The Second Punic War: The Year 214 BCE


  • The new consuls are Quintus Fabius Maximus and Marcus Claudius Marcellus, ‘the shield and sword of Rome’;
  • Hannibal fails to capture Puteoli, Nola and Tarentum;
  • The Romans recapture Casilinum and threaten Capua;
  • Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus defeats the Carthaginian commander Hanno at the Battle of the river Calor near Beneventum;
  • King Hieronymus of Syracuse is murdered, the rest of the royal family massacred; Syracuse briefly becomes a republic again;
  • Marcus Claudius Marcellus captures Leontinoi on Sicily;
  • The pro-Carthaginian archontes Hippocrates and Epicydes take control of Syracuse;
  • First skirmishes in the war between Rome and Macedonia;
  • The war in Spain continues without any significant battles.

The consular elections of this year were unusual in many respects. They were presided over by Quintus Fabius Maximus, who had returned from Puteoli in Campania (modern Pozzuoli). The century of iuniores of the tribus Aniensis had been drawn by lot to vote first. They were the so-called centuria praerogativa and their vote carried a lot of weight. When the century voted for Titus Otacilius and Marcus Aemilius Regillus, the consul decided to intervene. Fabius argued that the latter was a priest of Quirinus (the deified Romulus) and that this flamen Quirinalis was not allowed to leave the city under any condition. How was he to fight Hannibal if he had to remain in Rome? Titus Otacilius had been praetor and propraetor the previous years, but even though he was sort of family – he was married to Fabius’ sister’s daughter – the consul was apparently underwhelmed by his military achievements. Fabius then ordered the herald (praeco) to have the iuniores vote again.

Otacilius protested, but was silenced by the consul’s lictors, who still carried the axes in their bundles of rods (fasces): Fabius had gone straight to the Campus Martius and had not entered the pomerium, the sacred boundary of the city. Therefore he still held supreme military authority. The message was clear, and the centuries unanimously elected two very experienced new consuls: Quintus Fabius Maximus himself and Marcus Claudius Marcellus, ‘the shield and sword of Rome’.[1] The previous year the election of Marcellus as suffect consul had been declared invalid because he was not a patrician, but apparently the Roman people nor the augures considered it problematic that Fabius was directly re-elected, ignoring the usual interval between offices, and under his own presidency to boot. The need for experienced commanders meant that the imperium of many serving magistrates was prorogued by the Senate. Gracchus, Varro, Marcus Valerius Laevinus and poor old Otacilius were among these promagistrates.

Domestic affairs

Roman princeps (source: Europa Barbarorum).

The new consuls and the Senate decided that 18 legions were needed this year to fight against Carthage and its allies on every front. This means that a total of 72.000-90.000 Roman foot soldiers and some 5.400 horsemen were to be put in the field this year. These numbers need to be at least doubled to include the Latins and Italian allies. It is clear that the war was fought on a huge scale. Most of the armies operated in Italy, but troops were also needed for Sicily, Sardinia, Spain, Macedonia – which was granted to Laevinus – and apparently Gallia Cisalpina, for a propaetor is once again mentioned for this territory. And these are just the figures for the land army. Now that Carthage was threatening Sicily and Macedonia had joined the war, the consuls also decided to have 100 new ships built. This must have been very expensive, but the real problem was finding enough sailors to serve as crews. The job of crewing the ships was delegated to the Roman people. Depending on the value of their property, Roman citizens had to provide the fleet with 1, 3, 5 or 7 sailors and pay them for six months. Senators had to provide 8 sailors and pay for a full year.

In the aforementioned operation, the consuls made use of the figures and assessments of the 220 BCE census. Fabius also led the elections for new censors this year and Marcus Atilius Regulus (the suffect consul of 217 BCE) and Publius Furius Philus (Flaminius’ colleague in 223 BCE) were elected. The censors were not just charged with conducting the census, but they were also guardians of public morals. In this capacity they began punishing those Romans whose behaviour during the war had not been comme il faut. Among the victims were senators, equites and ordinary Romans, especially those who had so far refused military service. All were given a so-called nota censoria, a mark of bad behaviour. Members of the equestrian order who possessed a horse paid for by the State lost this equus publicus. Citizens that were punished were removed from their tribus, which likely entailed a relegation to one of the less prestigious and less influential urban tribes.[2] Many citizens were also relegated to the aerarii, a rather obscure class that ranked below the equites.

Remains of the temple of Saturn on the Forum Romanum, where the Romans kept their treasury.

Among those punished were the young men from eminent families that had made plans to abandon Italy after the defeat at Cannae. Their leader had been Marcus Caecilius Metellus, who was now one of the quaestors. When he was elected people’s tribune later this year and took up his office on 10 December, the traditional date, he immediately tried to have his revenge on the censors by ordering them to appear before the popular assembly. This move was, however, vetoed by the nine other people’s tribunes and the intended trial never took place. In any case, Publius Furius Philus died just a little later and the other censor laid down his office, as was customary.

The state coffers were empty, so the censors had no funds to let contracts for the maintenance of temples and other projects. In a moralistic tale of Roman patriotism, Livius tells us that contractors came forward and encouraged the censors to let the contracts anyway, as no one would claim payment from the State before the war was over. Slave owners whose slaves had been fighting with the volones and had been given their freedom (see below) then followed the example set by the contractors and declared that their financial compensation could be postponed as well. Citizens began collecting money for widows and orphans, and horsemen and centurions in the army refused their pay. Those whose accepted it were labelled as mercenaries (mercennarii).


214 BCE was a relatively successful year for Rome. Hannibal achieved very little in Italy. His attack on Puteoli was a failure and for the third time he was repulsed at Nola by Marcellus. Fabius and Marcellus together managed to recapture Casilinum, which had been lost the previous year. From Casilinum, they could more easily threaten Capua, the grand prize in Campania. But the biggest Roman achievement of this year was the victory won by the proconsul Gracchus at the river Calor near Beneventum. Gracchus’ legions comprised many of the volones, the volunteer slaves who had been promised their freedom if they joined the army. Many of them felt a strong personal attachment to their commander. Gracchus’ opponent was Hanno, one of Hannibal’s subordinate commanders, whose army was mostly composed of Bruttii and Lucani, supported by some Numidian and Moorish cavalry.

Map of Middle and Southern Italy (source: Ancient World Mapping Center. “À-la-carte”; CC BY 4.0).

It is a pity that Polybius’ account of the battle does not survive, because Livius’ version is more than a little incredible. He tells us that the volones went on a headhunting spree, as prior to the battle Gracchus had offered freedom to any man who returned with the severed head of an enemy. As a result, the volones were more occupied with cutting off heads than with fighting. We may dismiss this rather silly story and still accept that Beneventum was a decisive Roman victory. The Romans managed to rout their opponents after four hours of fighting and then proceeded to storm their camp. Some 15.000 Bruttii and Lucani may have been killed, with most of the cavalry and Hanno himself escaping.

Having achieved virtually nothing in Campania this year, Hannibal marched to Tarentum, hoping that it could be betrayed to him. He was disappointed. The propraetor Laevinus had strengthened the city with a garrison led by one Gaius (or Marcus) Livius, and Hannibal was loath to besiege it. He ultimately retired to Salapia in Apulia at the end of the campaigning season. There he made his winter camp and began planning next year’s operations.


Cretan archer (source: Europa Barbarorum).

Young king Hieronymus’ reign proved to be a short one. After little more than a year on the throne he was murdered in Leontinoi (now the city of Lentini). His death threw Syracuse into chaos. In the aftermath of the murder, the entire royal family was massacred and Syracuse briefly got a republican government again. Archontes were elected – Livius calls them praetors – and some of these supported Rome and the old alliance with the Roman Republic, while others were in favour of honouring the recent treaty with Carthage. Two of these archontes were Hippocrates and Epicydes from Hannibal’s army. The result was chaos again. The previous year, war had been declared on Rome after the treaty with Carthage had been concluded. The pro-Roman party for the moment outnumbered the pro-Carthaginian party and a delegation was sent to the commander of the Roman fleet to talk about a ten day armistice. This commander was the propraetor Appius Claudius Pulcher, son of the man who had commanded the Roman fleet at the disastrous Battle of Drepana in 249 BCE.

In the mean time, the Romans had sent the consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus to Sicily. Since Marcellus outranked him, Claudius Pulcher referred the envoys to the consul. Peace and a renewal of the treaty were within reach, but then Hippocrates and his troops attacked one of the Roman outposts near Leontinoi. There were many casualties and Marcellus was furious. He threatened the Syracusans that there would always be a cause for war of they did not banish Hippocrates and Epicydes from their territories and from Sicily. The consul and propraetor then proceeded to storm Leontinoi and captured the city at the first assault. Hippocrates and Epicydes first fled west to Herbesos before they managed to reach Syracuse again with the help of detachment of Cretan mercenaries. Back in Syracuse, the brothers managed to instigate a revolt and overthrow the government of the pro-Roman archontes. Hippocrates and Epicydes were now in charge of the city.

Macedonia and Spain

Map of Epirus and Illyria (source: Ancient World Mapping Center. “À-la-carte”; CC BY 4.0)

In the summer of this year, the war between Rome and Macedonia started in earnest. Philippos V had captured the city of Orikos in Epirus and threatened Apollonia, a Roman ally. The Roman response was swift and determined. Marcus Valerius Laevinus, the propraetor responsible for fighting the war against the Macedonian king, quickly retook Orikos, easily defeating the small garrison left behind by Philippos. He then sent the praefectus sociorum Quintus Naevius Crista north to Apollonia. This city was apparently under a loose siege, and during the night the Roman commander led his troops in an attack on the Macedonian camp, which was great success. If we are to trust Livius’ account, Philippos was surprised in his sleep and had to flee from the camp only half-dressed. The king lost all his siege equipment and had to burn his ships to prevent them from being captured by Laevinus.

It is difficult to reconstruct the events in Spain of this and the next few years. Polybius’ account is missing, while Livius’ narrative is confused and his chronology rather hazy. The Roman historian for instance claims that Saguntum was recaptured this year, a city which had been “in the possession of the enemy for almost eight years”. But since it was taken by Hannibal in late 219 BCE, it must have been retaken by the Romans in 212 BCE at the earliest. It is probably safest to conclude that, in spite of Livius’ optimistic account, the Romans did not achieve much in Spain these years, and neither did the Carthaginians. Carthaginian opposition was nevertheless stiffening, as more and more troops were sent to Spain. At least three Carthaginian armies seem to have operated in the peninsula, but communication and coordination between the commanders was poor. Gnaeus Scipio may have been wounded in the fighting, but he survived and continued to hold command, directing the fighting from a sedan chair (lecticula), again if we are to trust Livius.


Primary sources

Secondary sources

  • Adrian Goldsworthy, The Fall of Carthage, p. 261-262;
  • Andrew Lintott, The Constitution of the Roman Republic, p. 117-118.


[1] The term can be found in Plutarchus’ Lives, but it is originally from Poseidonios’ lost work.

[2] For a discussion of the Roman tribes, see this post under ‘Electoral developments’ and this post under ‘The censors in action’.


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