Clan Fabius was one of the most significant families in the early and mid Roman Republic. They traced their originals back to an almost legendary past, when the Fabii were almost wiped out defending the young Republic, a legend that will have been familiar to all of their contemporaries for the rest of Roman history. Many of the family ended up holding high office during the Republic, but two became legends in their own lifetimes. The first was Fabius Maximus Rullianus, a hero of the Samnite Wars and the man who gained the family the name ‘Great’. The second is the best known in modern times – Fabius Maximus Cunctator (the ‘delayer’), often seen as the saviour of Rome in the Second Punic War, when his delaying tactics frustrated Hannibal at the peak of his power.
Many of the intervening members of the family are frustratingly difficult to trace with any great certainty, but McCall does a good job of piecing together a coherent family tree, while admitting where there are uncertainties. The nature of the sources means that it isn’t always clear if two mentions of someone with the same name holding office a decade or two apart referred to one man, father and son or uncle and nephew.
Even for the most famous members of the family, it isn’t always clear if all of the activities and achievements allocated to them were genuinely deserved. McCall does a good job of picking his way through the minefield of the sources, where many events in one life could be repeats of incidents from a different generation, or based more on family legend than history.
The family rather faded away in the late Republic, and the last few generations don’t really play much of a part in those dramatic events. The direct family line had already died out, and the last successful holder of the name was Fabius Maximus Aemilianus, the biological son of Lucius Aemilius Paullus who was adopted by the last Fabius Maximus in the direct male line (another of his sons was adopted into the Scipio family in the same circumstances), and his son Quintus Fabius Maximus Allobrogicus, who won a victory over the Gauls. After that the family declined into obscurity, disappearing entirely from the record under the Empire.
One sign of the times is that the author finishes with a brief survey of the main sources, followed by a series of links to online versions of them, one of the many impressive tools for the historian now available online.
This is a nice approach to the history of the Roman Republic, and one that the Fabii would probably have appreciated, reflecting the obsession with family achievements amongst the senior members of the Roman aristocracy.
1 - Introduction
2 - Shadows of the Past: The Fabii and the Fledgling Republic
3 - The First Fabius Maximus, Rullianus and the Samnite Wars
4 - The Battle of Sentinum
5 - Fabius Maximus Cunctator and the War against Hannibal
6 - The Fabian Strategy and the End of the War
7 - Spanish Wars, Gallic Wars, Civil Wars and the End of the Line
Author: Jeremiah McCall
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military