While Hannibal was at the lake Avernus, five noble youths came to him from Tarentum. They had been made prisoners partly at the lake Trasimenus, and partly at Cannae, and had been sent home by the Carthaginian with the same civility which he had shown towards all the Roman allies.
They stated to him that, impressed with gratitude for his favours, they had succeeded in inducing a large portion of the Tarentine youth to prefer his alliance and friendship to that of the Romans; and that they were sent by their countrymen as ambassadors to request Hannibal to bring his forces nearer to Tarentum;
that if his standards and camp were [p. 911]
within sight of Tarentum, that city would be delivered into his hands without delay; that the commons were under the influence of the youth, and the state of Tarentum in the hands of the commons.
Hannibal after bestowing the highest commendations upon them, and loading them with immense promises, bid them return home to mature their plans, saying that he would be there in due time. With these hopes, the Tarentines were dismissed.
Hannibal had himself conceived the strongest desire of getting possession of Tarentum. He saw that it was a city opulent and celebrated, on the coast, and lying conveniently over against Macedonia. And that as the Romans were in possession of Brundusium, king Philip would make for this port if he crossed over into Italy.
Having completed the sacrifice for which he came, and during his stay there laid waste the territory of Cumae as far as the promontory of Misenum, he suddenly marched his troops thence to Puteoli to surprise the Roman garrison there.
It consisted of six thousand men, and the place was secured not only by its natural situation, but by works also. The Carthaginian having waited there three days, and attempted the garrison in every quarter, without any success, proceeded thence to devastate the territory of Naples, influenced by resentment more than the hope of getting possession of the place.
The commons of Nola, who had been long disaffected to the Romans and at enmity with their own senate, moved into the neighbouring fields on his approach; and in conformity with this movement ambassadors came to invite Hannibal to join them, bringing with them a positive assurance that the city would be surrendered to him.
The consul, Marcellus, who had been called in by the nobles, anticipated their attempt.
In one day he had reached Suessula from Cales, though the river Vulturnus had delayed him crossing; and from thence the ensuing night introduced into Nola for the protection of the senate, six thousand foot and three hundred horse.
The dilatoriness of Hannibal was in proportion to the expedition which the consul used in every thing he did in order to preoccupy Nola. Having twice already made the attempt unsuccessfully, he was slower to place confidence in the Nolans.