While these events occur in Italy, Cneius Servilius Geminus, the consul, having sailed round the coast of Sardinia and Corsica with a fleet of one hundred and twenty ships, and received hostages from both places, crossed over into Africa;
and before he made a descent upon the continent, having laid waste the island of Meninx, and received from the inhabitants of Cercina ten talents of silver, in order that their fields too might not be burnt and pillaged, he approached the shores of Africa, and landed his troops.
Thence the soldiers were led out to plunder, and the crews scattered about just as if they were plundering uninhabited islands;
and thus, carelessly falling upon an ambuscade, when they were surrounded —the ignorant of the country by those acquainted with it, the straggling by those in close array, they were driven back to their ships in ignominious flight, and with great carnage.
As many as one thousand men, together with Sempronius Blaesus, the quaestor, having been lost, the fleet hastily setting sail from the shore, which was crowded with the enemy, proceeded direct for Italy, and was given up at Lilybaeum
to Titus Otacilius, the praetor, that it might be taken back to Rome by his lieutenant, Publius Sura.
The consul himself, proceeding through Sicily on foot, crossed the strait into Italy, summoned, as well as his colleague, Marcus Atilius, by a letter from Quintus Fabius, to receive the armies from him, as the period of his command, which was six months, had nearly expired. Almost all the annalists record that Fabius conducted the war against Hannibal, as dictator.
Caelius also writes, that he was the first dictator created by [p. 801]
But it has escaped Caelius and all the others that Cneius Servilius, the consul, who was then a long way from home in Gaul, which was his province, was the only person who possessed the right of appointing a dictator;
and that as the state, terrified by the disasters which had just befallen it, could not abide the delay, it had recourse to the determination that the people should create a prodictator;
that his subsequent achievements, his singular renown as a general, and his descendants, who exaggerated the inscription of his statue, easily brought it about that he should be called dictator, instead of prodictator.