When it seemed that the Roman armies were annihilated, and Spain lost, one man recovered this desperate state of affairs.
There was in the army one Lucius Marcius, the son of Septimus, a Roman knight, an enterprising youth, and possessing a mind and genius far superior to the condition in which he had been born.
To his high talents had been added the discipline of Cneius Scipio, under which he had been thoroughly instructed during a course of so many years in all the qualifications of a soldier.
This man, having collected the troops which had been dispersed in the flight, and drafted some from the garrisons, had formed an army not to be despised, and united it with Titus Fonteius, the lieutenant-general of Publius Scipio.
But so transcendent was the Roman knight in authority and honour among the troops, that when, after fortifying a camp on this side of the Iberus, it had been resolved that a general of the two armies should be elected in an
assembly of the soldiers, relieving each other in the guard of the rampart, and in keeping the outposts until every one had given his vote, they unanimously conferred the supreme command upon Lucius Marcius.
All the intervening time, which was but short, was occupied in fortifying their camp and collecting provisions; and the soldiers executed every order not only with vigour, but with feelings by no means depressed.
But when intelligence was brought them that Hasdrubal, son of Gisgo, who was coming to put the finishing stroke to the war, had crossed the Iberus and was drawing near, and when they saw the signal for battle displayed by a new commander;
then calling to mind whom they had had for their leaders a little while ago, relying on what leaders and what forces they used to go out to fight, they all suddenly burst into tears and beat their heads; some raising their hands to heaven and arraigning the gods; [p. 1009]
others prostrating themselves upon the ground and invoking by name each his own former commander.
Nor could their lamentations be restrained, though the centurions endeavoured to animate their companies, and though Marcius himself soothed and remonstrated with them, asking them “why they had given themselves up to womanish and unavailing lamentations rather than summon up all their courage to protect themselves and the commonwealth together, and not suffer their generals to lie unavenged?” But suddenly a shout and the sound of trumpets were heard; for by this time the enemy were near the rampart.
Upon this, their grief being suddenly converted into rage, they hastily ran to arms, and, as it were, burning with fury, rushed to the gates and charged the enemy, while advancing in a careless and disorderly manner.
This unexpected event instantly struck terror into the Carthaginians, who wondering whence so many enemies could have sprung up so suddenly, as the army had been almost annihilated; what could have inspired men who had been vanquished and routed with such boldness and confidence in themselves; what general could have arisen now that the two Scipios were slain; who could command the camp, and who had given the signal for battle; in consequence of these so many and so unexpected circumstances, at first, being in a state of complete uncertainty and amazement, they gave ground;
but afterwards, discomfited by the violence of the charge, they turned their backs;
and either there would have been a dreadful slaughter of the flying enemy, or a rash and dangerous effort on the part of the pursuers, had not Marcius promptly given the signal for retreat, and by throwing himself in the way of the front rank, and even holding some back with his own hands, repressed the infuriated troops. He then led them back to the camp, still eager for blood and slaughter.
When the Carthaginians, who were at first compelled to fly with precipitation from the rampart of their enemy, saw that no one pursued them, concluding that they had stopped from fear, now on the other hand went away to their camp at an easy pace, with feelings of contempt for the enemy.
There was a corresponding want of care in guarding their camp; for though the enemy were near, yet it seemed that they were but the remains of the two armies which had been cut to pieces a few days before.
As in consequence of this all things were neglected [p. 1010]
in the enemy's camp, Marcius having ascertained this, addressed his mind to a measure which on the first view of it might appear rather rash than bold:
it was, aggressively to assault the enemy's camp, concluding that the camp of Hasdrubal, while alone, might be carried with less difficulty than his own could be defended, if the three armies and as many generals should again unite;
taking into consideration also, that either if he succeeded he would retrieve their prostrate fortune, or if repulsed, still, by making the attack himself, he would rescue himself from contempt.