What grieved Hannibal more than anything was the fact, that Capua having been more perseveringly besieged by the Romans than defended by him, had turned from him the regard of many of the states of Italy;
and it was not only impossible for him to retain possession of all these by means of garrisons, unless he could make up his mind to tear his army into a number of small portions, which at that time was most inexpedient;
but he could not, by withdrawing the garrisons, leave the fidelity of his allies open to the influence of hope, or subject to that of fear.
His disposition, which was strongly inclined to avarice and cruelty, induced him to plunder the places he could not keep possession of, that they might be left for the enemy in a state of desolation.
This resolution was equally horrid in principle and in its issue; for not only were the affections of those who suffered such harsh treatment alienated from him, but also of the other states; for the warning affected a greater number than did the calamity. Nor did the Roman consul fail to sound the inclinations of the cities, whenever any prospect of success presented itself.
Dasius and Blasius were the principal men in Salapia; Dasius was the friend of Hannibal; Blasius, as far as he could do it with safety, promoted the Roman interest; and, by means of secret messengers, had given Marcellus hopes of having the place betrayed to him; but the business could not be accomplished without the assistance of Dasius.
After much and long hesitation, and [p. 1068]
even then more for the want of a better plan than from any hope of success, he addressed himself to Dasius; but he, being both adverse to the measure and also hostile to his rival in the government, discovered the affair to Hannibal.
Both parties were summoned, and while Hannibal was transacting some business on his tribunal, intending presently to take cognizance of the case of Blasius, and the accuser and the accused were standing apart from the crowd, which was put back, Blasius solicited Dasius on the subject of surrendering the city;
when he exclaimed, as if the case were now clearly proved, that he was being treated with about the betrayal of the city, even before the eyes of Hannibal.
The more audacious the proceeding was, the less probable did it appear to Hannibal and those who were present. They considered that the charge was undoubtedly a matter of rivalry and animosity, and that it had been brought because it was of such a nature that, not admitting of being proved by witnesses, it could the more easily be fabricated.
Accordingly the parties were dismissed. But Blasius, notwithstanding, desisted not from his bold undertaking, till by continually harping upon the same subject, and proving how conducive such a measure would be to themselves and their country, he carried his point that the Punic garrison, consisting of five hundred Numidians, and Salapia, should be delivered up to Marcellus.
Nor could it be betrayed without much bloodshed, consisting of the bravest of the cavalry in the whole Punic army.
Accordingly, though the event was unexpected, and their horses were of no use to them in the city, yet hastily taking arms, during the confusion, they endeavoured to force their way out; and not being able to escape, they fell fighting to the last, not more than fifty of them falling into the hands of the enemy alive.
The loss of this body of cavalry was considerably more detrimental to Hannibal than that of Salapia, for the Carthaginian was never afterwards superior in cavalry, in which he had before been most effective.