Descending from the Apennines, Hannibal turned back once more towards Placentia, and after marching about ten miles went into camp. The next day he advanced against the enemy with twelve thousand foot and five thousand horse.
Nor did the consul Sempronius, who had now returned from Rome, decline the combat. That day there were only three miles between the two encampments. On the following day they fought, with great spirit and with shifting fortunes.
At the first encounter the Romans had so far the best of it that not only were they victorious in the battle, but they pursued the beaten enemy to his camp, and were soon attacking the camp itself.
Hannibal stationed [p. 177]
a few defenders on the rampart and at the gates1
and received the rest in a crowded throng within the enclosure, where he bade them watch intently for the signal to sally forth.
It was now about the ninth hour of the day,2
when the Roman general, who had worn out his men to no avail and saw no prospect of capturing the camp, bade sound the recall.
When Hannibal heard this and perceived that the fighting had grown lax and that the enemy had retired from his rampart, he suddenly sent his cavalry against them from the right and left and rushed out himself with the strength of his infantry from the centre of the camp.
Seldom has there been a fiercer battle or one more notable for the losses on both sides than this would have been, had the light permitted it to be prolonged; but darkness put an end to a conflict which had been begun with the greatest ardour.
The fury of the combatants was consequently greater than the carnage, and as the battle was practically a drawn one, so were the losses equal when the opposing forces separated.
On neither side had more than six hundred of the infantry fallen or half as many of the cavalry; but the loss of the Romans was out of proportion to the number slain, for it included several knights, five tribunes of the soldiers, and three praefects of the allies.
After this engagement Hannibal retired into Liguria and Sempronius to Luca. The Ligurians had ambushed and made prisoners of two Roman quaestors, Gaius Fulvius and Lucius Lucretius, with two tribunes of the soldiers and five members of the equestrian order —mostly sons of senators. These men they handed over to Hannibal on his coming among them, as a [p. 179]
further earnest of their peaceful and friendly3
disposition towards him.4