Gaius Flaminius, with the Etruscan army, was still for the moment at Arezzo, intending to move from that point towards Lucca in order to protect the vale of the Arno and the passes of the Apennines, so soon as the season should allow. But Hannibal anticipated him. The passage of the Apennines was accomplished without much difficulty, at a point as far west as possible or, in other words, as distant as possible from the enemy; but the marshy low grounds between the Serchio and the Arno were so flooded by the melting of the snow and the spring rains, that the army had to march four days in water, without finding any other dry spot for resting by night than was supplied by piling the baggage or by the sumpter animals that had fallen. The troops underwent unutterable sufferings, particularly the Gallic infantry, which marched behind the Carthaginians along tracks already rendered impassable: they murmured loudly and would undoubtedly have dispersed to a man, had not the Carthaginian cavalry under Mago, which brought up the rear, rendered flight impossible. The horses, assailed by a distemper in their hoofs, fell in heaps; various diseases decimated the soldiers; Hannibal himself lost an eye in consequence of ophthalmia.
But the object was attained. Hannibal encamped at Fiesole, while Gaius Flaminius was still waiting at Arezzo until the roads should become passable that he might blockade them. After the Roman defensive position had thus been turned, the best course for the consul, who might perhaps have been strong enough to defend the mountain passes but certainly was unable now to face Hannibal in the open field, would have been to wait till the second army, which had now become completely superfluous at Ariminum, should arrive. He himself, however, judged otherwise. He was a political party leader, raised to distinction by his efforts to limit the power of the senate; indignant at the government in consequence of the aristocratic intrigues concocted against him during his consulship; carried away, through a doubtless justifiable opposition to their beaten track of partisanship, into a scornful defiance of tradition and custom; intoxicated at once by blind love of the common people and equally bitter hatred of the party of the nobles; and, in addition to all this, possessed with the fixed idea that he was a military genius. His campaign against the Insubres of 531, which to unprejudiced judges only showed that good! soldiers often repair the errors of bad generals,(2) was regarded by him and by his adherents as an irrefragable proof that the Romans had only to put Gaius Flaminius at the head of the army in order to make a speedy end of Hannibal. Talk of this sort had procured for him his second consulship, and hopes of this sort had now brought to his camp so great a multitude of unarmed followers eager for spoil, that their number, according to the assurance of sober historians, exceeded that of the legionaries. Hannibal based his plan in part on this circumstance. So far from attacking him, he marched past him, and caused the country all around to be pillaged by the Celts who thoroughly understood plundering, and by his numerous cavalry. The complaints and indignation of the multitude which had to submit to be plundered under the eyes of the hero who had promised to enrich them, and the protestation of the enemy that they did not believe him possessed of either the power or the resolution to undertake anything before the arrival of his colleague, could not but induce such a man to display his genius for strategy, and to give a sharp lesson to his inconsiderate and haughty foe.
Battle On The Trasimene Lake
No plan was ever more successful. In haste, the consul followed the line of march of the enemy, who passed by Arezzo and moved slowly through the rich valley of the Chiana towards Perugia. He overtook him in the district of Cortona, where Hannibal, accurately informed of his antagonist's march, had had full time to select his field of battle--a narrow defile between two steep mountain walls, closed at its outlet by a high hill, and at its entrance by the Trasimene lake. With the flower of his infantry he barred the outlet; the light troops and the cavalry placed themselves in concealment on either side. The Roman columns advanced without hesitation into the unoccupied pass; the thick morning mist concealed from them the position of the enemy. As the head of the Roman line approached the hill, Hannibal gave the signal for battle; the cavalry, advancing behind the heights, closed the entrance of the pass, and at the same time the mist rolling away revealed the Phoenician arms everywhere along the crests on the right and left. There was no battle; it was a mere rout. Those that remained outside of the defile were driven by the cavalry into the lake. The main body was annihilated in the pass itself almost without resistance, and most of them, including the consul himself, were cut down in the order of march. The head of the Roman column, formed of 6000 infantry, cut their way through the infantry of the enemy, and proved once more the irresistible might of the legions; but, cut off from the rest of the army and without knowledge of its fate, they marched on at random, were surrounded on the following day, on a hill which they had occupied, by a corps of Carthaginian cavalry, and--as the capitulation, which promised them a free retreat, was rejected by Hannibal--were all treated as prisoners of war. 15,000 Romans had fallen, and as many were captured; in other words, the army was annihilated. The slight Carthaginian loss--1500 men--again fell mainly upon the Gauls.(3) And, as if this were not enough, immediately after the battle on the Trasimene lake, the cavalry of the army of Ariminum under Gaius Centenius, 4000 strong, which Gnaeus Servilius had sent forward for the temporary support of his colleague while he himself advanced by slow marches, was likewise surrounded by the Phoenician army, and partly slain, partly made prisoners.