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The Story of Rome by  Mary Macgregor


 

 

THE DEFEAT OF HASDRUBAL

[208] EARLY in the spring of 207 B.C. Hasdrubal was on his way from Spain to join Hannibal in Italy. He had with him a large army and much money to enable his brother to carry on the war.

Hasdrubal crossed the Alps with less difficulty than Hannibal, for it was springtime and the passes were not covered with newly fallen snow. The native guides, too, proved friendly.

He was also greatly helped by the bridges which Hannibal had built, and by the cuttings he had made through the rocks. Even now, after seven years, the bridges were still trustworthy, the cuttings clear.

While he awaited his brother, Hannibal encamped near Venusia, on the borders of Lucania and Apulia, and here he hoped Hasdrubal would join him. But the Romans were watching the brothers, and they hoped to be able to keep them apart.

One Roman army, under the Consul Claudius Nero, had already had skirmishes with the Carthaginians, and was now encamped not far from Venusia. As Claudius had lost fifteen hundred men in these skirmishes, he did not again venture to attack the enemy.

The other Consul, Livius, was stationed near the river Sena, to stop Hasdrubal should he attempt to march southward to join his brother.

But Hasdrubal intended to march not to Venusia, but [209] into the Umbrian country, where he wished Hannibal to go to meet him. To let his brother know his plans, he wrote a letter, and entrusting it to four soldiers, he bade them deliver it to no one save the Carthaginian general himself.

The soldiers mounted their horses and rode away, promising to deliver the letter to Hannibal. They knew that they were risking their lives, for at any moment they might fall into the hands of the Roman soldiers, of whom the country through which they had to pass was full.

They reached Apulia without difficulty, but not finding Hannibal, they rode toward Tarentum, and were captured by a band of Roman soldiers, who demanded what they were doing in that part of the country.

The soldiers' answers were not very clear, and they were threatened with torture unless they frankly told the object for which they were riding toward Tarentum.

In their terror the men acknowledged that they were looking for Hannibal, and that they carried with them a letter from his brother Hasdrubal.

The soldiers were then hastily dragged before Claudius, and in a short time the letter was in the Consul's hands, the letter that the men should have guarded with their lives.

Claudius was exultant! He knew the secret that was meant only for Hannibal. Now at length the Carthaginians would meet the fate they deserved. The Consul laid his plans with care, and carried them out with complete success.

A messenger was sent to Livius to warn him that Claudius intended to join him with a company of his army.

When night fell the Consul and his men stole quietly out of their camp, so quietly that Hannibal did not know that they had gone. Claudius had left soldiers to guard the camp, so that the great general might suspect nothing.

As the Consul and his soldiers passed along the road, the [210] Italian townsfolk and village folk alike, came out to welcome them. It was plain that they trusted that the Romans would banish the invaders who had poured down into Italy from the Alps.

Men left their work, women their homes, children their play—all were eager to see the Consul pass. To show their goodwill many of them brought food for the soldiers.

Thousands of men joined the army as volunteers, and they, and the regular soldiers, were so eager to reach the camp of Livius that they would hardly interrupt their march to eat and drink.

The Roman camp lay to the south of the river Metaurus, and not far off was the camp of Hasdrubal.

Claudius had arranged to reach his colleague at night. He arrived as quietly as he had left his own camp, and his men were at once scattered among the tents in which the soldiers of Livius were already for the most part asleep.

As the camp had not been enlarged, the Consuls thought that Hasdrubal would not notice that the army of the enemy had been increased.

But Hasdrubal had fought with Romans in Spain, and he knew their signals. So the following morning, when he heard two trumpets sound instead of one, as had been the case on other days, he was aware that the second Consul had joined the camp. And when the army was drawn up, Hasdrubal would have been unobservant indeed if he had not seen that the number of Roman soldiers was greater than before. How it was that the camp remained unchanged may have proved a puzzle which Hasdrubal had no time to solve.

The new soldiers were haggard and worn, as though they had marched far and fast, or as though they had been on the battlefield, and, seeing this, Hasdrubal grew alarmed.

Had Hannibal by some strange chance been at last defeated, and were these the exhausted but triumphant troops?

[211] Had his letter failed to reach his brother? Nay, worse still, had it fallen into the enemy's hands?

In his uncertainty Hasdrubal determined that when night fell he would withdraw his army to the other side of the river. It would be safer there until he heard from Hannibal.

So when it was dark the camp was broken up, and the army set out with guides to ford the river.

But the guides proved faithless, and fled, leaving Hasdrubal and his men to wander up and down the river bank in search of a ford. Thus much precious time was wasted.

When morning broke, Hasdrubal was still but a short distance from the enemy's camp, and the Romans, who were early astir, were soon able to overtake him.

Hasdrubal saw that he could not avoid a battle although he would fain have done so until his troops had rested. He had not, indeed, time to throw up fortifications before the enemy was upon him.

But Hasdrubal was a brave soldier, and he made up his mind to fight to the death.

His army he arranged in the best possible position, and his elephants he hoped would prove of great service. They, however, grew restive, and as often happened, did as much harm to their friends as to their foes.

After a fierce struggle, Claudius succeeded in attacking the brave Spanish soldiers both in the rear and in the flank, and they, overcome by the numbers that attacked them, fell, after a bold and desperate struggle.

When Hasdrubal saw that the Spaniards, on whom he chiefly relied, were being slaughtered, he knew that the day was lost.

For himself, he resolved neither to leave the field, nor to be taken alive. Putting spurs to his horse, he galloped wildly into the midst of the enemy and was slain, still grasping his sword in his hand.

[212] Not only were ten thousand of Hasdrubal's soldiers slain, but many were taken prisoner. The spoil was enormous, for Hasdrubal had plundered the country as he had passed through it, and he had also been carrying large sums of money to Hannibal.

Perhaps it was little wonder that the Romans felt that even the awful battle of Cannæ was now avenged.


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