Ramblings & ephemera

Word of the day: cunctative

Cunctative: Cunc’ta*tive, a. Slow; tardy; dilatory; causing delay.
Cunctator: Cunc*ta’tor, n. [L., lit., a delayer; — applied as a surname to Q. Fabius Maximus.] One who delays or lingers.

From Wikipedia’s “Fabius Maximus“:

Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (c. 275 BC-203 BC), called Cunctator (the Delayer), was a Roman politician and soldier, born in Rome around 275 BC and died in Rome in 203 BC. He was consul five times (233 BC, 228 BC, 215 BC, 214 BC and 208 BC) and was twice dictator, 221?–219 BC, and 217 BC. His nickname Cunctator (akin to the English noun cunctation) means “delayer” in Latin, and refers to his tactics in deploying the troops during the Second Punic War. His cognomen Verrucosus means warty, a reference to the wart above his upper lip. …

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 unimpressed with this defensive strategy and at first gave Fabius his nickname as an insult. The strategy was in part ruined because of a lack of unity in the command of the Roman army: Fabius’ magister equitum, Minucius, was a political enemy of Fabius. … Minucius had been named a co-commander of the Roman forces by Fabius’ detractors in the Senate. Minucius openly claimed that Fabius was cowardly because he failed to confront the Carthaginian forces. Near the present-day town of Larino in the Molise (then called Larinum), Hannibal had taken up position in a town called Gerione. In the valley between Larino and Gerione, Minucius decided to make a broad frontal attack on Hannibal’s troops. Several thousand men were involved on either side. It appeared that the Roman troops were winning but Hannibal had set a trap. 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 there was some feeling that there would be conflict between Minucius and Fabius. However, the younger soldier 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, the command was given back to the consuls Gnaeus Servilius Geminus and Marcus Atilius Regulus. In the following year, the new consuls Paullus and Varro were defeated at the battle of Cannae, and the wisdom of Fabius’ tactic was understood. Thus Cunctator became an honorific title. This tactic was followed for the rest of the war, as long as Hannibal remained in Italy.

… Later, he became a legendary figure and the model of a tough, courageous Roman. According to Ennius, unus homo nobis cunctando restituit rem – “one man, by delaying, restored the state to us.” While Hannibal is mentioned in the company of history’s greatest generals, military professionals have bestowed Fabius’ name on an entire strategic doctrine known as “Fabian strategy.”

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