The Campanians, when informed of the disaster which had befallen themselves and their allies, sent ambassadors to Hannibal to inform him, that “the two consuls were at Beneventum, which was a day's march from Capua; that the war was all but at their gates and their walls; and that if he did not hasten to their assistance, Capua would fall into the power of the enemy sooner than Arpi had;
that not even Tarentum itself, much less its citadel, ought to be considered of so much consequence as to induce him to deliver up to the Roman people, abandoned and undefended, Capua, which he used to place on an equal footing with Carthage.”
Hannibal, promising that he would not neglect the interest of the Campanians, sent, for the present, two thousand horse, with the ambassadors, aided by which, they might secure their lands [p. 978]
The Romans, meanwhile, among the other things which engaged their attention, had an eye to the citadel of Tarentum, and the garrison besieged therein. Caius Servilius, lieutenant-general, having been sent, according to the advice of the fathers, by Publius Cornelius, the praetor, to purchase corn in Etruria, made his way into the harbour of Tarentum, through the guard-ships of the enemy, with some ships of burden.
At his arrival, those who before, having very slight hopes of holding out, were frequently invited by the enemy, in conferences, to pass over to them, now, on the contrary, were the persons to invite and solicit the enemy to come over to them; and now, as the soldiers who were at Metapontum had been brought to assist in guarding the citadel of Tarentum, the garrison was sufficiently powerful.
In consequence of this measure, the Metapontines, being freed from the fears which had influenced them, immediately revolted to Hannibal. The people of Thurium, situated on the same coast, did the same.
They were influenced not more by the defection of the Metapontines and Tarentines, with whom they were connected, being sprung from the same country, Achaia, than by resentment towards the Romans, in consequence of the recent execution of the hostages.
The friends and relations of these hostages sent a letter and a message to Hanno and Mago, who were not far off among the Bruttii, to the effect, that if they brought their troops up to the walls, they would deliver the city into their hands.
Marcus Atinius was in command at Thurium, with a small garrison, who they thought might easily be induced to engage rashly in a battle, not from any confidence which he reposed in his troops, of which he had very few, but in the youth of Thurium, whom he had purposely formed into centuries, and armed against emergencies of this kind.
The generals, after dividing their forces between them, entered the territory of Thurium; and Hanno, with a body of infantry, proceeded towards the city in hostile array. Hanno staid behind with the cavalry, under the cover of some hills, conveniently placed for the concealment of an ambush.
Atinius, having by his scouts discovered only the body of infantry, led his troops into the field, ignorant both of the domestic treachery and of the stratagem of the enemy.
The engagement with the infantry was particularly dull, a few Romans in the first rank engaging, [p. 979]
while the Thurians rather waited than helped on the issue. The Carthaginian line retreated, on purpose that they might draw the incautious enemy to the back of the hill, where their cavalry were lying in ambush; and when they had come there, the cavalry rising up on a sudden with a shout, immediately put to flight the almost undisciplined rabble of the Thurians, not firmly attached to the side on which they fought.
The Romans, notwithstanding they were surrounded and hard pressed on one side by the infantry, on the other by the cavalry, yet prolonged the battle for a considerable time; but at length even they were compelled to turn their backs, and fled towards the city.
There the conspirators, forming themselves into a dense body, received the multitude of their countrymen with open gates;
but when they perceived that the routed Romans were hurrying towards the city, they exclaimed that the Carthaginian was close at hand, and that the enemy would enter the city mingled with them, unless they speedily closed the gates. Thus they shut out the Romans, and left them to be cut up by the enemy.
Atinius, however, and a few others were taken in. After this for a short time there was a division between them, some being of opinion that they ought to defend the city, others that they ought, after all that had happened, to yield to fortune, and deliver up the city to the conquerors; but, as it generally happens, fortune and evil counsels prevailed.
Having conveyed Atinius and his party to the sea and the ships, more because they wished that care should be taken of him, in consequence of the mildness and justice of
his command, than from regard to the Romans, they received the Carthaginians into the city. The consuls led their legions from Beneventum into the Campanian territory, with the intention not only of destroying the corn, which was in the blade, but of laying siege to Capua;
considering that they would render their consulate illustrious by the destruction of so opulent a city, and that they would wipe away the foul disgrace of the empire, from the defection of a city so near remaining unpunished for three years.
Lest, however, Beneventum should be left without protection, and that in case of any sudden emergency, if Hannibal should come to Capua, in order to bring assistance to his friends, which they doubted not he would do, the cavalry might be able to sustain his attack, they ordered Tiberius Gracchus to come from Lu- [p. 980]
cania to Beneventum with his cavalry and light-armed troops, and to appoint some person to take the command of the legions and stationary camp, for the defence of Lucania.