|The Story of Rome|
|by Mary Macgregor|
|A vivid account of the story of Rome from the earliest times to the death of Augustus, retold for children, chronicling the birth of a city and its growth through storm and struggle to become a great world empire. Gives short accounts of battles and campaigns, and of the men who expanded the borders of the Roman empire to include all lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Ages 10-14 |
THE BATTLE OF CANNÆ
 WINTER was nearly over, and spring, the usual time for the new
Consuls to begin their duties, was at hand. Fabius
therefore resigned his Dictatorship, as the Consuls
would be able to carry on the war.
The people had chosen Varro, a man hated by the
patricians, to be one of the Consuls. He was the son
of a butcher, so it was declared; but be that as it
may, his birth had not kept him from holding positions
of trust in the state.
His colleague was Æmilius, a member of a noble family,
who had, three years earlier, held the post of Consul.
Spring passed, and in summer of the same year, 216
B.C., Hannibal again marched into Apulia and seized the
citadel of Cannæ, where the Romans had stored a large
quantity of provisions for the army.
This, Hannibal was well aware, would force the Romans
either to retreat or to give battle, for their army now
consisted of eight legions, and without food, and a
large supply of food, the Consuls would be compelled to
Now Æmilius and Varro commanded the army on alternate
days. The patrician Consul, who before leaving Rome
had said: "I will rather seek in my conduct to please
and obey Fabius than all the world besides," urged
Varro not to fight on the plains of Apulia.
Fabius, he knew, would never have risked a battle on
the plains, where the cavalry of Hannibal would have
 advantage. And his cavalry was without doubt his
But Varro refused to listen to the advice of his
colleague. When it was his turn to command, he drew up
his army close to the village of Cannæ, and hung his
scarlet coat outside his tent. This was a signal that
the Consul meant to fight, and Hannibal at once ordered
his men to prepare for battle.
As the wind at the time was blowing violently, carrying
with it a cloud of dust, the Carthaginians took up
their position with their backs to the storm, so that
the dust swept harmlessly past them. But it dashed
into the faces of the Roman legions, wellnigh blinding
In the centre of his army, and a little in advance,
Hannibal had placed the soldiers on whom he could least
depend. The bravest and most loyal men were in the
This he did because he foresaw that the Romans would
first attack the centre, and as the less resolute
soldiers fell back, they would press forward. Then, as
they continued to push back the Carthaginian centre,
Hannibal meant to bid the men on the right and left
wings to close in and envelop the enemy.
So when the Romans charged the centre of the Punic
army, pushed it well back and were already beginning to
think of victory, the wings closed in and charged upon
their flanks. Then the centre, seeing how it was
supported, took fresh courage, and charged the front of
the enemy with sudden determination.
Slowly but surely the Roman infantry was pressed closer
and closer together, until they were unable to strike a
blow, unable even to move.
Those on the edge were cut down at once, while
thousands in the centre were compelled to stand and
look on, awaiting their fate.
For a whole day the slaughter never ceased, and when
the sun sank there was no longer any Roman army left.
 Hannibal had cut to pieces wellnigh the whole eight
legions, which was the largest army that Rome had ever
sent to the field.
Æmilius had been wounded at the beginning of the
battle. In spite of this he had tried to remount, to
rally his men. But he was too severely injured to be
able to sit in his saddle, and he fell again,
unnoticed, and was slain.
Minucius, who was on the field, was also killed, as
well as eighty senators who had taken part in the
The plebeian Consul, Varro, escaped, with about seventy
horsemen, to the town of Venusia, where scattered
troops of soldiers gradually rejoined him.
Maharbal, the mast of Hannibal's cavalry, begged to be
sent at once to Rome. "If you will let me lead the
horses and follow quickly, you shall dine in the
Capitol in five days," he said with perfect confidence.
But Hannibal refused to march on Rome, and offered her
terms of peace instead.
Then Maharbal turned sadly away, muttering, it is said,
these words: "You know how to win a victory,
Hannibal, but not how to use it."
The terms offered by Hannibal, Rome in her pride
refused, although the loss of her eight legions had
left her wellnigh helpless in the hands of her
Hannibal seemed indeed not to know how to use his
victory. He turned away from Rome, and marched to the
wealthy city of Capua, in the south of Italy. The
gates were thrown wide to the victorious general, and
here he entered and set up his camp.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics