The next day he led his troops to assault the citadel; but seeing that it was protected by very high rocks towards the sea, which washed the greater part of it, and formed it into a sort of peninsula, and towards the city by a wall and ditch, and consequently that it could not be taken by assault or by works;
lest the design to protect the Tarentines should detain him from the prosecution of more important objects, and lest the Romans should have the power of sallying from the citadel whenever they pleased against the Tarentines, if left without a strong protecting force, he resolved to cut off the communication between the citadel and city by a rampart;
not without a hope that he might have an opportunity of fighting with the Romans, when attempting to obstruct the work; and if they should sally forth too eagerly, that by killing many of [p. 971]
them the strength of the garrison would be so far reduced, that the Tarentines alone would be easily able to defend themselves from them.
After they had begun, the Romans, suddenly throwing open the gate, rushed in upon the workmen. The guard stationed before the works allowed itself to be driven back, in order that their boldness might be increased by success, and that they might pursue them when driven back, in greater numbers, and to a greater distance.
Then on a signal given, the Carthaginians, whom Hannibal kept in readiness for this purpose, sprang up on all sides; nor could the Romans sustain the attack, but were prevented from precipitate flight by the narrowness of the ground, by impediments occasioned in some places by the works already commenced, in others by the preparations for the work.
Most of them were driven headlong into the ditch, and more were killed in the flight than in the battle. After this the work was commenced without any attempt to obstruct it.
A large ditch was formed, within which a rampart was thrown up. He prepared also to add a wall at a small distance, and on the same side, that they might defend themselves from the Romans even without a garrison. He, however, left them a small force, at once for their protection and to assist in building the wall.
The general himself, setting out with the rest of his forces, pitched his camp at the river Galaesus, five miles from the city.
Returning from this position to inspect the work, which had gone on somewhat faster than he had anticipated, he conceived a hope that the citadel might even be taken by storm; for it was not protected by an elevated situation as the other parts were, but placed upon a plain, and separated from the city only by a wall and ditch.
While subjected to an attack from every kind of military engine and work, a reinforcement sent from Metapontum inspired the Romans with courage to assault the works of the enemy, by a sudden attack, under cover of the night. Some of them they threw down, others they destroyed by fire, and thus there was an end to Hannibal's attempts against the citadel in that quarter.
His only remaining hope was in a siege; nor did that afford a good prospect of success, because, occupying a citadel which was placed on a peninsula and commanded the entrance of the harbour, they had the sea open to them, while the city, on the contrary, was deprived of any supplies by [p. 972]
sea; and thus the besiegers were in greater danger of want than the besieged.
Hannibal assembled the chief men of the Tarentines, and laid before them all the present difficulties. He said, “That he could neither discover any method by which a citadel so well fortified could be taken, nor could he hope for any favourable result from a siege, while the enemy was master of the sea;
but that if ships could be obtained, by which the introduction of supplies might be prevented, the enemy would either immediately evacuate it, or surrender themselves.”
The Tarentines agreed with him; but were of opinion, that “he who gave the advice ought also to assist in carrying it into execution; for if the Carthaginian ships were brought there from Sicily, they would be able to effect it;
but by what means could their own ships, shut up as they were in a confined harbour, the mouth of which was in the command of the enemy, be brought out into the open sea.”
“They shall be brought out,” said Hannibal. “Many things which are difficult in themselves, are easily effected by contrivance. You have a city situated upon a plain; you have level and sufficiently wide roads extending in every direction.
By the road which runs through the midst of the city from the harbour to the sea I will convey your ships in waggons without any great difficulty, and the sea will be ours which the enemy now commands. We will invest the citadel on one side by sea, on the other by land; nay, rather, in a short time, we will take it either abandoned by the enemy, or with the enemy in it.”
This speech not only inspired hopes of accomplishing the object, but excited the greatest admiration of the general. Waggons were immediately collected from every quarter and joined together; machines were employed to haul the ships on shore, and the road was prepared, in order that the waggons might run more easily, and thus the difficulty of passing be diminished.
Beasts of burden and men were next collected, and the work was actively commenced. After the lapse of a few days, the fleet, equipped and ready for action, sailed round the citadel, and cast anchor just before the mouth of the harbour.
Such was the state of things at Tarentum, when Hannibal left it and returned to his winter quarters. Authors, however, are divided as to whether the defection of the Tarentines took place in the present or former year. The greater number, and those who, from their age, were more [p. 973]
able to recollect these events, represent it to have occurred in the present year.