After they had all voted for this proposal without debate, and the throng had been cleared out of the Forum by the magistrates, and the Fathers had dispersed in various directions to still the uproar, then at last came a dispatch from Gaius Terentius the consul, announcing that the consul Lucius Aemilius and his army had been destroyed;
that he himself was at Canusium, collecting —as though after a storm at sea —the wreckage of that great disaster; that he had about ten thousand men, not organised [p. 383]
or assigned to companies;
that the Phoenician was1
sitting down at Cannae, haggling over the ransom of his prisoners and over the rest of the booty, exhibiting neither the spirit of a conqueror nor the behaviour of a great commander.
Announcement was then made from house to house of the losses they had each sustained, and the entire City was so filled with lamentation that the annual rite of Ceres was allowed to lapse, since it may not be performed by mourners, nor was there at that time a single matron who was not bereaved.
Accordingly, lest for this same reason other public or private rites might be neglected, the senate decreed that mourning should be limited to thirty days.2
But when the confusion in the City had subsided and the Fathers had been summoned back to the senate-house, another dispatch was brought in from Sicily, from the propraetor Titus Otacilius.
He reported that Hiero's kingdom was being laid waste by a Punic fleet, and that when he would have responded to Hiero's appeal for help, he had got news of another fleet, that was standing off the Aegatian islands, all ready and equipped, so that when the Phoenicians should perceive that he had turned his back on them to go to the rescue of the Syracusan coast, they might instantly descend on Lilybaeum and the rest of the Roman province.
A fleet was therefore necessary if they desired to protect the king, their ally, and Sicily.3 [p. 385]