And now Marcellus, having been appointed consul for the third time,1
sailed to Sicily. For Hannibal's successes in the war had encouraged the Carthaginians to attempt anew the conquest of the island, especially now that Syracuse was in confusion after the death of the tyrant Hieronymus. For this reason the Romans also had previously sent a force thither under the command of Appius.
As Marcellus took over this force, he was beset by many Romans who were involved in a calamity now to be described. Of those who had been drawn up against Hannibal at Cannae, some had fled, and others had been taken alive, and in such numbers that it was thought the Romans had not even men enough left to defend the walls of their city.
And yet so much of their high spirit and haughtiness remained that, although Hannibal offered to restore his prisoners of war for a slight ransom, they voted not to receive them, but suffered some of them to be put to death and others to be sold out of Italy; and as for the multitude who had saved themselves by flight, they sent them to Sicily, ordering them not to set foot in Italy as long as the war against Hannibal lasted.2
These were the men who, now that Marcellus was come, beset him in throngs, and throwing themselves on the ground before him, begged with many cries and tears for an assignment to honourable military service, promising to show by their actions that their former defeat had been due to some great misfortune rather than to cowardice. Marcellus, therefore, taking pity on them, wrote to the senate asking permission to fill up the deficiencies in his army from time to time with these men.
But after much discussion the senate declared its opinion that the Roman commonwealth had no need of men who were cowards; if, however, as it appeared, Marcellus wished to use them, they were to receive from their commander none of the customary crowns or prizes for valour. This decree vexed Marcellus, and when he came back to Rome after the war in Sicily, he upbraided the senate for not permitting him, in return for his many great services, to redeem so many citizens from misfortune.