The next day, as soon as the trumpets began to sound, they were the first to assemble at the general's tent, armed [p. 913]
and ready for action. When the sun had risen, Gracchus led out his troops to the field of battle; nor did the enemy delay to engage him.
His troops consisted of seventeen thousand infantry, principally Bruttians and Lucanians, with twelve hundred horse, among which were very few Italians, almost all the rest being Numidians and Moors. The contest was fierce and protracted.
For four hours neither side had the advantage, nor did any other circumstance more impede the Romans, than that the heads of their enemies were made the price of their liberty. For when each man had gallantly slain his enemy, first, he lost time in cutting
off his head, which was done with difficulty amid the crowd and confusion, and secondly, all the bravest troops ceased to be engaged in fight, as their right hands were employed in holding the heads; and thus the battle was left to be sustained by the inactive and cowardly.
But when the military tribunes reported to Gracchus that the soldiers were employed not in wounding any of the enemy who were standing, but in mangling those who were prostrate, their right hands being occupied in holding the heads of men instead of their swords, he promptly ordered a signal to be given that they should throw down the heads and charge the enemy;
that they had given evident and signal proofs of valour, and that the liberty of such brave men was certain. Then the fight was revived, and the cavalry also were sent out against the enemy.
The Numidians engaging them with great bravery, and the contest between the cavalry being carried on with no less spirit than that between the infantry, the victory again became doubtful; when, the generals on both sides vilifying their opponents, the Roman saying, that their enemies were Bruttians and Lucanians, who had been so often vanquished and subjugated by their ancestors; the Carthaginian, that the troops opposed to them were Roman slaves, soldiers taken out of a workhouse;
at last Gracchus exclaimed, that his men had no ground to hope for liberty unless the enemy were routed and put to flight that day.