Unlike Spain, Sicily had been relatively quiet during the opening years of the Second Punic War. That all changed in 216 BC with the death of Hiero II, King of Syracuse. Staunchly pro-Roman, Hiero had feared that his grandson and natural heir, Hieronymus, would lead Syracuse to disaster. His greatest fears were justified – shortly after the old king’s death, Hieronymus broke with Rome and allied with Hannibal. When Hieronymus was assassinated, one of the most confused and confusing conflicts of the Second Punic War began, one which would ultimately culminate in the sacking of the greatest Greek city in Magna Graecia.
With Hannibal immersed in the mire of Italian geopolitics, the Second Punic War shifts to theaters overseas. Keenly aware of the strategic importance of maintaining pressure on Carthage’s outposts in Spain, the Scipio brothers – Gnaeus and Publius Cornelius – grappled with Hannibal’s younger brother, Hasdrubal Barca for years, chipping away at the Barcid power base. When both Scipio brothers perished within days of each other in 211 BC, Publius Cornelius Scipio the Younger volunteered to take their place as senior commander of the Spanish war. Barely in his mid-twenties, Scipio rapidly showed that he was a new type of Roman commander, one well-versed in the tactics of Hannibalic warfare….
Following Cannae, Hannibal descended into the rich agricultural lands of Campania in Magna Graecia. Chafing under Roman rule and eager to reclaim her place as hegemon of southern Italy, the ancient Etruscan city of Capua quickly came to an agreement with Hannibal. In exchange for defecting to the Carthaginian side, Hannibal would allow Capua autonomy, secure her place as mistress of Italy, and allow her to be governed by her own rulers and marshal her own army. A stormy honeymoon followed, with Hannibal soon realizing that he had given too much and received far too little for his new southern Italian “ally”….
Greek temple of Hera in Campania. Magna Graecia or “Greater Greece” had been heavily settled by the Greeks on the coast while the native Oscans held the interior. It had long been a troubled province even before Hannibal’s time. Originalphotos by Wikipedia User Berthold Werner.
In the stillness following the destruction of their greatest army at the Battle of Cannae, the Romans faced an awful choice. The triumphant Hannibal stood poised to march on Rome herself and besiege the capital, and there was little the surviving remnants of legionaries could do to stop him. The Italian allies had already begun to waiver in their resolve, and some even among Rome’s patricians began to advocate for abandoning Italy entirely. In this hour of doubt, Hannibal’s envoys arrived to discuss peace terms. However, Romans such as Publius Cornelius Scipio and Titus Manlius Torquatus would hear no talk of peace or flight. The Carthaginian delegate was coldly told to return home, and the Senate refused to ransom the Roman prisoners in Hannibal’s hands despite their heart-rending pleas. There would be no admission of defeat – Rome would fight until the bitter end.
Fabius the Delayer might have saved Minucius from disaster at Geronium, but he would not always be there to protect his impetuous colleagues from rushing into trouble. Following Fabius’s relinquishment of the dictatorship, one of the newly-elected consuls, Gaius Terentius Varro, accused Fabius and the patricians of intentionally prolonging the war. Instead of continuing to follow Fabius’s delaying tactics, Varro urged the Romans to immediately engage Hannibal to obtain decisive victory. Despite the protests of his fellow consul, Lucius Aemilius Paullus, Varro’s counsel won out. The Senate raised four new legions in addition to the four which typically served. Fielding the greatest army she had ever raised – 87,000 men total – Rome challenged Hannibal for the third time at the small Apulian town of Cannae.