The dictator, after taking over the consul's army from Fulvius Flaccus, his lieutenant, marched through the Sabine country to Tibur, where he had given the new levies notice to assemble on a certain day.
From Tibur he marched to Praeneste, and striking across the country came out into the Latin Way, and then, reconnoitring the roads with the utmost circumspection, advanced in the direction of the enemy, though resolved nowhere to commit himself to fortune, except in so far as necessity might compel him.
On the day when Fabius first encamped in sight of the enemy, not far from Arpi, the Phoenician promptly led out his forces into line and offered battle.
But when he perceived that all was quiet on the other side, and could hear no sounds of commotion in their camp, he went back to his quarters, exclaiming scornfully that the boasted martial spirit of the Romans was broken at last, that the war was fought and won, that they had openly bade valour and renown farewell;
but in the silence of his heart he was troubled by the thought that he would have a general to deal with by no means [p. 241]
like Flaminius or Sempronius, since the Romans,1
schooled by their misfortunes, had now at last sought out a leader to match Hannibal.
The prudence of the dictator was indeed an immediate source of worry to him, but, possessing as yet no experience of his firmness, he began to provoke and try his temper by frequent shifting of his camp and by pillaging the lands of the allies before his very eyes.
Now he would march off rapidly and disappear; and now would lie in wait at some turn of the road, in hopes to cut the Romans off when they had descended on to level ground.
Fabius kept leading his troops along the heights, at a moderate distance from the enemy, so as neither to lose touch nor yet come to blows with him. He would keep his men in camp, except for such necessary duties as obliged their leaving it; when they went out for wood and fodder, they were neither few in number nor dispersed;
a corps of cavalry and skirmishers drawn up and ready for sudden onsets made everything safe for his own men and dangerous for the scattered pillagers of the enemy.
He refused to stake all on a general engagement, and yet by means of little skirmishes, undertaken from a safe position and with a place of refuge close at hand, he at length accustomed his soldiers, disheartened by their former defeats, to be less diffident of their own courage and good fortune.
But even Hannibal was not more vexed by these prudent measures than was the master of the horse, who was only withheld from plunging the nation into ruin by his subordinate authority. Violent and hasty in his opinions and of unbridled tongue, he [p. 243]
spoke of Fabius —at first in the hearing of a few, but2
after a time quite openly to everybody —not
as deliberate but as slothful, not as cautious but as timid, inventing faults that neighboured on his virtues; and exalted himself by disparaging his superior —an infamous practice, which has grown in favour from the all too great prosperity of many who have followed it.