Battle of Ticinus -- Battle of Trebia -- Battle of Lake Thrasimenus -- Hannibal destroys the Detachment of Centenius -- Fabius Maximus chosen Dictator
After a brief pause he attacked Taurasia, a Gallic town, took it by storm, and put the prisoners to death, in order to strike terror into the rest of the Gauls. Then he advanced to the river Eridanus, now called the Padus [Po], where the Romans were at war with the Gallic tribe called the Boii, and pitched his camp. The Roman consul, Publius Cornelius Scipio, was at that time contending with the Carthaginians in Spain. When he learned of Hannibal's incursion into Italy, he left his brother, Gnus Cornelius Scipio, in charge of affairs in Spain and sailed for Etruria. Marching thence with such allies as he could collect, he came before Hannibal to the Po. He sent Manlius and Atilius, who were conducting the war against the Boii, back to Rome, as they had no right to command when a consul
[figure in text]
was on the ground, and taking their forces drew them up for battle with Hannibal. After a skirmish and a cavalry engagement, the Romans were surrounded by the Africans and fled to their camp. The next night they took refuge in Placentia, a place strongly fortified, crossing the Po and then breaking down the bridge. Nevertheless Hannibal made a new bridge and crossed the river.
These exploits, one after another, following his passage of the Alps, exalted Hannibal's fame among the Cisalpine Gauls as an invincible commander and one most highly favored by fortune. In order to increase the admiration of those barbarians, who were easily deceived, he frequently changed his clothes and his hair, using carefully prepared devices each time. When the Gauls saw him moving among their people now an old man, then a young man, and again a middle-aged man, and continually changing from one to the other, they were astonished and thought that he partook of the divine nature. Sempronius, the other consul, being then in Sicily and learning what had happened, embarked his forces, came to Scipio's aid, and encamped at a distance of forty stades from him. The following day they all made ready for battle. The river Trebia separated the hostile armies, which the Romans crossed before daylight on a raw, sleety morning of the spring equinox, wading in the water up to their breasts. Hannibal allowed his army to rest till the second hour and then marched out.
The order of battle on each side was as follows. The Roman cavalry were posted on the wings in order to protect the infantry.301 Hannibal ranged his elephants opposite the Roman horse and his foot-soldiers against the legions, and he ordered his own cavalry to remain quiet behind the elephants until he should give the signal. When battle was joined the horses of the Romans, terrified by the sight and smell of the elephants, broke and fled. The foot-soldiers, although suffering much and weakened by cold, wet clothes, and want of sleep, nevertheless boldly attacked these beasts, wounded them, and cut the hamstrings of some, and were already pushing back the enemy's infantry. Hannibal, observing this, gave the signal to his horse to attack the Roman flank. The Roman horse having been just dispersed by fear of the elephants, the foot-soldiers were left without protection, and were now in difficulties. Fearing lest they should be surrounded, they everywhere broke in flight to their own camp. Many foot-soldiers were cut off by the enemy's horse and many perished in the swift stream, for the river was now swollen with melting snow so that they could not wade, on account of its depth, nor could they swim, on account of the weight of their armor. Scipio, who followed trying to rally them, was wounded and almost killed, and was with difficulty rescued and carried to Cremona. There was a small arsenal near Placentia which Hannibal laid siege to, where he lost 400 men and was himself wounded. And now they all went into winter quarters, Scipio in Cremona and Placentia, and Hannibal on the Po.
When the Romans in the city learned of this third defeat on the Po (for they had in fact been beaten by the Boii before Hannibal arrived), they levied a new army of their own citizens which, with those already on the Po, amounted to thirteen legions, and they called for double that number from the allies. At this time the legion consisted of 5000 foot and 300 horse. Some of these they sent to Spain, some to Sardinia (for they were at war there also), and some to Sicily. The greater part were despatched against Hannibal under Cn. Servilius and Gaius Flaminius, who had succeeded Scipio and Sempronius as consuls. Servilius hastened to the Po where he received the command from Scipio. The latter, having been chosen proconsul, sailed for Spain. Flaminius, with 30,000 foot and 3000 horse, guarded Italy within the Apennines, which alone can be properly called Italy. The Apennines extend from the centre of the Alpine range to the sea. The country on the right-hand side of the Apennines is Italy proper. The other side, extending to the Adriatic, is now called Italy also, just as Etruria is now called Italy, but is inhabited by people of Greek descent, along the Adriatic shore, the remainder being occupied by Gauls, the same people who at an early period attacked and burned Rome. When Camillus drove them out and pursued them to the Apennines, 302 it is my opinion that they crossed over these mountains 303 and made a settlement near the Adriatic instead of their former abode. Hence this part of the country is still called Gallic Italy.
Thus had the Romans divided their large armies at this juncture for many campaigns. Hannibal, learning this fact, moved secretly in the early spring, devastated Etruria, and advanced toward Rome. The citizens became greatly alarmed as he drew near, for they had no force at hand fit for battle. Nevertheless, 8000 of those who remained were brought together, over whom Centenius, one of the patricians, although a private citizen, was appointed commander, there being no regular officer present, and sent into Umbria to the Plestine marshes to occupy the narrow passages which offered the shortest way to Rome. In the meantime Flaminius, who guarded the interior of Italy with 30,000 men, learning of the rapidity of Hannibal's movement, changed his position hastily, giving his army no chance to rest. Fearing for the safety of the city and being inexperienced in war (for he had been wafted into power on a popular breeze), he hastened to engage with Hannibal.
The latter, well aware of his rashness and inexperience, moved forward and took a position with a mountain and a lake [Thrasimenus] before him, concealing his light-armed troops and his cavalry in a ravine. Flaminius, seeing the enemy's camp in the early morning, delayed a little to let his men rest from their toilsome march and to fortify his camp, after which he led them straightway to battle, although they were still weary with night-watches and hard labor. Caught between the mountain and the lake and the enemy (for the ambush suddenly appeared everywhere), he lost his own life, and 20,000 men were slain with him. The remaining 10,000 escaped to a village strongly fortified by nature. Maharbal, Hannibal's lieutenant, who had himself acquired very great renown in war, not being able to take them easily and thinking it unwise to fight with desperate men, persuaded them to lay down their arms, agreeing that they should go free wherever they pleased. When they had complied with this agreement he brought them disarmed to Hannibal. The latter, denying that Maharbal had authority to make such an agreement without his consent, nevertheless treated the Roman allies with kindness and sent them home without ransom, in order to conciliate their towns. He kept all the Romans as prisoners. He gave the booty to the Gauls who were serving with him, in order to attach them to him by the hope of gain, and then marched forward. When this news reached the consul Servilius on the Po, he marched to Etruria with 40,000 men. Centenius, with his 8000, had already occupied the narrow passage previously mentioned.
When Hannibal saw the Plestine marsh and the mountain overhanging it, and Centenius between them guarding the passage, he inquired of the guides whether there was any way around. When they said there was no path but that the whole region was rugged and precipitous, he, nevertheless, sent a body of light-armed troops, under the command of Maharbal, to explore the district and pass around the mountain by night. When he judged that they had reached their destination he attacked Centenius in front. While the engagement was in progress, Maharbal was seen pushing forward strenuously on the summit above, where he raised a shout. The Romans thus surrounded took to flight, and there was a great slaughter among them, 3000 being killed and 800 taken prisoners. The remainder escaped with difficulty. When this news reached the city they feared lest Hannibal should march against them at once. They collected stones upon the walls, and the old men armed themselves. Being in want of arms they took down from the temples those that had been hung there as trophies of former wars, and, as was customary in times of great danger, they chose a dictator, Fabius Maximus being selected.