In the mean time the soldiers of Hannibal, fires having been kindled before the tents, and oil sent through the companies to soften their limbs, and their food having been taken at leisure, as soon as it was announced that the enemy had passed the river, seized their arms with vigour of mind and body, and advanced to the battle.
Hannibal placed before the standards the Baliares and the light-armed troops, to the amount of nearly eight thousand men; then the heavier-armed infantry, the chief of his power and strength: on the wings he posted ten thousand horse, and on their extremities stationed the elephants divided into two parts.
The consul placed on the flanks of his infantry the cavalry, recalled by the signal for retreat, as in their irregular pursuit of the enemy they were checked, while unprepared, by the Numidians suddenly turning upon them.
There were of infantry eighteen thousand Romans, twenty thousand allies of the Latin name, besides the auxiliary forces of the Cenomani, the only Gallic nation that had remained faithful: with these forces they engaged the enemy.
The battle was commenced by the Baliares; whom when the legions resisted with superior force, the light-armed troops were hastily drawn off to the wings; which movement caused the Roman cavalry to be immediately overpowered:
for when their four thousand already with difficulty withstood by themselves ten thousand of the enemy, the wearied, against men for the most part fresh, they were overwhelmed in addition by a cloud as it were of javelins, discharged by the Baliares;
and the elephants besides, which held a prominent position at the extremities of the wings, (the horses being greatly terrified not only at their appearance, but their unusual smell,) occasioned [p. 755]
flight to a wide extent.
The battle between the infantry was equal rather in courage than strength; for the Carthaginian brought the latter entire to the action, having a little before refreshed themselves, while, on the contrary, the bodies of the Romans, suffering from fasting and fatigue, and stiff with cold, were quite benumbed. They would have made a stand, however, by dint of courage, if they had only had to fight with the infantry.
But both the Baliares, having beaten off the cavalry, poured darts on their flanks, and the elephants had already penetrated to the centre of the line of the infantry; while Mago and the Numidians, as soon as the army had passed their place of ambush without observing them, starting up on their rear, occasioned great disorder and alarm.
Nevertheless, amid so many surrounding dangers, the line for some time remained unbroken, and, most contrary to the expectation of all, against the elephants.
These the light infantry, posted for the purpose, turned back by throwing their spears; and following them up when turned, pierced them under the tail, where they received the wounds in the softest skin.