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Appian's History of Rome: The Hannibalic War §§16-20


Legionary standard (of XXX Ulpia Traiana reenactment group). Photo Jona Lendering.
Appian of Alexandria (c.95-c.165) is the author of a Roman History and one of the most underestimated of all Greek historians. Although only his books on the Roman Civil Wars survive in their entirety, large parts of other books have also come down to us. Although his account of the War against Hannibal contains not much information that can not be found in other sources (Polybius of Megalopolis and Livy), it is fortunately well-preserved and certainly accessible.

The translation was made by Horace White; footnotes and additions in green by Jona Lendering. 


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  [§16] [217] [Dictator Quintus] Fabius [Maximus], pursuing the same policy as before, followed and encamped at a distance of 1¾ kilometers from Geronia, with the river Aufidus flowing between them. The six months which limited the terms of dictators among the Romans now expired, and the consuls [Gnaeus] Servilius [Geminus] and [Marcus] Atilius [Regulus] resumed their offices and came to the camp, and Fabius returned to Rome.

During the winter frequent skirmishes took place between Hannibal and the Romans in which the latter were generally successful, and showed to the better advantage. Hannibal was all the time writing exultingly to the Carthaginians about the events of the war, but now, having lost many men and being in want of assistance, he asked them to send him soldiers and money. But his enemies, who had jeered at all of his doings, replied that they could not understand how Hannibal should be asking for help when he said he was winning victories, since victorious generals did not ask for money but sent it home to their own people. The Carthaginians followed their suggestion and sent neither soldiers nor money.

Hannibal, lamenting this short-sighted policy, wrote to his brother Hasdrubal in Spain, telling him to make an incursion into Italy at the beginning of summer with what men and money he could raise, and ravage the other extremity so that the whole country might be wasted at once and the Romans exhausted by the double encounter. Such was the situation of Hannibal's affairs.

[§17] [216] The Romans, distressed by the magnitude of the disasters to [Gaius] Flaminius and [Gaius] Centenius, and considering such a succession of surprising defeats unworthy of their dignity, and that a war within their own territory was not to be tolerated, and furious against Hannibal, levied four new legions in the city to serve against him, and hurried the allied forces from all quarters to Apulia. As consuls they chose Lucius Aemilius [Paullus], who had acquired military fame in the war against the Illyrians, and [Gaius] Terentius Varro, a demagogue who had won popular favor by the usual high-sounding promises.

When they sent the consuls forward they begged them as they were leaving the city to end the war by battle, and not to exhaust the city by delay, by conscriptions, by taxes, and by hunger and idleness due to the devastation of the fields. The consuls on taking command of the army in Apulia had altogether 70,000 foot and 6,000 horse, and they encamped near a village called Cannae.

Hannibal's camp was nearby. Hannibal, who was always ready to fight and impatient of idleness, was especially so now because he was troubled lest his supplies should fail, for which reason he continually offered battle. He feared also lest his mercenaries should desert him, as they had not received their pay, or disperse through the country in search of food. For this reason he challenged the enemy daily.

[§18] The opinions of the consuls were diverse. Aemilius thought that it was best to exhaust Hannibal by delay, as he could not hold out long for want of provisions, rather than come to an engagement with a general so skilled in war and an army so accustomed to victory. But Varro, like the demagogue he was, reminded his colleague of the charge which the people had laid upon them at their departure, that they should bring matters to a speedy decision by battle. [Gnaeus] Servilius [Geminus], the consul of the previous year, who was still present, alone sustained the opinion of Aemilius. All the senators and the knights who held offices in the army agreed with Varro.

While they were still disputing, Hannibal set upon some detachments of theirs that were collecting wood and forage, and he pretended to be defeated, and about the last watch put the bulk of his army in motion as if in retreat. Varro, seeing this, led out the army with the thought of pursuing Hannibal in his flight. Aemilius even then forbade the movement, and as Varro did not obey, he consulted the omens alone, according to the Roman custom, and sent word to Varro, just as he was starting, that the day was unpropitious. The latter thereupon came back, not venturing to disregard the omen, but he tore his hair in the sight of the whole army, and cried out that victory had been snatched from him by the envy of his colleague; and the whole crowd shared his anger.

[§19] Hannibal, when his scheme failed, returned forth-with to his camp, thus showing that his retreat was feigned, but this did not teach Varro to suspect every movement of Hannibal. Hurrying armed as he was to the headquarters, he complained in the presence of senators, centurions, and tribunes that Aemilius had made a pretense about the omen in order to snatch a sure victory from the city, either hesitating from cowardice or moved by jealousy toward himself.

While he was thus venting his wrath the soldiers standing around the tent listened to him and joined in the censure of Aemilius. The latter nevertheless continued to give good advice to those within, but in vain. When all the others, Servilius alone excepted, sided with Varro, he yielded, and on the following day he himself drew up the army in order of battle as commander, for Varro yielded to him that title. Hannibal perceived the movement but he did not come out of his camp because he was not quite ready for battle.

On the next day both armies came down to the open field. The Romans were drawn up in three lines with a small interval between them, each part having infantry in the center, with light-armed troops and cavalry on the wings. Aemilius commanded the center, Servilius the left wing, and Varro the right. Each had a thousand picked horse at hand to carry aid wherever it should be needed. Such was the Roman formation.

[§20] Hannibal had previously observed that a stormy east wind began to blow in that region regularly about noon. So he chose the ground where he should have the wind at his back. Then on a wooded hill cut by ravines he placed some cavalry and light-armed troops in ambush, to whom he gave orders that when the battle was joined and the wind had risen, they should fall upon the enemy's rear. With them were placed 500 Celtiberians who had, in addition to the long swords at their belts, short daggers under their garments. These they were not to use till he himself gave the signal. He divided his whole army into three lines of battle and extended his horse at long distances on the wings in order to outflank the enemy if possible. He gave the command of the right wing to his brother Mago, and of the left to his nephew Hanno, retaining the centre for himself on account of Aemilius' reputation as an experienced commander. He had 2,000 picked horse and Maharbal had 1000, who were ordered to move about and give assistance wherever they saw any part of the army in difficulties. In making these arrangements he protracted the time till about the second hour so that the wind might come to his aid the sooner.

Appian   :   Roman History   :   Hannibalic war   :   part 5
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