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The Celtic War, 225-222 BC
But Marcellus was already a seasoned
commander before the Second Punic
War began. He had served as a
junior officer during the latter years
of the First War with Carthage,
fighting against Hamilcar Barca's
mercenaries in Sicily. In one hotly
contested battle he saved the life of
his brother, Otacilius, and was
awarded the 'civic crown'. He then
progressed through the normal series
of offices during the interwar years.
In what would normally have been
the culmination of a successful career,
Marcellus was elected to the consul-
ship in 222 BC, at the age of 46. His
campaign against the Insubres and
Gaesatae Celts marked him as an
extraordinary Roman commander.
Following the Celtic invasion of Italy
in 225 BC (see the Telamon campaign
featured in C3i Nr.6), Rome launched
a series of punitive expeditions into
the Celtic homelands along the Po
River in Northern Italy during 224223 BC. The consuls for 222 BC,
Marcellus and Gnaeus Cornelius
Scipio (the uncle of Africanus) were
again allotted the province of
Cisalpine Gaul, to carry on this war.
The two consuls joined forces to
besiege the Insubres Celtic stronghold of Acerrae with a combined
force of four double legions. The
Celtic King Britomartus responded by
leading an army of 10,000 Gaesatae
and Insubres warriors to ravage the
territory around Clastidium, a Roman
Marcellus, displaying his aggressive
character, decided to lead a flying
column after Britomartus. Marcellus
took only two thirds of the cavalry of
the four legions, a little over 3,000
horsemen, and a picked force of 600
velites. With this small detachment
Marcellus surprised Britomartus and
immediately offered battle.
Britomartus hurriedly threw his
troops into line, with nearly 8,000
infantry in the center and more than
1,500 cavalry on the flanks.
Marcellus, in decidedly un-Roman
fashion, rode out ahead of his army to
engage King Britomartus in single
combat. The two war leaders
charged at each other, and Marcellus
slew the Celtic King with one thrust
of his lance. Thus he became only the
third Roman commander in history to
kill an enemy king in hand to hand
combat, and despoil him of his
armor. This feat was known as
taking the 'spolia optima'. Marcellus
then rejoined his detachment and
lead them to an astonishing victory
over the much larger Celtic army.
For this victory, Marcellus was
awarded a triumph upon his return
to Rome.
The Second Punic War Begins,
218-216 BC
When the Second Punic War began,
the Romans had no premonition of
the magnitude of the struggle about
to ensue. Hence, regular constitutional procedures for electing
generals (two consuls and four
praetors) were in effect. Normally, a
Roman noble could expect to serve
only one consulship in a lifetime.
Truly extraordinary generals (with
plenty of political pull) might be
awarded a second consulship, but
usually only after at least a decade
had passed. So, even though
Marcellus was recognized as one of
Rome's top commanders, he was not
called upon to serve in the first two
years of the war. The defeats at
Ticinus, Trebbia and Trasimene
caused the Roman Senate to begin to
rethink its policies, however. In 216
BC Marcellus, now 52 years of age,
was elected as one of the four
Praetors, and assigned to command
of the fleet, to operate in Sicilian
When Hannibal enveloped and
destroyed the army of the Consuls
Varro and Paullus at Cannae,
Marcellus was still organizing his
fleet at Ostia, Rome's main port at the
mouth of the Tibur River. While
most Romans were seized with panic
and paralyzed with indecision,
Marcellus kept his head. Although
he realized that there was little
danger that Hannibal could actually
capture Rome, Marcellus nevertheless
immediately dispatched 1,500
marines to the capitol. Even though
their numbers were insignificant,
Marcellus correctly foresaw that the
arrival of any fresh troops would
bolster the confidence of the populace
and help restore calm to the city.
Marcellus also sent word to the
Senate that he was ready and willing
to take the field against Hannibal,
wherever he might be needed. The
Senate ordered the Praetor to
proceed to Canusium and relieve
Varro of the command of the 14,000
fugitives of Cannae that had gathered there. Marcellus combined
these demoralized troops with his
remaining marines and hastily
organized a new army. Meanwhile,
two legions of new recruits and two
legions of volunteer slaves and
convicts were raised at Rome. These
three weak armies were in no
condition to confront Hannibal
directly, but sought to maneuver to
bring aid to wavering allied cities.
Campaigning on Campania,
216-215 BC
Capua, the second city of Italy and
chief city of the province of
Campania, led a wave of defections
to the side of Carthage. Marcellus
was therefore directed to Campania
to protect the remaining allies.
Marcellus first secured Neapolis
(Naples), the chief seaport, with a
strong garrison. But the city of Nola
presented a more complicated
problem. In this city, as in many
others, the popular party favored
alliance with Carthage while the
aristocrats stood by Rome. Hannibal
was in communication with the
popular leaders of Nola to betray the
city to him.
Marcellus placed a strong garrison in
Nola, and diplomatically won over
some key popular leaders. Hannibal
advanced to storm the city, expecting
a fifth column to support him from
within the city. Instead the
Carthaginians were met by a powerful sortie led by Marcellus. Although
this affair was little more than a
skirmish, it was played up back in
Rome as the "Battle of Nola." The
Roman people were desparate for
some good news. Marcellus was able
to ride the popularity of the action at
Nola into a second election as Consul
in 215 BC.
However, both Marcellus and his
colleague as consul, Tiberius
Sempronius Gracchus, were plebeians. Tradition dictated that at least
one consul must be a patrician.
Marcellus' political enemies in the
Senate took advantage of this to
drum up religious omens to force his
resignation of the consulship. The
patrician Fabius was elected in his
stead. It mattered little though, as
Marcellus was again given command
of an army as a proconsul.
Since the two legions of disgraced
Cannae survivors had been banished
to serve the remainder of the war
outside Italy, Marcellus was given the
XVI and XVII legions for his army.
These legions had been raised
following Cannae, and served the
remainder of the year 216 BC as the
urban legions, the garrison of Rome.
Marcellus was again assigned to
Campania, and once more saw action
at Nola. This time, when Hannibal
approached, Marcellus led out his
entire army. He took up a position
close to the city, with his flanks
secured, and offered battle. Hannibal
accepted the challenge, and a battle
was fought that resulted in a draw.
This, the Second Battle of Nola,
enhanced Marcellus' reputation as
the only general who could fight
Hannibal and not get his command
Marcellus Strikes Back at Nola,
214 BC
With steadily growing popularity,
Marcellus was elected to his third
consulship in 214 BC. This time, the
Senate did not interfere. Marcellus
retained his army, the XVI and XVII
legions and was again posted to
Campania. In his favorite locale, at
Nola, Marcellus offered battle to the
wily, one-eyed Carthaginian for a
third time. This time, however,
Marcellus would play to win. He
developed a plan to out-Punic the
master. The evening before the
intended action, Marcellus dispatched one of his tribunes, Gaius
Claudius Nero (later victor at
Metaurus) with a picked force of
cavalry, velites and infantry out the
back gate of Nola. Nero was ordered
to make a wide, flanking night march
so as to be able to fall on Hannibal's
rear the next morning.
On the morrow, Marcellus led out his
army and engaged in a fierce battle
with Hannibal. But Nero never
showed. Marcellus, hard pressed,
reluctantly ordered a withdrawal
back into the city. The Third Battle of
Nola ended in a draw. Nero didn't
arrive till evening, and was reproached by Marcellus for spoiling
the opportunity for a decisive victory.
But, as Nero was later to demonstrate
during the Meaturus campaign, he
was a brilliant strategist and a hard
marcher. It seems likely that Nero's
flanking march was either poorly
planned by Marcellus (too long a
route) or foiled by Hannibal's flank
security detachments (which he
surely posted).
walls, Hannibal faced not only his
army but two to three additional
Roman armies in Southern Italy.
Hannibal fought all through
Samnium, Apulia, Lucania and
Bruttium as well as in Campania.
Marcellus' role, and the celebrated
Nola battles probably seemed quite
insignificant to the great
Carthaginian. But in Rome the view
was different. The people were
starved for any good news, and
Marcellus provided what little they
got. At least he wasn't afraid to fight.
Marcellus had campaigned for three
years in Campania, and was hailed as
a great general in Rome. But his
Campanian campaigns, and the Nola
battles, must be viewed in perspective. While Marcellus conducted a
defensive campaign from behind city
Meanwhile, in Sicily, the faithful
Roman ally King Hiero of Syracuse
had died in 215 BC. Hannibal sent a
pair of mixed blood SyracusanCarthaginian officers, Epicydes and
Hippocrates, to foment a revolt in the
city. Engineering a series of plots,
assassinations and counterplots, it
The Sicilian Interlude, 214-211
appeared in 214 BC that Epicydes
was about to succeed. Syracuse was
not only the greatest city of Sicily, but
also the third city of the Western
Mediterranean (after Carthage and
Rome). Syracuse was also strategically located to provide a link
between Hannibal's new domain in
Southern Italy and his home city.
The Senate decided to send an army
with an aggressive commander to
Syracuse to either forestall its loss or
recapture the city. The Consul
Marcellus was selected as the best
man for the job.
Marcellus arrived in Sicily late in 214
BC, with his now veteran XVI and
XVII legions. As Syracuse had
openly declared for Carthage, he
began siege operations. But the
methodical Roman siege-craft was
stymied by the genius of the mathematician Archimedes and his stateof-the-art counter-siege engines.
After a number of assaults, both by
land and by sea, had been crushed by
Archimedes' engines, Marcellus
decided to reduce the city by blockade (ultimately a three year effort).
Marcellus received word that a
Carthaginian fleet and army had
landed in Sicily near Agrigentum.
Marcellus left two thirds of his army
to maintain the blockade, and
conducted a reconnaissance in force
to Agrigentum with the remaining
one third, about 7,000 men. He found
that Himilco had already seized
Agrigentum, and was firmly entrenched with 25,000 infantry and
3,000 cavalry.
While Marcellus was gone, the
Syracusans decided to send half their
army out to join Himilco, while the
remainder would suffice to garrison
the city. Hippocrates, with an army
of 10,000 foot and 500 horse, slipped
through the Roman blockade at night,
and took the road to Agrigentum the same road on which Marcellus
was returning. Hippocrates was
mainly concerned about pursuit from
the Roman forces at Syracuse. The
few sentries he bothered to post were
facing to his rear. Just as the Greek
army finished their march and began
to encamp near Acrillae, Marcellus'
legion slammed into them. Marcellus
had disposed his force to be ready for
action in any direction, for fear of
Himilco's Numidian light horse. So
they were prepared to go directly
from the march into an attack. The
Syracusan army was caught by
surprise, but rallied and managed to
offer some resistance. The Greek
infantry then collapsed, and only
their cavalry escaped destruction or
Victory at Syracuse,
Jealousy in Rome, 213-211 BC
Marcellus continued the siege of
Syracuse as a proconsul for three
more years. Although the fortunes of
war shifted repeatedly, Marcellus
ultimately prevailed in 211 BC.
Aided by a plague that killed Himilco
and wiped out most of his army, and
a handful of greedy traitors,
Marcellus eventually broke into the
city, and reduced it section by
section. Marcellus succeeded where
Athens (415-413 BC) and Carthage
(398-397 and 311-310 BC) had failed.
Marcellus had proven himself a
master of siege warfare, as well as
individual combat and battle tactics.
Marcellus was finally recalled to
Rome at the close of 211 BC. But his
political enemies were able to make
two petty swipes at the returning
conquering hero. First, Marcellus
was denied a triumph for his victory
at Syracuse, on the specious grounds
that Carthaginian forces remained in
southern Sicily and the victory was
not complete. Marcellus received
only the lesser honor of an ovation.
Second, Marcellus was not allowed to
bring his army home. The veteran
XVI and XVII legions were left
behind in Sicily under another
commander. However, Marcellus'
enemies in the Senate could do
nothing to prevent his election to a
fourth consulship in 210 BC.
Marcellus was now by far the most
popular general in Rome.
Campaigning in Apulia, 210 BC
The military situation in Italy had
changed dramatically while
Marcellus campaigned in Sicily.
Hannibal, though never defeated,
had been steadily attritted and lost
many of his allied cities. Capua had
fallen to six legions after a three year
siege in 211 BC. The primary area of
combat shifted southward, from
Campania and Samnium to Apulia
and Lucania. Marcellus received the
XXV and XXVI legions for his new
consular army. These legions had
been raised in 213 BC and served
their first year as the urban legions.
In 212 and 211 BC they were commanded by the Praetor Marcus Junius
Silanus (later Scipio Africanus'
deputy in Spain) in Etruria.
Marcellus was assigned the province
of Apulia as his area of operations.
Meanwhile, Hannibal had opened the
campaign of 210 BC by enveloping
and annihilating a Roman army of
two legions under the Praetor Cnaeus
Fulvius Centumalus at Herdonia.
When Marcellus received word of
this disaster, he was determined to
avenge the defeat. He immediately
broke camp and advanced against
Hannibal, confronting him near
Numistro in Lucania. Marcellus
selected a narrow battle field and
deployed his legions one behind the
other, with his flanks covered by
rough terrain. Hannibal accepted the
challenge and a fierce day-long battle
ensued. The Battle of Numistro
ended in a draw, but Hannibal
realized he could not afford to trade
casualties with Marcellus, as he still
had other Roman armies to deal with.
Hannibal broke contact and marched
off, with Marcellus in hot pursuit. A
series of fierce skirmishes between
the two armies were fought near
Venusia. Then Hannibal continued
on a zigzag course through Apulia.
Like two champion boxers, Hannibal
and Marcellus sparred throughout
the summer. Hannibal set numerous
ambushes and laid clever traps for
the pursuing Romans, but Marcellus
warily picked his way around these
pitfalls with careful reconnaissance
and Fabian-style harassment. This
was Marcellus' most brilliant campaign against the great Carthaginian.
Hannibal, finally giving up on either
shaking Marcellus' pursuit or
ambushing his army, finally went
into winter quarters near Tarentum.
The Battle of Numistro and the
maneuver campaign that followed
were Marcellus' best performance
against the great captain Hannibal.
Marcellus' Last Battle, 209 BC
The consuls elected for 209 BC were
Fabius (his fifth) and Quintus Fulvius
Flaccus (his fourth). Marcellus was
continued in his command as a
proconsul. These three veteran
commanders devised a grand
strategic plan to achieve decisive
results. The linchpin of their strategy
was that Fabius would recapture
Tarentum, the last remaining great
city held by Hannibal. To divert the
Carthaginians' attention, Fulvius
would launch a supporting attack
against Carthaginian-allied cities in
Lucania. Marcellus' role was to pin
Hannibal down in Apulia, and if
possible defeat him in open battle.
The Roman's felt that the quality of
Hannibal's army was steadily
declining. Crack African and Iberian
mercenaries were being replaced by
Bruttian and Lucanian conscripts.
Marcellus, buoyed up by his near
success at Numistro, felt the time for
a decisive showdown had finally
come. So, as soon as the spring
campaign season opened, Marcellus
made straight for Hannibal, who had
taken up a position near Canusium.
Hannibal, seeing that Marcellus was
hot for action, was able to choose the
battlefield. He offered battle in a
small plain between Canusium and
Asculum (the Battle of Canusium is
also known as the Second Battle of
Marcellus drew up his experienced
XXV and XXVI legions one behind
the other, while Hannibal also
deployed two lines of infantry. When
the fighting began, the forces fought
evenly for some time. Gradually,
Hannibal's first echelon began to
worst the Roman legion in the van.
When Marcellus attempted to bring
his reserve legion up in support, the
maneuver was bungled and both
legions were routed in confusion.
Marcellus lost two tribunes, four
centurions, and 2,700 legionnaires
On the following day, Marcellus
again offered battle. Plutarch records
Hannibal's reaction to his persistant
foe's activity. "Hercules! what do we
do with a man who refuses to accept
either good fortune or bad? This is
the only general who gives his
enemy no rest when he is victorious,
nor takes any himself when he is
defeated. We shall never have done
with fighting him, it seems, because
he attacks out of confidence when he
is winning, and out of shame when
he is beaten." Livy records that
Marcellus inflicted a major defeat on
Hannibal, when his elephants
rampaged out of control. Livy
recorded 3,000 killed for the Romans,
but an astounding 8,000 for the
Carthaginians. But this is generally
regarded as mere propaganda.
Marcellus suffered a serious defeat in
the two-day battle. The proof of this
is in the actions that followed.
Hannibal force marched his army to
Lucania to confront Fulvius, and then
dashed his men to Tarentum to face
Fabius. Marcellus, meanwhile,
withdrew slowly to Venusia and
spent the remainder of the year
nursing his wounded. With 5,700
killed, nearly all his surviving
legionnaires may well have been
wounded. Marcellus' army was
clearly hors de combat as a result of
his defeat at Canusium.
occupied a site about five miles off
and equidistant from the two Roman
camps. The Romans were surprised
that Hannibal did not occupy a hill
near Bantia, which seemed to be ideal
terrain to dominate the area.
Hannibal had indeed judged this
ground as well suited for his camp,
but felt it would serve even better as
an ambush site. During the night he
posted a few hundred of his crack
Numidian cavalry and Iberian light
infantry in hiding, to watch and wait.
Marcellus had failed tactically, but
what of his strategic mission? It
appears he failed here as well. In his
zeal to engage Hannibal, he failed to
pin him down for any length of time.
Only Fabius' good fortune in quickly
discovering a turncoat mercenary
captain allowed him to capture
Tarentum just as Hannibal arrived to
break the siege.
The Romans took the bait. Marcellus
decided to conduct a personal
reconnaissance of the hill, along with
his fellow consul. As an escort they
brought along two tribunes (one was
Marcellus' son), two prefects, six
troops of Etruscan cavalry (180 men),
forty cavalry from the allied city of
Fregella (Marcellus' usual bodyguard), and twelve lictors (ceremonial guards who carried the fasces,
axes bundled with sticks - later
symbol of Mussolini's Fascist party)
for each consul. The party totalled
250 men all told. They marched
straight for the summit of the hill.
Ambush at Bantia, 208 BC
As his army languished at Venusia
throughout the year, Marcellus'
political enemies back in Rome
jumped at this rare opportunity to
blast him with charges of lethargy
and incompetence. But Marcellus
returned to Rome in the winter and
defended himself against these
accusations so successfully that he
was elected to a fifth consulship.
Only Fabius and Marcellus achieved
this distinction in the Second Punic
War, and no other Roman general
would match this until Gaius Marius
received seven consulships a century
later. Marcellus' colleague as consul
for 208 BC was an untried patrician,
Titus Quinctius Crispinus.
Hannibal's Numidians had no senior
commander to lead them, but these
veterans knew exactly what to do.
Recognizing the two consuls in the
recon party, they allowed the entire
group to move completely into the
trap. They then launched a shower of
javelins at the surprised Romans and
charged. The Etruscan cavalry
immediately broke and scattered,
while the Fregellans and lictors
rallied around the consuls. The
Numidians concentrated their attacks
on the two generals, hoping to
capture them. Quinctius was struck
by two javelins and fell to the
ground. Marcellus, fighting off a
group of attackers, was slain by a
lance thrust.
The campaign began with Marcellus
still at Venusia, while Quinctius
moved into Bruttium to besiege Locri.
Hannibal chased Quinctius away
from Locri, and this general decided
to retreat into Apulia and join forces
with Marcellus. Quinctius built his
camp a couple miles from that of
Marcellus, and then Hannibal
Marcellus' son, also wounded, rallied
the defenders, rescued Quinctius, and
cut his way back to safety. Roman
losses totalled 40 killed, 23 taken
prisoner and many wounded.
Quinctius Crispinus died of his
wounds within a few days. This was
the only occasion in the history of the
Roman Republic when both consuls
were slain in the same action.
Hannibal provided Marcellus, his
respected opponent, a funeral and
cremation with full military honors.
Marcellus had died most likely as he
would have wished - as a 60 year old
consul in hand-to-hand combat with
the enemy. Why he decided to lead a
reconnaissance party that any
tribune, or even centurion, could
have led, we will never know. But
Marcellus was likely fortunate to die
when he did. He would probably
have never bested Hannibal, and
after a lifetime of military activity a
quiet retirement probably held little
appeal. At least he was spared the
fate of Fabius, reduced in the latter
years of the war to becoming a
whining spectator, jealous of Scipio
and pettily attacking his great
accomplishments. Marcus Claudius
Marcellus died at the height of his
glory - five times consul, holder
of the Spolia Optima, sacker of
Syracuse, bane of Hannibal,
truly the Sword of Rome.
Great Battles of History
Several modules are finishing design
work. The two closest to the finish line
are both for Great Battles of Julius
Caesar: The Gallic Wars and
Jugurtha. The former includes the
three major land battles: Bibracte, The
Sambre and the nameless one against
Ariovistus and the Germans. Lots of
barbarians . . . Jugurtha is most
unusual, as the Numidians are,
essentially, a "hit-and-run" guerrillalike army, so we have some extended
rules for that. Moreover, as the
Jugurthan War is the supposed
turning point in the development of
the Marian Army, we have one battle
fought with the manipular legion
(SPQR), and one with the cohortbased legion (Caesar).
Unfortunately, very little of Polybius'
surviving history covers the career of
Marcellus. However, Livy and
Plutarch provide extensive, if less
reliable, accounts. Any good secondary history of the Second Punic War,
or biography of Hannibal, will
analyze Marcellus' campaigns in
A Note on Legion Numbering
It appears that during the early and
middle republic (500-100 BC) legions
were not assigned permanent numbers. Legions were instead renumbered each year, changing as legions
were destroyed or disbanded.
Assigning permanent numbers
Three Days of Gettysburg II
As soon as we get the completed maps
- especially Map #4 - from
Rick Barber, this project goes to press.
We are, at this time, planning on a
special package that would also
include a set of rules for "gentler,
kinder" play: SimpDoG (much the
same as the Simple GBoH rules
included in this issue of C3i).
June Six
Playtest work has begun on the next
Gameplayers game, the follow-up to
Battle for North Africa: June Six. This
covers the Normandy invasions (all
beaches) with two maps (which break
down nicely into several, one-map
scenarios) and regiment/brigade
level. Daily turns, running to end of
became the practice during the late
republic, civil wars and the empire.
However, it is possible to follow the
history of legions during the Second
Punic War, and the historian De
Sanctis developed a handy table of
legion deployments. The legions in
his list are numbered in the order they
were raised, from 1-46. De Santis'
legion numbers are used in this
account to make the narrative more
You can find all the counters you need
in SPQR. However, new leader
counters for the following commanders will be included as a C3i insert:
June. System is very close to BNA,
with some important changes. The
CRT has different results (mostly
because of the scale differences), and
we now have two ways to play the
game: either using the random chitpull of the AMs, or the Continuity
mechanic, which you can check out in
Simple GBoH. No projected publication date yet... bit goes out for beta
testing soon.