Having completed everything that was to be done at Rome, the consuls set out for the war.
Fulvius went first and led the way to Capua. After a few days he was overtaken by Fabius, who implored his colleague in person and Marcellus also by letter to keep Hannibal occupied by the most spirited fighting possible while he himself was besieging Tarentum.
With that city taken from him, he said, the enemy, beaten back on every side, and having no [p. 255]
place where he might make a stand nor any loyal1
support to look to, would also find no reason for lingering in Italy.
He sent a messenger to Regium also, to the commander of the garrison which had been posted there against the Bruttii by Laevinus, the consul, eight thousand men, for the most part from Agathyrna, as has been said above, who had been brought over from Sicily, being men accustomed to live by plundering.2
To their number had been added from the same region Bruttian deserters, a match for them in daring and in the urgent needs that compelled them to take any risk.
This force Fabius ordered to be led out first for the purpose of ravaging the country of the Bruttians, and then of besieging the city of Caulonia.3
After carrying out their orders not only with energy but also with zest, robbing and putting to flight the tillers of the soil, they proceeded to assail the city with great violence.
Marcellus, spurred by the consul's letter, and also because he had come to believe that no Roman general was so good a match for Hannibal as himself, set out from winter quarters as soon as there was abundance of pasture in the fields, and encountered Hannibal near Canusium. The Carthaginian was tempting the men of Canusium to revolt; but on hearing of the approach of Marcellus, he moved his camp away.
It was an open country, with no concealment for ambuscades; accordingly he began to retire from it into wooded regions.
Marcellus kept at his heels and would place camp close to camp, and after completing his fortifications, he would at once lead his legions out into battle-line. Hannibal by his cavalry in single troops and by spearmen on foot kept bringing on slight engagements, but [p. 257]
thought the risk of a general conflict unnecessary.4
Nevertheless he was drawn into the conflict which he was trying to avoid. When the enemy had gone ahead by night, Marcellus overtook him in level and open country. Then as Hannibal was pitching camp, the Roman by fighting on all sides against the men engaged in fortifying prevented them from doing so. Thus standards faced standards and it was a battle with all their forces, and when night was now at hand, they separated on even terms. The camps, separated by a very short distance, were hastily fortified before night.
The next day Marcellus led out his forces into line at daybreak. And Hannibal did not refuse battle, after he had exhorted his soldiers at length, that, remembering Trasumennus and Cannae, they should crush the over-confidence of the enemy, who was pressing them, Hannibal said, and threatening them, not allowing them to march undisturbed, nor to pitch their camp, nor to take breath and look around them;
every day they must at the same moment see the sun rising and the Roman battle-line in the plain; if he should come out of a single battle not without some losses, the enemy would thereafter carry on the war more calmly and quietly.
Inflamed by these exhortations and also weary of the high spirit of a foe who daily pressed upon them and challenged them, they went into battle fiercely.
They fought for more than two hours. Then on the side of the Romans the right ala
and the élite troops5
began to give way.
Seeing this Marcellus led up the eighteenth legion into the front rank.6
While the one part in disorder was yielding ground, and the other was slow in coming up, the whole line was confused, then thoroughly routed, and as fear [p. 259]
overpowered the sense of shame, they fled.
and flight some two thousand seven hundred citizens and allies fell, among them four Roman centurions, two tribunes of the soldiers, Marcus Licinius and Marcus Helvius.
Four military standards were lost from the ala
which was the first to flee, and two from the legion which had relieved the allies as they gave way.