Did Fabius Maximus save Rome?


The Primary Record

Fabius Maximus was a Roman hero – given the title ‘Shield of Rome’.

His contemporary, the Roman writer Ennius, who wrote an 18-book epic on the history of Rome, said of him: ‘one man, by delaying, restored the state to us’.

By the time of Livy, this reputation had reached its zenith. Livy explains how, at first, the Romans criticised Fabius’s tactics, ‘calling his deliberation indolence and his caution cowardice’, but he repeats how Fabius’s strategy ‘was a considerable source of anxiety to Hannibal, who realised that at last the Romans had chosen a master of military strategy’.

Silius Italicus took it even further, saying that Fabius gave Hannibal ‘nightmares’.

Plutarch saw Cannae as the event which vindicated Fabius, and declared him the man whose tactics saved Rome:

Life of Fabius Maximus, Chapter 5
For that which was called cowardice and sluggishness in Fabius before the battle, immediately after the battle was thought to be no mere human calculation, nay, rather, a divine and marvellous intelligence, since it looked so far into the future and foretold a disaster which could hardly be believed by those who experienced it. In him, therefore, Rome at once placed her last hopes; to his wisdom she fled for refuge as to the temple and altar, believing that it was first and chiefly due to his prudence that she still remained a city...

Fabius clung to his first and famous convictions, and looked to see Hannibal, if only no one fought with him or harassed him, become his own worst enemy, wear himself out in the war, and speedily lose his high efficiency, like an athlete whose bodily powers have been overtaxed and exhausted. [Hannibal] had no success against Fabius, although he frequently brought all sorts of deceitful tests to bear upon him...

Only Polybius - the client of Fabius's rivals, the Scipios - was less than enthusiastic, ascribing the Romans' survival to their inexhaustible resources and manpower, and to the iron will of the Senate.



The Secondary Interpretations

During the Renaissance, when study of the Classics became popular, Fabius’s reputation remained high. The political writer Machiavelli praised him and – during the French invasion of Italy at the end of the 15th century – the Italian princes consciously copied Fabius’s strategy of harrying and delay.
Fabian tactics were also used by George Washington against the English in the American Revolution, and by the Russians against Napoleon.


There MUST be some out there, but none that I have been able to find.  Michael Fronda (2010) argues that 'Rome's effective military and diplomatic response after Cannae was greatly responsible for Hannibal's defeat', and he explains how a string of modern historians have shown the different ways in which 'strict adherence to the 'Fabian strategy' ultimately saved the Roman cause'.  So if all this hero-worship makes you feel suspicious, you will enjoy reading my revisionist blog-post which suggests that Fabius was 'an awful man and a mediocre general'!




The following websites will help you complete the task:

You can read my revisionist deconstruction of Fabius's reputation here.



1. Look back through your notes  - and, particularly, study the commentaries on Polybius, Livy and Plutarch - which describe Fabius's actions. 

Use your notes to make a list of all the POSITIVES about his military and political record.


2. Write an answer to the following question:

''Fabius Maximus was the man who saved Rome.' How far do the ancient sources support this opinion?

In your answer you should:

• give a brief account of Fabius's military record;

• explain how Fabius succeeded;

• show knowledge of the relevant sections of Polybius, Livy and Plutarch;

• consider how reliable you think these sources are.                                                [30]