Such is the battle of Cannae, equal in celebrity to the defeat at the Allia:
but as it was less important in respect to those things which happened after it, because the enemy did not follow up the blow, so was it more important and more horrible with respect to the slaughter of the army; for with respect to the flight at the Allia, as it betrayed the city, so it preserved the army.
At Cannae, scarcely seventy accompanied the flying consul: almost the whole army shared the fate of the other who died. The troops collected in the two camps being a half-armed multitude without leaders, those in the larger send a message to the others, that they should come over to them at night, when the enemy was oppressed with sleep, and
wearied with the battle, and then, out of joy, overpowered with feasting: that they would go in one body to Canusium.
Some entirely disapproved of that advice. “For why,” said they, “did not those who sent for them come themselves, since there would be equal facility of forming a junction? Because, evidently, all the intermediate space was crowded with the enemy, and they would rather expose the persons of others to so great a danger than their own.”
Others did not so much disapprove, as want courage to fulfil the advice. Publius Sempronius Tuditanus, a military tribune, exclaims, “Would you rather, then, be captured by the most [p. 820]
rapacious and cruel enemy, and have a price set upon your heads, and have your value ascertained by men who will ask whether you are Roman citizens or Latin confederates, in order that from your miseries and indignities honour may be sought for another?
Not you, at least, if you are the fellow-citizens of Lucius Aemilius, the consul who preferred an honourable death to a life of infamy, and of so many brave men who lie heaped around him.
But, before the light overtakes us, and more numerous bodies of the enemy beset the way, let us break through those disorderly and irregular troops who are making a noise at our gates.
By the sword and courage, a road may be made through enemies, however dense. In a wedge we shall make our way through this loose and disjointed band, as if nothing opposed us. Come along with me, therefore, ye who wish the safety of yourselves and the state.”
Having thus said, he draws his sword, and forming a wedge, goes through the midst of the enemy; and as the Numidians discharged their javelins on their right side, which was exposed, they transferred their shields to the right hand, and thus escaped, to the number of six hundred, to the greater camp;
and setting out thence forthwith, another large body having joined them, arrived safe at Canusium.
These measures were taken by the vanquished, according to the impulse of their tempers, which his own disposition or which accident gave to each, rather than in consequence of any deliberate plan of their own, or in obedience to the command of any one.