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Marcus Claudius Marcellus

Marcus Claudius Marcellus (c. 268-208 BC), one of the Roman generals during the Second Punic War and conqueror of Syracuse.

He first served against Hamilcar in Sicily. In his first consulship (222) he was engaged, with Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio as colleague, in war against the Insubrian Gauls, and won the spolia opima for the third and last time in Roman history by slaying their chief Viridomarus or Virdumarus (Polybius ii. 34; Propertius v. 10, 39).

In 216, after the defeat at Cannae, he took command of the remnant of the army at Cariusium, and although he was unable to prevent Capua going over to Hannibal, he saved Nola and southern Campania. In 214 he was in Sicily as consul at the time of the revolt of Syracuse; he stormed Leontini and besieged Syracuse, but the skill of Archimedes repelled his attacks.

After a two years' siege he gradually forced his way into the city and took it in the face of strong Punic reinforcements. He spared the lives of the inhabitants, but carried off their art treasures to Rome, the first instance of a practice afterwards common.

Consul again in 210, he took Salapia in Apulia, which had revolted to Hannibal, by help of the Roman party there, and put to death the Numidian garrison proconsul in 209, he attacked Hannibal near Venusia, and after a desperate battle retired to that town; he was accused of bad generalship, and had to leave the army to defend himself in Rome.

In his last consulship (208), he and his colleague, while reconnoitring near Venusia, were unexpectedly attacked, and Marcellus was killed. His successes have been exaggerated by Livy, but the name often given to him, the "sword of Rome" was well deserved.

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.

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