The Roman army was at that time in the neighbourhood of Larinum. Minucius, the master of the horse, was in command, for the dictator, as has been said before, had departed for the City.
The camp had been established on a high hill in a position of security, but was now brought down to level ground; and more vigorous measures were being discussed —in keeping with the temper of the general —for attacking the enemy's scattered foragers, or his camp, which was left but lightly garrisoned.
Hannibal saw well enough that the change in leaders had brought a change in strategy, and that the Romans were likely to be more bold than prudent.
But though the enemy was close at hand, he himself did something that would almost seem incredible, and sent out a third part of his troops to forage, retaining two-thirds in his camp;
then he brought the camp itself up nearer the enemy, about two miles away from Gereonium, to a hill in full sight of the Romans, that they might know that he was watching to protect his foragers, if they should be at all molested.
He then observed [p. 283]
a hill even nearer the Romans and threatening their1
very camp; but since, if he should attempt to take it openly by daylight, the Romans, who had a shorter way to go, would doubtless get ahead of him, he sent some Numidians secretly in the night, and they seized the hill.
They were holding the place next day, when the Romans, despising their scanty numbers, dislodged them and transferred their own camp thither.
There was now, at all events, but a very little space between rampart and rampart, and this the Romans had pretty well covered with their troops, which they had drawn up in line of battle. At the same time they had sent out their cavalry and skirmishers from the side of the camp which was farthest from the enemy,2
and these had fallen upon the scattered foragers, whom they routed with great slaughter.
Still, Hannibal did not dare to fight a battle, for his forces were so small that he was hardly able to defend his camp, if the Romans should assault it, and he now began
to wage war by the arts of Fabius, inaction and delay, and had withdrawn his troops to their former camp, which lay under the walls of Gereonium.
Some writers relate that there was even a regular pitched battle, in which the Phoenicians were driven from the field at the first encounter and pursued all the way to their camp, from which they sallied and quickly dismayed the Romans in their turn; but that Numerius Decimius the Samnite then came up and restored the day.
They say that Decimius, who was the person of most consequence both for family and fortune, not only in his own town of Bovianum but in all Samnium, was on his way to [p. 285]
the camp, by the dictator's order, at the head of3
eight thousand foot and five hundred horse, when, appearing on Hannibal's rear, he was mistaken by both armies for reinforcements coming up with Quintus Fabius from Rome.
Hannibal, fearing some trap as well, drew back his men, and the Romans, pressing forward and assisted by the Samnites, carried, that same day, two redoubts.
Six thousand of the enemy were slain and fully five thousand Romans. Nevertheless, though the losses had been so nearly equal, a foolish tale was carried to Rome of an extraordinary victory, with a letter from the master of the horse that was more foolish still.