|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 DESPAIR OF ROME
 AFTER the victory of Cannæ, Hannibal was deemed more than a
mere man. Surely he must be endowed with the power of
the gods, or he would never be able to sweep eight
legions from his path, as he had done on this last
Even a number of young Roman knights, of the best
patrician families, were so sure that nothing could now
save their country, that they determined to fly to the
coast and thus escape to another land, where they might
yet win honour by their arms.
But Cornelius Scipio, although but a lad like
themselves, drew his sword and boldly declared that he
would kill any one of them who refused to swear never
to forsake his country. His courage made the young
knights so ashamed that they gave up their selfish
In Rome itself the people had been more confident than
of late years, for was not Varro at the head of their
army, and had he not been heard to say that he would
conquer Hannibal in a day?
Tidings of the disaster at Cannæ reached the city
first as a mere rumour, but even so it filled the
hearts of the people with dread forebodings. Rumour
said that the whole army was annihilated, that both
Consuls were slain—the citizens in despair watched
and waited for certain news of the battle.
At length a horseman was seen riding in hot haste
toward the city. The people's hopes rose at the sight.
 a moment they forgot the rumours that had made them so
uneasy, forgot all, save that their favourite Varro had
been fighting for them. So they rushed toward the
messenger, shouting with expectant voices: "Is it
victory of which you have to tell—victory?"
But even as they spoke the people knew how foolish were
their hopes. For the face of the rider was pale and
stricken with pain, and the folk shrank back, fearful
now to hear the truth. And the messenger seemed in no
haste to tell his tidings.
But Fabius the Delayer came to him and bade him speak,
saying that if he had bad news, they were prepared to
So, amid a sudden silence, the terrible tale was told,
nor when it was ended was there a house to be found in
Rome that was not filled with mourning. Henceforth the
people trembled at the very sound of the conqueror's
After the first shock of the tidings, the people awoke
to fresh fears. Suppose Hannibal was already marching
In a panic they flocked to the gates, longing to escape
from the city that they believed was doomed.
Again it was Fabius who came and talked to the
terrified folk, and by his calmness allayed their
fears. In these troublous days the Delayer proved
indeed so strong and wise that, before long, even those
who had been used to mock at his slowness were glad to
turn to him for counsel.
It was Fabius who ordered guards to be placed at the
gates, that the frightened inhabitants might not desert
their city. It was he who ordered the women not to
wail and sob in the streets, but to go quietly to their
homes to mourn there for their dead.
Meanwhile messengers were sent along the Appian and
Latin roads to gather tidings of Hannibal's movements.
And soon they returned to tell that the conqueror was
 on his way to Rome, but was still in Apulia, dividing
the spoil of the battle.
Varro, who was in Venusia, had with much difficulty
gathered together the remnant of the army. He was now
bidden by the Senate to bring it back to Rome.
It was a command he had dreaded. He had left Rome in
joy, proud of the confidence of the people, he was
going back shamed and, in his own eyes, disgraced. How
would he be received by the Senate, by the people?
When he reached the gates of the city he would not
enter, but awaited without the judgment of his fellows.
Then the Senate, knowing that the Consul loved his
country and mourned for the humiliation he had brought
upon her, went down to the gates to welcome him,
followed by many of the people.
Fabius was among the senators, and from none of their
lips did Varro hear a word of blame for the disaster of
Cannæ. But they praised him for gathering together
the remnant of the army, and thanked him, too, that
after so great a loss "he had not despaired of the
safety of the Commonwealth, but had come back to Rome
to help them in their plans to deliver their country
from the Carthaginians."
Meanwhile Hannibal had marched to Campania, and been
gladly welcomed to its chief city Capua. Here, after
their many hardships, he and his army enjoyed through
the winter months comfort and ease. It is even said
that the great general relaxed the severity of his
discipline for a time.
But Capua was punished for opening its gates to
Hannibal, for two Roman armies, under Fabius and
Marcellus, were sent to besiege the town. The siege
lasted during 212 and 211 B.C.
In the latter year Hannibal determined to march to
Rome, for by doing so he thought he would force the
Roman armies to leave Capua.
So at length what the citizens had often feared
actually came to pass. The dreaded Carthaginian was on
 to Rome, and the people were sure that their city would
be razed to the ground, while they themselves would be
carried away as slaves.
But although Hannibal encamped three miles from the
city, and rode round part of her walls, he did not
attempt to lay siege to her. He knew that he had not
the materials needed to reduce so strong a fortress as
Hannibal did not achieve all that he had hoped from his
march. The siege of Capua was not raised, although
Fabius, it is true, was recalled from before her walls.
So the Punic general, having accomplished little, set
out, meaning to return to Capua. He was followed by a
Roman army, of which he took no notice until five days
Then, hearing that Capua was still besieged, he was
angry, and vented his wrath upon the army at his rear.
Waiting until it was dark and their camp was set up,
Hannibal stormed it, and drove the Romans away in utter
confusion. As he knew he was not strong enough to
relieve Capua, he did not return to the city, and she,
thus deserted, was forced to surrender to the Romans.
But thirty of the noblest senators of Capua resolved to
die rather than fall into the hands of those they had
betrayed, for they feared their vengeance. So they met
together for a last solemn feast, after which they each
took poison, and so escaped from their enemy.
The senators who had chosen to trust to Roman justice
were loaded with chains and sent as prisoners to two
Fulvius, who longed for a sterner punishment,
determined to inflict it himself. He followed the
prisoners with a body of cavalry, and reached the first
town early one morning. Twenty-eight of the wretched
prisoners were at once ordered to be brought before
him, that they might be scourged and put to death.
Then, hastening to the other town, he ordered
twenty-five senators to be put to death, without the
trial they had a right to expect.
 It is told that before his vengeance was complete
Fulvius received a letter from Rome, ordering the
punishment of the senators of Capua to be delayed until
she herself was able to judge them. But Fulvius,
suspecting what was in the letter, left it unread until
his horrible work was done.
Meantime, Hannibal was looking for reinforcements from
Africa, and he wished to secure a good harbour where
they might land in safety. So in 210 B.C. he attacked
the citadel of Tarentum, and took it, only, however, to
lose it the following year, when it was retaken by
Fabius. Hannibal had now no port at which troops might
If he was yet further to subdue Italy he must wait
until his brother Hasdrubal could bring him fresh
troops from Spain.
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