UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Fabius Maximus and the deployment of ransom in the Second Punic War Mark, Sarah


Following its disastrous defeat to Hannibal at Lake Trasimene in 217 BCE, Rome appointed Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus as dictator, with a mandate to do whatever was necessary to protect Rome. The strategy of delay and containment which Fabius created was effective but extremely unpopular, and caused the dictator’s political opponents to attack his slow prosecution of the war. As his unpopularity mounted and he faced mutiny from his own army, Fabius badly needed to rescue his reputation. A little-studied episode gave him the opportunity when Hannibal demanded a ransom for his captured Roman prisoners. Fabius negotiated the captives’ release, but when the Senate refused to fund the ransom, Fabius sold his estates and paid it personally. In doing so, he gained the personal loyalty of the troops he freed, and set a precedent which would have ramifications for the relationship between soldiers and their generals for generations to come. Fabius was the first Roman commander to find himself in a position of personal responsibility for a large-scale ransom of Roman prisoners. An adroit politician, he was quick to recognize the potential benefits to his own career. Fabius’ military strategy has been well studied, but less attention has been paid to examining his dictatorship in terms of the performative nature of Roman command. Too often viewed as simply an altruistic man and a passive commander, Fabius deserves greater credit for his political acumen and the effectiveness with which he curated his reputation in the midst of crisis. This thesis examines the tensions which arose between the Senate and Fabius, and the means by which the dictator was able to manipulate existing social systems, including patronage and religious duty, to restore his reputation among the army and the people of Rome. It also examines how the close bonds established between Fabius and his ransomed troops forged a pattern of army loyalty to an individual general rather than to the state, a pattern which had dangerous ramifications for the later Republic.

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