Capua was celebrated for its wealth and luxury, and the enervating effect which these produced upon the army of Hannibal became a favorite theme of rhetorical exaggeration in later ages. The futility of such declamations is sufficiently shown by the simple fact that the superiority of that army in the field remained as decided as ever. Still it may be truly said that the winter spent at Capua (B.C. 216-215) was in great measure the turning-point of Hannibal's fortune, and from this time the war assumed an altered character. The experiment of what he could effect with his single army had now been fully tried, and, notwithstanding all his victories, it had decidedly failed; for Rome was still unsubdued, and still provided with the means of maintaining a protracted contest. But Hannibal had not relied on his own forces alone, and he now found himself, apparently at least, in a condition to commence the execution of his long-cherished plan - that of arming Italy itself against the Romans, and crushing the ruling power by means of her own subjects. It was to this object that his attention was henceforth mainly directed. From this time, also, the Romans changed their plan of operations, and, instead of opposing to Hannibal one great army in the field, they hemmed in his movements on all sides, guarded all the most important towns with strong garrisons, and kept up an army in every province of Italy to thwart the operations of his lieutenants and check the rising disposition to revolt. It is impossible here to follow in detail the complicated operations of the subsequent campaigns, during which Hannibal himself frequently traversed Italy in all directions, appearing suddenly wherever his presence was called for, and astonishing and often baffling the enemy by the rapidity of his marches. All that we can do is to notice very briefly the leading events which distinguished each successive campaign.
The campaign of B.C. 215 was not marked by any decisive events. The Consuls were Q. Fabius Maximus (whose plan of conducting the war had been fully vindicated by the terrible defeat of Cannæ) and Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus. With the advance of spring Hannibal took up his camp on Mount Tifata, where, while awaiting the arrival of re-enforcements from Carthage, he was at hand to support his partisans in Campania and oppose the Roman generals in that province. But his attempts on Cumæ and Neapolis were foiled, and even after he had been joined by a force from Carthage (very inferior, however, to what he had expected), he sustained a repulse before Nola, which was magnified by the Romans into a defeat. As the winter approached he withdrew into Apulia, and took up his quarters in the plains around Arpi. But other prospects were already opening before him. In his camp on Tifata he had received embassies from Philip, king of Macedon, and Hieronymus of Syracuse, both of which he had eagerly welcomed, and thus sowed the seeds of two fresh wars, and raised up two formidable enemies against the Roman power.
These two collateral wars in some degree drew off the attention of both parties from that in Italy itself; yet the Romans still opposed to the Carthaginian general a chain of armies which fettered all his operations; and though Hannibal was ever on the watch for the opportunity of striking a blow, the campaign of B.C. 214 was still less decisive than that of the preceding year. Fabius was again elected Consul, and Marcellus was appointed his colleague. Early in the summer Hannibal advanced from Apulia to his former station on Mount Tifata to watch over the safety of Capua; from thence he had descended to the Lake Avernus, in hopes of making himself master of Puteoli, when a prospect was held out to him of surprising the important city of Tarentum. Thither he hastened by forced marches, but arrived too late; Tarentum had been secured by a Roman force. After this his operations were of little importance, until he again took up his winter quarters in Apulia.
During the following summer (B.C. 213), while all eyes were turned toward the war in Sicily, Hannibal remained almost wholly inactive in the neighborhood of Tarentum, the hopes he still entertained of making himself master of that important city rendering him unwilling to quit that quarter of Italy. Before the close of the ensuing winter he was rewarded with the long-looked-for prize, and Tarentum was betrayed into his hands by two of its citizens. The advantage, however, was incomplete, for a Roman garrison still held possession of the citadel, from which he was unable to dislodge them. The next year (B.C. 212) was marked by important events in Sicily and Spain, to which we must now direct our attention.
Hiero, so long the faithful ally of Rome, died shortly after the battle of Cannæ (B.C. 216), and was succeeded by his grandson Hieronymus, a vain youth, who abandoned the alliance of Rome for that of Carthage. But he was assassinated after a reign of fifteen months, and a republican form of government was established in Syracuse. A contest ensued between the Roman and Carthaginian parties in Syracuse, but the former ultimately prevailed, and Epicydes and Hippocrates, two brothers whom Hannibal had sent to Syracuse to espouse his interests, had to quit the city, and took refuge at Leontini. Such was the state of affairs when the Consul Marcellus arrived in Sicily (B.C. 214). He forthwith marched against Leontini, which Epicydes and Hippocrates defended with a considerable force. He took the city by storm, and, though he spared the inhabitants, executed in cold blood 2000 Roman deserters whom he found among the troops that had formed the garrison. This sanguinary act at once alienated the minds of the Sicilians, and alarmed the mercenary troops in the service of Syracuse. The latter immediately joined Hippocrates and Epicydes, who had made their escape to Herbessus; the gates of Syracuse were opened to them by their partisans within the walls, and the party hostile to Rome was thus established in the undisputed command of that city. Marcellus now appeared before Syracuse at the head of his army, and, after a fruitless summons to the inhabitants, proceeded to lay siege to the city both by sea and land. His attacks were vigorous and unremitting, and were directed especially against the quarter of Achradina from the side of the sea; but, though he brought many powerful military engines against the walls, these were rendered wholly unavailing by the superior skill and science of Archimedes, which were employed on the side of the besieged. All the efforts of the assailants were baffled; and the Roman soldiers were inspired with so great a dread of Archimedes and his engines, that Marcellus was compelled to give up all hopes of carrying the city by open force, and to turn the siege into a blockade. The siege was prolonged far on into the summer of B.C. 212, nor did there appear any prospect of its termination, as the communications of the besieged by sea were almost entirely open. In this state of things Marcellus fortunately discovered a part of the walls more accessible than the rest; and, having prepared scaling ladders, effected an entrance at this point during the night which followed a great festival, and thus made himself master of Epipolæ. The two quarters called Tyché and Neapolis were now at his mercy, and were given up to plunder; but Epicydes still held the island-citadel and the important quarter of Achradina, which formed two separate and strong fortresses. Marcellus, however, made himself master of the fort of Euryalus, and had closely invested Achradina, when the Carthaginian army under Himilco and Hippocrates advanced to the relief of the city. Their efforts were, however, in vain; all their attacks on the camp of Marcellus were repulsed, and they were unable to effect a junction with Epicydes and the Syracusan garrison. The unhealthiness of the country soon gave rise to a pestilence which carried off both the Carthaginian generals and led to the entire break-up of the army. Shortly afterward the treachery of a leader of Spanish mercenaries in the Syracusan service opened to Marcellus the gates of Achradina, and in the general attack that ensued he made himself master of the island of Ortygia also. The city was given up to plunder, and Archimedes was slain by a Roman soldier, being so intent upon a mathematical problem at the time that he did not answer a question that was asked him. He was deeply regretted by Marcellus, who gave orders for his burial, and befriended his surviving relatives.
The booty found in the captured city was immense: besides the money in the royal treasury, which was set apart for the coffers of the state, Marcellus carried off many of the works of art with which the city had been adorned, to grace his own triumph and the temples at Rome. This was the first instance of a practice which afterward became so general; and it gave great offense not only to the Greeks of Sicily, but to a large party at Rome itself.
The fall of Syracuse was followed, though not immediately, by the subjugation of the whole island by the Romans; but these successes were counterbalanced by the defeat and death of the two Scipios in Spain. We have already seen that P. Scipio, when he landed at Massilia and found himself unable to overtake Hannibal in Gaul, sent his brother Cneius with the army into Spain, while he himself returned to Italy. In the following year (B.C. 217) Publius himself crossed over into Spain, where he found that his brother had already obtained a firm footing. They continued in Spain for several years, during which they gained many victories, and prevented Hasdrubal from marching into Italy to support his victorious brother. When Hasdrubal was recalled to Africa to oppose Syphax, one of the Numidian kings, who was carrying on war against Carthage, the Scipios availed themselves of his absence to strengthen their power still farther. They gained over new tribes to the Roman cause, took 20,000 Celtiberians into their pay, and felt themselves so strong in B.C. 212 that they resolved to cross the Iberus and to make a vigorous effort to drive the Carthaginians out of Spain. They accordingly divided their forces; but the result was fatal. Publius was destroyed, with the greater part of his troops; and Cneius was also defeated, and fell in battle, twenty-nine days after the death of his brother. These victories seemed to establish the superiority of Carthage in Spain, and open the way for Hasdrubal to join his brother in Italy.
In Italy (B.C. 212) the two Consuls Appius Claudius and Q. Fulvius began to draw together their forces for the purpose of besieging Capua. Hannibal advanced to relieve it, and compelled the Consuls to withdraw; but he was unable to force either of them to fight. Shortly afterward he returned again to the south to urge on the siege of the citadel of Tarentum, which still held out; and he spent the winter and the whole of the ensuing spring (B.C. 211) in its immediate neighborhood. But during his absence the Consuls had renewed the siege of Capua, and prosecuted it with such activity, that they had succeeded in surrounding the city with a double line of intrenchments. The pressing danger once more summoned Hannibal to its relief. He accordingly presented himself before the Roman camp, and attacked their lines from without, while the garrison co-operated with him by a vigorous sally from the walls. Both attacks were however repulsed, and Hannibal, foiled in his attempt to raise the siege by direct means, determined on the bold manœuvre of marching directly upon Rome itself, in hopes of thus compelling the Consuls to abandon their designs upon Capua, in order to provide for the defense of the city. But this daring scheme was again frustrated; the appearance of Hannibal before the gates of Rome for a moment struck terror through the city; but a considerable body of troops was at the time within the walls; and the Consul Fulvius, as soon as he heard of Hannibal's march, hastened, with a portion of the besieging army, from Capua, while he still left with the other Consul a force amply sufficient to carry on the siege. Hannibal was thus disappointed in the main object of his advance, and he had no means of effecting any thing against Rome itself, where Fulvius and Fabius confined themselves strictly to the defensive, allowing him to ravage the whole country without opposition, up to the very walls of Rome. Nothing therefore remained for him but to retreat, and he accordingly recrossed the Anio, and marched slowly and sullenly through the land of the Sabines and Samnites, ravaging the country which he traversed. From thence he retired to the Bruttii, leaving Capua to its fate. The city soon after surrendered to the Romans. Its punishment was terrible. All the leaders of the insurrection were beheaded; the chief men were imprisoned; and the rest of the people were sold. The city and its territory were confiscated, and became part of the Roman domain.
The commencement of the next season (B.C. 210) was marked by the fall of Salapia, which was betrayed by the inhabitants to Marcellus; but this loss was soon avenged by the total defeat and destruction of the army of the Proconsul Cn. Fulvius at Herdonea. The Consul Marcellus, on his part, carefully avoided an action for the rest of the campaign, while he harassed his opponent by every possible means. Thus the rest of that summer too wore away without any important results. But this state of comparative inactivity was necessarily injurious to the cause of Hannibal; the nations of Italy that had espoused that cause when triumphant now began to waver in their attachment; and in the course of the following summer (B.C. 209) the Samnites and Lucanians submitted to Rome, and were admitted to favorable terms. A still more disastrous blow to the Carthaginian cause was the loss of Tarentum, which was betrayed into the hands of Fabius, as it had been into those of Hannibal. In vain did the latter seek to draw the Roman general into a snare; the wary Fabius eluded his toils. The recovery of Tarentum was the last exploit in the military life of the aged Fabius, and was a noble completion to his long list of achievements. From the time of the battle of Cannæ he had directed almost exclusively the councils of his country, and his policy had been pre-eminently successful; but the times now demanded bolder measures, and something else was necessary than the caution of the Lingerer to bring the war to a close.
After the fall of Tarentum Hannibal still traversed the open country unopposed, and laid waste the territories of his enemies. Yet we can not suppose that he any longer looked for ultimate success from any efforts of his own; his object was doubtless now only to maintain his ground in the south until his brother Hasdrubal should appear in the north of Italy, an event to which he had long anxiously looked forward. Yet the following summer (B.C. 208) was marked by some brilliant achievements. The two Consuls, Crispinus and Marcellus, who were opposed to Hannibal in Lucania, allowed themselves to be led into an ambush, in which Marcellus was killed, and Crispinus mortally wounded. Marcellus was one of the ablest of the Roman generals. Hannibal displayed a generous sympathy for his fate, and caused due honors to be paid to his remains.
The following year (B.C. 207) decided the issue of the war in Italy. The war in Spain during the last few years had been carried on with brilliant success by the young P. Scipio, of whose exploits we shall speak presently. But in B.C. 208, Hasdrubal, leaving the two other Carthaginian generals to make head against Scipio, resolved to set out for Italy to the assistance of his brother. As Scipio was in undisputed possession of the province north of the Iberus, and had secured the passes of the Pyrenees on that side, Hasdrubal crossed these mountains near their western extremity, and plunged into the heart of Gaul. After spending a winter in that country, he prepared to cross the Alps in the spring of B.C. 207, and to descend into Italy. The two Consuls for this year were C. Claudius Nero and M. Livius. Nero marched into Southern Italy to keep a watch upon Hannibal; Livius took up his quarters at Ariminum to oppose Hasdrubal. The latter experienced little loss or difficulty in crossing the Alps. The season of the year was favorable, and the Gauls were friendly to his cause. But instead of pushing on at once into the heart of Italy, he allowed himself to be engaged in the siege of Placentia, and lost much precious time in fruitless efforts to reduce that colony. When at length he abandoned the enterprise, he sent messengers to Hannibal to apprize him of his movements, and concert measures for their meeting in Umbria. But his dispatches fell into the hands of the Consul Nero, who formed the bold resolution of instantly marching with a picked body of 7000 men to join his colleague, and fall upon Hasdrubal with their united forces before Hannibal could receive any information of his brother's movements. Nero executed his design with equal secrecy and rapidity. Hannibal knew nothing of his departure, and in a week's time Nero marched 250 miles to Sena, where his colleague was encamped in presence of Hasdrubal. He entered the camp of Livius in the night, that his arrival might not be known to the Carthaginians. After a day's rest the two Consuls proceeded to offer battle; but Hasdrubal, perceiving the augmented numbers of the Romans, and hearing the trumpet sound twice, felt convinced that the Consuls had united their forces, and that his brother had been defeated. He therefore declined the combat, and in the following night commenced his retreat toward Ariminum. The Romans pursued him, and he found himself compelled to give them battle on the right bank of the Metaurus. On this occasion Hasdrubal displayed all the qualities of a consummate general; but his forces were greatly inferior to those of the enemy, and his Gaulish auxiliaries were of little service. The gallant resistance of the Spanish and Ligurian troops is attested by the heavy loss of the Romans; but all was of no avail, and seeing the battle irretrievably lost, he rushed into the midst of the enemy, and fell, sword in hand, in a manner worthy of the son of Hamilcar and the brother of Hannibal. The Consul Nero hastened back to Apulia almost as speedily as he had come, and announced to Hannibal the defeat and death of his brother by throwing into his camp the severed head of Hasdrubal. "I recognize," said Hannibal, sadly, "the doom of Carthage"
The victory of the Metaurus was, as we have already said, decisive of the fate of the war in Italy, and the conduct of Hannibal shows that he felt it to be such. From this time he abandoned all thoughts of offensive operations, and, withdrawing his garrisons from Metapontum and other towns that he still held in Lucania, collected together his forces within the peninsula of the Bruttii. In the fastnesses of that wild and mountainous region he maintained his ground for nearly four years, while the towns that he still possessed on the coast gave him the command of the sea.