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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book XXVII Chapter 12: Marcellus defeated by Hannibal[209 BC]
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After despatching their business in Rome the consuls started for the war. Fulvius was the first to leave and went on in advance to Capua. After a few days Fabius followed, and in a personal interview with his colleague strongly urged him, as he had Marcellus by letter, to do his utmost to keep Hannibal on the defensive while he himself was attacking Tarentum. He pointed out that the enemy had now been driven back on all sides, and if he were deprived of that city there would be no position where he could make a stand, no sure place for retreat, there would be no longer anything to keep him in Italy. He also sent a message to the commander of the garrison which Laevinus had stationed in Rhegium as a check against the Bruttii. This was a force of 8000 the majority drawn, as stated above, from Agathyrna in Sicily, and all accustomed to live by rapine; their numbers had been swelled by deserters from Bruttium, who were quite their equals in recklessness and love of desperate adventures. Fabius ordered the commander to take this force into Bruttium and lay waste the country and then attack the city of Caulonia. They carried out their orders with alacrity and zest, and after plundering and scattering the peasants, they made a furious attack on the citadel. The consul's letter and his own belief that no Roman general was so good a match for Hannibal as himself stirred Marcellus into action. As soon as there was plenty of forage in the fields he broke up his winter quarters and confronted Hannibal at Canusium. The Carthaginian was trying to induce the Canusians to revolt, but as soon as he heard of the approach of Marcellus, he moved away. As the country was open, affording no cover for an ambuscade, he began to withdraw into a more wooded district. Marcellus followed at his heels, fixed his camp close to Hannibal's, and the moment he had completed his entrenchments he led his legions out to battle. Hannibal saw no necessity for risking a general engagement, and sent out detached troops of cavalry and bodies of slingers to skirmish. He was, however, drawn into the battle which he had tried to avoid, for after he had been marching all night, Marcellus caught him up in level and open country, and prevented him from fortifying his camp by attacking the entrenching parties on all sides. A pitched battled ensued in which the whole strength of both armies was engaged, and at the approach of nightfall they separated on equal terms. Both the camps, separated by only a small interval, were hastily fortified before dark. As soon as it began to grow light on the morrow Marcellus marched his men on to the field and Hannibal accepted the challenge. He said much to encourage his men, bidding them remember Thrasymenus and Cannae, and tame the insolence of their foe, who was incessantly pressing them and following on their heels, preventing them from fortifying their camp, giving them no breathing space, no time to look round. Day after day two objects met their eyes at the same time, the rising sun and the Roman battle-line on the plain. If the enemy got away with heavy loss after one battle, he would conduct his operations more quietly and deliberately. Animated by their general's words and exasperated at the defiant way in which the enemy challenged and provoked them, they began the battle with great spirit. After more than two hours' fighting the allied contingent on the Roman right including the special levies, began to give way. As soon as Marcellus saw this he brought the 10th up to the front. They were slow in coming up, and as the others were becoming unsteady and falling back, the whole line was gradually thrown into disorder and ultimately routed. Their fears got the better of them and they took to flight. 2700 Romans and allies fell in the battle and during the pursuit; amongst them were four centurions and two military tribunes, Marcus Licinius and Marcus Helvius. Four standards were lost out of the wing which began the fight, and two from the legion which came up in support. |
Actions in Italy in 209 BC. Tarentum.
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Marcus Claudius Marcellus
Standard:When an army was in camp, they were fixed in the ground, each marking the station of the cohort to which it belonged; when they were taken up it was the signal for breaking up the camp and commencing the march.