Hannibal having now advanced within a short distance of the place, sent forward a body of Getulians under a commander named Isalca, and orders them in the first place, if an opportunity of parley should be given, to win them over by fair words, to open the gates, and admit a garrison; but, if they persisted in obstinate opposition, to proceed to action, and try if in any part he could force an entrance into the city.
When they had approached the walls, because silence prevailed there appeared a solitude;
and the barbarian, supposing that they had retired through fear, made preparation for forcing the gates and breaking away the bars, when, the gates being suddenly thrown open, two cohorts, drawn up within for that very purpose, rushed forth with great tumult, and made a slaughter of the enemy.
The first party being thus repulsed, Maharbal was sent with a more powerful body of troops; but neither could even he sustain the sally of the cohorts.
Lastly, Hannibal, fixing his camp directly before the walls, prepared to assault this paltry city and garrison, with every effort and all his forces, and having completely surrounded the city with a line of troops, lost a considerable number of men, including all the most forward, who were shot from the walls and turrets, while he pressed on and provoked the enemy.
Once he was very near cutting them off, by throwing in a line of elephants, when aggressively sallying forth, and drove them in the utmost confusion into the town; a good many, out of so small a number, having been slain.
More would have fallen had not night interrupted the battle. [p. 857]
On the following day, the minds of all were possessed with an ardent desire to commence the assault, especially after a golden mural crown had been promised, and the general himself had reproached the conquerors of Saguntum with the slowness of their siege of a little fort situated on level ground;
reminding them, each and all, of Cannae, Trasimenus, and Trebia. They then began to apply the vineae and to spring mines: nor was any measure, whether of open force or stratagem, unemployed against the various attempts of the enemy.
These allies of the Romans erected bulwarks against the vineae, cut off the mines of the enemy by cross-mines, and met their efforts both covertly and openly, till, at last, shame compelled Hannibal to desist from his undertaking; and, fortifying a camp in which he placed a small guard, that the affair might not appear to have been abandoned, he retired into winter quarters to Capua.
There he kept, under cover, for the greater part of the winter, that army, which, though fortified by frequent and continued hardships against every human ill, had yet never experienced or been habituated to prosperity.
Accordingly, excess of good fortune and unrestrained indulgence were the ruin of men whom no severity of distress had subdued; and so much the more completely, in proportion to the avidity with which they plunged into pleasures to which they were unaccustomed.
For sleep, wine, feasting, women, baths, and ease, which custom rendered more seductive day by day, so completely unnerved both mind and body, that from henceforth their past victories rather than their present strength protected them; and in this the general is considered by those who are skilled in the art of war to have committed a greater error than in not having marched his troops to Rome forthwith from the field of Cannae:
for his delay on that occasion might be considered as only to have postponed his victory, but this mistake to have bereaved him of the power of conquering.
Accordingly, by Hercules, as though he marched out of Capua with another army, it retained in no respect any of its former discipline;
for most of the troops returned in the embrace of harlots; and as soon as they began to live under tents, and the fatigue of marching and other military labours tried them, like raw troops, they failed both in bodily strength and spirit.
From that time, during the whole period of the summer campaign, a great number of them slunk away from [p. 858]
the standards without furloughs, while Capua was the only retreat of the deserters.