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29. However, after the ceremonies of sacrifice and purification which the seers prescribed had been performed, he set out with his colleague for the war, and gave much annoyance to Hannibal in his encampment between Bantia and Venusia. Hannibal would not give battle, but having been made aware that the Romans had sent some troops against Locri Epizephyrii, he set an ambush for them at the lull of Petelia, and slew twenty-five hundred of them. [2] This filled Marcellus with mad desire for the battle, and breaking camp, he brought his forces nearer to the enemy.

Between the camps was a hill which could be made tolerably secure, and was full of all sorts of woody growth; it had also lookout-places that sloped in either direction, and streams of water showed themselves running down its sides. The Romans therefore wondered that Hannibal, who had come first to a place of natural advantages, had not occupied it, but left it in this way for his enemies. [3] Now, to Hannibal the place did seem good for an encampment, but far better for an ambuscade, and to this use he preferred to put it. He therefore filled its woods and hollows with a large force of javelineers and spearmen, convinced that the place of itself would attract the Romans by reason of its natural advantages. [4] Nor was he deceived in his expectations; for straightway there was much talk in the Roman camp about the necessity of occupying the place, and they enumerated all the strategic advantages which they would gain over their enemies, particularly by encamping there., but if not that, by fortifying the hill. Marcellus accordingly decided to ride up to it with a few horsemen and inspect it. So he summoned his diviner and offered sacrifice, and when the first victim had been slain, the diviner showed him that the liver had no head. [5] But on his sacrificing for the second time, the head of the liver was of extraordinary size and the other tokens appeared to be wonderfully propitious, and the fear which the first had inspired seemed to be dissipated. But the diviners declared that they were all the more afraid of these and troubled by them; for when very propitious omens succeeded those which were most inauspicious and threatening, the strangeness of the change was ground for suspicion. But since, as Pindar says,1

Allotted fate not fire, not wall of iron, will
Marcellus set out, taking with him his colleague Crispinus, his son, who was a military tribune, and two hundred and twenty horsemen all told. [6] Of these, not one was a Roman, but they were all Etruscans, except forty men of Fregellae, who had given Marcellus constant proof of their valour and fidelity. Now, the crest of the hill was covered with woods, and on its summit a man had been stationed by the enemy to keep a lookout; he could not be seen himself, but kept the Roman camp in full view. [7] This man, then, told those who lay in ambush what was going on, and they, after permitting Marcellus to ride close up to them, rose up on a sudden, and encompassing him on all sides, hurled their javelins, smote with their spears, pursued the fugitives, and grappled with those who made resistance. These were the forty men of Fregellae, [8] who, though the Etruscans at the very outset took to flight, banded themselves together and fought in defence of the consuls, until Crispinus, smitten with two javelins, turned his horse and fled, and Marcellus was run through the side with a broad spear (the Latin name for which is ‘lancea’). [9] Then the surviving men of Fregellae, few all told, left him where he lay dead, snatched up his son who was wounded, and fled to their camp. Hardly more than forty were slain, but five lictors were taken prisoners, and eighteen horsemen.2 Crispinus also died of his wounds not many days after. Such a disaster as this had never happened to the Romans before: both their consuls were killed in a single action.

1 Fragment 232 (Bergk).

2 Cf. Livy, xxvii. 26 and 27.

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