Immagini della pagina

his old camp on the Tifata over Capua. Then leaving the Numidians and Spaniards for the defence both of the camp and the city, he marched away with the rest of his forces to the lake of Avernus, under the pretence of performing sacrifice, but in reality with a design to make an attempt on Puteoli and the garrison there. As soon as Maximus received intelligence that Hannibal had departed from Arpi and was returning into Campania, he hastened back to his army, without halting either night or day, sending orders to Tiberius Gracchus, to bring forward his forces from Luceria to Beneventum, and to the prætor Quintus Fabius, son to the consul, to hasten to Luceria, in the place of Gracchus. At the same time, the two prætors set out for Sicily, Publius Cornelius to command the army, Otacilius the feet on the sea-coast. The rest also departed to their respective provinces, and those who were continued in command remained in the same disa tricts where they had been in the former year.

XIII. While Hannibal was at the lake Avernus, there came to him, from Tarentum, five young men of quality, who had been made prisoners, some at the lake Trasimenus, some at Cannæ, and who had been sent home with that generosity which the Carthaginian showed towards all the allies of the Romans: these told him, that “out of gratitude for his kind treatment, they had persuaded a great number of the Tarentine youth to prefer his alliance and friendship to that of the Romans; and that they had been sent as deputies by their countrymen, to request that Hannibal would draw his army nearer to Tarentum; that if his standards and his camp were once seen from that place, the city would, without any delay, be delivered into his hands; for the commons were under the influence of the younger men, and the management of public affairs was with the commons.” Hannibal, after highly commending and loading them with a profusion of promises, desired them to return home in order to bring the scheme to maturity, saying, that he would be there in due time. With these hopes the Tarentines were dismissed. Hannibal had, before their application, conceived an ardent wish to gain possession of Tarentum; he saw that it was a city not only opulent and of great note, but likewise a seaport, commodiously situated, opposite Macedonia; and that King Philip, should he pass over into Italy, would steer his course to that harbour, because the Romans were in possession of Brundusium. Having performed the sacrifice which he had proposed at his coming, and having, during his stay, utterly laid waste the lands of Cumæ, as far as to the promontory of Misenum, he changed his route suddenly to Puteoli, with design to surprise the Roman garrison. This consisted of six thousand men, and the place was secured, not only by the nature of its situation, but by strong works. Here Hannibal delayed three days, and attempted the garrison on every quarter; but, finding no prospect of success, he marched forward to ravage the territory of Neapolis, rather for the sake of gratifying his resentment, than with any hope of becoming master of the town. By his arrival in the neighbourhood, the commons of Nola were encouraged to stir, having for a long time been disaffected to the cause of the Romans, and harbouring, at the same time, resentment against their own senate. Deputies, therefore, came to invite Hannibal, with a positive promise to deliver the city into his hands: but the consul Marcellus, whom the nobles solicited, by his expeditious measures prevented the design from taking place. In one day he made a march from Cales to Suessula, though he met with some delay in passing the river Vulturnus; and from thence, on the ensuing night, introduced into Nola six thousand foot and three hundred horse, to support the senate. While every precaution requisite for securing the possession of Nola was thus used by the consul with vigorous despatch, Hannibal, on the other side, was dilatory in his proceedings; for, after having twice before been baffled in a project of the


same kind, he was now the less inclined to credit the professions of the Nolans.

XIV. Meanwhile the consul, Quintus Fabius, set out to attempt the recovery of Casilinum, which was held by a Carthaginian garrison; and, at the same time, as if by concert, there arrived at Beneventum, on one side, Hanno from Bruttium, with a large body of infantry and cavalry; and, on another, Tiberius Gracchus, from Luceria. The latter came first into the town; then, hearing that Hanno was encamped at the river Calor, about three miles distant, and that, by detachments from thence, devastations were committed on the country, he marched out his troops, pitched his camp about a mile from the enemy, and there held an assembly of his soldiers. The legions which he had with him consisted mostly of volunteer slaves, who had chosen rather to merit their liberty in silence, by the service of a second year, than to request it openly. He had observed, however, as he was leaving his winter-quarters, that the troops, on their march, began to murmur, asking, whether they were ever to serve as free citizens?” He had, however, written to the senate, insisting, not so much on their wishes, as on their merits; declaring that “ he had ever found them faithful and brave in the service; and that, excepting a free condition, they wanted no qualification of complete soldiers.” Authority was given him to act in that business, as he himself should judge conducive to the good of the public. Before he resolved upon coming to an engagement, therefore, he gave public notice, that “the time was now come, when they might obtain the liberty which they had so long wished for. That he intended, next day, to engage the enemy in regular battle, in a clear and open plain, where, without any fear of stratagems, the business might be decided by the mere dint of valour. Every man then, who should bring home the head of an enemy, he would, instantly, by his own authority, set free; and every one, who should retreat from his post, he would

punish in the same manner as a slave. Every man's lot now depended on his own exertion; and, as security for their obtaining their freedom, not only he himself stood pledged, but the consul Marcellus, and even the whole senate, who, having been consulted by him on the subject of their freedom, had authorized him to determine in the case." He then read the consul's letter and the decree of the senate, on which an universal shout of joy was raised. They eagerly demanded the fight, and ardently pressed him to give the signal instantly. Gracchus gave notice that they should be gratified on the following day, and then dismissed the assembly. The soldiers, exulting with joy, especially those who were to receive liberty as the price of their active efforts for one day, spent the rest of their time until night in getting their arms in readiness.

XV. Next day, as soon as the trumpets began to sound to battle, the above-mentioned men, the first of all, assembled round the general's quarters, ready and marshalled for the fight. At sun-rise Gracchus led out his troops to the field, nor did the enemy hesitate to meet him. Their force consisted of seventeen thousand foot, mostly Bruttians and Lucanians, and twelve thousand horse, among whom were very few Italians, almost all the rest were Numidians and Moors. The conflict was fierce and long; during four hours neither side gained any advantage, and no circumstance proved a greater impediment to the success of the Romans, than from the heads of the enemy being made the price of liberty; for when any had valiantly slain an opponent, he lost time, first, in cutting off the head, which could not be readily effected in the midst of the crowd and tumult, and then his right hand being employed in securing it, the bravest ceased to take a part in the fight, and the contest devolved on the inactive and dastardly. The military tribunes now represented to Gracchus, that the soldiers were not employed in wounding any of the enemy who stood on their legs, but in maiming those

who had fallen, and instead of their own swords in their right hands, they carried the heads of the slain. On which he commanded them to give orders with all haste, that “they should throw away the heads, and attack the enemy: that their courage was sufficiently evident and conspicuous, and that such brave men need not doubt of liberty.” The fight was then revived, and the cavalry also were ordered to charge: these were briskly encountered by the Numidians, and the battle of the horse was maintained with no less vigour than that of the foot; so that the event of the day again became doubtful, while the commanders, on both sides, vilified their adversaries in the most contemptuous terms, the Roman speaking to his soldiers of the Lucanians and Bruttians, as men so often defeated and subdued by their ancestors; and the Carthaginian, of the Romans, as slaves, soldiers taken out of the workhouse. At last Gracchus proclaimed, that his men had no room to hope for liberty, unless the enemy were routed that day, and driven off the field.

XVI. These words so effectually inflamed their courage, that, as if they had been suddenly transformed into other men, they renewed the shout, and bore down on the enemy with an impetuosity, which it was impossible longer to withstand. First the Carthaginian vanguard, then the battalions were thrown into confusion; at last the whole line was forced to give way; they then plainly turned their backs, and fled precipitately into their camp, in such terror and dismay, that none of them made a stand, even at the gates or on the rampart; and the Romans following close, so as to form almost one body with them, began anew a second battle within their works. Here, as the fight was more impeded by the narrowness of the place, so was the slaughter more dreadful, the prisoners also lending assistance, who, during the confusion, snatched up weapons, and forming in a body, cut off numbers in the rear. So great, therefore, was the carnage, that out of so large an army, scarcely two thousand men, most of

« IndietroContinua »