While it seemed that the armies had been wiped out and all Spain lost, a single man repaired their shattered fortunes.
In the army was Lucius Marcius, son of Septimus, a Roman knight, an active [p. 479]
young man of much more spirit and talent than was1
to be expected in the station in which he had been born.
In addition to his high promise he had had the training of Gnaeus Scipio, in which during so many years he had mastered all the arts of the soldier.
This man had made an army that was not to be despised out of soldiers gathered up from the flight and in part withdrawn from garrison towns, and he had united it with that of Tiberius Fonteius, the lieutenant of Publius Scipio.
But so preeminent was a mere Roman knight in his personal influence with the soldiers and in the respect they paid him that, after they had fortified a camp on this side of the Hiberus
and decided that a commander of the army should be chosen in an election by the soldiers, relieving each other as sentries on the wall and in outpost duty until all had cast their votes, they unanimously conferred the high command upon Lucius Marcius.
He then spent the whole time —and it was very short —in fortifying the camp and bringing up supplies. And the soldiers carried out all his commands, not only with energy, but also in no dejected spirit.
But when the news came that Hasdrubal the son of Gisgo, on his way to wipe out the last remains of the war, had crossed the Hiberus and was approaching, and the soldiers
saw the signal for battle raised by a new general, they remembered what commanders they had had a short time before, and upon what generals and forces they had usually relied as they went into battle. Suddenly they all were weeping and dashing their heads against obstacles; and some raised their hands to heaven, blaming the gods, others lying on the ground invoked their respective generals by name.
And the wailing [p. 481]
could not be stilled, although the centurions tried to2
arouse the men of their maniples and Marcius himself to calm them and upbraided them for having given themselves up to womanish and useless weeping, instead of whetting their courage to defend themselves and with them the state, and begged them not to let their commanders lie unavenged, when suddenly —for the enemy were now near the earthwork —a shout and the sound of trumpets were heard.
Upon that, their grief instantly changing to anger, they scatter to arms, and as if fired by frenzy, to the different gates, and dash into the enemy coming on carelessly and in disorder.
At once the unexpected act inspired alarm among the Carthaginians, and they wondered whence so many enemies had suddenly appeared after the army had been almost wiped out, whence came such boldness and self-confidence so great in men beaten and put to flight, what commander had arisen after the two Scipios had been slain, who was in command of the camp, who had given the signal for battle.
In the face of all that —so many things so unexpected —they at first retreated, completely at a loss and dumbfounded; then beaten back by the strength of the attack they took to flight.
And there would have been either a terrible slaughter of the fleeing or a reckless and dangerous attack on the part of the pursuers, had not Marcius promptly given the signal for the recall and kept back his own excited line, facing his men in the front line and laying hold of some with his own hands. He then led them back to camp still thirsting for slaughter and bloodshed.
The Carthaginians were at first forced away in confusion from the enemies' earthwork; then, when they saw that no one was pursuing, [p. 483]
they thought they had halted for fear, and with fresh3
contempt and at a slow pace they retired to their camp.
There was just as much carelessness in guarding the camp. For, although the enemy was near, still they kept reflecting that it was only a remnant of the two armies wiped out a few days before.
Since for this reason every precaution had been omitted on the enemy's side, Marcius, informed of the facts, turned his attention to a plan at first sight reckless rather than bold, actually to attack the camp of the enemy, in the
belief that it was easier to storm the camp of Hasdrubal alone than to defend his own, if the three armies and three generals should again unite.
At the same time he thought that, if his efforts should prove successful, he would relieve his critical situation or, even if defeated, by venturing to attack he would at least take away their contempt for himself.