Bernard in the beginning of September, he must have reached the Rhone at the beginning of August --for he spent thirty days in making his way from the Rhone thither --and in that case it is evident that Scipio, who embarked at the beginning of summer (Pol. iii. 41) and so at latest by the commencement of June, must have spent much time on the voyage or remained for a considerable period in singular inaction at Massilia.

Chapter V

The War Under Hannibal To The Battle Of Cannae

Hannibal And The Italian Celts

The appearance of the Carthaginian army on the Roman side of the Alps changed all at once the situation of affairs, and disconcerted the Roman plan of war. Of the two principal armies of the Romans, one had landed in Spain and was already engaged with the enemy there: it was no longer possible to recall it. The second, which was destined for Africa under the command of the consul Tiberius Sempronius, was fortunately still in Sicily: in this instance Roman delay for once proved useful. Of the two Carthaginian squadrons destined for Italy and Sicily, the first was dispersed by a storm, and some of its vessels were captured by the Syracusans near Messana; the second had endeavoured in vain to surprise Lilybaeum, and had thereafter been defeated in a naval engagement off that port. But the continuance of the enemy's squadrons in the Italian waters was so inconvenient, that the consul determined, before crossing to Africa, to occupy the small islands around Sicily, and to drive away the Carthaginian fleet operating against Italy. The summer passed away in the conquest of Melita, in the chase after the enemy's squadron, which he expected to find at the Lipari islands while it had made a descent near Vibo (Monteleone) and pillaged the Bruttian coast, and, lastly, in gaining information as to a suitable spot for landing on the coast of Africa; so that the army and fleet were still at Lilybaeum, when orders arrived from the senate that they should return with all possible speed for the defence of their homes.

In this way, while the two great Roman armies, each in itself equal in numbers to that of Hannibal, remained at a great distance from the valley of the Po, the Romans were quite unprepared for an attack in that quarter. No doubt a Roman army was there, in consequence of an insurrection that had broken out among the Celts even before the arrival of the Carthaginian army. The founding of the two Roman strongholds of Placentia and Cremona, each of which received 6000 colonists, and more especially the preparations for the founding of Mutina in the territory of the Boii, had already in the spring of 536 driven the Boii to revolt before the time concerted with Hannibal; and the Insubres had immediately joined them. The colonists already settled in the territory of Mutina, suddenly attacked, took refuge in the town. The praetor Lucius Manlius, who held the chief command at Ariminum, hastened with his single legion to relieve the blockaded colonists; but he was surprised in the woods, and no course was left to him after sustaining great loss but to establish himself upon a hill and to submit to a siege there on the part of the Boii, till a second legion sent from Rome under the praetor Lucius Atilius succeeded in relieving army and town, and in suppressing for the moment the Gaulish insurrection. This premature rising of the Boii on the one hand, by delaying the departure of Scipio for Spain, essentially promoted the plans of Hannibal; on the other hand, but for its occurrence he would have found the valley of the Po entirely unoccupied, except the fortresses. But the Roman corps, whose two severely thinned legions did not number 20,000 soldiers, had enough to do to keep the Celts in check, and did not think of occupying the passes of the Alps. The Romans only learned that the passes were threatened, when in August the consul Publius Scipio returned without his army from Massilia to Italy, and perhaps even then they gave little heed to the matter, because, forsooth, the foolhardy attempt would be frustrated by the Alps alone. Thus at the decisive hour and on the decisive spot there was not even a Roman outpost. Hannibal had full time to rest his army, to capture after a three days' siege the capital of the Taurini which closed its gates against him, and to induce or terrify into alliance with him all the Ligurian and Celtic communities in the upper basin of the Po, before Scipio, who had taken the command in the Po valley, encountered him.

Scipio In The Valley Of The Po Conflict On The Ticino The Armies At Placentia

Scipio, who, with an army considerably smaller and very weak in cavalry, had the difficult task of preventing the advance of the superior force of the enemy and of repressing the movements of insurrection which everywhere were spreading among the Celts, had crossed the Po presumably at Placentia, and marched up the river to meet the enemy, while Hannibal after the capture of Turin marched downwards to relieve the Insubres and Boii. In the plain between the Ticino and the Sesia, not far from Vercelli, the Roman cavalry, which had advanced with the light infantry to make a reconnaissance in force, encountered the Punic cavalry sent out for the like purpose, both led by the generals in person. Scipio accepted battle when offered, notwithstanding the superiority of the enemy; but his light infantry, which was placed in front of the cavalry, dispersed before the charge of the heavy cavalry of the enemy, and while the latter engaged the masses of the Roman horsemen in front, the light Numidian cavalry, after having pushed aside the broken ranks of the enemy's infantry, took the Roman horsemen in flank and rear. This decided the combat. The loss of the Romans was very considerable. The consul himself, who made up as a soldier for his deficiencies as a general, received a dangerous wound, and owed his safety entirely to the devotion of his son of seventeen, who, courageously dashing into the ranks of the enemy, compelled his squadron to follow him and rescued his father.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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