But the colleague of Marcellus, who had come back from Sicily, wished to appoint another man as dictator, and being unwilling to have his opinion overborne by force, sailed off by night to Sicily. Under these circumstances the people named Quintus Fulvius as dictator, and the senate wrote to Marcellus bidding him confirm the nomination. He consented, proclaimed Quintus Fulvius dictator, and so confirmed the will of the people; he himself was appointed proconsul again for the ensuing year.1
He then made an agreement with Fabius Maximus that, while Fabius should make an attempt upon Tarentum, he himself, by diverting Hannibal and engaging with him, should prevent him from coming to the relief of that place. He came up with Hannibal at Canusium, and as his adversary often shifted his camp and declined battle, he threatened him continually, and at last, by harassing him with his skirmishers, drew him out of his entrenchments.
But though battle was offered and accepted, night parted the combatants, and next day Marcellus appeared again with his army drawn up in battle array; so that Hannibal, in distress, called his Carthaginians together and besought them to make their fighting that day surpass all their previous struggles.
‘For you see,’ he said,
‘that we cannot even take breath after all our victories, nor have respite though we are in the mastery, unless we drive this man away.’
After this they joined battle and fought. And it would seem that Marcellus made an unseasonable movement during the action, and so met with disaster. For when his right wing was hard pressed, he ordered one of his legions to move up to the front. This change of position threw his army into confusion and gave the victory to the enemy, who slew twenty-seven hundred of the Romans.
Marcellus then withdrew to his camp, called his army together, and told them that he saw before him many Roman arms and Roman bodies, but not a single Roman. And when they asked for his pardon, he refused to give it while they were vanquished, but promised to do so if they should win a victory, assuring them that on the morrow they should fight again, in order that their countrymen might hear of their victory sooner than of their flight.
At the close of his speech, moreover, he gave orders that rations of barley instead of wheat should be given to the, cohorts that had been worsted. Therefore, though many were in a wretched and dangerous plight after the battle, there was not a man of them, they say, to whom the words of Marcellus did not give more pain than his wounds.2