamble, again displaying his understanding of "economy of force", to reinforce success but not to throw good money after bad. Whatever damage the skirmish had done to the morale of his troops had been fully restored, he had dwelt a body blow on the Romans in exchange of the bloody nose they had given him on the previous encounter.

 It is also said that upon seeing the ambush of Minucius' army, Fabius, who was nearby with his army, cried out to his generals, "O Hercules! how much sooner than I expected, though later than he seemed to desire, hath Minucius destroyed himself!" Upon ordering his army to join the battle and rescue their fellow Romans, Fabius exclaimed "We must make haste to rescue Minucius, who is a valiant man, and a lover of his country, and save his remaining men."

          After the battle there was some feeling that there would be conflict between Minucius and Fabius, however, the younger soldier marched his men to Fabius' encampment and he is reported to have said, "My father gave me life. Today you saved my life. You are my second father. I recognize your superior abilities as a commander." It was only after Fabius had saved him from this attack by Hannibal that Minucius placed himself back under Fabius' command and the "delaying tactics" resumed,  much to Hannibal's despair.

          Hannibal then fortified the hill and the city and was content to take up winter quarters here, not willing to engage the Romans again until the spring. During this time, Fabius' term as dictator expired and the command of the armies were left to Servilius, and Atilius, who had succeeded the slain Flaminius, until new consuls could be elected in the spring. The main Roman army then went into winter quarters near Mt. Calene, taking caution to position the army where Hannibal would not be able to use his cavalry. During this time, Servilius did attempt a raid upon the African coast and was able to capture large quantities of supplies before being beaten off. Servilius was also able to defeat a Carthage fleet that was sending reinforcements to Hannibal near the city of Pisa. Also during this time in Spain, Gnaeus Scipio's brother, P. Cornelius Scipio, the same one defeated by Hannibal at the Battle of the Ticinus River, landed with eight thousand reinforcements and joined his brother. The combined Roman army then marched south, toward the ruins of Saguntum, and was able to make large conquests of Carthage allies.  This caused Carthage power in Spain south of the Ebro River to weaken considerably. Hannibal, upon hearing of the continued Roman advances in Spain, became very disappointed in the choices he had made in leadership in that theatre ( Hanno and Hasdrubal).    

 

                                         Hannibal

Hannibal seeing the head of his brother Hasdrubal after it was thrown into his camp by a Roman horseman. Hannibal is said to have said, " Now I can see the fate of Carthage".

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