While these events occurred at Beneventum, Hannibal having laid waste the territory of Naples, moved his camp to Nola.
The consul, as soon as he was aware of his approach, sent for Pomponius the proprietor, with the troops he had in the camp above Suessula; and then prepared to meet the enemy and to make no delay in fighting.
He sent out Caius Claudius Nero in the dead of night with the main strength of the cavalry, through the gate which was farthest removed [p. 916]
from the enemy, with orders to make a circuit so as not to be observed, and then slowly to follow the enemy as they moved along, and as soon as he perceived the battle begun, to charge them on the rear.
Whether Nero was prevented from executing these orders by mistaking the route, or from the shortness of the time, is doubtful.
Though he was absent when the battle was fought, the Romans had unquestionably the advantage; but as the cavalry did not come up in time, the plan of the battle which had been agreed upon was disconcerted, and Marcellus, not daring to follow the retiring enemy, gave the signal for retreat when his soldiers were conquering.
More than two thousand of the enemy are said, however, to have fallen on that day; of the Romans, less than four hundred.
Nero, after having fruitlessly wearied both men and horses, through the day and night, without even having seen the enemy, returned about sunset; when the consul went so far in reprimanding him as to assert, that he had been the only obstacle to their retorting on the enemy the disaster sustained at Cannae.
The following day the Roman came into the field, but the Carthaginian, beaten even by his own tacit confession, kept within his camp. Giving up all hope of getting possession of Nola, a thing never attempted without loss, during the silence of the night of the third day he set out for Tarentum, which he had better hopes of having betrayed to him.