Marcus Fabius Buteo (in other accounts, Quintus Fabius Maximus – it seems the gentleman in question didn’t want his name associated too clearly with the declaration of war after the effect) arrives in Carthage in late 219 BC, at the head of a Roman delegation. Their goal: Make Carthage either hand over Hannibal, or accept the guilt for war. When the Carthaginian council is neither willing to extradite their general nor to accept the blame for the crisis, Fabius grasps the folds of his toga and shouts, “Here we bring war and peace, choose whichever pleases you.”
The Carthaginians tell him to give them whatever pleases him. He shakes out the toga and declares that he gives them war.
Following Hannibal’s unexpected arrival in Italy after crossing the Alps, the first full-scale battle is fought only a few weeks later. It was the only battle in Italy in which Hannibal’s elephants played any role – they’d survived the Alps, and some survived the battle, but none but one survived the winter.
In 216 BC, Rome fielded the vastest army that had ever stood on Italian soil. 86,000 legionaries opposed just over half that number of Hannibal’s army of Africans, Spaniards and Celts. On the plain of Cannae in Apulia, on a wide open field to forestall any Punic treachery or ambush, Rome meant to end the menace from the Carthaginian strategos. They advanced with a massive phalanx, meaning to crush Hannibal’s centre so that his cavalry superiority wouldn’t avail him anything.
Hannibal’s centre slowly retreated before the advancing legions, drawing them into a trap which they didn’t see until Hannibal’s cavalry, having driven off the enemy horse, appeared at their backs.
By nightfall on that 2nd of August, between fifty and seventy thousand Romans lay dead.
Hannibal had fought with the Celtic mercenaries in the centre, knowing that his presence would be needed there most to keep the Celts from routing, leaving his officers to do what had to be done on the rest of the field.
At the end of the day, when after hours of incredible slaughter it became clear just how complete the victory was, he must have thought the war would be over now, that, according to every rule of war of that time, Rome would accept his offer for peace.
Rome didn’t even let his emissaries into the city, determined to fight until it was either reduced to rubble or the war was won.