Silius Italicus

Punica (The Second Carthaginian War)

Book XII

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2018 All Rights Reserved

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Book XII:1-26 Hannibal moves against neighbouring cities

Now that harsh winter was hiding his icy head,

his stormy brow, his cloudy face and towering

gales, beneath the earth, and a pleasant spring

warmed the land with gentle breezes and clear

skies, the Carthaginians emerged from Capua,

spreading terror far and wide: so serpents hide

when northerlies chill the Thracian mountains,

but, when the season is more promising, glide

and gleam in their fresh skin, lifting glistening

heads while breathing venom from raised jaws.

Once Hannibal’s banners gleamed in the fields,

all was deserted and, driven by fear, the people

locked their gates in expectation of this enemy,

filled with trepidation, distrusting their defences.

Yet the vigour which had seen the Carthaginians

penetrate the Alps, clearing a path for themselves;

master the Trebia; defile Trasimene with Roman

blood, was absent now. Their limbs were torpid,

muscles lax: weakened by luxury, dulled by wine

and enticing sleep, men used to chill nights under

a stormy sky and weighed down by heavy mail,

spurning their tents in the pouring rain and hail,

sword at their side in darkness, lance and quiver,

treating their weapons as parts of their bodies,

now found their helms a burden, light shields

ponderous, their spears silent, lacking menace.

Book XII:27-59 Hannibal is thwarted at Naples (Parthenope)

Mild Parthenope was first to feel the renewal

of the war, not for its wealth or because he

scorned its fighting spirit, but for the safety

of its harbour for ships bound from Carthage.

This city is now a place of peace, and a gentle

host to the Muses, where one lives free from

the weight of care. Parthenope, that daughter

of Achelous, gave the city its memorable name;

one of the Sirens, long ruling the waves with

song, her sweet melody over the water brought

death to wretched sailors. Hannibal now attacked

from the rear (the sea defending the city in front)

but could make no inroads despite his best efforts

as he hammered at the barred gates with battering

rams in vain. Thus the victor at Cannae stood

helpless before a Greek city, proving the wisdom

of his caution in not marching from that bloody

field to attack the citadel of Rome. And he now

reproached his men: ‘You called me slow to add

to victory because you were denied the chance to

scale the walls of Rome after our success in battle.

Enter Naples then, and in a city defended merely

by Greeks set me the feast you promised to grant

me in Jove’s house!’ Fearing for his reputation in

days to come, if he were to retreat from the first

city he assaulted, he dared all and exercised deceit

to supplement the sword. Yet flames issued now

from the battlements, with a shower of missiles

discharged suddenly from the circuit of ramparts.

So Jove’s tawny eagle, on seeing a serpent glide

silently to the heights where her young are hidden

to threaten her nestlings with its venomous jaws,

flies round and round the nest, attacking the snake

with beak and talons that bear the lighting-bolts.     

Book XII:60-82 Hannibal attacks Cumae in vain

Wearying of this at last, Hannibal chose to turn

his attention to nearby Cumae, to alter his fortune

by a change of place and prevent the damage to his

reputation. But Sempronius Gracchus, the governor

of the city, a surer defence than the walls themselves,

denied him, stopped him from camping by the gates

seeking to force an entrance. Now rendered helpless

Hannibal rode about probing the countryside around,

trying to rouse his men with memory of past actions:

‘By the gods, soldiers, do you forget your former

deeds, what barrier do these Greek cities present?

Where is the challenge? Does some greater obstacle

than the Alps present itself, do I then bid you climb

peaks that brush the sky? Though terrain like that

lay before us, and fresh cliffs rising to the stars,

would you not go where I lead you, and bear your

weapons to the heights? Are you, alas, to be barred,

mouths agape, from the walls and ramparts of Cumae,

thwarted by Gracchus, who dares not quit the gates?

In all likelihood, the world will now impute to chance

everything that your efforts have achieved. I beg you,

by Trasimene where the gods favoured us, by Trebia,

by the ashes of Saguntum, render yourselves worthy

of the glory that follows you, and summon Cannae.’

Book XII:83-112 Capua and Daedalus: failure at Pozzuoli

So Hannibal sought by exhortation to rouse spirits

weakened by luxury and enervated by success. Here,

while inspecting the defences, he noticed a gleaming

temple on the summit of the citadel, whose origins

Virrius, the unbending governor of proud Capua,

explained: ‘That which you see is not the work of

our day, it was built by our ancestors. Daedalus,

so the tales goes, when in fear of Minos the king

of Crete, contrived to leave no trace on earth for

his pursuer, but dared to climb the sky on wings

he had devised, and show humankind how to fly.

His body suspended, he sailed amongst the clouds,

those alien wings startling the gods. His son Icarus

he taught to imitate the flight of birds, as well, by

adopting artificial plumage; but when the waxed

feathers melted, he saw the lad with those ill-fated

wings plunge into the wild waves. While yielding

to sudden grief, Daedalus clenched his arms, and

the action unknowingly directed his course. Here

then, thankful for surviving that voyage through

the clouds, he built a temple to Phoebus, shedding

his bold wings.’ So Virrius spoke, while Hannibal

was busy counting the days passed without battle,

ashamed of his inaction. Groaning at his lack of

success, and remembering the cities besieged in

vain, he sought to take revenge on Pozzuoli, that

city of Dicaearchus. Yet here too, now the sea,

now the walls of solid stone and the defenders’

exertions obstructed him. Leaving his army to

struggle slowly on, in their attempt to penetrate

the tough defences, he himself visited the sights

that the neighbouring land and waters presented.

Book XII:113-157 The region around Pozzuoli

Capua’s leading citizens accompanied Hannibal:

one explained how the hot springs at Baiae gained

their name, being so called after Baios, Ulysses’

helmsman. Another that the Lucrine Lake was

once known as Cocytus, praising the roadway

Hercules made through the waves, as that son

of Amphitryon, whilst herding Geryon’s oxen,

split the waters asunder. A third pointed out

Lake Avernus, once called Styx by the locals,

though under its new name celebrated for its

healing waters, since it was dreaded by birds,

darkened by shadow cast by a gloomy grove,

and exhaled foul vapour to the lowering sky,

while among the cities the Stygian rites were

still observed, homage to a savage superstition.

It was said a nearby swamp led to the waters

of Acheron, blind depths of stagnant marsh

below which foul abysses yawned, troubling

the shades beneath with flickering lights. And

close by too lay the City of the Cimmerians,

wrapped for long ages in shadow and infernal

mist, under the pall of night: and they told him

of that Tartarean city’s unfathomable darkness.

Then they pointed out the Phlegraean Fields,

that breathe flame and sulphur and hot bitumen.

Black vapour rises from the earth, the ground,

long-heated by subterranean fires, trembles and

exhales Stygian blasts into the air. Mulciber

seethes and sends a dreadful hissing from his

rumbling caverns while he struggles to burst

their bounds or emerge from the sea, groaning

with a mournful menacing sound, devouring

the lacerated innards of the earth, or shaking

the mountains undermined by his murmuring.

They say the Giants that Hercules conquered,

trouble the ground that is piled above them,

the distant fields are scorched by their breath,

and the gods tremble whenever they threaten

to shatter the mass by which they are burdened.

Procida was apparent, the isle where the savage

giant Mimas was buried, and Ischia further off

which covers giant Iapetus who vents black

smoke and flames from his rebellious maw,

seeking, if ever he is freed, to renew his war

with Jupiter and the gods. And Hannibal was

shown Mount Vesuvius, its summit devoured

by fires, the lava from the mountain all about,

the matter it hurls rivalling Etna’s fatal stones.

He saw Misenum, named from Aeneas’ dead

steersman buried there, and Bauli, Hercules’

stables near the sea. He marvelled at all those

menacing waters and the heaving of the land.

Book XII:158-180 Hannibal attacks Nola (215BC)

When he had viewed the sights, he returned

to Pozzuoli’s high walls, laying waste Gaurus’

vine-clad heights, where the grapes flourish,

then swiftly transferred his troops to Nola,

a Cumaean colony. Nola, situated on the plain,

is surrounded by a ring of towers and, though

easy of approach, the level ground is defended

by high ramparts. Yet Marcellus, who brought

aid and support, was not given to sheltering

his men within, and so defended the city by

striking first. Seeing a host of Carthaginians

advancing over the plain towards the walls,

he cried: ‘To arms, men, to arms, the savage

enemy is here,’ while arming himself as he

shouted. His officers flocked to him and, as

ever, fastened a crimson plume to his helm.

Then his voice rang out, as he disposed his

forces: ‘You must guard the right-hand gate,

Nero; and, Tullius, pride of the Volscians,

you must lead your men and the soldiers

of Larino to that left gate. But when I give

the word open them both, silently, sending

a shower of missiles over the field. When

they are open, I myself will charge among

the enemy, the cavalry following after me.’

While Marcellus was speaking the enemy

were trying to demolish the ramparts and,

scorning scaling ladders, breach the walls.

Book XII:181-200 Marcellus seizes the initiative

The trumpets brayed on all sides, warriors

shouted and the horses neighed, the clarion

call rang out, with the harsh cry of the horn,

the armour ringing on their eager bodies.

The gates unbarred, a fierce host emerged,

as the unexpected flood of men poured out,

as violently as a river when the dykes are

broken, or the sea driven by a northerly

against the cliffs, or the winds when they

escape their prison, warring with the earth.

Disheartened when he saw this avalanche

of armed warriors Hannibal lost confidence.

The Roman general pressed his advantage,

riding ahead, stooping to pierce the backs

of an enemy in flight, as he exhorted his

men: ‘Forward, onward, make haste! For

the gods favour us, and this hour is ours.

There lies the road to Capua’s walls!’ And

now again he called out to Hannibal: ‘Stay,

where are you going? I am addressing you,

the leader, not the backs of your Libyans.

Stay! Arms, field and a fight are all at hand.

Let the soldiers hold fast and watch us duel.

I, Marcellus, challenge you to single combat.’

So the Roman spoke, while the Carthaginian

was tempted to fight for honour and the prize.

Book XII:201-211 Hannibal rebukes his men

But Juno could not watch with an easy mind,

and diverted Hannibal from his purpose as he

was rushing towards his doom. He laboured

instead to rally and recall his stricken troops:

‘Is this the outcome of our time in Capua, that

unfortunate city, is this what self-indulgence

and the lap of luxury brings? Stand, wretches,

your great glories are now an embarrassment.

Trust me, if you retreat today you can expect

no mercy: you will find the whole weight of

Italy against you, and all your fierce warfare

will result, if you are beaten now, in the loss

of every hope of a life of peace.’ His shouting

drowned the trumpet-blare, so the sound of

his savage rebuke still penetrated their ears. 

Book XII:212-252 Pedianus kills Cinyps

Now Pedianus fought in Polydamas’ armour

and claimed descent from Trojan Antenor.

He was no mean scion of his race, the pride

of the sacred River Timavus, and his name

was dear to the Euganean land. Eridanus,

god of the River Po, and all the peoples of

the Veneto, and the Paduans who delight

in the springs of Aponus, declared he had

no equal in war, or the peaceful company

of the Muses, or in the quiet life of study,

and he sweetened his labours with the lyre:

no other was more acquainted with both

Mars and Apollo. Now, riding full speed

after the retreating enemy, he recognised

Paullus’ helm and plume, spoils snatched

from the latter’s corpse following his death.

Young Cinyps was the wearer, favoured by

Hannibal, and proud of this great gift from

his leader. None of the enemy was more

handsome, no face more charming, bright

as ivory which gleams and is ever new in

Tivoli’s air, or a pearl from the Red Sea

whose purity dazzles, glistening in a lady’s

ear. When Pedianus spied him in the rear

ranks, conspicuous in that shining helm

with its plume, as if the ghost of Paullus

had risen suddenly from the shades seeking

his lost armour, he charged at Cinyps wildly,

crying: ‘Wretched coward, who dare to don

that sacred helmet, such that all would call it

a crime against heaven were Hannibal himself

to wear it! Paullus, behold me!’ So he called,

summoning that hero’s spirit to watch as he

drove his sharp spear between the fugitive’s

ribs. Then he sprang from his horse, tearing

away Paullus’ helm and plume, as his victim

watched. Death robbed Cinyps of his beauty,

a dark hue spread over his snow-white skin

spoiling the comeliness of his form, while his

ambrosial locks were disordered, as his neck

weakened and his head, all despoiled, bowed,

hiding the marble throat. So the morning star,

Lucifer, rising from the Ocean, shining with

fresh splendour, dims with the sudden cloud

and, fading, hides his failing light in the dark.

Even Pedianus, when he had stripped him of

that helmet, was struck dumb by the sight of

Cinyps’ face, his fierce expression softening.

Book XII:253-280 Marcellus triumphs

Pedianus then carried off the helm, amidst

a clamour from his men, urging on his fiery

horse, which champed the foaming bit till

the blood came, fighting fiercely as he met

Marcellus in the swift confusion of battle,

who recognised the noble trophy: ‘Bravo,

you scion of Antenor, and worthy of your

brave ancestors, bravo! Now let us seek to

do what remains, and despoil Hannibal of

his helm!’ And he hurled his deadly spear

which gave out a fierce hissing, nor would

his effort have been in vain, perhaps, had

mighty Gestar, reacting, not met it with his

own body, and protected his general as he

fought beside him, so that the heavy spear,

thirsting for Hannibal’s blood, pierced him

instead, spending its angry force on another

target. Hannibal galloped swiftly back to his

camp in rage, troubled by his narrow escape.

Now the Carthaginian troops turned tail and

fled headlong, with the Romans following,

each sating his long-nursed anger at defeat,

and waving a bloody sword, in emulation,

for heaven and the avenging deities to see.

That day first proved what none had dared

believe of the gods, that they might allow

the Libyan general to be stalled in battle.

The Romans seized men and chariots and

elephants, tearing armour from the living

and carrying it away, then halted, content

to have seen Hannibal retreat at the point

of a spear. Then they cheered Marcellus

as equal in glory to Mars, as he rode on

accompanied by a triumphal procession,

a finer hero even than when he had borne

the greatest spoil, as victor, to Jove’s temple.

Book XII:281-294 Hannibal complains

Forcing the enemy back from his camp, after

a struggle, Hannibal raged: ‘What will it take

to wash away this stain, what oceans now of

Roman blood? Is it granted Italy to witness

my retreat? O mightiest of the gods, do you

think Trebia’s victor deserves such shame,

and such defeat? And you, my men, so long

invincible, but now alas conquered by peace

and Capua’s luxuries, it is not I who lapse

from past actions, not I who lower victorious

standards before the Romans: you forced me

to retreat. I saw you, as I summoned you to

battle, slinking away in fear as if I were some

Roman general. What remains of your martial

spirit, daring to turn your backs to my call?’

So Hannibal; but the Roman troops returned

to Nola’s walls shouting, carrying the spoils.

Book XII:295-319 Rome regains confidence

And Rome, so long used to hearing of defeat

never of success, took heart again at the news

of victory, and a first sign of heaven’s favour.

And now they punished all who had shirked

war and hardship and hid when the trumpet

sounded; and then those taken prisoner who

clung to life and by a trick claimed to have

fulfilled the conditions of their release from

the Carthaginians; thus the nation was freed

of their guilt. Metellus also was punished, for

his wretched policy and the shameful crime

of proposing Italy be abandoned. Such were

men’s hearts in those days. And the women

were of the same mind as the men, claiming

their share of praise: all of them competing

in their contributions to the war, bringing

their family heirlooms; diadems, bracelets,

tearing the necklaces from their very necks.

Nor were the men displeased, hearing them

praised, at such a time and in such a crisis:

happy to grant them precedence in a never

to be forgotten sacrifice. The high court of

the Senate followed their example. In eager

rivalry they poured out private wealth for

the public good, and delighted in stripping

their houses bare, retaining nothing for their

own use in better days. And even common

citizens joined in. So that a wounded Rome

employed all her body and limbs, and once

again raised her face towards the heavens.

Book XII:320-341 The Romans consult the Delphic oracle

Hope, so dear to the sufferer, was increased

by envoys bringing an answer from Delphi.

They brought the good news they had heard

at Apollo’s shrine, a divine voice thundering

from the cavern, and the priestess, possessed,

moaning out her prophecy: ‘People of Venus,

put aside the worst fears gripping your hearts;

for you defeat is over, and the direst hardships

of war: the lighter tasks remain, and risk but

not ruin. Pray to the gods, make offerings, and

drench the altars with hot blood. Do not flee

from these evils. Mars will aid you and Apollo

himself, who always lightens Trojan suffering

as men know, will avert the imminent danger.

But, above all, a hundred altars must smoke

in Jove’s honour and a hundred knives must

slay their sacrificial offerings. His power will

drive the savage storm, these angry clouds of

war, to Libya; you yourselves shall see him

shake the aegis, in battle for a troubled world.’

With the news of this message proclaimed in

the cave of Delphi, the populace, hearing of

the divine prophecy, vied to climb Capitol

Hill, prostrating themselves before Jupiter,

honouring his shrine with sacrificial blood,

then sang a paean, praying it all prove true.

Book XII:342-386 Manlius Torquatus in Sardinia

Meanwhile the ageing Torquatus had attacked

Sardinia, where he had previously campaigned,

with men from Italy. For Hampsagoras, proud

of a name inherited from his Trojan ancestors,

had invited Carthage to renew hostilities there.

His son Hostus was a fine lad deserving of a

finer parent; the father being averse to peace,

devoted to barbarous customs, and reliant on

his son’s youthful splendour, while seeking

to rekindle his declining years through war.

Hostus, on witnessing Torquatus’ headlong

advance with the standards, eluded him by

his knowledge of the terrain, finding secret

tracks through the glades and, escaping by

concealed byways, he hid himself deep in

the leafy shade of a wooded valley. This

island of Sardinia, encircled by sounding

waters, sloping to the sea and carved by

the waves, comprises an irregular terrain

shaped like a naked foot. Hence the first

colonists from Greece named it Ichnusa

or ‘the footstep’. Later Sardus, boasting

of his descent from Melquart, the Libyan

Hercules, renamed the isle after himself. 

Some Trojans, then, dispersing overseas

after the sack of Troy, arrived and settled

there in force. Iolaus brought it no less

fame, sailing there with the Thespiadae

aboard their father’s ships. It is said too,

that, after Actaeon had suffered the sad

punishment of being torn limb from limb

after witnessing Diana bathing, Aristaeus,

his father, appalled by the son’s strange

fate, travelled over the sea to Sardinia’s

coast, guided to those fresh shores by his

own mother Cyrene. The island is free of

snakes and their venom, but the climate

sadly spoiled by the numerous swamps.

The western coast, facing Italy, its rocky

cliffs defying the waves, is sultry, while

inland the parched crops are scorched by

excessive heat when the southerly winds

blow in summer. Yet the rest of the isle

is nurtured by the kindly favour of Ceres.

Such the nature of the land where Hostus

eluded Torquatus, time and time again,

among the pathless woodlands, hoping

for Carthaginian troops and for Spanish

allies to help in the fighting. His spirits

raised by their landing, he burst, at once

from hiding, and bristling with weapons

the armies opposed each other on a wide

front, eager to meet and engage closely.

Spears hurled from a distance, sped over

the open space between them, till finally

they took to the tried and trusted sword.

Then dire carnage followed, killing and

dying, as lives fell to the savage blades.

Book XII:387-419 Apollo protects Ennius

I cannot hope to tell of those countless

deaths and deadly actions in a manner

worthy of the facts, nor find words fitting

for the conflict’s intensity, but, Calliope,

grant me, for my labours, the power to

transmit to future ages the little known

but heroic actions of a man, and crown

a warring poet with the wreath he merits.

For Ennius, born of the ancient line of

King Messapus, fought in the front rank,

and clasped the noble staff of a centurion

in his right hand. He came from Calabria’s

rugged country, a native of ancient Rugge,

this poet being now its sole claim to fame. 

At the forefront of the fight (as Orpheus

once put aside the lyre, when Cyzicus

made war on the Argonauts, and hurled

darts from Rhodope) he was conspicuous

in killing many of the enemy, his ardour

increasing with the number of the dead.

Hostus, hoping now for endless fame by

eliminating so fierce an obstacle, rushed

towards him and threw his deadly spear.

But Apollo, from on high in the clouds,

mocked his vain attempt, and sent it far

in the air, then spoke: ‘You are too bold

too insolent: relinquish your desire. That

sacred head is dearly loved by the Muses,

and Ennius a poet worthy of myself. He

shall be first to sing of Roman conflict

in Homeric verse, and praise its leaders

to the sky; he shall teach Mount Helicon

to resonate in a Latin mode, nor yield to

Hesiod of Ascra in glory or in honour.’

So Phoebus spoke, as Hostus was struck

by a vengeful arrow which pierced both

his temples. His soldiers, stunned by his

fall, all turned together and fled in retreat.

Hampsagoras, hearing of his son’s death,

was mad with rage and, with the hideous

cries of a barbarian, stabbed his own chest,

in haste to join his son among the shades.

Book XII:420-433 Hannibal campaigns elsewhere (214-213 BC)

But Hannibal, beaten and severely mauled

by Marcellus in the battle, fled the open field

to direct his greater strength against luckless

Acerra, subjecting the town to fire and sword;

and, with as heavy a hand and fierce an anger,

hurled his forces against Nocera, and razed

its walls; then attacked Casilinum, thwarted

by the unequal efforts of the defenders until

he finally forced an entrance by deception,

and granted the besieged their lives for gold.

Then he led his army to the Apulian plains,

turning his fury wherever spoils or anger led.

Petelia, unhappy in its loyalty, and a second

Saguntum in its fate, was set aflame to its

rooftops, a town that had once prided itself

on inheriting Hercules’ bow and his arrows.

Book XII:434-448 The Carthaginian fleet escapes Tarento

Tarento had also proclaimed for the enemy,

and the Carthaginians had entered the city.

But a strong Roman garrison, confident of

their position, occupied the gleaming citadel.

Hannibal cleverly freed his fleet which was

anchored in the inner harbour (since the sea

there pierces the cliffs in a narrow entrance,

and fills the great basin with a depth of water

protected from the waves) and so thwarted,

and prevented from sailing, by the citadel

above. Transporting them cleverly overland,

on slopes hidden from the citadel, by laying

a smooth surface of fresh-killed bullock hides

beneath the wooden wagon wheels, he moved

the ships easily across the meadows. The fleet,

rolling over hills and through thickets, with oars

shipped, soon reached shore, and rode the waves.

Book XII:449-478 The death of Gracchus (212BC)

As Hannibal astonished the waters by transporting

the fleet in this manner, news arrived that filled him

with concern. While he was far off trying to capture

Tarento and furrowing the fields with ships’ prows,

he heard that Capua was besieged, her very gates

torn from their hinges, and her citizens exposed to

all the horrors of war. He angrily abandoned his

campaign, while shame and fury lent him wings

as he moved at high speed through neighbouring

country, hastening to battle, threatening vengeance,

as a tigress missing a cub anxiously races in pursuit,

crossing the Caucasus in a few hours, or traversing

the infant Granges with a flying leap, till she, with

lightning speed, locates the spoor of her young one,

and then seizing the enemy spends her fury on him.

He encountered Centenius, wildly daring, immune

to risk, who was quickly routed, his force scattered.

Yet there was little glory in that, since Centenius,

once the bearer of a centurion’s staff, had merely

roused the country folk then suddenly hurled their

badly armed force against the enemy, to their doom.

Fourteen thousand were killed (nor did the victors

halt) Fourteen thousand more, fully-armed and led

by Fulvius, no more adept at war despite his name,

fell to the enemy who rushed on over their prostrate

bodies and refused to check the pace of their march.

Hannibal paused only to bury Gracchus, seeking a

reputation and a name for human decency though

delighted by his death. For Gracchus, when seeking

a meeting and agreement with the false Lucanians

had been wickedly and treacherously killed by his

hosts and, as he had been murdered, and by hidden

guile, Hannibal snatched the credit for the burial.

Book XII:479-506 Hannibal camps near besieged Capua

Once it was known that Hannibal was heading for

Capua, no stone was left unturned: both the consuls

Fulvius Flaccus and Appius Claudius hurried there;

and the troops from Nola, while the younger Flavius

brought his men swiftly from Arpi, and the praetors

(Nero from one direction, Silanus from another) now

urged on their forces night and day, ready for battle.

They converged from all sides, all Rome’s generals

set to oppose that one young commander. Hannibal

himself camped high on Mount Tifata, the heights,

not far from the walls, from which he looked down

on the city below. Indeed, seeing himself countered

by so many men, and the allied city besieged, so that

he was denied entry and the Capuans an exit, he was

concerned at the outcome, thinking now to remove

every obstacle at sword-point, or now to relinquish

that purpose and by cunning tempt that vast host

from the gates, and thus liberate the besieged city.

He debated with himself, wearied by his thoughts:

‘Where does my troubled mind summon me? Shall

I run the risk again, though the situation is adverse?

Shall I retreat, while Capua looks on? Or shall I sit

here on the neighbouring heights and see an allied

city sacked before my eyes? Fabius and his Master

of the Horse, Minucius, never troubled me, when I

escaped in triumph, through hills held by Romans,

by tying burning brands to the horns of the cattle

and sending them through the fields scattering fire.

I have not yet lost my cunning: if Capua’s defence

is beyond me, I have the means to besiege Rome.’

Book XII:507-540 Hannibal advances on Rome

Once this was settled, his mind decided, he would

not wait for the sun to drive those fiery steeds from

Ocean, but with voice and gesture ordered his men

to march, showing his bold intent: ‘On soldiers, on,

with courage to conquer every hardship, march on

as fast as humanly possible. Rome is your goal, and

this the road that the Alps and Cannae paved for you.

Go, now, batter your shields against Rome’s walls;

take vengeance for the loss of Capua, a price worth

paying if you reach the Palatine, and see the god of

Thunder driven from his seat on the Tarpeian Rock.’

Thus inspired, they marched swiftly. The name of

Rome rang in their ears; Rome was before their eyes;

they believing the general’s timing more apt than if

he had led them there from Cannae’s deadly field.

They soon crossed the Vulturnus, the rear-guard

destroying the boats by fire to delay the Romans.

Then the soldiers swiftly passed through the fields

of Teano and Thracian Cales, Orithyia’s city named

for her son. Next they laid waste the land of Allifae,

dear to Bacchus, and the country where the nymphs

of Monte Cassino dwell; quickly the speedy columns

passed Aquino and Fregellae where the buried giant

sends up smoke. On they went, over those heights

where the warlike men of Frosinone cling to rugged

cliffs and Anagni rises on its steep swelling slopes,

its land fertile for corn. So they reached the plains

and fields of Labicum, and left behind the walls of

Tusculum, battered by the ram, but not worthy of

much delay. Nor did the beauty of Mount Algidus

detain him, nor Juno’s city of Gabii. At headlong

speed Hannibal marched to the banks of the chill

Anio, whose sulphurous waters wind so smoothly,

gliding with scarce a murmur toward Father Tiber. 

Book XII:541-557 Rome’s citizens panic

Here, Hannibal proudly planted his standards and

measured out his camp, and while Anio’s banks

shook to the sound of hoof-beats the noise drove

Rhea Silvia deep down to hide in the river-god’s

sacred caverns, while all the water-nymphs fled.

Meanwhile the women of Rome roamed around

in distraction like mad things, as if the walls had

already been breached. In their fear they thought

the shades of the dead risen to their sight, ghosts

of the mangled warriors who died beside the fatal

streams of Trebia and Ticinus, the bloody forms

of Paullus and Gracchus and Flaminius wavering

before their eyes. Crowds blocked the streets, yet

the senators stood erect, formidable in their wrath,

and their stern faces quenched the wave of panic.

Meanwhile hidden tears would be shed behind

some helmet, as men wondered what threatening

fate might bring, or what the gods might intend.

The young men took station on the high turrets,

each man reflecting on the situation in his mind:

so Rome was content simply to defend its walls!

Book XII:558-586 Hannibal threatens Rome (211BC)

Hannibal barely granted his men one night’s sleep

to recover from their swift march, while he himself

kept watch, never resting voluntarily and thinking

the time given over to sleep stolen from life itself.

He donned his shining armour, then rode swiftly

round the walls, ordering the Numidian cavalry

to gallop ahead, while the trampling of the horses

raised a panic in the city. Now he examined every

approach, now he beat at the closed gates with his

spear, in anger, enjoying the terror aroused within.

Now he stood motionless on some hill, focusing

his gaze on Rome, learning the names and origins

of its sites. He would have surveyed it all, noting

every part of the spectacle before him, if Fulvius

had not arrived in haste though not having wholly

abandoned his siege of Capua. At last, Hannibal,

having feasted his eyes on Rome, directed all his

joyous squadrons towards camp. And when night

was driven from the sky, and the waves reddened

in the dawn rays, Aurora summoning men to their

labours, he demolished the ramparts and sent his

forces out, shouting aloud with all his might: ‘O,

my comrades, by your endless laurels, by those

right hands consecrated with blood, advance and

equal your past deeds, let your daring in battle be

as great as Rome’s fear. Raze this last obstacle

that remains, and nothing will be left for you to

conquer in all this world. Nor though they trace

their origins to Romulus and his father, Mars,

should you let that prove a cause of delay; seize

this city that knows what it is to be taken, for

the Senones stormed it in their thousands, and

the Senators are even now, perhaps, seated in their

high curule chairs as their ancestors sat, ready to

make a noble end, waiting for you, and for death.’

Book XII:587-604 Fulvius goes out to battle

So spoke Hannibal; but on their side the warriors

of Rome needed no leader’s speech or admonition.

Their women and children and dear parents crying

and stretching out their arms in supplication were

incentive enough. Mothers held out their infants

so the latter’s cries moved willing men’s hearts,

and planted kisses on hands that clutched swords.

Men ready to march and in dense array oppose

the enemy beyond the walls, look back at their

loved ones and choke back their tears. Indeed,

as the opened gates turned on their hinges and

that host went forth in arms together, sounds

of beaten flesh, mingled with cries and tears,

rose to the sky above the high walls, as their

women shrieked, and bared their breasts, and

loosed their hair. Fulvius rode at the head, as

he shouted: ‘All know that not of his own free

will has Hannibal come to attack our homes:

He fled from Capua’s gates.’ He attempted to

say more, but a dreadful crash of thunder in

the heavens above intervened, and a sudden

gale blew from the storm-clouds in the sky.

Book XII:605-626 Jupiter and the gods assist Rome

Jupiter, while returning from Ethiopian lands,

had seen Hannibal’s threatening advance on

the city of Romulus, and summoning the gods

ordered them to disperse among the seven hills,

and defend the Trojan walls at once. He himself,

from the Tarpeian Heights invoked his weapons,

wind and cloud, fierce hail, thunder and lightning

and dense rain. The sky itself shook and trembled,

darkness veiled the heavens, as night hid the earth

in a black shroud. Blinded by the storm, the enemy

found neighbouring Rome concealed from sight.

Fire was hurled at them from the rumbling clouds

and flame hissed about their limbs. Then Boreas,

and Notus, and dark-winged Africus began a war

of winds fierce enough to sate the anger in Jove’s

mind. A deluge fell, driven by hurricanes and by

storm-clouds black as pitch, covering the plains

around with boiling waves. Then Jupiter, ruler

of the gods, high on his hill-top, hurled a bolt

of lightning which struck at Hannibal’s shield,

though he resolved not to yield, his spear-point

melting, his sword as if thrust in a fiery furnace.


Book XII:627-645 Hannibal retreats to camp

Even with fire-damaged weapons, Hannibal still

rallied his men, calling out that the flames from

the sky fell at random, and the roaring of those

winds was empty noise. At last with his men all

suffering, the heavens hostile, no enemy visible,

not a single sword, through the rain, he signalled

a retreat to the camp and breathed out his anger

and his grief: ‘Rome, you survive another day

thanks to these wild winds, these stormy skies,

but not even if Jove descends to earth in person

shall you escape my grasp tomorrow!’ Yet, as he

uttered these words through his clenched teeth,

behold, the sky cleared, the daylight glowed, and

purged of clouds the atmosphere shone brightly.

The Romans sensed the presence of the god and,

laying down their weapons, they stretched out

their arms reverently towards the high Capitol,

then wreathed the temple there with festive laurel.

There too they saw that the face of Jove’s statue

was sunlit now though bathed not long ago with

moisture, and they cried out in prayer: ‘Supreme

Father of the Gods, grant, O grant, that Hannibal

be killed in battle by a sacred bolt from the sky:

no hand but yours has the power to destroy him.’

Book XII:646-663 The fight is renewed on the following day

So they prayed as silence fell and Hesperus led

the earth into night’s shadows. But when the sun

raised his shining torch and hid the morning-star

and mortal creatures again entered on life’s round,

the Carthaginians returned, nor did the Romans

rest in camp. But swords were not yet unsheathed,

barely a spear’s length separating the two armies,

when the brightness of the sky suddenly faded,

a dense darkness followed, and the daylight fled

while Jupiter re-armed for battle. Wind swirled,

and a southerly drove on a mass of fiery cloud.

Jove himself thundered, till Mount Rhodope

and Taurus, Pindus and Atlas quaked. The dark

pools of Erebus heard, as Typhoeus, that giant

buried deep beneath Ischia, knew, once more,

the sound of war in heaven. Again the South

wind attacked, driving on a pitch-black cloud

with bursts of hail, forcing Hannibal to retreat

to camp despite his reluctance and vain threats.

Book XII:664-685 Hannibal, thwarted, rouses his troops

Yet when his soldiers, protected by the ramparts,

had laid aside their arms, the skies cleared again,

and the face of the heavens smiled once more,

such that it was hard to credit that a Jupiter so

benign wielded the lighting-bolt not long ago,

and troubled so placid a sky with his thunder.

Hannibal held firm, promising on oath that

those wild elements would not attack further,

if only they might regain their native courage

and believe it no sacrilege for Carthage to sack

Rome. Where were invincible Jove’s lightning

bolts when the sword covered Cannae’s field

with the dead? Where then, when Trasimene

was swollen with Roman blood? ‘If the ruler

of the gods fights for Rome,’ he cried, ‘if he

is hurling lightning bolts from his high seat,

why, amongst all that, is he so unwilling to

strike at me, his adversary? Are we to retreat

before winds and storms? Reveal, once more,

that steadfastness of purpose with which you

chose to fight a second war, despite the treaty

sealed by our senate.’ So Hannibal sought to

rouse their ardour, until the Sun unyoked his

foaming steeds. Yet night failed to quell his

concern, nor would sleep visit his troubled

mind, while his fury revived with the dawn.

Then once more he summoned his anxious

men to arms, striking his shield thunderous

blows, in imitation of the heavens’ murmur.

Book XII:686-700 Jupiter calls on Juno for aid

But when Hannibal learnt the Roman Senate,

trusting in divine aid, had sent reinforcements

to Spain, and their troops had left Rome during

the hours of darkness, he attacked more fiercely

indignant that Rome was so untroubled by him

that the citizens felt it safe to relax their guard.

He was approaching the walls when Jove spoke

to an anxious Juno, and with this warning tried

to address her fears: ‘Wife and sister dear to me,

why will you not rein in this young hero whose

insolence knows no limits? He has destroyed

Saguntum, and scaled the Alps, set the sacred

River Po in chains, and fouled Lake Trasimene.

And now is he set to force a path to our seats

and citadels? Halt the man! For now, as you can

see, he calls up fire to match my lightning-bolts.’

Book XII:701-728 Juno diverts Hannibal from his purpose

Juno, Saturn’s daughter, grateful for the warning,

flew down anxiously from heaven and grasped

Hannibal by the arm: ‘Where are you going, O

madman? Do you seek a battle beyond mortal

powers?’ So saying, she dispelled the dark mist

all about her, and revealed her true appearance.

‘It is not these Trojans you will have to deal

with, mere settlers from Laurentum. Look up,

now (for I will clear the clouds a while from

your view, and enable you to see all things)

see where that lofty hill rises in air, named

the Palatine by Evander, that Arcadian king;

it is held by Apollo, preparing for battle, his

quiver rattling, his bow already bent. See,

again, where the tall heights of the Aventine

lift among the other hills, see how the virgin

daughter of Latona, Diana, waves her torches

lit from the stream of Phlegethon, eager for

the battle, brandishing them with naked arms!

Look around you, behold, how Mars, savage

in warfare, fills the Campus named for himself.

Here Janus, there Quirinus, each god from his

own hill arrives in full array. And then regard

how fierce Jupiter shakes the aegis till it spews

fiery clouds, and feeds his anger on the flames.

Direct your eyes, dare to regard the Thunderer:

what storms, what thunder roars when he stirs

his head! What fire blazes from his eyes! Yield,

at last, to the gods, and desist from a war such

as the Giants waged.’ Speaking so, she diverted

Hannibal from his goal, restoring peace to earth

and heaven, for though a man difficult to teach

he was awed by the gods’ faces and fiery limbs. 

Book XII:729-752 Hannibal retreats to Rome’s delight

As he retreated, ordering his standards to be

wrenched from the ground, Hannibal looked

back and swore to return. At once, daylight

reappeared, and the sun shone more brightly

in the heavens, the quivering blue glowing

with its rays. Yet, as the Romans, watching

from the walls, saw the standards uprooted,

and Hannibal’s army in distant retreat, they

exchanged silent glances, and gestured to

signal what they dared not credit given their

fears; thinking that he did not mean to leave,

that this was some insidious trick, a Punic

tactic, while mothers kissed their babies in

silence, until the army finally vanished from

sight and their fears and suspicions were laid

to rest. Then they flocked to the Capitoline

temple and, embracing, raised their voices

together, acclaiming the triumph of Tarpeian

Jupiter, and decking his shrine with garlands.

Then they threw open all the gates, and from

every direction the people exited with delight,

experiencing that pleasure long denied them.

Some viewed the site where Hannibal’s tent

had stood, others the high seat from which he

addressed his men, or the camps of the warlike

Spaniards, the savage Garamantians, the wild

followers of Ammon. And now they sprinkled

themselves with river-water, now raised altars

to the Anio’s nymphs. Purifying the walls with

sacrifice, they then returned joyfully to the city.

End of Book XII of the Punica