To Rome the news of this disaster brought such consternation that people looked for the immediate appearance of the hostile army before their very City, and knew not which way to turn for any hope or help in defending their gates and walls against its onset.1
When one consul had been defeated on the Ticinus, the other had been summoned back from Sicily; but now that two consuls and two consular armies had been beaten, what other generals, what other legions had they to call upon?
In the midst of this alarm the consul Sempronius arrived. He had made his way, taking tremendous risks, through the enemy's cavalry —which was widely dispersed in quest of booty —relying more on audacity than calculation or the prospect of eluding his enemies, or of resisting, should he be unable to elude them.
The election of consuls was the one crying need of the hour. This Sempronius accomplished and returned forthwith to his winter quarters.
The choice had fallen on Gnaeus Servilius and —for the second time —on Gaius Flaminius.
For the rest, the Romans were given no peace even in their winter quarters. The Numidian cavalry ranged far and wide, and any ground that was too rough for them was covered by the Celtiberians and Lusitani.
The result was the cutting off of all supplies from every quarter, save such as were brought up the Po in ships. Their magazine, which was near Placentia, was elaborately fortified [p. 171]
and strongly garrisoned. This place Hannibal hoped2
to capture by assault, and set out thither with his cavalry and light infantry.
He had counted mainly on the concealment of his movements for their effectiveness; but his night attack failed to catch the sentries off their guard, and the defenders at once set up so loud an outcry that it was heard even in Placentia. And so at break of day the consul was on the spot with his cavalry, having ordered the legions to follow him in fighting column.
Meanwhile, a cavalry engagement took place, in which Hannibal was wounded and withdrew from the fight, and
the enemy were so alarmed by this that the post was successfully defended.
After this Hannibal, when he had rested only a few days and his wound was scarce healed over, set out to attack Victumulae. This had been a Roman magazine in the Gallic war, and having then been fortified had since attracted numerous settlers from the various peoples dwelling in the neighbourhood;
and just then the fear of raids had caused large numbers to flock in from the countryside.
Such was the character of the population, which, fired by the story of the stout defence of the fortress near Placentia, flew to arms and went out to meet Hannibal. More like marching columns than embattled armies they encountered each other in the road; and since on one side there was only an undisciplined rabble, and on the other a general who relied upon his soldiers, and soldiers who confided in their general, some thirty-five thousand men were routed by a very few.
The next day they surrendered and received a garrison within their walls. Being commanded to give up their weapons they complied: whereupon a [p. 173]
signal was suddenly given to the victors to sack the3
town, as if they had taken it by storm.
Nor was any cruelty omitted which historians generally deem worth noting on such an occasion; but every species of lust and outrage and inhuman insolence was visited upon the wretched inhabitants. Such were Hannibal's winter expeditions.