But fortune afforded materials also to the headstrong and precipitate disposition of the consul, for in checking the [p. 811]
plundering parties a battle having taken place, of a tumultuary kind, and occasioned rather by a disorderly advance of the soldiers, than by a preconcerted plan, or by the command of the general, the contest was by no means equal with the Carthaginians.
As many as one thousand seven hundred of them were slain, but not more than one hundred of the Romans and allies. The consul Paulus, however, who was in command on that day, (for they held the command on alternate days,) apprehending an ambuscade, restrained the victorious troops in their headstrong pursuit;
while Varro indignantly vociferated, that the enemy had been allowed to slip out of their hands, and that the war might have been terminated had not the pursuit been stopped.
Hannibal was not much grieved at that loss; nay, rather he felt convinced, that the temerity of the more presumptuous consul, and of the soldiers, particularly the fresh ones, would be lured by the bait;
and besides, all the circumstances of the enemy were as well known to him as his own: that dissimilar and discordant men were in command; that nearly two-thirds of the army consisted of raw recruits.
Accordingly, concluding that he now had both a time and place adapted for an ambuscade, on the following night he led his troops away with nothing but their arms, leaving the camp filled with all their effects, both public and private.
His infantry drawn up he conceals on the left, on the opposite side of the adjoining hills; his cavalry on the right; his baggage in an intermediate line he leads over the mountains through a valley,
in order that he might surprise the enemy when busy in plundering the camp, deserted, as they would imagine, by its owners, and when encumbered with booty.
Numerous fires were left in the camp, to produce a belief that his intention was to keep the consuls in their places by the appearance of a camp, until he could himself escape to a greater distance, in the same manner as he had deceived Fabius the year before.