On the Roman side there was far less alacrity, for, besides other things, they were also frightened by some recent portents:
a wolf had entered the camp and after rending those whom it met, had itself escaped unharmed; and a swarm of bees had settled in a tree that hung over the consul's tent.
After averting these omens,1
Scipio set out with his cavalry and light-armed darters to reconnoitre at close hand the enemy's camp and the size and character of his forces, and encountered Hannibal, who had likewise come out with his cavalry to explore the surrounding country.
Neither party descried the other at first; afterwards an increasingly thick cloud of dust, that rose with the advance of so many men and horses, gave them notice that their enemies were approaching. Both bodies halted and began to make ready for battle.
Scipio stationed his darters and Gallic horse in front,2
holding in reserve the Romans and the best of the allies; Hannibal put the cavalry who rode with bridles in the centre, and made his wings strong with Numidians. Hardly had the battle-cry been raised, when the darters fled through their supports to the second line.
Then followed a cavalry fight of which the issue was for a time in doubt; but by and by the horses became excited by the presence of the foot-soldiers who were mingled with them, and many riders lost their seats or dismounted on seeing their fellows in distress, and the battle was now fought chiefly on foot; until the Numidians, who were posted on the flanks, rode round in a little circuit and showed themselves on the rear.
So alarming a sight filled the Romans with dismay, and, to add to their fear, the consul was wounded and was only saved from danger by the intervention of his son, who was just reaching manhood.
This is the youth who will have the glory of finishing this war, and be surnamed Africanus, from his famous victory over Hannibal and the Phoenicians.
However, the rout was chiefly amongst the darters, the first to be charged by the Numidians: the cavalry rallied, and receiving the consul into their midst, and shielding him not only with their arms but with their persons also, brought him back to camp without panic or confusion at any point in their retreat. (The credit for saving the consul's life is given by Coelius to a Ligurian slave.
I should prefer, for my own part, that the story about his son were the true one, and this is the version which most authorities have handed down and tradition has established.3
) [p. 139]