Hannibal, having moved his camp from the territory of Beneventum to Capua, drew out his troops in order of battle the third day after his arrival;
not entertaining the least doubt but that, as the Campanians had fought successfully a few days ago when he was absent, the Romans would be still less able to withstand him and his army, which had been so often victorious.
After the battle had commenced, the Roman line was distressed chiefly from the attack of the cavalry, being overwhelmed with their darts, till the signal was given to [p. 985]
the Roman cavalry to direct their horses against the enemy; thus it was a battle of the cavalry.
But at this time the Sempronian army, commanded by Cneius Cornelius the quaestor, being descried at a distance, excited alarm in both parties equally, lest those who were approaching should be fresh enemies.
As if by concert, therefore, both sounded a retreat; and the troops were withdrawn from the field to their camps, in an equal condition; a greater number, however, of the Romans fell in the first charge of the cavalry.
The consuls, to divert the attention of Hannibal from Capua, departed thence on the following night in different directions, Fulvius into the territory of Cuma, Claudius into Lucania.
The next day Hannibal, having received intelligence that the camp of the Romans was deserted, and that they had gone off in different directions in two divisions, doubtful at first which he should follow, commenced the pursuit of Appius; who, after leading him about whichever way he pleased, returned by another route to Capua.
Hannibal, while in this quarter, had another opportunity of gaining an advantage.
Marcus Centenius, surnamed Penula, was distinguished among the centurions of the first rank by the size of his person, and his courage.
Having gone through his period of service, he was introduced to the senate by Publius Cornelius Sulla, when he requested of the fathers that five thousand men might be placed at his disposal.
He said, that “as he was acquainted with the character of the enemy, and the nature of the country, he should speedily perform some service; and that he would employ those arts by which our generals and armies had been hitherto insnared against the inventor of them.”
This was not promised more foolishly than it was believed; as if the qualifications of a soldier and a general were the same. Instead of five, eight thousand men were given him, half Romans, half allies.
He himself also got together a considerable number of volunteers, in the country, on his march; and having almost doubled his force, arrived in Lucania, where Hannibal had halted after having in vain pursued Claudius.
No doubt could be entertained of the issue of a contest which was to take place between Hannibal, as general on one side, and a centurion on the other; between armies, one of which had grown old in victory, the other entirely inexperienced, and for the most part even tumultuary and half-armed.
As soon [p. 986]
as the troops came within sight of each other, and neither of them declined an engagement, the lines were formed. The battle, notwithstanding the utter disparity of the contending parties, lasted more than two hours, the Roman troops acting with the greatest spirit as long as their general survived.
But after that he had fallen, for he continually exposed himself to the weapons of the enemy, not only from regard to his former character, but through fear of the disgrace which would attach to him if he survived a disaster occasioned by his own temerity, the Roman line was immediately routed.
But so completely were they prevented from flying, every way being beset by the cavalry, that scarcely a thousand men escaped out of so large an army; the rest were destroyed on all hands, in one way or other.