Meanwhile the operations of the war were carried on with unabated activity by the lieutenant-generals. Marcius, crossing the river Baetis, which the natives call Certis, received the submission of two powerful cities without a contest.
There was a city called Astapa, which had always sided with the Carthaginians; nor was it that which drew upon it the resentment of the Romans so much as the fact, that its inhabitants harboured an extraordinary animosity against them, which was not called for by the necessities of the war.
Their city was not so secured by nature or art as to make their dispositions so fierce, but the natural disposition of the inhabitants, which took delight in plunder, had induced them to make excursions into the neighboring lands belonging to the allies of the Romans, and to intercept such Roman soldiers, suttlers, and merchants as they found ranging about.
They had also surrounded, by means of an ambuscade, and put to the sword on disadvantageous ground, a large company which was crossing their borders, for it had proved hardly safe to go in small parties.
When the troops were marched up to assault this city, the inhabitants, conscious of their guilt, and seeing that it would be dangerous to surrender to an enemy so highly incensed, and that they could not hope to keep themselves in safety by means of their walls or their arms, resolved to execute upon themselves and those belonging to them a horrid and inhuman deed.
They fixed upon a place in their forum, in which they collected the most valuable of their property, and having directed their wives and children to seat themselves upon this heap, they raised a pile of wood around it and threw on it bundles of twigs.
They then ordered fifty armed youths to stand there and guard their fortunes, and the persons dearer to them than their fortunes, as long as the issue of the battle continued doubtful.
If they should perceive that the battle went against them, and that it came to the point that the city must be captured, they might be assured that those whom they saw going out to engage the enemy would perish in the battle itself;
but implored them by all the gods, celestial and infernal, that, mindful of their liberty, which must be terminated on that day either by [p. 1192]
an honourable death or ignominious servitude, they would leave nothing on which an exasperated enemy could wreak his fury;
that they had fire and sword at their command, and it was better that friendly and faithful hands should destroy what must necessarily perish, than that enemies should insult it with haughty wantonness.
To these exhortations a dreadful execration was added against any one who should be diverted from this purpose by hope or faintheartedness. Then throwing open the gates, they rushed out at a rapid pace and with the utmost impetuosity.
Nor was there any guard sufficiently strong opposed to them; for there could be nothing that was less apprehended than that they would have the courage to sally from their walls. A very few troops of horse, and the light-armed, hastily sent out of the camp for that purpose, opposed them.
The battle was furious and spirited, rather than steady and regular in any degree. The horse, therefore, which had first encountered the enemy, being repulsed, created an alarm among the light-armed; and the battle would have been fought under the very rampart, had not the legions, which were their main strength, drawn out their line, though they had a very short time to form in.
These too, for a short time, wavered around their standards, when the Astapans, blind with rage, rushed upon wounds and the sword with reckless daring; but afterwards the veteran soldiers, standing firm against their furious assaults, checked the violence of those that followed by the slaughter of the foremost.
Soon after, the veteran troops themselves made an attempt to charge them, but seeing that not a man gave ground, and that they were inflexibly determined on dying each in his place, they extended their line, which the number of their troops enabled them to do with ease, and, surrounding their flanks, slew them all to a man while fighting in a circle.