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Fall of M. Claudius Marcellus

The Consuls, wishing to reconnoitre the slope of the
B. C. 208. Coss. M. Claudius Marcellus, T. Quinctius Crispinus. The two Consuls were encamped within three miles of each other, between Venusia and Bantia, Hannibal had been at Lacinium in Bruttii, but had advanced into Apulia. Livy, 27, 25-27.
hill towards the enemy's camp, ordered their main force to remain in position; while they themselves with two troops of cavalry, their lictors, and about thirty velites advanced to make the reconnaisance. Now some Numidians, who were accustomed to lie in ambush for those who came on skirmishes, or any other services from the Roman camp, happened, as it chanced, to have ensconced themselves at the foot of the hill. Being informed by their look-out man that a body of men was coming over the brow of the hill above them, they rose from their place of concealment, ascended the hill by a side road, and got between the Consuls and their camp.
Death of the Consul M. Claudius Marcellus.
At the very first charge they killed Claudius and some others, and having wounded the rest, forced them to fly in different directions down the sides of the hill. Though the men in camp saw what was happening they were unable to come to the relief of their endangered comrades; for while they were still shouting out to get ready, and before they had recovered from the first shock of their surprise, while some were putting the bridles on their horses and others donning their armour, the affair was all over. The son of Claudius, though wounded, narrowly escaped with his life.

Thus fell Marcus Marcellus from an act of incautiousness unworthy of a general. I am continually compelled in the course of my history to draw the attention of my readers to occurrences of this sort; for I perceive that it is this, more than anything else connected with the science of tactics, that ruins commanders. And yet the blunder is a very obvious one. For what is the use of a commander or general, who has not learnt that the leader ought to keep as far as possible aloof from those minor operations, in which the whole fortune of the campaign is not involved? Or of one who does not know that, even if circumstances should at times force them to engage in such subordinate movements, the commanders-in-chief should not expose themselves to danger until a large number of their company have fallen? For, as the proverb has it, the experiment should be made "on the worthless Carian"1 not on the general.

Fiat experimentum in corpore vili
For to say "I shouldn't have thought it,"—"Who would have expected it?" seems to me the clearest proof of strategical incompetence and dulness.

1 This proverb perhaps arose from the frequent employment of the non-Hellenic Carians as mercenaries. Cp. Plato, Laches, 187 B; Euthydemus, 285 B; Euripides, Cyclops, 654.

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