Chapter XVIII: Cannae
 

As the elephant tore down the road to the town many were the narrow escapes that, as they thought, those coming up had of being crushed or thrown into the air by the angry beast. Some threw themselves on their faces, others got over the parapet and hung by their hands until he had passed, while some squeezed themselves against the wall; but the elephant passed on without doing harm to any.

On reaching the foot of the descent the mahout guided the animal to the left, and, avoiding the busy streets of the town, directed its course towards the more quiet roads of the opulent quarter of Megara. The cries of the people at the approach of the elephant preceded its course, and all took refuge in gardens or houses. The latter became less and less frequent, until, at a distance of two miles from the foot of the citadel, the mahout, on looking round, perceived no one in sight. He brought the elephant suddenly to a standstill.

"Quick, my lord," he exclaimed, "now is the time."

Malchus threw off the sack, climbed out of the howdah, and slipped down by the elephant's tail, the usual plan for dismounting when an elephant is on its feet. Then he sprang across the road, leaped into a garden, and hid himself among some bushes. The mahout now turned the elephant, and, as if he had succeeded at last in subduing it, slowly retraced his steps towards the citadel.

A minute or two later Malchus issued out and quietly followed it. He had gone some distance when he saw an Arab approaching him, and soon recognized Nessus. They turned off together from the main road and made their way by bystreets until they reached the lower city. At a spot near the port they found one of the Arabs from above awaiting them, and he at once led the way to the house inhabited by his family. The scheme had been entirely successful. Malchus had escaped from the citadel without the possibility of a suspicion arising that he had issued from its gates, and in his Arab garb he could now traverse the streets unsuspected.

Nessus was overjoyed at the success of the stratagem, and Malchus himself could hardly believe that he had escaped from the terrible danger which threatened him. Nessus and the Arab at once returned to the citadel. It was agreed that the former had better continue his work as usual until the evening, and then ask for his discharge on the plea that he had received a message requiring his presence in his native village, for it was thought that suspicion might be excited were he to leave suddenly without drawing his pay, and possibly a search might be instituted in the city to discover his whereabouts.

At nightfall he returned, and then went to the house of one of the leaders of the Barcine party with a message from Malchus to tell him where he was, and the events which had occurred since his landing at Carthage, and asking him to receive him privately in two hours' time, in order that he might consult him as to the best plan to be followed.

Nessus returned saying that Manon was at home and was awaiting him, and the two at once set out for his house. Manon, who was a distant relation of Malchus, received him most warmly, and listened in astonishment to his story of what had befallen him. Malchus then explained the mission with which Hannibal had charged him, and asked his advice as to the best course to be adopted. Manon was silent for a time.

"Hanno's faction is all powerful at present," he said, "and were Hannibal himself here I doubt whether his voice could stir the senate into taking action such as is needed. The times have been hard, and Hanno and his party have lavished money so freely among the lower classes that there is no hope of stirring the populace up to declare against him. I think it would be in the highest degree dangerous were we, as you propose, to introduce you suddenly to the senate as Hannibal's ambassador to them, and leave you to plead his cause. You would obtain no hearing. Hanno would rise in his place and denounce you as one already condemned by the tribunals as an enemy to the republic, and would demand your instant execution, and, as he has a great majority of votes in the senate, his demand would be complied with. You would, I am convinced, throw away your life for no good purpose, while your presence and your mysterious escape from prison would be made the pretense for a fresh series of persecutions of our partisans. I understand as well as you do the urgency for reinforcements being sent to Italy; but in order to do this the navy, now rotting in our harbours, must be repaired, the command of the sea must be regained, and fresh levies of troops made.

"To ask Carthage to make these sacrifices in her present mood is hopeless; we must await an opportunity. l and my friends will prepare the way, will set our agents to work among the people, and when the news of another victory arrives and the people's hopes are aroused and excited, we will strike while the iron is hot, and call upon them to make one great effort to bring the struggle to a conclusion and to finish with Rome forever.

"Such is, in my opinion, the only possible mode of proceeding. To move now would be to ensure a rejection of our demands, to bring fresh persecutions upon us, and so to weaken us that we should be powerless to turn to good account the opportunity which the news of another great victory would afford. I will write at once to Hannibal and explain all the circumstances of the situation, and will tell him why I have counselled you to avoid carrying out his instructions, seeing that to do so now would be to ensure your own destruction and greatly damage our cause.

"In the meantime you must, for a short time, remain in concealment, while I arrange for a ship to carry you back to Italy."

"The sooner the better," Malchus said bitterly, "for Carthage with its hideous tyranny, its foul corruption, its forgetfulness of its glory, its honour, and even its safety, is utterly hateful to me. I trust that never again shall I set foot within its walls. Better a thousand times to die in a battlefield than to live in this accursed city."

"It is natural that you should be indignant," Manon said, "for the young blood runs hotly in your veins, and your rage at seeing the fate which is too certainly impending over Carthage, and which you are powerless to prevent, is in no way to be blamed. We old men bow more resignedly to the decrees of the gods. You know the saying, `Those whom the gods would destroy they first strike with madness.' Carthage is such. She sees unmoved the heroic efforts which Hannibal and his army are making to save her, and she will not stretch out a hand to aid him. She lives contentedly under the constant tyranny of Hanno's rule, satisfied to be wealthy, luxurious, and slothful, to carry on her trade, to keep her riches, caring nothing for the manly virtues, indifferent to valour, preparing herself slowly and surely to fall an easy prey to Rome.

"The end probably will not come in my time, it may come in yours, but come it certainly and surely will. A nation which can place a mere handful of its own citizens in the line of battle voluntarily dooms herself to destruction."

"Whether it comes in my time or not," Malchus said, "I will be no sharer in the fate of Carthage. I have done with her; and if I do not fall in the battlefield I will, when the war is over, seek a refuge among the Gauls, where, if the life is rough, it is at least free and independent, where courage and manliness and honour count for much, and where the enervating influence of wealth is as yet unknown. Such is my firm resolution."

"I say nothing to dissuade you, Malchus," the old man replied, "such are the natural sentiments of your age; and methinks, were my own time to come over again, I too would choose such a life in preference to an existence in the polluted atmosphere of ungrateful Carthage. And now, will you stop here with me, or will you return to the place where you are staying? I need not say how gladly I would have you here, but I cannot answer certainly for your safety. Every movement of those belonging to our party is watched by Hanno, and I doubt not that he has his spies among my slaves and servants.

"Therefore deem me not inhospitable if I say that it were better for you to remain in hiding where you are. Let your follower come nightly to me for instructions; let him enter the gate and remain in the garden near it. I will come down and see him; his visits, were they known, would excite suspicion. Bid him on his return watch closely to see that he is not followed, and tell him to go by devious windings and to mix in the thickest crowds in order to throw any one who may be following off his track before he rejoins you. I trust to be able to arrange for a ship in the course of three or four days. Come again and see me before you leave. Here is a bag of gold; you will need it to reward those who have assisted in your escape."

Malchus at once agreed that it would be better for him to return to his abode among the Arabs, and thanking Manon for his kindness he returned with Nessus, who had been waiting without.

As they walked along Malchus briefly related to his follower the substance of his interview with Manon. Suddenly Nessus stopped and listened, and then resumed his walk.

"I think we are followed, my lord," he said, "one of Hanno's spies in Manon's household is no doubt seeking to discover who are the Arabs who have paid his master a visit. I have thought once before that I heard a footfall, now l am sure of it. When we get to the next turning do you walk on and I will turn down the road. If the man behind us be honest he will go straight on; if he be a spy, he will hesitate and stop at the corner to decide which of us he shall follow; then I shall know what to do."

Accordingly at the next crossroad they came to Nessus turned down and concealed himself a few paces away, while Malchus, without pausing, walked straight on. A minute later Nessus saw a dark figure come stealthily along. He stopped at the junction of the roads and stood for a few seconds in hesitation, then he followed Malchus.

Nessus issued from his hiding place, and, with steps as silent and stealthy as those of a tiger tracking his prey, followed the man. When within a few paces of him he gave a sudden spring and flung himself upon him, burying his knife between his shoulders. Without a sound the man fell forward on his face. Nessus coolly wiped his knife upon the garments of the spy, and then proceeded at a rapid pace until he overtook Malchus.

"It was a spy," he said, "but he will carry no more tales to Hanno."

Two days later, Nessus, on his return from his visit to Manon, brought news that the latter had arranged with the captain of a ship owned by a friend to carry them across to Corinth, whence they would have no difficulty in taking a passage to Italy. They were to go on board late the following night, and the ship would set sail at daybreak.

The next evening Malchus accompanied by Nessus paid a farewell visit to Manon, and repeated to him all the instructions of Hannibal, and Manon handed him his letter for the general, and again assured him that he would, with his friends, at once set to work to pave the way for an appeal to the populace at the first favourable opportunity.

After bidding farewell to the old noble, Malchus returned to the house of the Arab and prepared for his departure. He had already handsomely rewarded the two men and the mahout for the services they had rendered him. In the course of the day he had provided himself with the garments of a trader, the character which he was now about to assume.

At midnight, when all was quiet, he and Nessus set out and made their way down to the port, where, at a little frequented landing stage, a boat was awaiting them, and they were at once rowed to the ship, which was lying at anchor half a mile from the shore in readiness for an early start in the morning.

Although it seemed next to impossible that they could have been traced, Malchus walked the deck restlessly until the morning, listening to every sound, and it was not until the anchor was weighed, the sails hoisted, and the vessel began to draw away from Carthage that he went into his cabin. On the sixth day after leaving Carthage the ship entered the port of Corinth.

There were several vessels there from Italian ports, but before proceeding to arrange for a passage Malchus went to a shop and bought, for himself and Nessus, such clothing and arms as would enable them to pass without difficulty as fighting men belonging to one of the Latin tribes. Then he made inquiries on the quay, and, finding that a small Italian craft was to start that afternoon for Brundusium, he went on board and accosted the captain.

"We want to cross to Italy," he said, "but we have our reasons for not wishing to land at Brundusium, and would fain be put ashore at some distance from the town. We are ready, of course, to pay extra for the trouble."

The request did not seem strange to the captain. Malchus had spoken in Greek, the language with which all who traded on the Mediterranean were familiar. He supposed that they had in some way embroiled themselves with the authorities at Brundusium, and had fled for awhile until the matter blew over, and that they were now anxious to return to their homes without passing through the town. He asked rather a high price for putting them ashore in a boat as they wished, and Malchus haggled over the sum for a considerable time, as a readiness to pay an exorbitant price might have given rise to doubts in the captain's mind as to the quality of his passengers. Once or twice he made as if he would go ashore, and the captain at last abated his demands to a reasonable sum.

When this was settled Malchus went no more ashore, but remained on board until the vessel sailed, as he feared that he might again be recognized by some of the sailors of the Carthaginian vessels in port. The weather was fair and the wind light, and on the second day after sailing the vessel lay to in a bay a few miles from Brundusium. The boat was lowered, and Malchus and his companions set on shore.

They had before embarking laid in a store of provisions not only for a voyage, but for their journey across the country, as the slight knowledge which Malchus had of the Latin tongue would have betrayed him at once were he obliged to enter a town or village to purchase food. Carrying the provisions in bundles they made for the mountains, and after three days' journey reached without interruption or adventure the camp of Hannibal. He was still lying in his intrenched camp near Geronium. The Roman army was as before watching him at a short distance off.

Malchus at once sought the tent of the general, whose surprise at seeing him enter was great, for he had not expected that he would return until the spring. Malchus gave him an account of all that had taken place since he left him. Hannibal was indignant in the extreme at Hanno having ventured to arrest and condemn his ambassador. When he learned the result of the interview with Manon, and heard how completely the hostile faction were the masters of Carthage, he agreed that the counsels of the old nobleman were wise, and that Malchus could have done no good, whereas he would have exposed himself to almost certain death, by endeavouring further to carry out the mission with which he had been charged.

"Manon knows what is best, and, no doubt, a premature attempt to excite the populace to force Hanno into sending the reinforcements we so much need would have not only failed, but would have injured our cause. He and his friends will doubtless work quietly to prepare the public mind, and I trust that ere very long some decisive victory will give them the opportunity for exciting a great demonstration on our behalf."

The remainder of the winter passed quietly. Malchus resumed his post as the commander of Hannibal's bodyguard, but his duties were very light. The greater part of his time was spent in accompanying Hannibal in his visits to the camps of the soldiers, where nothing was left undone which could add to the comfort and contentment of the troops. There is no stronger evidence of the popularity of Hannibal and of the influence which he exercised over his troops than the fact that the army under him, composed, as it was, of men of so many nationalities, for the most part originally compelled against their will to enter the service of Carthage, maintained their discipline unshaken, not only by the hardships and sacrifices of the campaigns, but through the long periods of enforced idleness in their winter quarters.

From first to last, through the long war, there was neither grumbling, nor discontent, nor insubordination among the troops. They served willingly and cheerfully. They had absolute confidence in their general, and were willing to undertake the most tremendous labours and to engage in the most arduous conflicts to please him, knowing that he, on his part, was unwearied in promoting their comfort and well being at all other times.

As the spring advanced the great magazines which Hannibal had brought with him became nearly exhausted, and no provisions could be obtained from the surrounding country, which had been completely ruined by the long presence of the two armies. It became, therefore, necessary to move from the position which he had occupied during the winter. The Romans possessed the great advantage over him of having magazines in their rear constantly replenished by their allies, and move where they might, they were sure of obtaining subsistence without difficulty. Thus, upon the march, they were unembarrassed by the necessity of taking a great baggage train with them, and, when halted, their general could keep his army together in readiness to strike a blow whenever an opportunity offered; while Hannibal, on the other hand, was forced to scatter a considerable portion of the army in search of provisions.

The annual elections at Rome had just taken place, and Terentius Varro and Emilius Paulus had been chosen consuls. Emilius belonged to the aristocratic party, and had given proof of military ability three years before when he had commanded as consul in the Illyrian war. Varro belonged to the popular party, and is described by the historians of the period as a coarse and brutal demagogue, the son of a butcher, and having himself been a butcher. But he was unquestionably an able man, and possessed some great qualities. The praetor Marcellus, who had slain a Gaulish king with his own hand in the last Gaulish war, was at Ostia with a legion. He was destined to command the fleet and to guard the southern coasts of Italy, while another praetor, Lucius Postumius, with one legion, was in Cisalpine Gaul keeping down the tribes friendly to Carthage.

But before the new consuls arrived to take the command of the army Hannibal had moved from Geronium.

The great Roman magazine of Apulia was at Cannae, a town near the river Aulidus. This important place was but fifty miles by the shortest route across the plain from Geronium; but the Romans were unable to follow directly across the plain, for at this time the Carthaginians greatly outnumbered them in cavalry, and they would, therefore, have to take the road round the foot of the mountains, which was nearly seventy miles long; and yet, by some unaccountable blunder, they neglected to place a sufficient guard over their great magazines at Cannae to defend them for even a few days against a sudden attack.

Hannibal saw the opportunity, and when spring was passing into summer broke up his camp and marched straight to Cannae, where the vast magazines of the Romans at once fell into his hands. He thus not only obtained possession of his enemy's supplies, but interposed between the Romans and the low lying district of Southern Apulia, where alone, at, this early season of the year, the corn was fully ripe.

The Romans had now no choice but to advance and fight a battle for the recovery of their magazines, for, had they retired, the Apulians, who had already suffered terribly from the war, would, in sheer despair, have been forced to declare for Carthage, while it would have been extremely difficult to continue any longer the waiting tactics of Fabius, as they would now have been obliged to draw their provisions from a distance, while Hannibal could victual his army from the country behind him. The senate therefore, having largely reinforced the army, ordered the consuls to advance and give battle.

They had under them eight full legions, or eighty thousand infantry and seven thousand two hundred cavalry. To oppose these Hannibal had forty thousand infantry and ten thousand excellent cavalry, of whom two thousand were Numidians. On the second day after leaving the neighbourhood of Geronium the Romans encamped at a distance of six miles from the Carthaginians. Here the usual difference of opinion at once arose between the Roman consuls, who commanded the army on alternate days. Varro wished to march against the enemy without delay, while Emilius was adverse to risking an engagement in a country which, being level and open, was favourable to the action of Hannibal's superior cavalry.

On the following day Varro, whose turn it was to command, marched towards the hostile camp. Hannibal attacked the Roman advanced guard with his cavalry and light infantry, but Varro had supported his cavalry not only by his light troops, but by a strong body of his heavy armed infantry, and after an engagement, which lasted for several hours, he repulsed the Carthaginians with considerable loss.

That evening the Roman army encamped about three miles from Cannae, on the right bank of the Aufidus. The next morning Emilius, who was in command, detached a third of his force across the river, and encamped them there for the purpose of supporting the Roman foraging parties on that side and of interrupting those of the Carthaginians.

The next day passed quietly, but on the following morning Hannibal quitted his camp and formed his army in order of battle to tempt the Romans to attack; but Emilius, sensible that the ground was against him, would not move, but contented himself with further strengthening his camps. Hannibal, seeing that the Romans would not fight, detached his Numidian cavalry across the river to cut off the Roman foraging parties and to surround and harass their smaller camp on that side of the river. On the following morning Hannibal, knowing that Varro would be in command, and feeling sure that, with his impetuous disposition, the consul would be burning to avenge the insult offered by the surrounding of his camp by the Numidians, moved his army across the river, and formed it in order of battle, leaving eight thousand of his men to guard his camp.

By thus doing he obtained a position which he could the better hold with his inferior forces, while the Romans, deeming that he intended to attack their camp on that side of the river, would be likely to move their whole army across and to give battle. This in fact Varro proceeded to do. Leaving ten thousand men in his own camp with orders to march out and attack that of Hannibal during the engagement, he led the rest of his troops over the river, and having united his force with that in the camp on the right bank, marched down the river until he faced the position which Hannibal had taken up.

This had been skillfully chosen. The river, whose general course was east and west, made a loop, and across this Hannibal had drawn up his army with both wings resting upon the river. Thus the Romans could not outflank him, and the effect of their vastly superior numbers in infantry would to some extent be neutralized. The following was the disposition of his troops.

The Spaniards and Gauls occupied the centre of the line of infantry. The Africans formed the two wings. On his left flank between the Africans and the river he placed his heavy African and Gaulish horse, eight thousand strong, while the two thousand Numidians were posted between the infantry and the river on the right flank. Hannibal commanded the centre of the army in person, Hanno the right wing, Hasdrubal the left wing; Maharbal commanded the cavalry.

Varro placed his infantry in close and heavy order, so as to reduce their front to that of the Carthaginians. The Roman cavalry, numbering two thousand four hundred men, was on his right wing, and was thus opposed to Hannibal's heavy cavalry, eight thousand strong. The cavalry of the Italian allies, four thousand eight hundred strong, was on the left wing facing the Numidians.

Emilius commanded the Roman right, Varro the left. The Carthaginians faced north, so that the wind, which was blowing strongly from the south, swept clouds of dust over their heads full into the faces of the enemy. The battle was commenced by the light troops on both sides, who fought for some time obstinately and courageously, but without any advantage to either. While this contest was going on, Hannibal advanced his centre so as to form a salient angle projecting in front of his line. The whole of the Gauls and Spaniards took part in this movement, while the Africans remained stationary; at the same time he launched his heavy cavalry against the Roman horse.

The latter were instantly overthrown, and were driven from the field with great slaughter. Emilius himself was wounded, but managed to join the infantry. While the Carthaginian heavy horse were thus defeating the Roman cavalry, the Numidians maneuvered near the greatly superior cavalry of the Italian allies, and kept them occupied until the heavy horse, after destroying the Roman cavalry, swept round behind their infantry and fell upon the rear of the Italian horse, while the Numidians charged them fiercely in front.

Thus caught in a trap the Italian horse were completely annihilated, and so, before the heavy infantry of the two armies met each other, not a Roman cavalry soldier remained alive and unwounded on the field.

The Roman infantry now advanced to the charge, and from the nature of Hannibal's formation their centre first came in contact with the head of the salient angle formed by the Gauls and Spaniards. These resisted with great obstinacy. The principes, who formed the second line of the Roman infantry, came forward and joined the spearmen, and even the triarii pressed forward and joined in the fight. Fighting with extreme obstinacy the Carthaginian centre was forced gradually back until they were again in a line with the Africans on their flanks.

The Romans had insensibly pressed in from both flanks upon the point where they had met with resistance, and now occupied a face scarcely more than half that with which they had begun the battle. Still further the Gauls and Spaniards were driven back until they now formed an angle in rear of the original line, and in this angle the whole of the Roman infantry in a confused mass pressed upon them. This was the moment for which Hannibal had waited. He wheeled round both his flanks, and the Africans, who had hitherto not struck a blow, now fell in perfect order upon the flanks of the Roman mass, while Hasdrubal with his victorious cavalry charged down like a torrent upon their rear. Then followed a slaughter unequalled in the records of history. Unable to open out, to fight, or to fly, with no quarter asked or given, the Romans and their Latin allies fell before the swords of their enemies, till, of the seventy thousand infantry which had advanced to the fight, forty thousand had fallen on the field. Three thousand were taken prisoners, seven thousand escaped to the small camp, and ten thousand made their way across the river to the large camp, where they joined the force which had been left there, and which had, in obedience to Varro's orders, attacked the Carthaginian camp, but had been repulsed with a loss of two thousand men. All the troops in both camps were forced to surrender on the following morning, and thus only fifteen thousand scattered fugitives escaped of the eighty-seven thousand two hundred infantry and cavalry under the command of the Roman consuls.

Hannibal's loss in the battle of Cannae amounted to about six thousand men.