Who Was Quintus Fabius Maximus and What Was His Strategy?

Quintus Fabius Maximus was a Roman politician and general during the Second Punic War.
When Hannibal invaded Italy in 218 B.C., he soundly defeated the Romans in the battles of Ticinus, Trebia and Trasimene causing the loss of some 45,000 Roman and allied soldiers. After the Battle of Trasimene in June of 217 B.C. the Romans elected Quintus Fabius Maximus dictator. Fabius developed a strategy designed to deprive Hannibal’s army of sustenance. He enforced a sort of scorched earth policy in the places Hannibal traveled through. He would march his troops in the hills above Hannibal’s camps and attack his foragers. He also enforced the destruction of crops in areas where they might be obtained by Hannibal. Realizing that Hannibal was a military genius he declined to take him on in open battle.
This was the Fabian strategy, and if might have worked after a year or two if he had been allowed to continue it, but his dictatorship expired after six months and the leadership reverted to the Consuls Gneius Servilius Geminus and Marcus Atilius Regulus. Geminus and Regulus carried on the Fabian strategy but the Roman people grew impatient with it an wanted to bring Hannibal to battle. They elected as Consul Gaius Tarentius Varro who boasted that he would “bring the war to a conclusion on the very day he got sight of the enemy.” The other Consul, Lucius Aemilius Paullus was far more cautious, but the Roman Senate went along with Varro and authorized the assembly of an army of 80,000 Roman and allied soldiers to go out to Apulia and confront Hannibal in the field. This resulted in the disastrous Battle of Cannae in which some 55,000 Roman and allied soldiers were killed.

After this disaster the Roman people realized that Fabius had been right all along but the Fabian strategy would no longer work because Hannibal was able to make alliances with a number of cities and tribes of southern Italy and it would no longer be possible to starve him out because he now had the assistance of these allies. After the Battle of Cannae Hannibal and his army wintered in the city of Capua which had made a treaty with him.

Under the leadership of Fabius the war now became one of attrition. The Romans concentrated on Hannibal’s allies and largely avoided direct confrontation with Hannibal. They strictly patrolled the Italian shoreline and, after 215 B.C. entirely prevented Hannibal from receiving reinforcements from Carthage. In 212 B.C. the Romans recaptured Tarentum and in 210 B.C. they took Capua by siege. In both cases they sold the survivors into slavery. Some of the other polities that had allied with Hannibal, such as Arpi and Locri came back to the Roman fold willingly. The war became one of attrition and by 206 B.C., Hannibal and his army were confined to a small area in Bruttium.
Eventually the Romans developed a military genius of their own, Publius Cornelius Scipio. Scipio was appointed commander in Spain in 209 B.C. and within four years he drove the Carthaginians out of Spain. Then he returned to Rome, ran for Consul, and proposed an invasion of Africa.

Fabius strongly opposed this invasion, saying that Scipio should go after Hannibal in Bruttium, but Scipio prevailed and assembled an invasion force. He invaded Africa in 203 B.C. and quickly overcame Carthaginian resistance. The Carthaginians summoned Hannibal and his brother Mago, who had established a base in Liguria, back to Africa. (Mago had been wounded in a battle and died in transit.) By this time Hannibal’s forces were somewhat depleted and he was inferior in cavalry. Scipio defeated him at the Battle of Zama in 202 B.C. and forced Carthage into a treaty on Roman terms.
Quintus Fabius Maximus died in 203 B.C. at the age of 77. He never got to see the end of the Second Punic War.
If you want to know more details about Quintus Fabius Maximus, Read my book, Maximus, Warts and All, it’s available on Amazon and Kindle.

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