All this caused Hannibal a twofold joy, for, fully acquainted as he was with whatever went on amongst his enemies both from much information brought in by deserters and from the discoveries of his own spies, he reckoned on entrapping
the uncontrolled rashness of Minucius after his own fashion, while he saw that the sagacity of Fabius had been deprived of half its strength.
There was a hill between the camp of Minucius and that of the Phoenicians, and it was certain that he who occupied it would place his enemy in a rather bad position.
This Hannibal was desirous not so much of capturing without a struggle —though this would have been worth while —as of using to bring on a battle with Minucius, who would sally forth, as he well knew, to oppose him.
It appeared at first sight that none of the ground between could be used for an ambush, since it not only had nothing on it in the shape of trees, but was nowhere so much as screened with brambles. But in fact it was formed by nature for covering an ambuscade —all the more because in a bare valley no such trap could be suspected —for in its windings there were hollow cliffs, so large that some of them would hold two hundred soldiers.
In these lurking-places Hannibal concealed five thousand foot and horse —as many in each as could readily lie in wait there.
Lest, however, the movement of anyone who might carelessly step out or the glint of arms should
betray the ruse, in a valley so bare and open, he dispatched a small party at dawn to seize the hill already mentioned and draw off the enemy's attention. [p. 297]
The Romans no sooner descried them than they1
laughed at their small numbers, and everybody asked to be assigned the duty of dislodging the Carthaginians and capturing the place.
Their general himself, as fatuous and rash as anyone, called the men to arms and railed at the enemy with idle threats.
First he ordered out the light infantry; then he sent the cavalry off in a solid column; finally, when he saw that the enemy too were bringing up supports, he set forth with his legions in battle array. Hannibal likewise, as the struggle waxed hotter and his men were sore bested, sent in reinforcement after
reinforcement, horse and foot, till he now had a regular army in the field, and both sides were engaged with all their forces.
The Roman light infantry, as they were advancing from the lower ground on to the height which the enemy had already occupied, was the first to suffer a repulse, and as they were driven downhill, caused a panic among the cavalry, which was coming up behind them, and fled to the standards of the legions.
These alone maintained their line undaunted, when all the rest were in full flight, and it looked as if, had the battle been a regular front-to-front engagement, they would have proved fully equal to their enemy —so encouraged had they been by the successful action a few days before.
But the men in ambush, suddenly springing out and charging them on both flanks and in the rear, worked such havoc and alarm that not one of them had any courage left for fighting or any hope in flight.