While Hannibal was at the Lake of Avernus five-noble young men came to him from Tarentum, some of whom had been captured at the Lake of Trasumennus, others at Cannae, and sent to their homes with that same courtesy which the Carthaginian had shown toward all allies of the Romans.
Mindful of his favours, they reported that they had induced a large part of the young men of Tarentum to prefer the friendship and alliance of Hannibal to [p. 215]
those of the Roman people; and that, as legates1
sent by their people, they asked Hannibal to bring his army nearer to Tarentum.
If his standards, if his camp should be seen from Tarentum there would be no delay in the surrender of the city; that the common people were in the power of the younger men, the Tarentine state in the hands of the common people.
Hannibal praised them and overwhelmed them with great promises, and bade them return home to carry out their undertaking promptly; that he would be there at the right moment.
With this hope the Tarentines were sent away. He himself had conceived a great desire to gain possession of Tarentum. He saw that the city was not only rich and famous but also a seaport, and favourably placed in the direction of Macedonia, and that accordingly King Philip, if he should cross into Italy, would make for this port, since the Romans held Brundisium.
Then, after accomplishing the rite for which he had come, and devastating the territory of Cumae as far as the promontory of Misenum, while he lingered there, he suddenly headed his column toward Puteoli, to surprise the Roman garrison.
There were six thousand men and the place was defended by a wall also, not merely by nature. There the Carthaginian tarried three days, attacking the garrison from every side; and then, when he met with no success, he set out to ravage the territory of Neapolis, rather in anger than with the hope of taking the city.
His coming into a neighbouring region aroused the common people of Nola
, who had long been estranged from the Romans and hostile to their own senate. Consequently legates came to invite Hannibal, bringing a definitive promise to surrender the city.
Marcellus, the consul, was called in by the leading2
men and forestalled their undertaking. From Cales he had hastened in one day to Suessula, though the river Volturnus had delayed his crossing.
Thence he sent six thousand infantry and three hundred horsemen that night into Nola
, to defend the senate.
And whereas the consul did everything with energy, in order to anticipate him in occupying Nola
, Hannibal was wasting time, having twice already made the vain attempt, and being now less inclined to believe the men of Nola