Story of Rome - Mary Macgregor
Rome was not long in hearing how Hannibal had tricked the Dictator, and the people were roused to fury because Fabius had allowed their great enemy to escape.
Now it was necessary at this time for Fabius to leave the army and return to Rome to celebrate a religious rite.
Minucius was left in command of the legions during the absence of the Dictator. Before he left, Fabius bade the young officer on no pretext to risk a battle while he was away.
But no sooner had the Dictator gone, than Minucius, hearing that a large body of the enemy had left their camp in search of forage, fell upon a company of those that were left behind. He killed many of them, and retreated without losing any of his own men.
When tidings of this success, slight though it was, reached Rome, the people were both excited and elated. And as was perhaps natural, they began to compare Minucius and his triumph with the Dictator and his policy of delay.
If Minucius had been commander, Hannibal would have been beaten long ago, so grumbled the people. Surely it was ignoble to camp on the hills in safety, while the country was being destroyed by the enemy.
So great was the discontent of the people that at length the Senate decreed that Minucius should be given power equal to that of the Dictator. This had never been done before, as the Dictator always held the supreme power alone.
When Fabius returned to camp he showed no chagrin at the new arrangement, but gave to his former master of the horse complete control of two legions, while he himself kept command of the other two. This was, he believed, wiser than that two generals should rule the entire army.
Hannibal was well pleased when he heard how the Roman command had been divided. For he foresaw that it would be easy to draw the young impetuous general down from the heights.
So, as his way was, he carefully laid an ambush, and then sent out a small party to take possession of a hill that lay not far from the enemy's camp.
Minucius rose, as a fish rises, to the bait. He sent out his light troops and cavalry to scatter the enemy. Then when he saw the great Carthaginian general himself march to the help of his men, he ordered his whole army to hasten forward to the attack.
No sooner did Hannibal see that his ruse had been successful than he gave a signal to the men lying in ambush, and they, springing from their hiding place, with loud cries attacked the Romans in the rear.
In vain did Minucius try to rally his terrified followers. They were soon in utter confusion. Nor, now that battle had actually been given, did the new general show himself a capable or wise soldier.
Just as the Romans were on the point of flying from the field, Fabius, who, foreseeing what would happen, had ordered his army to be ready, cried, 'We must haste to rescue Minucius, who is a valiant man and a lover of his country.'
Then speeding to the battlefield with his men, he led them so bravely, and at the same time so warily, that Hannibal was soon forced to sound a retreat.
To his friends the Punic general remarked, 'Did I not tell you that this cloud which always hovered upon the mountains, would at some time or other, come down with a storm upon us?'
After Hannibal had withdrawn his troops, Fabius went back to his camp without saying a harsh or reproachful word to Minucius.
He, the more ashamed, that Fabius treated him so generously, called together his discomfited army, and told them that he was sorry that he had ever spoken against the Dictator.
'Some reason,' he said, 'I may have to accuse fortune, but I have many more to thank her; for in a few hours she hath cured a long mistake, and taught me that I am not the man who should command others, but have need of another to command me. . . . Therefore in everything else henceforth the Dictator must be your commander; only in showing gratitude towards him, I will still be your leader and always be the first to obey his orders.'
Then he bade his men follow him to the camp of Fabius, carrying with them their standards.
As Minucius drew near to the tent of the Dictator, Fabius came out to meet him.
Ordering the standards to be laid at the feet of the man he had disdained, Minucius said, 'You have this day, O Dictator, obtained two victories, one by your valour and conduct over Hannibal, and another by your wisdom and goodness to your colleague.'
Then thanking Fabius for saving his life and the lives of those under him, he flung himself into the arms of the Dictator, calling him father.
The soldiers of each army, touched by the example of their leader, forgot their jealousy and also embraced one another with tears of joy.