But the consul Marcellus was influenced by so ardent a desire of engaging with Hannibal, that he never thought their camps close enough.
At that time also, as he quitted the rampart, he gave orders that the troops should be ready when occasion required, in order that if the hill, which they were going to examine, were thought convenient, they might collect their baggage and follow them.
Before the camp there was a small plain; the road thence to the hill was open and exposed to view on all sides. A watchman who was stationed, not under the expectation of so important an event, but in order that they might be able to intercept any stragglers who had gone too far from the camp in search of wood or forage, gave a signal to the Numidians to rise simultaneously one and all from their concealment.
Those who were to rise from the very summit of the hill, and meet the [p. 1129]
enemy, did not show themselves until those whose business it was to intercept their passage in the rear, had gone round. Then they all sprang up from every side, and, raising a shout, commenced an attack.
Although the consuls were in such a position in the valley that they could neither make good their way up the hill, which was occupied by the enemy, nor retreat, as they were intercepted in the rear, yet the contest might have been continued longer had not a retreat, commenced by the Tuscans, dismayed the rest of the troops.
The Fregellans, however, did not give over fighting, though deserted by the Tuscans, while the consuls, uninjured, kept up the battle by encouraging their men and fighting themselves.
But when they saw both the consuls wounded, and Marcellus transfixed with a lance and falling lifeless from his horse, then they too, and but a very few survived, betook themselves to flight, together with Crispinus the consul, who had received two javelin wounds, and young Marcellus, who was himself also wounded.
Aulus Manlius, a military tribune, was slain, and of the two prefects of allies, Manius Aulius was slain, Lucius Arennius made prisoner. Five of the consul's lictors fell into the enemy's hands alive, the rest were either slain or fled with the consul. Forty-three horsemen fell in the battle or in the flight, and eighteen were taken alive.
An alarm had been excited in the camp, and the troops were hastening to go and succour the consuls, when
they saw one of the consuls and the son of the other wounded, and the scanty remains of this unfortunate expedition returning to the camp.
The death of Marcellus was an event to be deplored, as well from other circumstances which attended it, as because that in a manner unbecoming his years, for he was then more than sixty, and inconsistently with the prudence of a veteran general, he had so improvidently plunged into ruin himself, his colleague, and almost the whole commonwealth.
I should launch out into too many digressions for a single event, were I to relate all the various accounts which authors give respecting the death of Marcellus.
To pass over others Lucius Caelius gives three narratives ranged under different heads; one as it is handed down by tradition; a second, written in the panegyric of his son, who was engaged in the affair; a third, which he himself vouched for, being the result of his own investigation.
The accounts, however, though varying [p. 1130]
in other points, agree for the most part in the fact, that he went out of the camp for the purpose of viewing the ground; and all state that he was cut off by an ambuscade.