For a few days they remained encamped at a distance of five miles from each other, not without skirmishes, but without going out to a regular engagement.
At length the signal for battle was given out on both sides on one and the same day, as though by concert, and they marched down into the plain with all their forces.
The Roman army stood in triple line; a part of the light troops were stationed among the first line, the other half were received behind the standards, the cavalry covering the wings.
Hasdrubal formed his centre strong with Spaniards, and placed the Carthaginians in the right wing, the Africans and hired auxiliaries in the left.
His cavalry he placed before the wings, attaching the Numidians to the Carthaginian infantry, and the rest to the Africans. Nor were all the Numidians placed in the right wing, but such as taking two horses each into the field are accus- [p. 870]
tomed frequently to leap full armed, when the battle is at the hottest, from a tired horse upon a fresh one, after the manner of vaulters: such was their own agility, and so docile their breed of horses.
While they stood thus drawn up, the hopes entertained by the generals on both sides were pretty much upon an equality; for neither possessed any great superiority, either in point of the number or quality of the troops.
The feelings of the soldiers were widely different. Their generals had, without difficulty, induced the Romans to believe, that although they fought at a distance from their country, it was Italy and the city of Rome that they were defending. Accordingly, they had brought their minds to a settled resolution to conquer or die; as if their return to their country had hinged upon the issue of that battle.
The other army consisted of less determined men; for they were principally Spaniards, who would rather be vanquished in Spain, than be victorious to be dragged into Italy.
On the first onset, therefore, ere their javelins had scarcely been thrown, their centre gave ground, and the Romans pressing on with great impetuosity, turned their backs.
In the wings the battle proceeded with no less activity; on one side the Carthaginians, on the other the Africans, charged vigorously, while the Romans, in a manner surrounded, were exposed to a two-fold attack.
But when the whole of the Roman troops had united in the centre, they possessed sufficient strength to compel the wings of the enemy to retire in different directions;
and thus there were two separate battles, in both of which the Romans were decidedly superior, as after the defeat of the enemy's centre they had the advantage both in the number and strength of their troops.
Vast numbers were slain on this occasion; and had not the Spaniards fled precipitately from the field ere the battle had scarce begun, very few out of the whole army would have survived.
There was very little fighting of the cavalry, for as soon as the Moors and Numidians perceived that the centre gave way, they fled immediately with the utmost precipitation, leaving the wings uncovered, and also driving the elephants before them.
Hasdrubal, after waiting the issue of the battle to the very last, fled from the midst of the carnage with a few attendants. The Romans took and plundered the camp.
This victory united with the Romans whatever states of Spain were wavering, and left Hasdrubal [p. 871]
no hope, not only of leading an army over into Italy, but even of remaining very safely in Spain.
When these events were made generally known at Rome by letters from the Scipios, the greatest joy was felt, not so much for the victory, as for the stop which was put to the passage of Hasdrubal into Italy.