The consuls, on departing from the city in different [p. 1146]
directions, had drawn the attention of the public, as it were, to two wars at once, while they called to mind the disasters which Hannibal's first coming had brought upon Italy, and at the same time, tortured with anxiety, asked themselves what deities would be so propitious to the city and empire as that the commonwealth should be victorious in both quarters at once.
Hitherto they had been enabled to hold out to the present time by compensating for their misfortunes by their successes.
When the Roman power was laid prostrate at the Trasimenus and at Cannae in Italy, their successes in Spain had raised it up from its fallen condition.
Afterwards, when in Spain one disaster after another had in a great measure destroyed two armies, with the loss of two distinguished generals, the many successes in Italy and Sicily had, as it were, afforded a haven for the shattered state;
and the mere interval of space, as one war was going on in the remotest quarter of the world, gave them time to recover their breath.
Whereas now two wars were received into Italy; two generals of the highest renown were besetting the Roman city; while the whole weight of the danger and the entire burden pressed upon one point. Whichever of these generals should be first victorious, he would in a few days unite his camp with the other.
The preceding year also, saddened by the deaths of two consuls, filled them with alarm. Such were the anxious feelings with which the people escorted the consuls on their departure to their provinces.
It is recorded that Marcus Livius, still teeming with resentment against his countrymen, when setting out to the war, replied to Fabius, who warned him not rashly to come to an action till he had made himself acquainted with the character of his enemy, that as soon as ever he had got sight of the troops of the enemy he would engage them.
When asked what was his reason for such haste, he said, “I shall either obtain the highest glory from conquering the enemy, or the greatest joy from the defeat of my countrymen, a joy which they have deserved, though it would not become me.”
Before the consul Claudius arrived in his province, Caius Hostilius Tubulus, attacking Hannibal with his light cohorts while marching his army through the extreme borders of the territory of Larinum into that of Sallentum, caused terrible confusion in his unmarshalled troops;
he killed as many as four thousand, and [p. 1147]
captured nine military standards.
Quintus Claudius, who had his camps distributed through the towns of the Sallentine territory, had quitted his winter quarters on hearing of the enemy; and Hannibal, fearing on that account lest he should have to engage with two armies at once, decamped by night, and retired from the Tarentine to the Bruttian territory.
Claudius turned his army to the Sallentine territory. Hostilius, on his way to Capua, met the consul Claudius at Venusia.
Here forty thousand infantry and two thousand five hundred horse were selected from both armies, with which the consul might carry on the war against Hannibal. The rest of the troops Hostilius was directed to march to Capua to deliver them over to Quintus Fulvius, proconsul.