The Battle of Cannae

The consuls departed from Rome to join the army, AEmilius attended by a moderate number of men of rank and station, and Varro by a much larger train, though it was formed of people of the lower classes of society. The army was organized, and the arrangements of the encampments perfected. One ceremony was that of administering an oath to the soldiers, as was usual in the Roman armies at the e commencement of a campaign. They were made to swear that they would not desert the army, that they would never abandon the post at which they were stationed in fear or in flight, nor leave the ranks except for the purpose of taking up or recovering a weapon, striking an enemy, or protecting a friend. These and other arrangements being completed, the army was ready for the field. The consuls made a different arrangement in respect to the division of their power from that adopted by Fabius and Flaminius. It was agreed between them that they would exercise their common authority alternately, each for a day.

In the mean time, Hannibal began to find himself reduced to great difficulty in obtaining provisions for k4` his men. The policy of Fabius had been so far successful as to place him in a very embarrassing situation, and one growing more and more embarrassing every day. He could obtain no food except what he got by plunder, and there was now very little opportunity for that, as the inhabitants of the country had carried of all the grain and deposited it in strongly-fortified towns; and though Hannibal had great confidence in his power to cope with the Roman army in a regular battle on an open field, he had not strength sufficient to reduce citadels or attack fortified camps. His stock of provisions had become, therefore, more and more nearly exhausted, until now he had a supply for only ten days, and he saw no possible mode of increasing it.

His great object was, therefore, to bring on a battle. Varro was ready and willing to give him battle, but AEmilius, or, to call him by his name in full, Paulus AEmilius, which is the appellation by which he is more frequently known, was very desirous to persevere in the Fabian policy till the ten days had expired, after which he knew that Hannibal must be reduced to extreme distress, and might have to surrender at once to save his army from actual famine. In fact, it was said that the troops were on such short allowance as to produce great discontent, and that a large body of Spaniards were preparing to desert and go over together to the Roman camp.

Things were in this state, when, one day, Hannibal sent out a party from his camp to procure food, and AEmilius, who happened to hold the command that day, sent out a strong force to intercept them. He was successful. The Carthaginian detachment was routed. Nearly two thousand men were killed, and the rest fled, by any roads they could find, back to Hannibal’s camp. Varro was very eager to follow them there, but AEmilius ordered his men to halt. He was afraid of some trick or treachery- on the part of Hannibal, and was disposed to be satisfied with the victory he had already won.