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fabianWho was Fabian?

The word "Fabian" is derived from the name of Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, who was a Roman politician and soldier, who was born in Rome around 275 BC and died there in 203 BC. He was consul five times and was twice dictator.

Descended from a very ancient patrician family, he probably participated in the First Punic War, although no details of his role are known. After the end of the war he rapidly advanced his political career. He served twice as consul and censor and in 218 BC he took part in the embassy to Carthage. It was Fabius who formally declared war on the city after the capture of Sagonte by Hannibal. The Senate named him dictator in 217 BC after the disaster at the Battle of Lake Trasimene in June of that year; this was unusual, as dictators were usually elected by the consuls.

Fabius was well-aware of the military superiority of the Carthaginians, and when Hannibal invaded Italy he refused to meet him in a pitched battle. Instead he kept his troops close to Hannibal, hoping to exhaust him in a long war of attrition. Fabius was able to harass the Carthaginian foraging parties, limiting Hannibal's ability to wreak destruction while conserving his own military force.

The Romans were initially unimpressed with this defensive strategy and gave Fabius his nickname Cunctator (the delayer) as an insult.

coinThe strategy was hindered because of a lack of unity in the command of the Roman army. Minucius was co-commander of the army along Fabius, and Fabius' political enemy. Minucius openly claimed that Fabius was cowardly because he failed to confront the Carthaginian forces.

One day Minucius decided to make a broad frontal attack on Hannibal's troops who were stationed in the valley between two towns called Larino and Gerione. It was a large battle with several thousand men involved on either side. At first it appeared that the Roman troops were winning but Hannibal then sprung a trap he had earlier prepared and soon the Roman troops were being slaughtered.

Fabius, despite Minucius' earlier arrogance, rushed to his co-commander's assistance and Hannibal's forces immediately retreated. After the battle Minucius marched his men to Fabius' encampment and he is reported to have said, "My father gave me life. Today you saved my life. You are my second father. I recognize your superior abilities as a commander."

At the end of Fabius' dictatorship, when the Romans were defeated at the battle of Cannae, the wisdom of Fabius' tactics were understood and Cunctator became an honorific title. This tactic was followed for the rest of the war, as long as Hannibal remained in Italy.

Fabius was named consul twice more after serving as dictator. Later, he became a legendary figure and the model of a tough, courageous Roman. The contemporary historian Ennius stated "unus homo nobis cunctando restituit rem" – one man, by delaying, has restored the state to us.

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