Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, surnamed Cunctator (c. 280 – 203 BC), was a Roman statesman and general of the third century BC. He was consul five times (233, 228, 215, 214, and 209 BC) and was appointed dictator in 221 and 217 BC. He was censor in 230 BC. His agnomen, Cunctator, usually translated as “the delayer”, refers to the strategy that he employed against Hannibal‘s forces during the Second Punic War. Facing an outstanding commander with superior numbers, he pursued a then-novel strategy of targeting the enemy’s supply lines, and accepting only smaller engagements on favourable ground, rather than risking his entire army on direct confrontation with Hannibal himself. As a result, he is regarded as the originator of many tactics used in guerrilla warfare.
Born at Rome c. 280 BC, Fabius was a descendant of the ancient patricianFabia gens. He was the son or grandson[lower-roman 1] of Quintus Fabius Maximus Gurges, three times consul and princeps senatus, and grandson or great-grandson of Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus, a hero of the Samnite Wars, who like Verrucosus held five consulships, as well as the offices of dictator and censor. Many earlier ancestors had also been consuls. His cognomen, Verrucosus, or “warty”, used to distinguish him from other members of his family, derived from a wart on his upper lip.
According to Plutarch, Fabius possessed a mild temper and slowness in speaking. As a child, he had difficulties in learning, engaged in sports with other children cautiously and appeared submissive in his interactions with others. All the above were perceived by those who knew him superficially to be signs of inferiority. However, according to Plutarch, these traits proceeded from stability, greatness of mind, and lion-likeness of temper. By the time he reached adulthood and was roused by active life, his virtues exerted themselves; consequently, his lack of energy displayed during his earlier years was revealed as a result of a lack of passion and his slowness was recognised as a sign of prudence and firmness.
While still a youth in 265 BC, Fabius was consecrated an augur. It is unknown whether he participated in the First Punic War, fought between the Roman Republic and Carthage from 264 to 241 BC, or what his role might have been. Fabius’ political career began in the years following that war. He was probably quaestor in 237 or 236 BC, and curule aedile about 235. During his first consulship, in 233 BC, Fabius was awarded a triumph for his victory over the Ligurians, whom he defeated and drove into the Alps. He was censor in 230, then consul a second time in 228. It is possible that he held the office of dictator for a first time around this time: according to Livy, Fabius’s tenure of the dictatorship in 217 was his second term in that office, with Gaius Flaminius as his deputy and magister equitum during the first term: however Plutarch suggests that Flaminius was deputy instead to Marcus Minucius Rufus – presumably Fabius’s great political rival of that name, who later served as deputy to Fabius himself (see below). It is of course possible that Flaminius was successively deputy to both, after Minucius’s apparently premature deposition following bad augural omens: and also possible that little of note (other than, possibly, holding elections during the absence of consuls) was accomplished during either dictatorship.
According to Livy, in 218 BC Fabius took part in an embassy to Carthage, sent to demand redress for the capture of the supposedly neutral town of Saguntum in Spain. After the delegation had received the Carthaginians’ reply, it was Fabius himself who, addressing the Carthaginian senate, issued a formal declaration of war between Carthage and the Roman Republic. However, Cassius Dio, followed by Zonaras, calls the ambassador Marcus Fabius, suggesting that it was his cousin, Marcus Fabius Buteo, who issued the declaration of war against the Carthaginians.