1. Education
Send to a Friend via Email
The History of Rome, by Theodor Mommsen
Etext Book III From the Union of Italy to the Subjugation of Carthage and the Greek States
 Related Resources
• Contents of Mommsen's History of Rome
• Ancient Rome
• Texts and Translations Index
• The Fall of Rome
 


BOOK THIRD Chapter V

The War Under Hannibal To The Battle of Cannae

Hannibal Master of Northern Italy

The effect of this first victory of the invading army was, that the national insurrection now spread and assumed shape without hindrance throughout the Celtic territory. The remains of the Roman army of the Po threw themselves into the fortresses of Placentia and Cremona: completely cut off from home, they were obliged to procure their supplies by way of the river. The consul Tiberius Sempronius only escaped, as if by miracle, from being taken prisoner, when with a weak escort of cavalry he went to Rome on account of the elections. Hannibal, who would not hazard the health of his troops by further marches at that inclement season, bivouacked for the winter where he was; and, as a serious attempt on the larger fortresses would have led to no result, contented himself with annoying the enemy by attacks on the river port of Placentia and other minor Roman positions. He employed himself mainly in organizing the Gallic insurrection: more than 60, 000 foot soldiers and 4000 horsemen from the Celts are said to have joined his army.

Military and Political Position of Hannibal

No extraordinary exertions were made in Rome for the campaign of 537. The senate thought, and not unreasonably, that, despite the lost battle, their position was by no means fraught with serious danger. Besides the coast garrisons, which were despatched to Sardinia, Sicily, and Tarentum, and the reinforcements which were sent to Spain, the two new consuls Gaius Flaminius and Gnaeus Servilius obtained only as many men as were necessary to restore the four legions to their full complement; additions were made to the strength of the cavalry alone. The consuls had to protect the northern frontier, and stationed themselves accordingly on the two highways which led from Rome to the north, the western of which at that lime terminated at Arretium, and the eastern at Ariminum; Gaius Flaminius occupied the former, Gnaeus Servilius the latter. There they ordered the troops from the fortresses on the Po to join them, probably by water, and awaited the commencement of the favourable season, when they proposed to occupy in the defensive the passes of the Apennines, and then, taking up the offensive, to descend into the valley of the Po and effect a junction somewhere near Placentia. But Hannibal by no means intended to defend the valley of the Po. He knew Rome better perhaps than the Romans knew it themselves, and was very well aware how decidedly he was the weaker and continued to be so notwithstanding the brilliant battle on the Trebia; he knew too that his ultimate object, the humiliation of Rome, was not to be wrung from the unbending Roman pride either by terror or by surprise, but could only be gained by the actual subjugation of the haughty city. It was clearly apparent that the Italian federation was in political solidity and in military resources infinitely superior to an adversary, who received only precarious and irregular support from home, and who in Italy was dependent for primary aid solely on the vacillating and capricious nation of the Celts; and that the Phoenician foot soldier was, notwithstanding all the pains taken by Hannibal, far inferior in point of tactics to the legionary, had been completely proved by the defensive movements of Scipio and the brilliant retreat of the defeated infantry on the Trebia. From this conviction flowed the two fundamental principles which determined Hannibal's whole method of operations in Italy -- viz. , that the war should be carried on, in somewhat adventurous fashion, with constant changes in the plan and in the theatre of operations; and that its favourable issue could only be looked for as the result of political and not of military successes -- of the gradual loosening and final breaking up of the Italian federation. That mode of carrying on the war was necessary, because the single element which Hannibal had to throw into the scale against so many disadvantages -- his military genius -- only told with its full weight, when he constantly foiled his opponents by unexpected combinations; he was undone, if the war became stationary. That aim was the aim dictated to him by right policy, because, mighty conqueror though he was in battle, he saw very clearly that on each occasion he vanquished the generals and not the city, and that after each new battle the Romans remained just as superior to the Carthaginians as he was personally superior to the Roman commanders. That Hannibal even at the height of his fortune never deceived himself on this point, is worthier of admiration than his most admired battles.
Previous section | Next section
Mommsen Table of Contents

You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.