THE BATTLE OF LAKE TRASIMENUS
 EARLY in 217 B.C. Hannibal broke up his camp in the valley of
The Gauls in large numbers were still with him, but he
had lost many of his own loyal soldiers, since he had
crossed the Rhone a year earlier.
Now, with the first sign of spring, he marched to the
river Arno. Here his difficulties began.
The country through which Hannibal wished to take his
army was in a state of flood. As the snow melted on
the mountains, streams of water poured down into the
valley, and these streams, along with the heavy rains
of spring, had made the ground like a vast swamp.
Many of the Carthaginians sank deep into the marsh, and
they and their beasts perished.
For three days, part of the army was forced to wade
through the floods, and, when night fell, there was no
dry spot on which to pitch its tents. The soldiers had
perforce to rest as well as they could on the bodies of
their poor fallen steeds or amid the baggage which had
been left behind by their comrades.
Damp and hardships of this kind made many of the
soldiers ill, while Hannibal himself lost the sight of
one eye, through an attack of inflammation.
But it was the Gauls who suffered most, and they were
less willing than the well-trained Carthaginian troops
to endure hardship. Had it been possible they would
have deserted, but Hannibal, knowing their fickle ways,
 ordered his brother Mago with the cavalry to ride at
the rear of the army.
As the march continued, it seemed that Hannibal was on
his way to Rome. He passed the Roman camp where
Flaminius, one of the new Consuls, was in command, and
then continued southward, with no army now to hinder
his approach to the city.
But what the great general was really trying to do was,
not to reach Rome and besiege it, since for that he had
not the necessary machines, but to entice the Roman
army from its camp and force it to fight. All
unwittingly, the army fell into the trap which the
Flaminius had been sent into Etruria to see that
Hannibal did not march upon Rome. As he had allowed
the enemy to pass his camp unhindered, he determined to
atone for his error as well as might be, by following
swiftly and destroying it.
The Consul was urged to wait until his colleague
Servilius joined him, but this he was much too
impatient to do.
Hannibal meanwhile had reached the Trasimenus Lake.
Between the lake and the mountains ran a narrow road.
The general saw at once that this was the very place in
which to entrap the Roman army. So he sent his men to
command the heights that overlooked the path.
That same evening, Flaminius encamped a short distance
from the lake. He could see the narrow road stretching
out before him.
Early in the morning the Romans were again on the
march, hastening after the enemy that was, as they
believed, on the way to Rome.
Unaware of evil, they marched along the narrow road by
the side of the lake, scarce able to see a step before
them, so heavy hung the mist on the pathway and along
the foot of the mountains.
But up on the heights, where Hannibal had posted his
men, the sun was shining bright.
 The Consul was glad of the mist. He would be able to
approach the enemy unseen and attack it suddenly, while
it was in marching order and unprepared for battle.
On and on tramped the Roman soldiers, and although they
knew it not, they were tramping to destruction.
Hannibal waited until the rearguard had entered the
defile, and then he gave his men the signal to attack.
Suddenly the Romans seemed to see the mist break and
scatter before their eyes, pierced by the terrible
battlecry of the Gauls and by the quick tramp of
Hannibal's cavalry as it dashed out of the silence,
upon the startled foe.
Javelins and arrows, hurled by unseen hands penetrated
the mist as it again closed around them, while great
stones came crashing down upon them, too huge to be
withstood by shield or helmet.
In vain Flaminius strove to rally his panic-stricken
troops. They but rushed the more wildly hither and
thither, falling now upon the enemy, now upon each
other, in their despair. The Consul himself fought
bravely, but he soon fell wounded to death.
Thousands of his soldiers were slain. Some threw
themselves into the lake, hoping to swim to safety, but
their armour weighed them down and they were drowned.
Others waded out as far as they dared into the water,
only to be followed by the cavalry of the enemy and
slaughtered without mercy.
It was useless to cry for quarter that day, for it was
a day of vengeance and of sacrifice to the gods of
Carthage. In three short hours, the Roman army was not
only defeated; it no longer existed.
Only a body of six thousand men escaped. It had been
at the vanguard of the army, and had cut its way
through the enemy to the top of the hills.
Here the survivors stayed until the mist lifted,
knowing nothing of what had befallen their comrades,
 was too late to go to their aid. So they then
entrenched themselves in a village not far from the
lake, but Hannibal's cavalry soon surrounded them and
forced them to surrender.
In the battle of Lake Trasimenus the Carthaginians lost
but fifteen hundred men, and of these the larger number
Fugitives from the army soon reached Rome, and threw
the citizens into consternation by the terrible and
different tales they told.
The following day tidings of the awful slaughter at the
edge of Lake Trasimenus reached the Senate.
Then the people thronged into the Forum and surrounded
the Senate-house, demanding to know what really had
In the evening, when the people's patience was all but
at an end, Marcus, one of the prætors, mounted the
public platform and cried in a loud voice, "We are
beaten, O Romans, in a great battle, our army is
destroyed, and Flaminius the Consul is slain."
"We are beaten, O Romans, in a great battle, our army is destroyed."
At the words of Marcus the city became a scene of wild
despair. Many men and women who had lost their
husbands and sons called down the curses of the gods
upon their enemy, others wept and prayed in the temples
and forbore to curse, for all the bitterness of their
Amid the tumult, the Senate alone remained calm. Day
after day, from early morning until late in the
evening, it sat to consider how it might best save the
city from the mighty conqueror.
Three days passed, and then even worse tidings arrived.
The Consul Servilius had sent his cavalry to prevent
Hannibal's advance on Rome, but it had been either
captured or put to the sword. Servilius without his
cavalry was powerless to prevent the Punic army from
advancing upon the city.
In a short time indeed, Hannibal, at the head of his
 triumphant army, was scarcely two days' march from
Flaminius was dead. Between Servilius and the city was
the Carthaginian army.
Being bereft of both her Consuls, Rome determined to
appoint a Dictator.