Silence ensued after this address; for some were convinced by his arguments, and the rest were fearful of giving offence needlessly in a matter which, from whatever cause overlooked, could not now be regained. Even on that day, neither the king nor the consul was desirous of engaging; not the king, because he was not going, as on the day before, to attack men who were fatigued after their march, were hurried in forming their line, and not completely marshalled; nor the consul, because, in his new camp, no collection was yet made of wood or forage, to bring which from the adjacent country a great number of his men had gone forth from the camp. Still fortune, whose power prevails over all human schemes, brought about a battle.
Nearer to the enemy's camp was a river, not very large, from which both parties supplied themselves with water; and that this might be done with safety, guards were stationed on each bank. On the Roman side were two cohorts, a Marrucinian and a Pelignian, with two troops of Samnite horse, commanded by a lieutenant general, Marcus Sergius Silus; and in the front of the camp [p. 2106]
there was posted another guard, under Caius Cluvius, lieutenant-general, composed of three cohorts, a Firmian, a Vestinian, and a Cremonian; besides two troops of horse, a Placentine and an Aesernian. While there was quiet at the river, neither party making an attack; about the ninth hour, a horse, breaking loose from those who had the care of him, ran off towards the farther bank, and three Roman soldiers followed him through the water, which was about as high as their knees. At the same time two Thracians endeavoured to bring the horse from the middle of the channel to their own bank; but one of these having been slain, and the horse having been recovered, they retired to their post. On the enemy's bank there was a body of eight hundred Thracians, of whom a few, at first enraged at their countryman being killed before their eyes, crossed the river in pursuit of his slayers; in a little time some more, and at last all of them, and engaged with the guard which defended the bank on the Roman side. Some authors say, that by the command of Paullus, the horse was driven without a bridle to the enemy's side, and men sent to bring him back, in order that the enemy might first provoke the conflict. For when favourable auspices were not obtained by the first twenty victims, at length the haruspices declared, “that the entrails of the twenty-first portended victory to the Romans, provided they acted only upon the defensive, without striking the first blow.”
However, whether by the design of the leader or by accident, the battle was certainly brought about from this commencement, and, in a short time, was so augmented by party after party on both sides flying to carry succour to their comrades, that the commanders were compelled to come down to a general decision of the contest; for Aemilius, on hearing the tumult, came forth from his tent, and when it seemed neither easy nor safe to recall or stop the impetuosity of those who were rushing to arms, he thought it best to avail himself of the ardour of the soldiers, and to turn an accident into an opportunity.
He therefore led out his forces from the camp, and riding among their ranks exhorted them to enter upon the contest they had so greatly desired with corresponding ardour. At the same time Nasica, having been sent forward to reconnoitre what was the position of affairs amongst those who were engaged in the commencing conflict, announced that Perseus was approaching with his [p. 2107]
army in battle-array. First marched the Thracians, men of fierce countenance and tall of stature, and protected on their left side by bucklers which shone with remarkable brightness. A black cloak covered both shoulders, and on their right they brandished from time to time a sword of enormous weight. Next to the Thracians stood the hired auxiliaries, their armour and costume differing according to their respective nations; and among these were some Paeonians.
Next came a band of the Macedonians themselves, which they called the phalanx of the Leucaspides. A few selected for their strength and valour were more conspicuous, shining in gilded armour and scarlet cloaks: this was the middle of the army. These were succeeded by those whom they called Chalcaspides, from their brazen and glittering bucklers. This phalanx was placed next to the other on the right wing.
Besides these two phalanxes, which constituted the chief strength of the Macedonian army, the targeteers, who were also Macedonians, and carried pikes like those of the phalanx, but in other respects more lightly armed, were distributed on the wings advanced, and projecting beyond the rest of the line. The plain was illuminated with the brightness of their arms, the neighbouring hills echoed with their shouts, as they mutually cheered each other on. Such was the swiftness and boldness of all these forces as they came out to the fight, that those who were first slain fell at two hundred and fifty paces from the Roman camp.
Meanwhile Aemilius advanced, and when he saw not only the other Macedonians, but those who constituted the phalanx, some with their bucklers, and some with their targets removed from their shoulders, and with their pikes inclined in one direction receiving the attack of the Romans, admiring the firmness of the serried ranks, and the bristling rampart of outstretched pikes, he was smitten at once with astonishment and terror, as if he had never seen so fearful a spectacle, and was afterwards in the habit of frequently referring to it, and making this statement respecting himself. Carefully concealing however at the time the agitation of his troubled mind, he with serene countenance and careless aspect, and with his head and body undefended, drew up his line. The Pelignians were now fighting against the targeteers, who were ranged opposite to them, and when, after long and laborious efforts, they were unable to break through [p. 2108]
that compact array, Salius, who was commanding the Pelignians, seized a standard and threw it among the enemy.
On this a prodigious conflict was excited, whilst on the one side the Pelignians strove with all their might to recover the standard, the Macedonians on the other to retain possession of it. The former strove either to cut through the long spears of the Macedonians, or to repel them with the bosses of their bucklers, or in some instances to turn them aside even with their naked hands, while the latter drove them firmly grasped with both hands with such force against the enemy, who rushed on with rash and heedless fury, that, penetrating shields and bucklers, they overthrew the men transfixed in like manner. The first ranks of the Pelignians having been thus defeated, those who stood behind them were also cut down, and the rest retreated towards the mountain which the inhabitants call Mount Olocrus, though not yet in open flight. On this the grief of Aemilius burst forth, so that he even rent his robe with mortification, for in other places as well he saw that his men were hanging back and approaching with timidity that hedge of steel, as it were, with which the Macedonian line bristled in every part.
But that skilful general observed that this conjunction of the foe was not every where close, but that here and there it opened with little interstices, either on account of the unevenness of the ground, or on account of the very length of its front, which was immensely extended, while those who attempted to occupy higher ground were necessarily, though unwillingly, separated from those who occupied lower positions, or those who were slower from those who were faster, and those who advanced from those who held back, and lastly, those who pressed upon the enemy from those who were repulsed. In order, therefore, entirely to break the ranks of the enemy, and to distribute the irresistible attack of the entire phalanx into a number of separate conflicts, he commanded his men, that wherever they should see the line of the enemy present openings, they should individually rush to those spots, and insinuating themselves like a wedge into such spaces, however narrow their extent, they should fight with impetuosity.
This order having been issued and spread through the whole army, he led on in person one of the legions to the battle.