Pretty impressive, a great general [Hannibal] was. What puzzles me most is why these extraordinary gentlemen hesitated to take Rome when it was within their reach. Attila had a chance to do it, but stopped short. Was it the name, the fame of Rome? Or what was it?
Hannibal was near Rome twice with his armies and both times decided against going ahead with an attack. Why?
The first time he gave up the idea because taking Rome would have meant a siege and his strength, his safety, was in movement. He couldn’t afford to let himself get stuck anywhere. He had no siege machines and no supply line back to Carthage. His larger strategic plan for Italy was to turn Rome’s allies against her one by one and to form a coalition. So, though he was near Rome and had no Roman army in front of him, he turned and marched away.
The second time, seizing Rome had not been part of his plan and one of his rules was to avoid being forced into doing anything that he was unprepared for. The plan was wonderful enough. He had been stuck sieging the siegers around Capua. What?
When the city of Capua had declared itself an enemy of Rome and friend of Hannibal, the Roman senate sent an army to punish it. Hannibal came to their aid with HIS army and surrounded the besieging Roman force. For a long time both armies stayed camped around the starving city and their squirmishes produced no result. Hannibal realized he would have to do something fast because the city couldn’t hold out much longer and the senate was preparing another army to fight him. So he came up with one of his tricks.
One night, leaving his campfires burning to fool the enemy, he marched his army secretly to Rome, which he thought was not well-defended. He knew that when it became known that his army was just outside the capital, the Roman forces everywhere, including the one at Capua, would drop what they were doing and hurry to defend it. The ruse worked.
But if Rome was so weak, why didn’t Hannibal quickly take it?
As it happened, there WAS a force in Rome. The latest group of conscripts had been told to report to the city for service on that day. Seeing them, Hannibal decided taking Rome would be too risky, and went back to Capua, following his original plan.
My sources are Livy and Polybius.
As you see, erika, there was nothing spooky—the city of Rome had no mysterious power to intimidate—at least over clear-headed leaders like Hannibal and Caesar. I don’t know much about Attila’s reasons. I always heard it was Pope Leo who made him change his mind about taking the city.
Remember there were 650 years between Hannibal’s Rome and Attila’s. In 200BC the town could not have been imposing.