Study Guide for Plutarch's Life of Fabius

Text taken from Thomas North and/or John Dryden
Study Guide by Anne White

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Fabius (c. 280-203 B.C.)

Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (who later received the additional name Cunctator, or "Delayer") was a general and statesman who held, at one time or another, all the highest offices in Rome including that of dictator. If you have read Plutarch's Life of Pericles, you will remember that he was known for his calm temper and love of reason. Fabius, also called Fabius Maximus, had much the same temperament.

This story is unlike many of Plutarch's others, in that he skims over most of Fabius' early career and the first sixty years of his life. (See Historic Occasions for Lesson One.) It was largely because of that previous record, however, that Fabius was called upon in a time of great crisis.

The Prologue to this Story

Before beginning the life of Fabius, you need to know something about Hannibal, and his city, Carthage. If you have a copy of V. M. Hillyer's A Child's History of the World, the chapters "Picking a Fight" and "The Boot Kicks and Stamps" provides the background information in a few pages. Van Loon's The Story of Mankind gives more detail in the chapter "Rome and Carthage." Briefly, Hannibal was the brilliant general of the city of Carthage (in North Africa, across the sea from Sicily); and Carthage was a longtime rival of Rome. Shortly before the opening of this story, he had invaded Italy from the north, over the Alps, with his army and his elephants; he ambushed the Roman forces at the River Trebia (in December 218 B.C.), and slaughtered them again at Lake Trasimene (May 217 B.C.; see Lesson One). In desperation, the Romans decided that it was time to elect a dictator, and Quintus Fabius Maximus was the trusted (though aging) choice.

To show how much Hannibal was detested and dreaded by the Romans, there were two Latin sayings about him that became used later as proverbs: "Hannibal (is) before the gates" (which meant that danger was on the way, but people weren't paying enough attention), and "Hannibal (is right) at the gates." Roman adults sometimes used the second one to frighten misbehaving children.

What was the Second Punic War?

From 218-201 B.C., the Romans were at war against Carthage; it was the second of three such wars. Punicus was the Latin word for Carthaginian; it referred to their Phoenician origins.

Who was Scipio?

Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, now often called Scipio Africanus, was born about the time that Fabius first entered politics, and grew up to be the top Roman general at the end of the Second Punic War. In Fabius' last years, he was seen as a rival for respect and popularity, particularly because he took an aggressive stand against the Carthaginians, risking more than Fabius considered acceptable. His surname, "Africanus," was given to him only after his victories there. For that reason, I have referred to him as Plutarch did: Cornelius Scipio or Scipio. There are other Scipios mentioned in other Lives (such as Metellus Scipio, the father-in-law of Marcus Brutus); but Cornelius Scipio is the only one we are concerned with here.

The Government of the Roman Republic

Social Classes

There were two different types of class divisions in ancient Rome. The first was family-based, between the patricians (the nobility) and the plebeians (common people).

The second type were property- or wealth-based classes such as the senatores, the wealthiest citizens, who owned large amounts of land. The next level down, the equestrian class (in North's translation, the knights of Rome), was a "business class," made up of those who could afford horses and who made up the cavalry, or soldiers on horseback, in times of war. Besides the equestrian class, there were three classes of property owners; and then, lowest of all, the proletarii.

Were the senatores the same as the senators?

Often, but the two were not identical. Over the centuries, both the size of the Senate and the personal requirements for membership (age, wealth) changed. Some plebeians became senators along with the patricians. Those elected to magistracies (see below) were also included in the Senate.

What was an aedile, a quaestor, a consul?

The elected positions, or magistracies, in Rome were (starting at the bottom): quaestor, aedile, praetor, and consul. (The office of tribune was a separate position, explained below.) There were various numbers of each of these: for example, two consuls were elected each year. Ex-consuls could become censors; and a consul could become dictator if the need (usually a great emergency) arose. In the case of Fabius, he was given the position of dictator without being consul.

Who were the tribunes?

The duty of a non-military tribune (sometimes called a tribune of the plebeians, or plebs; or a "tribune of the people") was to protect the liberties of the common people from any individual or group (such as the nobles) who might take advantage of them or suppress their rights. This position was not part of the junior-senior ranking of magistrates such as quaestor and consul; it was an office voted on by the common people (plebeians), who themselves were bound by oath to protect the tribunes from harm.

Top Vocabulary Terms in the Life of Fabius

If you recognize these words, you are well on your way to mastering Plutarch's vocabulary for this Life. They will not be repeated in the lessons.

1. commonwealth: a general term referring to a country or a city/state (like Rome), and its colonies or associated territories or countries

2. environ: surround

3. impetuous: moving rapidly and with great force, in an unrestrained or unthinking manner; often refers to someone's temperament

4. keep: often means "guard"

5. oration: speech

6. rash: doing something in haste without considering the consequences

7. skirmish: small, unplanned battle

8. strait: tight, narrow; a tight, narrow place (such as a narrow pathway or channel of water)

9. succour: aid

10. tarry: delay, wait; wait for someone or something

Lesson One


The Fabia family was part of Rome's noble class. Fabius Maximus had a number of illustrious grandparents and great-grandparents who had been war heroes and consuls. But as a young man, he didn't seem like anyone who would ever set the world on fire. Certainly his boyhood nicknames "Warty" and "Lamb" didn't show that others had a great opinion of his strength and intelligence. However, Plutarch points out that slowness may just mean that someone is too smart to rush into things.


surname: a Roman surname was an extra name, given after a special event such as a military victory

insensible: without feeling

inuring: toughening, hardening

eloquence: skill in speaking

sententious: full of wisdom and meaning, or (more often) merely attempting to appear so

triumph: to gain victory; but this also refers to the "triumph" or victory parade that Fabius was given

inroad or depredation: encroachment, robbery

corn: grain such as wheat or barley

Mars: the Roman god of war

colleague: Publius Furius Philus, the other consul that year

not seasonable: not the right time

prodigies: extraordinary, supernatural things

forbear: hold back

by tract of time: by delaying

residue: survivors of the battle

intelligence: information


his son: Quintus Fabius Maximus. We do not know exactly when or how he died, only that it was sometime between his own consulship in 213 B.C. and the death of his father in 203.

Hannibal: See introductory notes

Gaius Flaminius: consul who was killed at the Battle of Lake Trasimene

Gauls: a tribe which was eventually conquered by Rome

Historic Occasions

There are more than the usual number of events listed here, but most of them are background to the first lesson.

280 B.C.: Birth of Fabius

265 B.C.: Fabius consecrated as an augur (a priest concerned with omens)

264-241 B.C.: First Punic War

247 B.C.: Birth of Hannibal

237-235 B.C.: Fabius probably entered politics as a quaestor and aedile

236/235 B.C.: Birth of Cornelius Scipio

233 B.C.: Fabius' first consulship, and his triumph for a victory over the Ligurians

232 B.C.: Gaius Flaminius proposed a controversial land reform bill

230 B.C.: Fabius was censor

228 B.C.: Fabius' second consulship

223 B.C.: Battle in Gaul

218 B.C.: Tiberius Sempronius Longus was consul; Second Punic War began

November 218 B.C.: The young soldier Cornelius Scipio saved his father's life at the Battle of Ticinus

December 218 B.C.: Romans defeated at the Battle of the Trebia

May/June 217 B.C.: Consul Gaius Flaminius killed at the Battle of Lake Trasimene

217 B.C.: Fabius appointed dictator

On the Map

If students are not already familiar with ancient Rome, or need some review, they should have the chance to look at a map of the Roman Republic and its surroundings.

River Trebia: or Trebbia; a river in northern Italy

Tuscany: a region of central Italy

Lake Trasimene: or Trasimeno; a lake on the border of Tuscany


Part One

Fabius (who was fourth in descent from that Fabius Rullus who first brought the honourable surname of Maximus into his family), was, by way of personal nickname, called "Verrucosus," from a wart on his upper lip; and in his childhood they in like manner named him "Ovicula," or "The Lamb," on account of his extreme mildness of temper. His slowness in speaking, his long labour and pains in learning, his deliberation in entering into the sports of other children, his easy submission to everybody, as if he had no will of his own, made those who judge superficially of him, the greater number, esteem him insensible and stupid; and few only saw that this tardiness proceeded from stability, and discerned the greatness of his mind, and the lion-likeness of his temper.

But Fabius himself, when he was called to serve the commonwealth, did quickly show to the world, that that which they took for dullness in him, was merely his gravity, which never altered for any cause or respect; and that which others judged fearfulness in him, was very wisdom. And where he showed himself not hasty, nor sudden in anything: it was found in him an assured and settled constancy. Living in a great commonwealth, surrounded by many enemies, he saw the wisdom of inuring his body (nature's own weapon) to warlike exercises; and he gave himself much to eloquence also, as a necessary instrument to persuade soldiers unto reason.

His tongue likewise did agree with his conditions, and manner of life. For his speech had not much of popular ornament, nor empty artifice, but there was in it great weight of sense; it was strong and sententious, much after the way of Thucydides. We have yet extant his funeral oration upon the death of his son, which he recited before the people.

Fabius was five times chosen consul. In his first consulship, he triumphed over the Ligurians (which are people of the mountains, and upon the coast of Genoa); who, being overthrown by him in a great battle, where they had lost many men, they were compelled to go their way, and drove them to take shelter in the Alps, from whence they never after made any inroad or depredation upon their neighbours.

Part Two

(In 218 B.C.), Hannibal came into Italy. At his first entrance, having gained a great battle near the River Trebia, he passed further, and went through Tuscany, wasting and destroying all the country as he passed by. This made Rome quake for fear. Besides they saw many signs and tokens, some common unto them, as thundering, lightning, and such other like: but other also more strange, never seen nor heard of before. For it was said that some shields sweated blood; that at Antium, where they reaped the corn, many of the ears were filled with blood; that it had rained red-hot stones; that the Falerians had seen the heavens open and several scrolls falling down, in one of which was plainly written, "Mars himself stirs his arms."

But all these signs and wonders had no effect upon the impetuous and fiery temper of the consul Gaius Flaminius, whose natural promptness had been much heightened by his recent unexpected victory over the Gauls, when he fought them contrary to the order of the senate and the advice of his colleague. Fabius, on the other side, thought it not seasonable to engage with the enemy; not that he much regarded the prodigies, which he thought too strange to be easily understood, though many were alarmed by them. But he, understanding the small number of his enemies, and the lack of money that was among them, gave counsel, and was of opinion they should patiently forbear a little, and not to hazard battle against a general whose army had been tried in many encounters, and whose object was a battle; but to send aid to their allies, control the movements of the various subject cities, and, by tract of time, to wear out Hannibal's force and power, which was like straw set afire, that straight giveth forth a blaze, and yet hath no substance to hold fire long.

When Fabius had thus said enough to persuade Flaminius, yet it would not sink into Flaminius' head. "For," sayeth he, "I will not tarry until the wars come to Rome's gates; neither will I be brought to fight upon the walls of the city to defend it, and as Camillus did, that fought within the city itself in old time." Whereupon he commanded his captains to set out their bands to the field; and though he himself, leaping on horseback to go out, was no sooner mounted but the beast, without any apparent cause, fell into so violent a bit of trembling and bounding that he cast his rider headlong on the ground, he was in no ways deterred; but proceeded as he had begun, and marched forward up to Hannibal, who was posted near Lake Trasimene in Tuscany.

This battle was so fiercely fought on both sides, that notwithstanding there was such a terrible earthquake that some cities were overthrown and turned topsy-turvy, some rivers had their streams turned against their course, and the foot of the mountains were torn asunder, and broken open: yet not one of them that were fighting, heard any such thing at all. Flaminius the consul himself was slain at that battle, after he had done many a valiant act; and many of the worthiest gentlemen and most valiant soldiers of his army lay dead about him, the residue being fled. The slaughter was great, for the bodies slain were fifteen thousand, and so many prisoners left alive.

After this overthrow, Hannibal made all the search he could possible to find the body of Flaminius, to bury him honourably, because of his valiantness: but he could never be found amongst the dead bodies, neither was it ever heard what became of it.

Part Three

Now as touching the earlier overthrow at Trebia, neither the general that wrote it, nor the messenger that brought the first news to Rome, told the truth of it as it was; but related it as a drawn battle, with equal loss on either side. But on this occasion as soon as Pomponius, the praetor, had the intelligence, he caused the people to assemble, and without disguising or dissembling the matter, he told them plainly:

"My lords, we have lost the battle, our army is overthrown, and the consul himself is slain in the field: wherefore consider what you have to do and provide for your safety."

These words spoken to the people, as it had been a boisterous storm of weather that had fallen on them from the sea, to put them in danger, did so terrify the multitude, and trouble the whole city for fear: that they were all in amazement, and knew not what to determine. Yet in the end they all agreed that it stood them upon to have a chief magistrate, called in Latin dictatura, that should be a man of courage, and could stoutly use it without sparing or fearing any person. Their choice unanimously fell upon Fabius, whose character seemed equal to the greatness of the office, whose age was so far advanced as to give him experience, without taking from him the vigour of action; his body could execute what his soul designed; and his temper was a happy compound of confidence and cautiousness.

Narration and Discussion

Why did Fabius think it was a bad idea for the Romans to engage Hannibal in battle?

Since Fabius was an augur, is it surprising that he paid so little attention to stories of blood in the grain fields and scrolls falling from the sky?

Creative narration: You are a young reporter assigned to write a story about this man who has just been made dictator. If you can get an interview with Fabius, what questions will you ask him?

Lesson Two


Fabius was determined to conduct himself as a rock-solid, unquestioned leader; and he was also determined to prove his theory about Hannibal's limited resources and patience, by holding off from battle as long as possible. When criticized for his seeming cowardice, he had a ready answer.


bundles of rods and axes: the fasces, a Roman symbol of authority

assuage: relieve

sestertius, pl. sestertii: at that time, a small silver coin

drachmas, obols: units of Greek currency

extol: praise

adversary: opponent

schoolmaster: or pedagogue; a slave who was employed as a tutor, or who might be responsible for taking a student to and from school and generally supervising him; a more current term might be "babysitter"

jealous: this is meant in a protective sense

prating: babbling


Lucius Minucius: commander of the cavalry under Fabius

Marcus Minucius Rufus: consul in 221 B.C.

Historic Occasions

217 through early 216 B.C.: A period during which Fabius was able to avoid open battle with Hannibal

On the Map

Apulia, Campania: These regions of Italy are not named here, but they were sites of action during the war. Campania was divided in its loyalties; the city of Capua, for instance, supported Hannibal.


Part One

This counsel being confirmed by them all, Fabius was chosen dictator, and he named Lucius Minucius general of the horsemen. Then he first required the Senate that they would grant him he might have his horse in the wars: which was not lawful for the dictator, but expressly forbidden by an ancient order. Either because they thought the chiefest force of their army did consist in their footmen, which caused the making of this law: whereby the general should be amongst them in the day of the battle, and in no wise should forsake them; or else because the authority of this magistrate in all other things was so great, that it was in manner after the state of a king; yet all this notwithstanding, they were willing thereunto, and that the dictator should have absolute power over the people.

Fabius at his first coming, because he would show the majesty and dignity of his office, and that every man should be the more obedient and ready at his commandment: when he went abroad, he had four and twenty sergeants before him, carrying the bundles of rods and axes. And when one of the consuls came to him, he sent a sergeant to command his bundle of rods that were carried before him to be put down, and all other tokens of dignity to be laid aside: and that he should come and speak with him as a private man.

And first to make a good foundation, and to begin with the service of the gods: he declared unto the people that the loss they had received came through the rashness and willful negligence of their captain, who made no reckoning of the gods nor religion: and not through any default and cowardliness of the soldiers. And for this cause he did persuade them not to be afraid of their enemies, but to appease the wrath of the gods, and to serve and honour them. Not that he made them hereby superstitious, but did confirm their valour with true religion and godliness: and besides he did utterly take away and assuage their fear of their enemies, by giving them certain hope and assurance of the aid of the gods.

Afterwards the dictator, before the open assembly of the people, made a solemn vow unto the gods that he would sacrifice all the profits and fruits that should fall the next year, of sheep, of sows, of milk cows, and of goats in all the mountains, rivers, or meadows of Italy. And he would celebrate musical festivities, and show other sights in the honour of the gods; and would bestow upon the same the sum of three hundred three and thirty sestertii, and three hundred three and thirty Roman pence, and a third part over. All which sum reduced into Greek money, amounteth to fourscore three thousand, five hundred, and fourscore, and three silver drachmas, and two obols. Now it were a hard thing to tell the reason why he doth mention this sum so precisely, and why he did divide it by three, unless it were to extol the power of the number of three: because it is a perfect number by the nature, and is the first of the odd numbers, which is the beginning of divers numbers, and containeth in itself the first differences, and the first elements and principles of all the numbers united and joined together. So Fabius having brought the people to hope, and trust to have the aid and favour of the gods, made them in the end the better disposed to live well afterwards.

Part Two

Then Fabius hoping after victory, and that the gods would send good luck and prosperity unto men, through their valiantness and wisdom: did straight set forwards unto Hannibal, not as minded to fight with him, but fully resolved to wear out his strength and power, by delays and tract of time: and to increase his poverty by the prolonged spending of his own money, and to consume the small number of his people with the great number of his soldiers. Fabius camped always in the strong and high places of the mountains, out of all danger of his enemy's horsemen. Still he kept pace with them; when they marched he followed them; when they encamped he did the same, but at such a distance as not to be compelled to an engagement; and always keeping upon the hills, free from the insults of their horse; by which means he gave them no rest, but kept them in a continual alarm.

Thus by delaying, and prolonging the time in this sort: he became disliked of everybody. For every man, both in his own camp and abroad, spoke very ill of him openly; and as for his enemies, they took him for no better than a rank coward; and this opinion prevailed yet more in Hannibal's army. Hannibal was himself the only man who was not deceived, who discerned his skill and detected his tactics, and saw, unless he could be art or force bring him to battle, that the Carthaginians, unable to use the arms in which they were superior, and suffering the continual drain of lives and treasure in which they were inferior, would in the end come to nothing. Thereupon Hannibal began to bethink him, and devise all the stratagems and policies of war he could imagine: and like a cunning wrestler, to seek out all the tricks he could to give his adversary the fall. He, at one time, attacked, and sought to distract his attention, tried to draw him off in various directions, and endeavoured in all ways to tempt him from his safe policy.

All this artifice had no effect upon the firm judgment and conviction of the dictator; yet upon the common soldier, and even upon the general of the horse himself, it had too great an operation. Minucius, unseasonably eager for action, bold and confident, humoured the soldiery; and himself contributed to fill them with wild eagerness and empty hopes, which they vented in reproaches upon Fabius, calling him Hannibal's schoolmaster; and contrariwise they commended Minucius for a valiant captain and worthy Roman. This made Minucius look high and have a proud opinion of himself, mocking Fabius because he ever lodged on the hills, saying that he seated them there as in a theatre, to see their enemies waste and burn Italy before their face.

Moreover, he asked Fabius' friends, whether he would in the end lodge his camp in the sky, that he did climb up so high upon mountains, mistrusting the earth: or else that he was so afraid, his enemies would find him out, that he went to hide himself in the clouds. Fabius' friends made report of these jests, and advised him rather to hazard battle, than to bear such reproachful words as were spoken of him. But Fabius answered them:

"If I should yield to that which you counsel me, I should show myself a greater coward than I am taken for now, by leaving my determination for fear of their mocks and spiteful words. For it is no shame for a man to stand fearful, and jealous of the welfare and safety of his country: but otherwise to be afraid of the wagging of every straw, or to regard every common prating, it is not the part of a worthy man of charge, but rather of a base-minded person, to seek to please those whom he ought to command and govern, because they are but fools."

Narration and Discussion

Fabius did not seem to be a person who was overly concerned with personal appearance or gain. Why did he make a point of insisting that he receive special treatment as dictator?

Discuss Fabius' attitude toward religious ceremonies. What was his opinion about the favour of the gods?

For older students: Discuss, orally or in writing, Fabius' response at the end of the passage. (Dryden translates the last section this way: "By such conduct, he makes [himself] the slave of those whose errors it is his business to control.") Do you agree with his viewpoint?

Lesson Three


A tiny misunderstanding can destroy a good plan, as Hannibal found out when his army ended up in the wrong place. However, he was a creative and crafty general, and in getting out of this predicament he caused a great deal of trouble for the Romans, and for Fabius especially. (Warning: this story involves cruelty to animals.)


but mean: poor

drover: one who drives cattle or sheep

left they their soft pace: they stopped moving slowly

finely handled: manipulated, taken advantage of

incense: anger

depressing: putting into a lower position

punctually: quickly


Metilius: Marcus Metilius, tribune of the people in 217 B.C.

Historic Occasions

September 217 B.C.: Battle of Ager Falernus (the Falernian Territory)

On the Map

Casinum: a city on the site of present-day Montecassino

Casilinum: a city in Campania


Part One

An oversight of Hannibal occurred soon after. Desirous to refresh his horse in some good pasture-grounds, and to draw off his army, he ordered his guides to conduct him to the district of Casinum. They mistaking his words, and not understanding well what he said because his Italian tongue was but mean, took one thing for another, and so brought him and his army to the end of a field near the city of Casilinum, through the midst of the which runneth a river which the Romans call Vulturnus. Now the country lying by it, with a valley opening towards the sea, in which the river overflowing forms a quantity of marshlands, with deep banks of sand; and discharges itself into the sea on a very unsafe and rough shore. Hannibal had now fallen, as it were, into the bottom of a sack.

Fabius, who knew the country and was very perfect in all the ways thereabouts, followed him step by step, and stopped his passage, where he should have come out of the valley, with four thousand footmen, which he planted there to keep the strait; and disposed the rest of his army upon the hangings of the hills, in the most apt and fit places all about. Then with his light horsemen he gave a charge upon the rearward of his enemy's battle: which put all Hannibal's army by-and-by out of order, and so there were slain eight hundred of his men. Whereupon Hannibal would have removed his camp thence immediately, and knowing then the fault his guides had made, taking one place for another, and the danger wherein they had brought him: he had them put to death.

Now to force his enemies to come down from the tops of the hills, and to win them from their strength, he saw it was impossible, and out of all hope. Wherefore, perceiving his soldiers both afraid and discouraged, for that they saw themselves hemmed in on all sides, without any order to escape: Hannibal determined to deceive Fabius. He caused straight two thousand oxen to be chosen out of the herd, which they had taken before in their spoils; and tied to their horns light bundles of reeds, and bunches of the dead cuttings of vines; and commanded the drovers that had the charge of them, that when they saw any signal or token lifted up in the air in the night, they should then straight set fire on those bundles and bunches, and drive up the beasts to the hills, toward the ways where the enemies lay.

Whilst these things were a-preparing, he, on the other side, ranged his army in order of battle; and when night came, caused them to march fair and softly.

Now these beasts, whilst the fire was but little that burnt upon their horns, went but fair and softly up the hill from the foot of the mountains from whence they were driven. In so much as the herdsmen that were on the top of the mountains, wondered marvellously to see such flames and fires about the homes of so many beasts, as if it had been an army marching in order of battle with lights and torches. But when their horns came to be burnt to the stumps, and that the force of the fire did fry their very flesh: then began the oxen to fight together, and to shake their heads, whereby they did set one another afire. Then left they their soft pace, and went no more in order as they did before, but for the extreme pain they felt, began to run here and there in the mountains, carrying fire still about their horns, and in their tails, and setting light as they passed to the trees.

This was a strange sight to look upon, and did much amaze the Romans that kept the passages of the mountains, for they thought they had been men that ran here and there with torches in their hands. Whereupon they were in a marvellous fear and trouble, supposing they had been their enemies that ran thus towards them, to environ them of all sides: so as they dared no more keep the passages which they were commanded, but forsaking the straits, began to flee towards their main and great camp. They were no sooner gone, but the light-armed of Hannibal's men, according to his order, immediately seized the heights; and soon after the whole army, with all the baggage, came up and safely marched through the passes.

Fabius, before the night was over, quickly found out the trick: for some of the oxen that fled here and there fell upon his army. Whereupon, fearing to fall upon some ambush by reason of the dark night, he kept his men in battle array, without stirring, or making any noise.

The next morning by break of day, he began to follow his enemy by the track, and fell upon the tail of the rearward, with whom he skirmished within the straits of the mountains: and so he did distress somewhat Hannibal's army. Hannibal thereupon sent a certain number of Spaniards (very lusty and nimble fellows, that were used to the mountains, and acquainted with climbing upon them), who, coming down, and setting upon the Romans that were heavy armed, slew a great number of them, and left Fabius no longer in condition to follow the enemy.

Part Two

Thereupon the Romans despised Fabius the more, and thought worse of him than they did before: because his pretense and determination was not to be brought to fight with Hannibal, but by wisdom and policy to overthrow him; whereas he himself by Hannibal was finely handled and deceived. Hannibal, then, to bring Fabius further in disliking and suspicion with the Romans, commanded his soldiers when they came near any of Fabius' own lands, that they should burn and destroy all round about them, but gave them in charge in no wise to meddle with Fabius' lands, nor anything of his; and did purposely appoint a garrison to see that nothing of Fabius should miscarry, nor yet take hurt. This was straight carried to Rome, which did thereby the more incense the people against him. Their tribunes raised a thousand stories against him, chiefly at the instigation of Metilius, who, not so much out of hatred to him as out of friendship to Minucius, whose kinsman he was, thought by depressing Fabius to raise his friend.

The Senate also were much offended with Fabius for the bargain he made with Hannibal, touching the prisoners taken of either side. For it was articled between them, that they should change prisoners, delivering man for man, or else two hundred and fifty silver drachmas for a man, if the one chanced to have more prisoners than the other. When exchange was made between them, it appeared that Hannibal had left in his hands, of the Roman prisoners, two hundred and forty more than Fabius had to exchange of his. The Senate commanded there should be no money sent to redeem them, and greatly found fault with Fabius for making this accord: because it was neither honourable, nor profitable, for the commonwealth to redeem men that cowardly suffered themselves to be taken prisoners of their enemies.

Fabius understanding it, did patiently bear this displeasure conceived against him by the Senate. Howbeit having no money, and meaning to keep his word, and not wanting to leave the poor citizens prisoners behind him: he sent his son to Rome, with commission to sell land, and to bring him money immediately. This was punctually performed by his son, and delivery accordingly made to him of the prisoners, amongst whom many, when they were released, made proposals to repay the money; which Fabius in all cases declined.

Narration and Discussion

The Romans appeared to have the Carthaginian army trapped between the mountains. Why were they not able to win the battle?

How did Fabius raise ransom money for his soldiers who had been taken by the enemy? What does this show about his character?

Creative narration: Imagine a conversation between Metilius and Minucius, discussing "the Fabius problem."

Lesson Four


Headstrong and rash, the commander Minucius was everything Fabius hated; yet he was left in charge when Fabius was needed in Rome. He ignored an order to leave the Carthaginians alone, and attacked a few of them. Successfully, in fact; and the story was "made a great deal more than it was," mainly to make Fabius look foolish.


according to the duty of his office: as an augur (see Lesson One)

forage: can mean to go out and look for supplies, but can also mean to plunder or loot

detachment: group of soldiers

apprehended: realized

adversity: difficulties, misfortune

dispatch: hurry up with

appeased: calmed down and satisfied

magistrateal one: Metilius, as tribune, still had a great deal of authority although Fabius was the dictator

seditious: rebellious, treasonous

vexation: annoyance

his subordinate: one below him in authority


Diogenes: a Greek philosopher who lived during the time of Alexander the Great

Historic Occasions

217 B.C.: Against orders, Minucius attacked a detachment of Carthaginian soldiers


Part One

About this time, he was called to Rome by the priests, to assist, according to the duty of his office, at certain sacrifices, and was thus forced to leave the command of the army with Minucius; but before he parted, he not only charged him as his commander-in-chief, but besought and entreated him not to come, in his absence, to a battle with Hannibal.

His commands, entreaties, and advice were lost upon Minucius; for his back was no sooner turned but the new general immediately sought occasions to attack the enemy. And notice being brought him that Hannibal had sent out a great party of his army to forage, he fell upon a detachment of the remainder, driving them to their very camp, with no little terror to the rest, who apprehended their breaking in upon them; and when Hannibal had recalled his scattered forces to the camp, he, nevertheless, without any loss, made his retreat, a success which aggravated the boldness and presumption of Minucius, and filled the soldiers with rash confidence.

The news of this "overthrow" went with speed to Rome, and there they made it a great deal more than it was. Fabius, hearing of it, said he was more afraid of Minucius' prosperity than of his own adversity. But the common people rejoiced marvellously, and made great show of joy up and down the marketplace. Whereupon Marcus Metilius, one of the tribunes, going up into the pulpit, made an oration unto the people, in the which he highly magnified Minucius, and commended his courage; and fell bitterly upon Fabius, accusing him for want not merely of courage, but even of loyalty. Furthermore, he did accuse the nobility and greatest men of Rome, saying: that from the first beginning they had laid a plot to draw these wars out at length, only to destroy the people's power and authority, having brought the whole commonwealth to the state of a monarchy, and into the hands of a private person; who, by his slowness and delays would give Hannibal leisure to plant himself in Italy, and by time give open passage to the Carthaginians, at their pleasure, to send Hannibal a second aid and army, to make a full conquest of all Italy.

Fabius, hearing these words, rose up straight, and spoke to the people, and tarried not about the answering of the accusations the tribune had burdened him withal, but prayed them they would dispatch these sacrifices and ceremonies of the gods, that he might speedily return again to the camp, to punish Minucius for breaking his commandment in fighting with the enemy.

These words immediately possessed the people with the belief that Minucius stood in danger of his life. For it was in the power of the dictator to imprison and to put to death; and they feared that Fabius, of a mild temper in general, would be as hard to be appeased when once irritated, as he was slow to be provoked. Wherefore every man held their peace for fear, saving only Metilius the tribune. He, having authority by virtue of his office to say what he thought good (for in the time of a dictatorship that magistrateal one preserves his authority), boldly applied himself to the people on behalf of Minucius: that they should not suffer him to be made a sacrifice to the enmity of Fabius, nor permit him to be destroyed, like the son of Manlius Torquatus, who was beheaded by his father for a victory fought and triumphantly won against orders. And he began to persuade them further to take this tyrannical power of the dictatorship from Fabius: and to put their affairs into the hands of him, that would and could tell how to bring them safely to pass.

The people were tickled marvellously with these seditious words, but yet they dared not force Fabius to resign his dictatorship, though they bore him great grudge, and were angry with him in their hearts. Howbeit they ordained that Minucius thenceforth should have equal power and authority with the dictator in the wars, a thing that was never seen nor heard of before.

Part Two

Now the Romans imagined that when Fabius should see how they had made Minucius equal in authority with him, it would grieve him to the heart for very anger: but they came short to judge of his nature, for he did not think that their folly should hurt or dishonour him at all. But as wise Diogenes answered one that said unto him, "Look, they mock thee": "Tush," (said he) "they mock not me." Meaning thereby, that he took them to be mocked, that were offended with their mocks. Thus Fabius took everything quietly that the people offered him, and did comfort himself with the philosophers' rules and examples: who do maintain that an honest and wise man can no way be injured nor dishonoured. His only vexation arose from his fear lest this ill counsel, by supplying opportunities to the diseased military ambition of his subordinate, should damage the public cause.

Lest the rashness of Minucius should now at once run headlong into some disaster, he returned back with all privacy and speed to the army; where he found Minucius so elevated with his new dignity, that, a joint authority not contenting him, he required by turns to have the command of the army every other day. But Fabius would not consent to that, but divided the one half of the army between them: thinking it better he should alone command the one half, than the whole army by turns. So he chose for himself the first and third legion, and gave unto Minucius the second and fourth; and divided also between them the aid of their friends.

Narration and Discussion

How did Minucius' success go to his head? Why didn't Fabius have him punished as he could have?

Discuss this sentence: "Fabius . . . said that what he most feared was Minucius' success." What did he mean?

"An honest and wise man can no way be injured nor dishonoured." Explain.

Creative narration #1: Write Minucius' account of these events. Then write Hannibal's version.

Creative narration #2: You are a) a political cartoonist for the Rome Daily News, or b) an unknown graffiti artist, and you decide to have some fun with recent events. What will you draw or write?

Lesson Five


At the next confrontation, known as the Battle of Geronium, Minucius found out that there was a big difference between chasing down one band of foragers, and taking on the whole Carthaginian army.


contend: compete

a man so favoured by the people: that is, Minucius

serve his turn: work in his favour

fit and commodious: convenient

a good space: for awhile

tempest: storm

Historic Occasions

Summer/Autumn 217 B.C.: Battle of Geronium

On the Map

Geronium: a town in the present-day region of Molise


Minucius, thus exalted, could not contain himself from boasting of his success in humiliating the high and powerful office of the dictatorship.

Fabius quietly reminded him that it was, in all wisdom, Hannibal, and not Fabius, whom he had to combat; but if he must needs contend with his colleague, it had best be in diligence and care for the preservation of Rome, that it might not be said that a man so favoured by the people served them worse than he who had been ill-treated and disgraced by them. The young general, despising these admonitions as the false humility of age, immediately removed with his half of the army, and encamped by himself.

Hannibal, hearing of this, sought opportunity to make their discord to serve his turn. Now there was a hill between both their camps not very hard to be won, and it was an excellent place to lodge a camp safely in, and was very fit and commodious for all things. The fields that were about it did seem afar off to be very plain and even ground, because they had no covert of wood to shadow them; yet were there many ditches and little valleys in them. Hannibal, had he pleased, could easily have possessed himself of this ground; but he had reserved it for a bait, in proper season, to draw the Romans to an engagement. Now that Minucius and Fabius were divided, he thought the opportunity fair for his purpose; and, therefore, having in the night-time lodged a convenient number of his men in these ditches and hollow places, early in the morning he sent forth a small detachment, who, in the sight of Minucius, proceeded to possess themselves of the rising ground.

According to his expectation, Minucius swallowed the bait. He first sent out his light horsemen, and afterwards all his men-at-arms: and lastly perceiving that Hannibal himself came to relieve his men that were upon the hill, he himself marched forward also with all the rest of his army in order of battle, and gave a hot charge upon them that defended the hill, to drive them thence. The fight continued equal a good space between them both, until such time as Hannibal saw his enemy come directly within his danger, so that their backs were open to his men, whom before he had laid in ambush: he straight raised the signal he had given them. At that they rushed forth from various quarters, and with loud cries furiously attacked the Romans in the rear. They slew a great number of them, and did put the rest in such a fear and disorder, as it is impossible to express it. Then was Minucius' rash bravery and fond boasts much cooled, when he looked first upon one captain, then upon another, and saw in none of them any courage to tarry by it, but rather that they were all ready to run away. Which if they had done, they would have been cast away, every man: for the Numidians, finding they were the stronger, did disperse themselves all about the plain, killing all stragglers that fled.

Minucius' soldiers being brought to this danger and distress, which Fabius foresaw they would fall into; and having upon this occasion his army ready ranged in order of battle, to see what would become of Minucius, not by report of messengers, but with his own eyes: he got him to a little hill before his camp, where when he saw Minucius and all his men compassed about on every side, and even staggering and ready to flee, and heard besides their cries not like men that had hearts to fight, but as men scared, and ready to flee for fear to save themselves: he clapped his hand on his thigh, and fetched a great sigh, saying to those that were about him, "O Hercules! how Minucius is gone to cast himself away, sooner than I looked for, and later than he desired?" But in speaking these words, he made his ensigns march on in haste, crying out aloud, "O my friends, we must dispatch with speed to succour Minucius: for he is a valiant man of person, and one that loveth the honour of his country. And though with overmuch hardiness he hath ventured too far, and made a fault, thinking to have put the enemies to flight: time serveth not now to accuse him, we will tell him of it hereafter." So he presently cleared the plain of the Numidians; and next fell upon those who were charging the Romans in the rear, cutting down all that made opposition, and obliging the rest to save themselves by a hasty retreat, lest they should be environed as the Romans had been.

Now Hannibal seeing this change, and seeing how Fabius in person, with more courage than his age required, opened his way through the ranks up the hillside, to come to the place where Minucius was: he made the battle to cease, and commanded to sound the retreat, and so drew back his men again into his camp, the Romans being very glad also they might retire with safety. They say Hannibal in his retiring, said merrily to his friends: "Have not I told you, sirs, many a time and oft, of the hanging cloud we saw on the top of the mountains, how it would break out in the end with a tempest that would fall upon us?"

Narration and Discussion

Who showed more courage: Fabius or Minucius?

According to Fabius, what is the best sort of ambition to have?

For older students: How did Fabius demonstrate magnanimity?

Creative narration: Use whatever small figures or objects you have to demonstrate how Hannibal lured Minucius into a trap, and how Fabius then came to his rescue.

Lesson Six


Fabius had earned the respect of Minucius; but he soon had to struggle again against another commander's "ignorant eagerness."


stripped: taken away their weapons etc.

standards: flags or other symbols of authority carried by his troops; also called ensigns

stake: risk

flower of the Roman youth: those at their best and most active

consume himself: literally, eat himself up; use up all his resources

pikes: spears

it behoveth: sometimes behooveth; it is required, it is one's duty


Terentius Varro: consul in 216 B.C.; a supporter of Minucius

Aemilius Paulus: or Lucius Aemilius Paullus; consul in 219 and 216 B.C. He was the father of Aemilius Paulus, the subject of one of Plutarch's Lives.

Historic Occasions

216 B.C.: Fabius ended his dictatorship

216 B.C.: Aemilius Paulus and Terentius Varro were consuls


Part One

After this battle, Fabius, having stripped those that were left dead in the field, retired again to his own camp, and spoke not an ill word of Minucius.

Minucius then being come to his camp, assembled his soldiers and spoke thus to them:

"My friends, not to err at all, enterprising great matters, it is a thing passing man's nature: but to take warning hereafter, by faults that are past and done, it is the part of a wise and valiant man. For myself, I acknowledge I have no less occasion to praise Fortune, than I have also cause to complain of her. For that which long time could never teach me, I have learned by experience in one little piece of a day: and that is this: that I am not able to command, but am myself fitter to be governed and commanded by another; and that I am but a fool to stand in mine own conceit, thinking to overcome those of whom it is more honour for me to confess myself to be overcome. Therefore I tell you that the dictator Fabius, henceforth, shall be he who alone shall command you in all things. And to let him know that we do all acknowledge the favour which we have presently received at his hands: I will lead you to give him thanks, and will myself be the first man to offer to obey him in all that he shall command me."

These words being spoken, he commanded his ensign bearers to follow him, and he himself marched foremost towards Fabius' camp. When he came thither, he went directly to the dictator's tent: whereat every man wondered, not knowing his intent. When he came near the dictator's tent, Fabius went forth to meet him, on which he at once laid his standards at his feet, and said with a loud voice, "O father"; and his soldiers said unto Fabius' soldiers, "O masters."

Afterwards, every man being silent, Minucius began aloud to say unto him:

"My lord dictator, this day you have won two victories. The one of Hannibal, whom you have overcome: the second, of myself your companion, whom also your wisdom and goodness hath vanquished. By the one, you have saved our lives: and by the other, you have wisely taught us. So have we also been overcome in two sorts: the one by Hannibal to our shame, and the other by yourself, to our honour and preservation. And therefore do I now call you my father, finding no other name more honourable to call you by, wherewith I might honour you: acknowledging myself more bound unto you for the present grace and favour I have received of you, than unto my natural father that begat me. For by him only I was begotten: but by you, mine and all these honest citizens' lives have been saved."

And having spoken these words, he embraced Fabius: and so did the soldiers also, heartily embrace together, and kiss one another. Thus the joy was great through the whole camp, and one were so glad of another, that the tears trickled down their cheeks for great joy.

Part Two

Not long after, Fabius laid down the dictatorship, and consuls were again created. But when Terentius Varro, a man of obscure birth, but very popular and bold, had obtained the consulship, he soon made it appear that by his rashness and ignorance he would stake the whole commonwealth by risking battle: because he had cried out in all the assemblies before, that this war would be everlasting, so long as the people did choose any of the Fabians to be their generals; and he boasted openly that the first day he came to see his enemies, he would overthrow them. In giving out these brave words, he assembled such a power that the Romans never saw so great a number together against any enemy that ever they had: for he put into one camp eighty-eight thousand fighting men. This made Fabius and the other Romans, men of great wisdom and judgement, greatly afraid: since if so great a body, and the flower of the Roman youth, should be cut off, they could not see any new resource for the safety of Rome.

They addressed themselves, therefore, to the other consul, Aemilius Paulus, a man of great experience in war, but unpopular, and fearful also of the people, who once before had condemned him; so that he needed encouragement to resist the fond rashness of his colleague. Fabius told him, if he would profitably serve his country, he must no less oppose Varro's ignorant eagerness than Hannibal's conscious readiness, since both alike conspired to decide the fate of Rome by a battle.

"It is more reasonable," Fabius said to him, "that you should believe me than Varro, in matters relating to Hannibal. I tell you, if you keep Hannibal from battle only for this year, he shall of necessity, if he tarry, consume himself, or else for shame be driven to flee with his army. And the rather because, hitherto (though he seem to be lord of the field), never one yet of his enemies came to take his part; and moreover because there remains at this day in his camp not the third part of his army, he brought with him out of his country."

Unto these persuasions, the consul (as it is reported) answered thus:

"When I look into myself, my lord Fabius, methinks my best way were rather to fall upon the enemies' pikes, than once again to light into the hands and voices of our citizens. Therefore, since the estate of the commonwealth so requireth it, that it behoveth a man to do as you have said: I will do my best endeavour to show myself a wise captain, for your sake only, rather than for all others that should advise me to the contrary."

Narration and Discussion

Minucius said, "For that which long time could never teach me, I have learned by experience in one little piece of a day." What had he learned?

Why was it difficult for Fabius to get Paulus to stand up to Varro's loud insistence on fighting? How successful was he?

Why did Aemilius Paulus say that he felt safer falling onto the enemy's spears than into the hands of the Romans?

For further thought: "My friends, not to err at all, enterprising great matters, it is a thing passing man's nature: but to take warning hereafter, by faults that are past and done, it is the part of a wise and valiant man." The philosopher and writer George Santayana said something similar: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." How might this apply to studies such as Plutarch's Lives?

Creative narration: At the end of this passage, we are given a bit of dialogue between Fabius and Aemilius Paulus. Imagine a similar conversation between Minucius and Terentius Varro. What opinions might Minucius have?

Lesson Seven


The Romans seemed ready to take on the Carthaginians. But Hannibal, making use of everything from a dust storm to his own weakest men, had moves ready that even the great Roman army didn't expect.


importunity: persistence

have his day: alternate days of command

Marry!: Indeed! Yea, marry means Yes, indeed!

pretty jest: funny joke

wings: the two side portions of an army (the soldiers on the edges)

of such a gore blood: so covered with blood

subsistence: having what they needed to live (such as food)

banditti: outlaws, robbers

opulent: splendid, rich

Historic Occasions

216 B.C.: Battle of Cannae; deaths of Minucius and Aemilius Paulus

On the Map

Apulia: the region of southern Italy located in the heel of the "boot"

Cannae: a village in Apulia, near the Aufidus River

Venusa: now called Venosa, in the region the Romans called Lucania (now Potenza)


Part One

All the good intentions of Aemilius were defeated by the importunity of Varro; whom, when they were both come to the army, nothing would content but a separate command, that each consul should have his day; and when his turn came, he posted his army close to Hannibal, at a village called Cannae, by the river Aufidus.

It was no sooner day, but he set up the scarlet coat flying over his tent, which was the signal of battle: so that the enemies at the first sight, began to be afraid, to see the boldness of this new-come general, and the great number of soldiers he had also in his host, in comparison of them that were not half so many. Yet Hannibal, of a good courage, commanded every man to arm, and to put themselves in order of battle: and himself in the meantime taking his horseback, followed with a few, galloped up to the top of a little hill not very steep, from whence he might plainly discem all the Romans' camp, and saw how they did range their men in order of battle.

Now one Gisco (a man of like state and nobility as himself) being with him at that time, told him that the enemies seemed afar off to be a marvellous number. But Hannibal, rubbing his forehead, answered him: "Yea," said he, "but there is another thing more to be wondered at than you think." Gisco straight asked him: "What?" "Marry!" sayeth he, "this: that of all the great number of soldiers you see yonder, there is not a man of them called Gisco as you are." This merry answer delivered contrary to their expectation that were with him, looking for some great weighty matter, made them all laugh a-good. So down the hill they came laughing aloud, and told this pretty jest to all they met as they rode, which straight from one to another ran over all the camp, in so much as Hannibal himself could not hold from laughing.

The Carthaginian soldiers perceiving this, began to be of a good courage, imagining that their general would not be so merrily disposed as to fall a-laughing, being so near danger, if he had not perceived himself a great deal to be the stronger, and that he had good cause also to make no reckoning of his enemies. Furthermore, he showed two stratagems of a skillful captain in the battle. The first was the situation of the place, where he put his men in order of battle, so as they had the wind on their backs: which raging like a burning lightning, raised a sharp dust out of the open sandy valley, and passing over the Carthaginians' squadron, blew full in the Romans' faces with such a violence that they were compelled to turn their faces, and to trouble their own ranks.

The second policy was the form and order of his battle. For he placed on either side of his wings the best and most valiant soldiers he had in all his army: and did fill up the midst of his battle with the worst of his men, which he made like a point, and was farther out by a great deal than the two wings of the front of his battle. So he commanded those of the wings, that when the Romans had broken his first front, and followed those that gave back, whereby the midst of his battle should leave a hollow place, and the enemies should come in still increasing within the compass of the two wings: that then they should set upon them on both sides, and charge their flanks immediately, and so enclose them in behind.

And this was cause of a greater slaughter. For when the middle battle began to give back, and to receive the Romans within it, who pursued the other very wholly, Hannibal's battle changed her form: and where at the beginning it was like a point, it became now in the midst like a crescent or half-moon. Then the captains of the chosen bands that lay out in both the wings made their men to turn, some on the left hand, and some on the right, and charged the Romans on the flanks, and behind, where they were all unprotected: so they killed all those that could not save themselves by fleeing, before they were environed.

Part Two

They say also, that there fell out another mischief, by misfortune, unto the horsemen of the Romans, and by this occasion. The horse of Aemilius Paulus the consul, being hurt, did throw his master on the ground; whereupon those that were next him did light from their horsebacks to help him. The residue of the horsemen that were a great way behind him, seeing them alight, thought they had been all commanded to alight: hereupon every man forsook their horse, and fought it out afoot. Hannibal, when he saw that, said: "Yea, marry, I had rather have them so, than delivered to me bound hand and foot."

Of the two consuls, Varro saved himself by his horse, with a few following him, within the city of Venusa. But Paulus, being in the midst of the throng of all the army, his body full of arrows that stuck fast in his wounds, and his heart sore laden with grievous sorrow and anguish to see the overthrow of his men, was set down by a rock, looking for some of his enemies to come and rid him out of his pain. But few could know him, his head and face was of such a gore blood: insomuch as his friends and servants also passed by him, and knew him not. And there was but one young gentleman of a noble house, called Cornelius Lentulus, that knew him, and who did his best endeavour to save him. For he lighted afoot presently, and brought him his horse, praying him to get up upon him, to prove if he could save himself for the necessity of his country, which now more than ever had need of a good and wise captain. But Aemilius refused the gentleman's offer and his entreaty, and compelled him to take his horse back again, though the tears ran down his cheeks for pity: and raising himself up to take him by the hand, he said unto him: "I pray you tell Fabius Maximus from me, and witness with me, that Aemilius Paulus even to his last hour hath followed his counsel, and did never swerve from the promise he made him: but that first he was forced to it by Varro, and afterwards by Hannibal."

When he had delivered these words, he bade Lentulus farewell; and running again into the fury of the slaughter, there he died among his slain companions. In this battle it is reported that fifty thousand Romans were slain, four thousand prisoners taken in the field, and ten thousand in the camp of both consuls.

Narration and Discussion

What was the promise that Aemilius Paulus made to Fabius? Why did he refuse to accept the help of his friend?

Who was most to blame for the disaster at the Battle of Cannae?

For further thought: Twice in this passage, people were led (or misled) by the example of others. First, Hannibal's army was spurred on by the sound of their leaders laughing: at the Romans, they assumed. Later, the Roman army, already surrounded, was further confused by one of the generals being thrown from his horse, and other officers dismounting to help him; all the rest of the soldiers dismounted because they thought they were being ordered to fight on foot! Our actions can, inadvertently, either encourage others or be a stumbling-block to them.

Lesson Eight


This short lesson shows Fabius at his best and most appreciated: a cool head in a tumultuous time, and a role model for other leaders. Plutarch wrote, "There was not a man that bare any office, but did cast his eye upon Fabius, to know what he should do."

Terentius Varro also makes a brief reappearance here, expecting to be shamed after his defeat at Cannae, but receiving an example of "noble clemency."


cause that stayed him: reason for his delay

dispersing: scattering

timorous: fearful

countenance: face

feast of Ceres: A seven-day festival held in April, in honour of the goddess Ceres. Among other things, Ceres was one of the patron deities of the "plebs" or common people.

auspicious signs and presages: good omens

Historic Occasions

215 and 214 B.C.: Fabius was consul (see notes below)

More Historic Occasions

The chronology of dictators and consuls at this time is a bit complicated, and Plutarch does not cover all of it. Fabius was dictator in 217 B.C. Aemilius Paulus and Terentius Varro were consuls for 216, but one was killed at Cannae and the other was trapped in Venusia. It was decided to make Marcus Junius Pera dictator (and head of the army) in 216, and Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus his "master of the horse." Pera is noted for his policy of recruiting any possible living bodies into the army, including slaves and criminals.

Just to confuse matters more, Marcus Fabius Buteo, as the oldest living ex-censor, was also made dictator in 216, back in Rome, and given the task of replenishing the Senate due to war casualties. Buteo apparently did not like the idea of there being two dictators, and resigned as soon as the vacant seats were filled.

At the elections for 215, Gracchus had been chosen consul, along with Marcus Claudius Marcellus (see more about him in Lesson Nine). Marcellus was a replacement for another consul-elect who had been killed in Gaul. However, the patricians (nobles) argued that two plebeians (non-nobles) could not serve as consuls together; so Marcellus resigned (he continued in military leadership as a proconsul); and Fabius was chosen instead. Fabius was elected consul once again the next year (214), along with Marcellus, and it was at this point that they acted as the "two chief generals," as described in Lesson Nine. Quintus Fabius Maximus, the son of Fabius, was consul in 213, along with Gracchus. Gracchus, who also continued as a general in the army, died during a Carthaginian ambush in 212 B.C.

On the Map

Capua: a city in Campania, 16 miles (25 km) north of Naples


Part One

The friends of Hannibal earnestly persuaded him to follow up his victory, and pursue the fleeing Romans into the very gates of Rome, assuring him that in five days' time he might sup in their Capitol. A man cannot easily guess what was the cause that stayed him, that he went not, unless it was (as I think) some good fortune or favourable god toward the Romans, that withstood him, and made him afraid and glad to retire. Whereupon they say, that one Barcas, a Carthaginian, in anger said, "You know, Hannibal, how to gain a victory, but not how to use it."

Yet it produced a marvellous revolution in his affairs; he, who hitherto had not one town, market, or seaport in his possession; who had nothing for the subsistence of his men but what he pillaged from day to day; who had no place of retreat or basis of operation, but was roving, as it were, with a huge troop of banditti; now became master of the best provinces and towns of Italy, and of Capua itself, next to Rome the most flourishing and opulent city; all which came over to him, and submitted to his authority.

It is the saying of Euripides that "a man is in ill case when he must try a friend"; and so neither, it would seem, is a state in a good one when it needs an able general. And so it was with the Romans; the counsels and actions of Fabius, which, before the battle, they had branded as cowardice and fear; now, in the other extreme, they accounted to have been more than human wisdom; as though nothing but rather a heavenly wisdom and influence, that so long foresaw the things to come, which the parties themselves that afterwards felt them, gave little credit unto before.

Upon this occasion, the Romans placed all their hope and trust in Fabius, and they repaired to him for counsel as they would have run unto some temple or altar for sanctuary. His wisdom and counsels, more than anything, preserved them from dispersing and deserting their city, as they did when Rome was taken by the Gauls. For where before he seemed to be a coward, and timorous, when there was no danger nor misfortune happened: then when every man wept and cried out for sorrow, which could not help, and that all the world was so troubled that there was no order taken for anything, he contrarily went alone up and down the city very modestly, with a bold constant countenance, speaking courteously to everyone, and checked the women's lamentations, and the public gatherings of those who wanted thus to vent their sorrows. He caused the senate to meet, he heartened up the magistrates, and was himself as the soul and life of every office. There was not a man that bare any office, but did cast his eye upon Fabius, to know what he should do.

He placed guards at the gates of the city to stop the frightened multitude from fleeing. He moreover did appoint the time and place of mourning, and did command whosoever was disposed to mourn, that he should do it privately in his own house, and to continue only but thirty days. Then he willed all mourning to be left off, and then the whole city should be purified. So the feast of Ceres falling about that time, he thought it better to leave off the sacrifices and procession they were wont to keep on Ceres' day: lest the fewness, and the sorrowful countenance of those who should celebrate it, might too much expose to the people the greatness of their loss; besides that, the worship most acceptable to the gods is that which comes from cheerful hearts. But those rites which were proper for appeasing their anger, and procuring auspicious signs and presages, were by the direction of the augurs carefully performed.

[omission for content]

Part Two

But herein the great courage and noble clemency of the Romans is marvellously to be noted and regarded. For the consul Terentius Varro returning back to Rome, with the shame of his extreme misfortune and overthrow, that he dared not look upon any man: the Senate notwithstanding, and all the people following them, went to the gates of the city to meet him, and did honorably receive him. Nay, furthermore, those that were the chief magistrates and senators, among whom Fabius was one, when silence was made, they commended Varro much: because he did not despair of the preservation of the commonwealth after so great a calamity, but did return again to the city, to help to reduce things to order, to execute the laws, and aid his fellow-citizens in their prospect of future deliverance.

Narration and Discussion

How did the "bold constancy" of Fabius help the Romans during this time?

Do you think Varro deserved the commendation given to him? Why or why not?

Creative narration: If you are working with a group, have one person play Fabius, and others line up to ask for his help for various situations. Another possibility for drama might be the return of Varro.

Lesson Nine


Fabius returned to the battlefield, along with his co-consul Marcellus. This lesson, though, is more about his ability to put out small fires among his own troops.


the two chief generals: see notes in Lesson Eight

buckler: shield

breach: break, damage

eminent: distinguished

sensible of: aware of

more by favour than by desert: more by personal liking than by merit

if you apply yourself . . .: if you take your problems to anyone else

churlish: rude

clemency: mercy

husbandmen: farmers

must answer for you: must promise that you will remain in the camp


(Marcus) Claudius Marcellus: Highly-honoured Roman military leader and five-times consul; subject of Plutarch's Life of Marcellus. Noted for his leadership at the Siege of Syracuse (213-213 B.C.), in which Archimedes was killed.

Historic Occasions

214 B.C.: Fabius and Marcellus led the Roman forces against Hannibal

209 B.C.: Fabius' last consulship

208 B.C.: Death of Marcellus

On the Map

Metapontum: an ancient city on the Gulf of Tarentum

Marsians: the people of Marsica, in central Italy


Part One

When word was brought to Rome that Hannibal, after the battle, was gone into other parts of Italy, then they began to be of good cheer again; and sent a new army and generals to the field, among which the two chief generals were Fabius Maximus, and Claudius Marcellus, both which, by contrary means in manner, won a like glory and reputation. For Marcellus (as we have declared in his Life) was a man of action and high spirit, ready and bold with his own hand, and, as Homer describes his warriors, "fierce and delighting in fights." Boldness, enterprise, and daring to match those of Hannibal constituted his tactics and marked his engagements. But Fabius adhered to his former principles, still persuaded that, by following close and not fighting him, Hannibal and his army would at least be tired out and consumed, like a wrestler in too high condition, whose very excess of strength makes him the more likely suddenly to give way and lose it.

Posidonius tells us that the Romans called Marcellus their sword, and Fabius their buckler; and that the vigour of the one, mixed with the steadiness of the other, made a happy compound that proved the salvation of Rome. So that Hannibal found by experience that encountering the one, he met with a rapid, impetuous river, which drove him back, and still made some breach upon him; and by the other, though silently and quietly passing by him, he was insensibly washed away and consumed; and, at last, was brought to this: that he dreaded Marcellus when he was in motion, and Fabius when he sat still.

Part Two

In preserving the towns and allies from revolt by fair and gentle treatment, and in not using rigour, or showing a suspicion upon every light suggestion, his conduct was remarkable. It is told of him, that he was informed of a certain Marsian, eminent for courage and good birth, who had been speaking underhand with some of the soldiers about deserting. Fabius was so far from using severity against him, that he called for him, and told him he was sensible of the neglect that had been shown to his merit and good service, which, he said, was a great fault in the commanders who reward more by favour than by desert; "but, henceforth, whenever you are aggrieved," said Fabius, "I shall consider it your fault, if you apply yourself to anyone but to me"; and when he had so spoken, he bestowed an excellent horse, and other presents upon him; and, from that time forwards, there was not a more faithful and trusty man in the whole army.

For Fabius thought it more fit that hunters, riders of horses, and suchlike as take upon them to tame brute beasts, should sooner make them leave their savage and churlish nature by gentle usage and manning of them, than by beating and shackling of them. And so a governor of men should rather correct his soldier by patience, gentleness, and clemency: than by rigour, violence, or severity. Otherwise he should handle them more rudely, and sharply, than husbandmen do fig trees, olive trees, and wild pomegranates: who by diligent pruning and good handling of them, do alter their hard and wild nature, and cause them in the end to bring forth good figs, olives and pomegranates.

At another time, some of his officers informed him that one of their men was very often absent from his place, and out at night. He asked them what manner of man he was. They answered him all together, that he was a very good soldier, and that they could hardly find out such another, in all their bands as he; and therewithal they told him, of some notable service they had seen him do in person. Whereupon Fabius made a diligent enquiry to know what the cause was, that made him go so oft out of the camp: in the end, he found he was in love with a young woman, and that to go see her, was the cause he did so oft leave his place, and did put his life in so great danger, for that she was so far off. When Fabius understood this, he sent certain soldiers (unknowing to the soldier) to bring the woman he loved, and willed them to hide her in his tent: and then called he the soldier to him, that was a Lucanian born, and taking him aside, said unto him thus: "My friend, it has been told to me, how you have been many nights out of the camp, against the law of arms and order of the Romans, but I understand also that otherwise you are an honest man, and therefore I pardon your past faults, in consideration of your good service; but from henceforth I will place one over you to be your keeper, who should be accountable for your good behaviour." The soldier was blank, when he heard these words. Fabius, with that, caused the woman he was in love with to be brought forth, and delivered her into his hands, saying unto him: "This is the person who must answer for you; and by your future behaviour we shall see whether your night rambles were on account of love, or for any other worse design." Thus much we find written concerning this matter.

Narration and Discussion

In earlier battles, the impetuousness of Minucius collided with the only-when-necessary tactics of Fabius. Why did this not seem to be a problem for Fabius and Marcellus?

Choose either the story of the Marsian or the lovesick soldier, and discuss (orally or in writing) why Fabius' tactics were successful. What other solutions might someone else have tried; do you think they would have worked as well? Do these stories of Fabius give you any ideas for dealing with "difficult customers?"

Creative narration: Choose either story, and retell it in a creative format.

Lesson Ten


In the last lesson, we saw examples of Fabius' wisdom in guiding and correcting those under his authority. This passage again shows his understanding of human nature, but then leads into something bigger: the regaining of the town of Tarentum.


abstained from visiting: did not visit

garrison: military post, fortified area

mercenary: fighting only for pay

scenting the design: sniffing out the plot

incontinently: immediately

furlong: A Roman furlong was 625 feet, or 190.5 m.

Historic Occasions

212 B.C.: Tarentum occupied by Hannibal

211 B.C.: Scipio's father and uncle were killed fighting Hannibal's brother Hasdrubal Barca in Spain; Scipio was made proconsul (governor) of Spain, and defeated Hasdrubal's army in 209 B.C.

209 B.C.: Fabius recaptured Tarentum

On the Map

Tarentum: seaport city in Italy, now called Taranto. Taranto gave its name to both the tarantula and the tarantella.

Bruttians: a tribe of southern Italy

Rhegium: now called Reggio di Calabria

Caulonia: a municipality in Calabria


Moreover, Fabius after such a sort, recovered again the city of Tarentum, and brought it to the obedience of the Romans, which they had lost by treason.

It fortuned there was a young man in his camp, a Tarentine born, that had a sister within Tarentum, which was very faithful to him, and loved him marvellous dearly. Now there was a captain, a Bruttian born, that fell in love with her, and was one of those to whom Hannibal had committed the charge of the city of Tarentum. This gave the young soldier, the Tarentine, very good hope, and a way to bring his enterprise to good effect: whereupon he revealed his intent to Fabius, and (seemingly) fled from his camp, and got into the city of Tarentum, giving it out in the city that he would altogether dwell with his sister.

Now for a few days at his first coming, the Bruttian captain abstained from visiting, at the request of the maid his sister, who thought her brother had not known of her love; and shortly after, the young fellow took his sister aside, and said unto her:

"My good sister, there was a great speech in the Roman camp, that thou wert kept by one of the chiefest captains of the garrison: I pray thee if it be so, let me know what he is. For so he be a good fellow, and an honest man (as they say he is) I care not: for wars that turneth all things topsy-turvy, regardeth not of what place or calling he is of, and still maketh virtue of necessity, without respect of shame. And it is a special good fortune, at such time as neither right nor reason rules, to happen yet into the hands of a good and gracious lord."

His sister, hearing him speak these words, sent for the Bruttian captain to bring him acquainted with her brother, who liked well of both their loves, and endeavoured himself to frame his sister's love in better sort towards him, than it was before: by reason whereof, the captain also began to trust him very much. So at last our Tarentine thought this Bruttian officer well enough prepared to receive the offers he had to make him, and that it would be easy for a mercenary man, who was in love, to accept, upon the terms proposed, the large rewards promised by Fabius. In conclusion, the bargain was struck, and the promise made of delivering the town.

[omission for content]

Whilst these matters were thus in process, to draw off Hannibal from scenting the design, Fabius sent orders to the garrison in Rhegium, that they should waste and spoil the Bruttian country, and should also lay siege to Caulonia, and storm the place with all their might. These Rhegian soldiers were about the number of eight thousand, and the most of them traitors, and renegades, from one camp to another; and the worst sort of them, and most defamed of life, were those that Marcellus brought thither out of Sicily; so that in losing them all, the loss were nothing to the commonwealth, and the sorrow much less. So Fabius thought, that putting these fellows out for a prey to Hannibal (as a bait to draw him from those quarters) he should pluck him by this means from Tarentum: and so it came to pass. For Hannibal incontinently went thence with his army to entrap them: and in the meantime Fabius went to lay siege to Tarentum.

He had not lain six days before it, but the young man (who together with his sister had drawn the Bruttian captain to this treason) stole out one night to Fabius, to inform him of all, having taken very good marks of that side of the wall the Bruttian captain had taken charge of, who had promised him to keep it secret, and to suffer them to enter that came to assault that side. Yet Fabius would not ground his hope altogether upon the Bruttians executing this treason, but went himself in person to view the place appointed, howbeit without attempting anything for that time: and in the mean season, he gave a general assault to all parts of the city (as well by sea as by land) with great shouts and cries. Then the Bruttian captain, seeing all the citizens and garrison run to that part, where they perceived the noise to be greatest: made a signal unto Fabius, that now was the time. Fabius then caused scaling ladders to be brought, whereupon himself with his company scaled the walls, and so won the city.

But it appeareth here, that ambition overcame him. For first he commanded they should kill all the Bruttians, because it should not be known he had won the city by treason. But this bloody policy failed him: for he missed not only of the glory he looked for, but most deservedly he had the reproach of cruelty and falsehood. At the taking of this city, a marvellous number of the Tarentines were slain; besides there were sold thirty thousand of the chiefest of them, and all the city was sacked: and of the spoil thereof which was carried to the common treasure at Rome, three thousand talents. It is reported also, that when they did spoil and carry away all other spoils left behind, the recorder of the city asked Fabius what his pleasure was to do with the "gods," meaning the tables, and their images: and to that Fabius answered him: "Let us leave the Tarentines their gods that be angry with them."

This notwithstanding, he carried from thence Hercules' statue, that was of a monstrous bigness, and caused it to be set up in the Capitol; and withal did set up his own image in brass a-horseback by him. But in that act he shewed himself far harder-hearted than Marcellus had done; or to say more truly, thereby he made the world know how much Marcellus' courtesy, clemency, and bounty was to be wondered at: as we have written in his Life.

News being brought to Hannibal that Tarentum was besieged, he marched presently with all speed possible to raise the siege: and they say he had almost come in time, for he was within forty furlongs of the city when he understood the truth of the taking of it. Then said he out aloud, "Sure the Romans have their Hannibal too: for as we won Tarentum, so have we lost it." But after that, to his friends he said privately (and that was the first time they ever heard him speak it), that he saw long before, and now it appeared plainly, that they could not possibly with this small power keep Italy.

Narration and Discussion

Explain Fabius' strategy for re-capturing the city of Tarentum.

What do you think of Hannibal's reaction? After so much success, why did these events discourage him so much?

For older students: Though Plutarch generally admires Fabius, he admits that Fabius' behaviour at the end of this passage was both uncharacteristic and cruel. Why do you think Fabius acted this way? Is it possible for someone who has once shown so much wisdom and grace to completely "blow it" at another time? Should we continue to admire such a person?

Lesson Eleven


Fabius, in this lesson, was honoured with a triumphal parade. At this point, however, Plutarch shifts the focus of the story onto a rising star in Rome: the army commander Cornelius Scipio. Fabius was aging; Scipio was less than 30 years old. Fabius was still holding back in the long-running war with Hannibal; Scipio was ready to take the war into Carthage itself. Fabius was losing the confidence of the people; Scipio was gaining it. Was it time for Fabius to step down?


foil his arts: defeat his skills

ineffectual: powerless

dissolute: corrupt

citadel: fort

they chose his son consul: Plutarch appears to have his chronology slightly off, as the son of Fabius (Quintus Fabius Maximus) had been consul a few years before this. Or he may simply be referring to the general respect that the Romans held for them.

lighted straight: got off his horse

went a good round pace: hurried

obsequies: rites

protracted: lengthened

impeded the levies: interfered with the drafting of soldiers to go against Hannibal

declaimed: declared publicly

at their gates: "Hannibal at the gates" (see introductory notes for this study)

the legions which were already in Sicily: Sicily was being used as a sort of dumping ground for soldiers who had survived unsuccessful battles, and who were therefore something of an embarrassment. However, these soldiers were well trained, and they were motivated to prove themselves again in battle; so Scipio was able to assemble a very good army.


Crassus: Manius Otacilius Crassus, consul in 263 B.C. and 246 B.C. (not the Crassus from Plutarch's Life of Crassus)

Cornelius Scipio: see introductory notes for this study

Historic Occasions

213 B.C.: Quintus Fabius Maximus was consul; Cornelius Scipio was aedile. (Scipio was technically not old enough but was elected anyway.)

206 B.C.: Scipio defeated the Carthaginian forces in Spain and returned to Rome

205 B.C.: Scipio was consul. His plan to take a large military force to Africa was resisted, and he was limited to existing troops in Sicily.


Part One

Upon this success, Fabius had a triumph decreed him at Rome, much more splendid that his first; they looked upon him now as a champion who had learned to cope with his opponent, and could now easily foil his arts and prove his best skill ineffectual. And, indeed, the army of Hannibal was at this time partly worn away with continual action, and partly weakened and become dissolute with overabundance and luxury. Marcus Livius, who was governor of Tarentum when it was betrayed to Hannibal, and then retired into the citadel, which he kept till the town was retaken, was annoyed at these honours and distinctions; and, on one occasion, being drowned with envy and ambition, he burst out and said: that it was himself, not Fabius, that was cause of taking of the city of Tarentum again. Fabius smiling to hear him, answered him openly, "Indeed thou sayest true: for if thou hadst not lost it, I had never won it again."

But the Romans in all other respects did greatly honour Fabius, and specially for that they chose his son consul. He, having already taken possession of his office, as he was dispatching certain causes touching the wars, his father, either by reason of age and infirmity, or perhaps out of design to try his son, came up to him on horseback. While he was still at a distance, the young consul observed it, and bade one of his lictors command his father to alight, and tell him if he had any business with the consul, he should come on foot. This commandment misliked the people that heard it, and they all looked upon Fabius, but said not a word: thinking with themselves, that the consul did great wrong to his father's greatness. So he lighted straight, and went a good round pace to embrace his son, and said unto him: "Yes, my son, you do well to show over whom you command, understanding the authority of a consul, which place you have received. This was the way by which we and our forefathers advanced the dignity of Rome, preferring ever her honour and service to our own fathers and children."

[omission for length]

But it fortuned that this son of Fabius died before him, whose death he took patiently, like a wise man, and a good father. Now the custom being at that time, that at the death of a nobleman, their nearest kinsman should make a funeral oration in their praise at their obsequies: he himself made the same oration in honour of his son, and committed it afterwards in writing.

Part Two

After Cornelius Scipio, who was sent into Spain, had driven the Carthaginians, defeated by him in many battles, out of the country, and had gained over to Rome many towns and nations with large resources, he was received at his coming home with unexampled joy and acclamation of the people, who, to show their gratitude, elected him consul for the year ensuing. Knowing what high expectations they had of him, he thought the occupation of contesting Italy with Hannibal a mere old man's employment, and proposed no less a task to himself than to make Carthage the seat of the war and fill the province of Africa with arms and devastation; and so oblige Hannibal, instead of invading the countries of others, to draw back and defend his own. And to this end he proceeded to exert all the influence he had with the people.

But Fabius contrarily, persuading himself that the enterprise this young rash youth took in hand was utterly to overthrow the commonwealth, or to put the state of Rome in great danger: he devised to put Rome in the greatest fear he could, without sparing speech or deed he thought might serve for his purpose, to make the people change from that mind. Now he could so cunningly work his purpose, what with speaking and doing, that he had drawn all the Senate to his opinion. But the common people judged it was the secret envy he bore to Scipio's glory, and that he was afraid lest this young conqueror should achieve some great and noble exploit, and have the glory, perhaps, of driving Hannibal out of Italy, or even of ending the war, which had for so many years continued and been protracted under his management.

For my part, methinks the only matter that moved Fabius from the beginning to be against Scipio, was the great care he had of the safety of the commonwealth, by reason of the great danger depending upon such a resolution. And yet I do think also, that afterwards he went further than he should, contending too sore against him (whether it was through ambition or obstinacy) seeking to hinder and suppress the greatness of Scipio: considering also he did his best to persuade Crassus, Scipio's companion in the consulship, that he should not grant unto him the leading of the army, but if he thought good to go into Africa, to make wars upon the Carthaginians, that he should rather go himself. He also hindered the giving of money to Scipio for the war; so that he was forced to raise it upon his own credit and interest from the cities of Etruria, which were extremely attached to him. On the other side, Crassus would not stir against him, nor remove out of Italy, being, in his own nature, averse to all contention, and also having, by his office of high priest, religious duties to retain him.

Fabius, therefore, tried other ways to oppose the design; he impeded the levies, and he declaimed, both in the senate and to the people, that Scipio was not only himself fleeing from Hannibal, but was also endeavouring to drain Italy of all its forces, and to spirit away the youth of the country to a foreign war, leaving behind them their parents, wives, and children, and the city itself, a defenseless prey to the conquering and undefeated enemy at their gates.

With this he so far alarmed the people, that at last they would only allow Scipio for the war the legions which were already in Sicily, and three hundred, whom he particularly trusted, of those men who had served with him in Spain. In these transactions, Fabius seems to have followed the dictates of his own wary temper.

Narration and Discussion

From Lesson Five: "Fabius quietly reminded [Minucius] that it was, in all wisdom, Hannibal, and not Fabius, whom he had to combat; but if he must needs contend with his colleague, it had best be in diligence and care for the preservation of Rome…" Had Fabius forgotten these words, or was he still carrying them out? Why did he find it difficult to trust Scipio's vision for overcoming Hannibal?

Creative narration: Imagine (acted out or in writing) a conversation between Fabius and someone trying to convince him that this time--and only this time--he was just plain wrong.

For older students: In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, "It is a mistake to think that some of our impulses--say mother love or patriotism--are good, and others, like the fighting instinct, are bad…Strictly speaking, there are no such things as good and bad impulses. A piano has not got two kind of notes on it, the "right" notes and the 'wrong" ones. Every single note is right at one time and wrong at another." How did Fabius' patriotism make him an excellent ruler? Was there anything wrong or misplaced about it?

Lesson Twelve and Examination Questions


The war against Hannibal was suddenly going much better for Rome, thanks mostly to Cornelius Scipio. Fabius was still highly respected for what he had done over his lifetime, but his opinions on current affairs were no longer taken too seriously (although he did still have some ability to worry people with his pronouncements).


spoils: riches

alleging: claiming

happy: fortunate

Historic Occasions

203 B.C.: Death of Fabius

183 B.C.: Death of Scipio

149-146 B.C.: Third Punic War, which ended the independent existence of Carthage


Now Scipio was no sooner arrived in Africa, but news was brought to Rome of wonderful exploits, and noble service done beyond measure, of which the fame was confirmed by the spoils he sent home; of a Numidian king taken prisoner; of a vast slaughter of their men; of two camps of the enemy burnt and destroyed; and in them a great quantity of arms and horses; and when, hereupon, the Carthaginians were compelled to send envoys to Hannibal to call him home, and leave his idle hopes in Italy, to defend Carthage. These wonderful great fortunes of Scipio made him of such renown and fame within Rome, that there was no talk of anything but Scipio. Fabius, notwithstanding, insisted that they should send him a successor, alleging no other cause nor reason but the old belief that it was a dangerous thing to commit to the fortune of one man alone so great exceeding prosperity and good success, because it is a rare matter to see one man happy in all things.

These words were so much misliked by the people, that they thought him an envious and troublesome man; or else they thought his age had made him fearful; or a fear, that had now become exaggerated, of the skill of Hannibal. For now though Hannibal was forced to leave Italy, and to return into Africa, yet Fabius would not grant that the people's joy and security they thought they were in, was altogether clear, and without fear and mistrust: but gave it out that then they were in greatest danger, and that the commonwealth was breeding more mischief now, than before.

"For when Hannibal" (said he), "shall return home into Africa, and come before the walls of Carthage, the Romans shall be less able to abide him there, than they have been before: and Scipio moreover, shall meet with an army yet warm with the blood of so many praetors, dictators, and consuls of Rome, which they have overcome, and put to the sword in Italy."

With these uncomfortable speeches, he still troubled and disquieted the whole city, persuading them that notwithstanding the war was transferred out of Italy into Africa, yet that the occasion of fear was no less near unto Rome, than it was ever before. Scipio, however, shortly afterwards fought Hannibal, and utterly defeated him, humbled the pride of Carthage beneath his feet, gave his countrymen joy and exultation beyond all their hopes, and--

Long shaken on the seas restored the state.

Howbeit Fabius lived not to the end of this war, nor ever heard while he lived the joyful news of Hannibal's happy overthrow; neither were his years prolonged to see the happy assured prosperity of his country: for about that time that Hannibal departed out of Italy, a sickness took him, whereof he died.

The stories declare that the Thebans buried Epaminondas at the common charges of the people: because he died in so great poverty, that when he was dead, they found nothing in the house but a little iron coin. Fabius did not need this, but the people, as a mark of their affection, defrayed the expenses of his funeral by a private contribution from each citizen of the smallest piece of coin; thus owning him their common father, and making his end no less honourable than his life.

Narration and Discussion

Did Scipio owe some of his eventual success over Hannibal to what Fabius had done before him? Explain.

Creative narration: Describe the peoples' attitude toward Fabius as demonstrated by their actions at his death. Imagine a speech that might be given at his funeral. What words would sum up his character, his leadership, and his contribution to Rome?

For older students: If you read Plutarch's Life of Pericles last term, you may want to find and read Plutarch's comparison of Pericles and Fabius; or try writing your own. What did they have in common? What were their differences?

Examination Questions

Younger Students:

1. a) Why did the Romans choose Fabius as dictator? b) Tell about a time when Fabius showed kindness to someone under his authority.

2. (Alternative) Why did Minucius call Fabius "Father?"

Older Students:

3. Tell how Fabius handled the Romans during a time of crisis in the city.

4. Hannibal "dreaded Marcellus when he was in motion, and Fabius when he sat still." Explain.

5. (For high school) Compare and contrast the characters of Fabius and Marcellus OR Fabius and Scipio, giving illustrations. OR "And so it was with the Romans; the counsels and actions of Fabius, which, before the battle, they had branded as cowardice and fear; now, in the other extreme, they accounted to have been more than human wisdom . . ." Explain these words of Plutarch.


Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans. Englished by Sir Thomas North. With an introduction by George Wyndham. Second Volume. London: Dent, 1894.

Plutarch's Lives: The Dryden Plutarch. Revised by Arthur Hugh Clough, Volume 1. London: J.M. Dent, 1910.

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