Fabian strategy is named after a dictator of the Roman Republic, Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus.
The Second Punic War occured when Hannibal took an army overland from “New Carthage” in modern Spain, across southern France, over the Alps and into Cisalpine Gaul. His strategy was to divide Rome from her allies by weakening her in battle. Once isolated Rome could be defeated.
Initially Hannibal fought the perfect campaign. He scored resounding victories in the battles of Trebbia and at Lake Trasimene in what many analysts believe to be the greatest ambush in history.
Rome was in panic. In 221 BC Quintus Fabius Maximus was elected dictator to handle the situation. The post of dictator, giving sole control to a single individual, was only taken “in extremis” by the Senate. It was awarded only a handful of times in the history of the Roman Republic.
Fabius recognised that Hannibal needed victories to maintain his impetus. Keeping an army supplied in a foreign land is not an easy matter. Many of his troops were mercenaries, who were looking for short campaigns, easy victories and lots of plunder. The strategy devised by Fabius was to avoid large scale pitched battle. If Hannibal advanced he withdrew. If Hannibal moved he followed. All the time he harassed the Carthaginian foraging parties, scouting expeditions or reconnaissance missions.
He employed a scorched earth policy to deny Hannibal food. He used asymmetrical battle opportunities to score small victories and deplete the Carthaginian forces.
As time went by the Romans became impatient with this approach. Used to decisive victories they struggled to understand a general who avoided contact with the enemy. It smacked of cowardice. The situation became politically untenable and when his tenure as Dictator expired Fabius was not reinstated.
He was replaced by the consuls Varro and Paullus. The consuls put together a massive army of 88,000 legionnaires and marched on Hannibal. Hannibal obliged them by taking control of a supply depot at Cannae, threatening to deprive the Romans of vital supplies. The legions marched in. Hannibal fought the greatest battle in history, a double envelopment. He killed approximately 75,000 Roman and Auxiliary troops and sold the remainder into slavery. The Roman army was obliterated.
The Senate again turned to Fabius who reinstated his previous tactics. Hannibal was unable to follow his victory at Cannae with an attack on Rome because he lacked the siege equipment to do so. Fabius was successful in wearing down the Carthaginians until Rome could recover.
Then it was the turn of the young and dynamic Scipio, who took the war to Africa and Spain and defeated the Carthaginians in their own homeland. As a result Carthage had to call Hannibal home from Italy. He was defeated in Africa at the Battle of Zana where Scipio earned his nickname “Africanus”.
Now, there is an entire article about Hannibal Barca and I never once mentioned the E word, you know, Grey, Trunk, Tusks, Large Quadruped, useful in battle.
Quintus Fabius Maximus also gave his name to the “Fabian Society” a British Organisation which seeks to better society by the introduction of Socialism through Gradualist and Reformist means.