4. M. Claudius
Marcellus, M. F. M. N., the most illustrious of all those who bore this name, celebrated as five times consul, and the conqueror of Syracuse. We know very little of his early life, and he is a remarkable instance of a man who, though his character was chiefly marked by the daring courage and impetuosity of youth, did not attain to any great distinction until a comparatively late period of life.
The year of his birth is uncertain, but it may be placed before B. C. 268, as we are told that he was above sixty years old when he obtained his fifth consulship. (Plut. Marc. 28
; Liv. 27.27
.) Plutarch tells us that he was trained up in military service from his earliest youth, so as to have received rather an imperfect education in other respects.
In war, on the contrary, he early distinguished himself, especially by his personal achievements, ever seeking single combats with the most daring warriors among the enemy, and uniformly coming off victorious. On one occasion during the first Punic war, he had the opportunity of saving his brother's life by his personal exertions. (Plut. Marc. 50.2
But whatever reputation he may have thus earned as a soldier, it does not appear to have opened to him the path to public honours until a much later period.
The first office that we hear of his filling is that of curule aedile, apparently about B. C. 226.
It was while holding this magistracy that he was compelled to bring a charge against C. Scantilius Capitolinus, his colleague in the aedileship, for having offered an insult of the grossest kind to his son Marcus. [No. 5.] Capitolinus was convicted, and condemned to pay a heavy fine, the produce of which was applied by Marcellus to the purchase of sacred vessels for the temples. (Plut. Mare.
2; Val. Max. vi. 50.7.) About the same time also according to Plutarch, he obtained the office of augur, a distinction he probably owed to the decided attachment which he manifested through life to the aristocratic party in the state.
It was not till the year 222 that Marcellus obtained his first consulship.
The war with the Gauls, which a few years before had excited so much alarm at Rome, was then drawing to a close: the Boians had already submitted, and the Insubrians, terrified at the repeated defeats they had sustained from the consuls of the preceding year, P. Furius and C. Flaminius, now sent to sue for peace. Their overtures were, however, rejected, mainly at the instigation of Marcellus and his clleague Cn. Cornelius Scipio, both of whom were eager to carry on the war. (Plb. 2.36
; Plut. Marc. 6
.) The Gauls hereupon summoned to their assistance 30,000 of their brethren, the Gaesatae, from beyond the Alps; but notwithstanding this reinforcement, they did not prevent the two consuls from invading the plain of the Po, and laying siege to Acerrae.
In order to create a diversion, one division of the Gaulish army, consisting of 10,000 men, crossed the Po, and laid siege in their turn to the town of Clastidium. Hereupon Marcellus, with a large body of cavalry and a small force of infantry, hastened to oppose them, and a battle ensued, which ended in the total defeat and destruction of the Gaulish detachment.
The action was commenced by a combat of cavalry, in which Marcellus slew with his own hand Britomartus or Viridomarus, the king, or at least the leader, of the enemy.
After this brilliant exploit he rejoined his colleague before Acerrae, which soon after fell into their hands, and was followed by the conquest of Mediolanum, the most important city of Cisalpine Gaul. The Insubrians now submitted at discretion, and the two consuls had the glory of having put a termination to the Gallic war. Great part of the credit of the campaign, according to Polybius, would seem to have belonged to Scipio, but Marcellus alone was honoured with a triumph, which was rendered conspicuous by the spoils of Viridomarus, carried as a trophy by the victor, and afterwards dedicated by him as spolia opimar
in the temple of Jupiter Feretrius.
This was the third and last instance in Roman history in which such an offering was made. (Plb. 2.34
; Plut. Marc. 6
; Zonar. 8.20
, p. 404; V. Max. 3.2.5 Eutrop. 3.6
; Flor. 2.3
; Aur. Vict. de Vir. Ill.
45; Oros. 4.13
; Fast. Capit. ap. Gruter, p. 297.)
From this time we hear no more of Marcellus until the alarming progress of Hannibal in Italy, and especially his victory at the lake of Thrasymene, compelled the Romans to look out for tried and able soldiers, to whom they could confide the conduct of the war, and Marcellus was appointed one of the praetors for the year 216.
He was at first destined to take the command in Sicily, but while he was still occupied at Ostia with the preparation of a fleet for this purpose, he was suddenly recalled to Rome, in consequence of the disastrous defeat of the two consuls at Cannae.
By the orders of the senate he threw a body of 1500 men, which he had raised for the expedition to Sicily, into Rome itself, while he hastened with one legion to Canusium, and after collecting there the shattered remains of the consular army, drew them off into Campania, where he encamped near Suessula. Meanwhile, the important city of Capua had opened its gates to Hannibal, and Nola would have followed its example, had not Marcellus received timely notice of the danger from the aristocratic party in that city, who were favourably disposed towards Rome.
He accordingly hastened thither with the forces under his command, threw himself into the town, and on the approach of Hannibal made a sudden sally, by which he repulsed the Carthaginians with some loss.
The success thus obtained (though evidently greatly magnified by the Roman annalists), was important from its moral effect, as the first check, however slight, that Hannibal had yet received. Marcellus now secured Nola to the Roman interest, by the execution of seventy of the leading men of the opposite party, and again withdrew to the hills above Suessula.
But neither he nor Gracchus were able to avert the fate of Casilinum, which fell into the hands of Hannibal before the close of the winter. (Liv. 22.35
; Piut. Marc.
9-11; Appian, Annib.
27; Cic. Brut. 3
Marcellus was soon after summoned to Rome, to consult with the dictator L. Junius Pera and his master of the horse, Tib. Gracchus, concerning the future conduct of the war: he was then invested with the rank of proconsul, and returned to take the command of the army in Campania. Meanwhile, news arrived at Rome that Postumius, who had been chosen one of the consuls for the year 215, had been killed in Cisalpine Gaul; and the people unanimously elected Marcellus to supply his place.
But the senate, who were unwilling to admit of two plebeian consuls at the same time, declared that the omens were unfavourable, and Marcellus, in obedience to the augurs, resigned the consulship, and repaired once more to the army in Campania as proconsul. (Liv. 23.24
; Plut. Marc. 12
.) His principal exploit that we find recorded during this year was the relief of Nola, which he a second time successfully defended against Hannibal; and though the Carthaginian general had been lately joined by Hanno with a powerful reinforcement, Marcellus not only repulsed him from the walls, but (if we may believe the accounts transmitted to us) defeated him with considerable slaughter; and this success was immediately followed by the desertion to the Romans of a large body of Numidian and Spanish horse. (Liv. 23.39
; Plut. Marc. 12
At the election of the consuls for the ensuing year (214) Marcellus was appointed for the third time, with Fabius Maximus for his colleague. Such a pair of consuls (says Livy) had not been seen for many years. Yet their operations during the ensuing campaign were not marked by any decisive results: Marcellus returned to his old camp near Nola, and a third time repulsed an attempt of Hannibal upon that city; whereupon the Carthaginian general marched away to Tarentum, and the two consuls took advantage of his absence to lay siege to the small but important town of Casilinum. The Campanian garrison of this fortress, after an obstinate defence, were admitted to a capitulation by Fabius, but Marcellus broke in upon them as they were quitting the city, and put them all to the sword, except about fifty, who escaped under the protection of Fabius. (Liv. 24.9
After this Marcellus returned to Nola, from whence he was ordered by the senate to proceed to Sicily, apparently before the close of the summer of B. C. 214. (Ib.
20, 21.) On his arrival in that island he found affairs in a very unsettled state.
The death of Hieronymus, which had at first appeared favourable to the Roman cause, had eventually led to a contrary result; and Hippocrates and Epicydes, two Carthaginians by birth, had obtained the chief direction of affairs at Syracuse. [EPICYDES.] Marcellus, however, at first determined to try the effect of negotiation: his ambassadors obtained a favourable hearing, and even induced the Syracusans to pass sentence of banishment against Hippocrates and Epicydes.
These two leaders were at the time at Leontini, at the head of a considerable force, but they were unable to defend the town against Marcellus, who took it by storm, and though he spared the inhabitants, executed in cold blood 2000 Roman deserters whom he found among the troops that had formed the garrison.
This sanguinary act at once alienated the minds of the Sicilians, and alarmed the mercenary troops in the service of Syracuse.
The latter immediately joined Hippocrates and Epicydes, who had made their escape to Herbessus; the gates of Syracuse were opened to them by their partisans within the walls, and the party hostile to Rome thus established in the undisputed command of that city. (Liv. 24.27
; Plut. Marc. 13
; Appian, App. Sic. 3
Marcellus, whose severities had given rise to this revolution, now appeared before Syracuse at the head of his army, and after a fruitless summons to the inhabitants, proceeded to lay siege to the city both by sea and land. His attacks were vigorous and unremitting, and were directed especially against the quarter of Achradina from the side of the sea; but though he brought many powerful military engines against the walls, these were rendered wholly unavailing by the superior skill and science of Archimedes, who directed those of the besieged. All the efforts of the assailants were baffled, and the Roman soldiers inspired with so great a dread of Archimedes and his engines, that Marcellus was compelled to give up all hopes of carrying the city by open force, and to turn the siege into a blockade. (Liv. 24.33
; Plut. Marc. 14
; Plb. 8.3
; Zonar. 9.4
; Tzetz. Chil.
2.35.) During the continuance of this, he himself with a part of his army carried on operations in the other parts of the island, leaving App. Claudius to keep watch before Syracuse.
In this manner he took Helorus and Herbessus, and utterly destroyed Megara; and though he failed in preventing the Carthaginian general Himilco from making himself master of Agrigentum, he defeated Hippocrates near Acrae.
The advance of Himilco compelled Marcellus to retreat to his camp before Syracuse; but here the Carthaginian general was unable to molest him, and the war was again reduced to a series of desultory and irregular operations in different parts of the island.
These were by no means all favourable to the Romans: Murgantia, an important town, where they had established large magazines, surrendered to the Carthaginians, and the strong fortress of Enna was only prevented from following its example by the barbarous massacre of its inhabitants by order of the Roman governor, L. Pinarius [PINARIUS], an act of cruelty which had the effect of alienating the minds of all the other Sicilians. (Liv. 24.35
; Plut. Marc. 18
.) Meanwhile, the blockade of Syracuse had been prolonged far on into the summer of 212, nor did there appear any prospect of its termination, as the communications of the besieged by sea were almost entirely open.
In this state of things Marcellus fortunately discovered a part of the walls more accessible than the rest, and having prepared scaling ladders, effected an entrance at this point during the night which followed a great festival, and thus made himself master of the Epipolae.
The two quarters called Tyche and Neapolis were now at his mercy, and were given up to plunder; but Epicydes still held the island citadel, and the important quarter of Achradina, which formed two separate and strong fortresses. Marcellus, however, made himself master of the fort of Euryalus, and now closely beset Achradina, when the Carthaginian army under Himilco and Hippocrates advanced to the relief of the city. Their efforts were, however, in vain: all their attacks on the camp of Marcellus were repulsed, and they were unable to effect a junction with Epicydes and the Syracusan garrison.
The unhealthiness of the country soon gave rise to a pestilence, which committed frightful ravages in both armies, but especially in that of the Carthaginians, where it carried off both their generals, and led to the entire break-up of the army. Thus freed from all apprehensions from without, Marcellus renewed his attacks upon those quarters of the city which still held out; but though the officers on whom the command devolved after the departure of Epicydes made several attempts at negotiation, nothing was effected.
At length the treachery of Mericus, a leader of Spanish mercenaries in the Syracusan service, opened to Marcellus the gates of Achradina, and in the general attack that ensued he made himself master of the island of Ortygia also.
The city was given up to plunder, and though the lives of the free inhabitants were spared, they were reduced to such distress, that many of them were compelled to sell themselves as slaves, in order to obtain the means of existence. (Diod. Exc. Vat.
p. 60.) Yet the clemency and liberality of Marcellus have been extolled by almost all the writers of antiquity.
The booty found in the captured city was immense: besides the money in the royal treasury, which was set apart for the coffers of the state, Marcellus carried off many of the wcrks of art with which the city had been adorned, to grace his own triumph and the temples at Rome.
This was the first instance of a practice which afterwards became so general; and it gave great offence not only to the Greeks of Sicily, but to a large party at Rome itself, who drew unfavourable comparisons between the conduct of Marcellus in this instance and that of Fabius at Tarentum. (Liv. 25.23
; Plut. Marc. 18
; Plb. 8.37
; Zonar. 9.5
But though Syracuse had fallen, the war in Sicily was not yet at an end.
A considerable Carthaginian force still occupied Agrigentum under Epicydes and Hanno; and Mutines, with a body of Numidian cavalry, carried his incursions far into the interior. Marcellus now turned his arms against these remaining enemies, attacked Epicydes and Hanno in the absence of Mutines, and totally defeated them, after which he returned to Syracuse. (Liv. 25.40
The early part of the following year (211) seems to have been devoted to the settlement of affairs in Sicily; but it is strange that Marcellus does not seem to have made any efforts to put an end altogether to the war in that island before he returned to Rome, and when towards the close of the summer he resigned the command of the province to the praetor M. Cornelius, Mutines was still in arms, and Agrigentum still in the possession of the Carthaginians. On this account the senate refused him the honours of a triumph, notwithstanding his great successes, and he was obliged to content himself with the inferior distinction of an ovation. Previous to this, however, he celebrated with great magnificence a triumphal procession to the temple of Jupiter on the Alban Mount, and even his ovation was rendered more conspicuous than most triumphs by the number and magnificence of the spoils brought from Syracuse. (Liv. 26.1
; Plut. Marc. 20
Shortly after his triumph he was elected for the fourth time consul, together with M. Valerius Laevinus.
But scarcely had he entered on his office (B. C. 210) when he had to encounter a storm of indignation, raised against him by his proceedings in Sicily. Notwithstanding the praises bestowed by the Roman writers, and still more by Plutarch (Plut. Marc. 20
; and see Cic. in Verr.
2.2, 4.52, 54), upon his moderation and clemency, it is evident that his conduct was considered by many, even of his own countrymen, as having been unnecessarily harsh. Deputies from the Sicilian cities now appeared at Rome, to lay their complaints before the senate, where they met with powerful support; and though the governing body was unwilling to cast a slur upon Marcellus, and determined to ratify his past acts, yet the entreaties of the Sicilians so far prevailed, that the two consuls exchanged provinces, and it was arranged that Marcellus, to whose lot Sicily had previously fallen, should take the command in Italy against Hannibal. (Liv. 26.22
; Plut. Marc. 23
; Zouar. 9.6.) From this time the Sicilians appear to have changed their policy, and being feed from all immediate apprehensions from Marcellus, they endeavoured to conciliate his favour by every kind of honour and flattery: the Syracusans placed their city under the patronage of himself and his descendants, erected statues to him, and instituted an annual festival, called the Marcellea, which continued to be celebrated down to the time of Verres. (Liv. 26.32
; Plut. Marc. 23
; Cic. in Verr.
Marcellus now joined the army in Apulia, where he was soon after enabled to strike an important blow, by the conquest of Salapia, which was betrayed into his hands by Blasius, one of the principal citizens of the place [BLASIUS], and this success was followed by the capture of two cities in Samnium, which had been occupied by Carthaginian garrisons. Meanwhile, Hannilbal had surprised and destroyed the army of Cn. Fulvius at Herdonea; whereupon Marcellus hastened to oppose him, and check his victorious career.
The two armies met near Numistro in Lucania, and a battle ensued, apparently without auy decisive result, though the Romans claimed a victory; and the remainder of the campaign was occupied with unimportant movements, Marcellus continuing to follow the steps of his wary antagonist, but carefully avoiding an engagement. So important, however, did he deem it not to lose sight for a moment of the Carthaginian general, that he declined to repair to Rome even in order to hold the comitia, and in consequence, by direction of the senate, named Q. Fulvius dictator for that purpose. (Liv. 26.38
; Plut. Marc. 24
; Appian, Annib.
45-47; Zonar. 9.7
; Val. Max. iii 8. ext. § 1.)
During the following year (209) he retained the command of his army with the rank of proconsul, in order that he might co-operate with the two consuls of the year, Fabius Maximus and Fulvius Flaccus, against Hannibal.
At the opening of the campaign he was the first to oppose the Carthaginian general, whom he found near Canusium; and in the neighbourhood of that city, according to the Roman historians. there ensued three successive actions between the two armies. Of these the first was a drawn battle, in the second the Romans were defeated with heavy loss, and in the third they are said to have gained a complete victory; notwithstanding which, Hannibal drew off his army unmolested towards Bruttium, while Marcellus was unable to follow him, on account of the number of his wounded. So severe indeed had been his losses, that he shut himself up within the walls of Venusia, and remained there in perfect inactivity during the remainder of the season, while Hannibal moved up and down throughout the south of Italy without opposition. Such conduct could not fail to give much dissatisfaction at Rome; and it was even proposed by one of the tribunes that Marcellus should be deprived of his command.
But on hearing of this motion he immediately hastened to Rome, and defended himself so successfully, that he was not only absolved from all blame, but elected consul for the ensuing year, together with T. Quintius Crispinus. (Liv. 27.7
; Plut. Marc. 25
Before he entered on this, his fifth consulship, he was sent into Etruria to appease a threatened revolt of the Arretians, and succeeded in quieting tleir discontent for a time.
After he returned to Rome, and was preparing to resume operations in the field (B. C. 208), he was detained for some time by unfavourable omens and the religious ceremonies deemed necessary, in order to avert the evils thus threatened.
At length he once more took the command of the army at Venusia, and being joined by his colleague Crispinus from Bruttium, they encamped with their combined forces between Venusia and Bantia. Hannibal's camp was at a short distance from them; between the two armies lay a wooded hill, which the two consuls imprudently proceeded to reconnoitre, escorted only by a small body of horse, and in so doing fell into an ambuscade of Numidians.
A sharp skirmish ensued, but the Romans being far inferior in number, were quickly dispersed or put to the sword: Marcellus himself was run through the body with a spear, and killed on the spot: his colleague was with difficulty carried off the field severely wounded. Hannilbal displayed a generous sympathy for the fate of his fallen foe, and caused all due honours to be paid to his lifeless remains. (Liv. 27.21
; Plut. Marc. 28
; Plb. 10.32
; Appian, Annib.
50; Zonar. 9.9
; V. Max. 1.6.9
There are few characters in Roman history of which the picture transmitted to us has been more disfigured by partiality than that of Marcellus. Almost the whole account of his military operations against Hannibal has been so perverted, that it is difficult now to arrive at the truth; but it is startling to find, after reading in Livv or Plutarch the details of his numerons victories over the Carthaginian general, that Polybius expressly denied he had ever defeated Hannibal at all. (Plut. Cmp. Pelop. c. Marc.
1; and see Plb. 15.11
The ambiguous character of many of his alleged victories has been indeed already adverted to, and is sufficiently apparent even from the accounts of the Romans themselves.
It seems probable that many of these exaggerations have found their way into history from the funeral oration of Marcellus by his son, which we know to have been used as an authority by some of the earlier annalists. (Liv. 27.27
.) Still more unfounded is the reputation lie seems to have obtained for clemency and humanity. According to Livy's own account, he alienated the minds of the Sicilians by his cruel executions at Leontini; and he approved of, though he did not order, the barbarous massacre at Enna.
The feelings with which he inspired the whole of the Sicilian Greeks may be gathered from their expression reported by Livy, that it would be better for the island to be sunk in the sea, or overwhelmed by the flames of Aetna, than to be placed once more at the mercy of Marcellus. (Liv. 26.29
; comp. Appian, App. Sic. 4
It is admitted even by Plutarch (his most unqualified panegyrist) that he was illiterate and imperfectly educated; and his character may be summed up as that of a rude, stern soldier, brave and daring to excess, but harsh and unyielding, and wanting alike the more graceful qualities which adorned the character of Scipio and the prudence necessary to constitute a truly great general.
The head on the obverse of the annexed coin (struck by P. Cornelius Lentulus Marcellinus) is unquestionably that of the conqueror of Syracuse: the reverse represents him carrying the spolia opima
to the temple of Jupiter Feretrius.