On page 324 of David Hackett Fischer's book Washington's Crossing, there is an epigraph (quotation at the beginning of the chapter "The Battle at Princeton") by Horace Walpole on George Washington's leadership at Princeton:

Washington the dictator has shown himself both a Fabius and Camillus. His March through our lines is allowed to have been a prodigy of generalship.

I believe this is a reference to Roman history, and I would like to confirm my understanding of it.

First, Fabius was a Roman general who fought a defensive, delaying style against Hannibal in the Second Punic War. Second, Camillus was a Roman (general?) whose decisive action saved Rome from the Gauls around 390 BCE.

Therefore, if I understand Walpole correctly, he is praising Washington as someone who knew when to play defensive (the Fabius reference), and knew when to strike decisively (the Camillus reference), and perhaps also that he saved his country (the Camillus reference again)?

  • 1
    I think you have answered your own question here: you do understand Walpole correctly. Is there anything else you need clarified? Jan 22, 2021 at 12:05
  • Walpole's contemporary audience (i.e. educated upper middle class men) were very familiar with Roman history, so they'd recognize instantly these names, who they were, & why they would be relevant.
    – llywrch
    Jan 22, 2021 at 16:21

1 Answer 1


I agree that Horace Walpole is making a comparison with Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus and Marcus Furius Camillus. Both were at some point "dictator", i.e. "entrusted with the full authority of the state to deal with a military emergency or to undertake a specific duty" (Wikipedia).

Marcus Furius Camillus's achievements as a dictator are described in Livy's Ab Urbe Condita / From the Founding of the City, book 5, especially chapters 19-32.

Quintus Fabius Maximus's strategy of avoiding an open battle with Hanibal's troops is described in Livy's Ab Urbe Condita / From the Founding of the City, book 22. His own magister equitum ("master of horse") M. Minucius Rufus criticised the dictator for this, contrasting the strategy with what Marcus Furius Camillus had done:

If M. Furius Camillus had chosen this method of wandering over mountain heights and passes to rescue the City from the Gauls which has been adopted by this new Camillus, this peerless Dictator who has been found for us in our troubles, to recover Italy from Hannibal, Rome would still be in the hands of the Gauls, and I very much fear that if we go on dawdling in this way the City which our ancestors have so often saved will only have been saved for Hannibal and the Carthaginians.

Avoiding decisive battles was one of the strategies used by George Washington; on the whole, the comparison with Camillus looks more appropriate.

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