The battle of Cannae was the last great battle fought by Hannibal in Italy. This conflict has been greatly celebrated in history, not only for its magnitude, and the terrible desperation with which it was fought, but also on account of the strong dramatic interest which the circumstances at tending it are fitted to excite. The interest is perhaps, however, quite as much due to the peculiar skill of the ancient historian who narrates the story, as to the events themselves which he records.
It was about a year after the close of the dictatorship of Fabius that this battle was fought. That interval had been spent by the Roman consuls who were in office during that time in various military operations, which did not, however, lead to any decisive results. In the mean time, there were great uneasiness, discontent, and dissatisfaction at Rome. To have such a dangerous and terrible foe, at the head of forty thousand men, infesting the vicinage of their city, ravaging the territories of their friends and allies, and threatening continually to attack the city itself, was a continual source of anxiety and vexation. It mortified the Roman pride, too, to find that the greatest armies they could raise, and the ablest generals they could choose and commission, proved wholly unable to cope with the foe. The most sagacious of them, in fact, had felt it necessary to decline the contest with him altogether.
This state of things produced a great deal of ill humor in the city. Party spirit ran very high; tumultuous assemblies were held; disputes and contentions prevailed, and mutual criminations and recriminations without end. There were two great parties formed: that of the middling classes on one side, and the aristocracy on the other. The former were called the Plebeians, the latter the Patricians. The division between these two classes was very great and very strongly marked. There was, in consequence of it, infinite difficulty in the election of consuls. At last the consuls were chosen, one from each party. The name of the patrician was Paulus AEmilius. The name of the plebeian was Varro. They were inducted into office, and were thus put jointly into .possession of a vast power, to wield which with any efficiency and success would seem to require union sand harmony in those who held it, and yet AEmilius and Varro were inveterate and implacable political foes. It was often so in the Roman government. `The consulship was a double-headed monster, which spent half its strength in bitter contests waged between its members.