While this plot was under way, Fabius schemed to draw Hannibal away from the neighbourhood, and therefore gave orders to the garrison at Rhegium to overrun Bruttium and take Caulonia by storm. This garrison numbered eight thousand, most of them deserters, and the refuse of the soldiers sent home from Sicily in disgrace by Marcellus, men whose loss would least afflict and injure Rome.
Fabius expected that by casting these forces, like a bait, in front of Hannibal, he would draw him away from Tarentum. And this was what actually happened. For Hannibal immediately swept thither in pursuit with his army. But five days after Fabius had laid siege to Tarentum, the youth who, with his sister, had come to an understanding with the Bruttian commander in the city, canine to him by night. He had seen and knew precisely the spot at which the Bruttian was watching with time purpose of handing the city over to its assailants.
Fabius, however, would not suffer his enterprise to depend wholly upon the betrayal of the city. While, therefore, he himself led a detachment quietly to the appointed spot, the rest of his army attacked the walls by land and sea, with great shouting and tumult, until most of the Tarentines had run to the aid of those who were defending them. Then the Bruttian gave Fabius the signal, and he scaled the walls and got the mastery of the city.
At this point, however, Fabius seems to have been overcome by his ambition, for he ordered his men to put the Bruttians first of all to the sword, that his possession of the city might not be known to be due to treachery. He not only failed to prevent this knowledge, but incurred also the reproach of perfidy and cruelty. Many of the Tarentines also were slain, thirty thousand of them were sold into slavery, their city was plundered by the Roman army, and three thousand talents were thereby brought into the public treasury.
While everything else was carried off as plunder, it is said that the accountant asked Fabius what his orders were concerning the gods, for so he called their pictures and statues; and that Fabius answered:
‘Let us leave their angered gods for the Tarentines.’
However, he removed the colossal statue of Heracles from Tarentum, and set it up on the Capitol, and near it an equestrian statue of himself, in bronze. He thus appeared far more eccentric in these matters than Marcellus, nay rather, the mild and humane conduct of Marcellus was thus made to seem altogether admirable by contrast, as has been written in his Life.1