For this reason, on the death of one of the consuls,1
the people called Marcellus home to succeed him, and, in spite of the magistrates, postponed the election until his return from the army. He was made consul by a unanimous vote, but there was a peal of thunder at the time, and since the augurs considered the omen unpropitious, but hesitated to make open opposition for fear of the people, he renounced the office of himself.
He did not, however, lay aside his military command, but having been declared proconsul, he returned to his army at Nola and proceeded to punish those who had espoused the cause of the Carthaginian. And when Hannibal came swiftly to their aid against him, and challenged him to a pitched battle, Marcellus declined an engagement; but as soon as his adversary had set the greater part of his army to plundering and was no longer expecting a battle, he led his forces out against him. He had distributed long spears used in naval combats among his infantry, and taught them to watch their opportunity and smite the Carthaginians at long range; these were not javelineers, but used short spears in hand to hand fighting.
This seems to have been the reason why at that time all the Carthaginians who were engaged turned their backs upon the Romans and took to unhesitating flight, losing five thousand of their number slain, and six hundred prisoners; four of their elephants also were killed, and two taken alive. But what was most important, on the third day after the battle, more than three hundred horsemen, composed of Spaniards and Numidians, deserted from them. Such a disaster had not happened before this to Hannibal, but a barbarian army made up of varied and dissimilar peoples had for a very long time been kept by him in perfect harmony. These deserters, then, remained entirely faithful both to Marcellus himself, and to the generals who succeeded him.2