Silius Italicus

Punica (The Second Carthaginian War)

Book XV

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

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Book XV:1-31 The Roman Senate seeks a commander for Spain

But the Roman Senate was now troubled by fresh

anxiety. Who was to promote the war in Spain and

command those of its tribes discouraged by events?

Both the elder Scipios, those two brothers who had

fought with martial spirit, had fallen to their proud

enemy. Hence the dread that Spain, the country of

Tartessus, would now yield to Carthaginian rule,

fearing to suffer an enemy so close to their shores.

Anxious and sorrowful, the Senate looked for a

remedy to aid a state shaken by defeat, praying

to the gods for a general brave enough to handle

a wounded army. Young Scipio longed to appease

the shades of his father and uncle, but all his kin,

hurt by their grievous loss, mindful of his youth,

tried to dissuade him. In going to that ill-omened

land, he must fight an enemy, on the soil where

his loved ones fell, which had thwarted both their

strategies, had beaten both their armies, and was

now flush with victory. Nor was it easy for tender

shoulders to bear the weight of so great a war, or

for an un-bearded youth to take on high command.

Their advice troubled the young man’s mind as he

sat in the green shade of a laurel that grew behind

his house, when suddenly two figures, exceeding

mortal stature, descended from the sky, to left and

right. Here Virtue stood, there, Pleasure, her foe.

Persian scents breathed from Pleasure’s locks, her

ambrosial tresses flowing free; her robe of Tyrian

purple embroidered with glittering gold; her hair

pinned to grant a studied beauty to her brow; her

wanton, wandering eyes darting flame. Virtue’s

looks were altogether different: her hair sought

no borrowed charm, growing freely not ordered

above her brow; her gaze was steady; calm in

face and aspect, she showed a pleasant modesty,

while a snow-white robe enhanced her tall stature.

Book XV:32-67 The image of Pleasure addresses Scipio

Now Pleasure, confident of her promise, spoke first:

Why this unbecoming foolishness, my boy, wasting

the flower of your youth in fighting? Surely you recall

Cannae, the River Po, and Trasimene, that Lydian lake

more dreadful than the Stygian marsh? How long will

you defy fate on the battlefield? Now would you aim

at Spain, the realm of Atlas, and the walls of Carthage

herself? I advise that you desist from seeking danger,

risking your life in the heat of battle. Unless you shun

her worship, Virtue will have you racing, wildly, into

the ranks of death, the heart of every fire. She it was

who sent your father and your uncle down to the dark

waters of Erebus, and threw away the life of Paullus,

as in days gone by she wasted the lives of the Decii.

She it is who holds out to the shade, no longer aware

of his deeds on earth, the emptiness of some glorious

epitaph, to adorn the tomb that holds his ashes. Yet,

follow me, my boy, and the term of life granted you

will be free from hardship, nor will the war-trumpet

trouble your anxious sleep; nor will you feel the Arctic

blast, nor the fierce heat of Cancer, nor snatch a bite

to eat, on a blood-stained field; the pangs of thirst

will be absent, the helm filled with dust, all the host

of fearful tasks. For you will spend happy days and

unclouded hours, and a life of ease will grant you

the expectation of a ripe old age. How many things

the gods themselves have created for our enjoyment!

How many delights they offer with generous hand!

Do the gods not set an example of peaceful existence

to mortals; imperturbably calm, their minds at rest?

I am she who wedded Venus to Anchises, by Simois’

waters, and Aeneas, your founder, was born of them.

I am she who often altered Jove’s form; now a bird,

now a bull with menacing horns. Listen then, to me.

Mortal years rush by, no man lives twice; passes

the hour, the torrent of death snatches you away,

you can bear naught that pleased you to the shades.

What man, as the last of the light is fading from his

eyes, does not sigh, too late, for the days of Pleasure?’

Book XV:68-120 Virtue speaks

When she had fallen silent, for her speech was done,

Virtue spoke: ‘How can you tempt a lad, in the flower

of his age, to a life of shadowy illusions, he to whom

the gods have granted the gift of reason and the divine

seeds of mighty intellect? As mortal creatures are to

the gods above, so are all the other creatures to man;

for Nature herself assigned such lesser gods to earth.

Yet a fixed law condemns degenerate spirits to dwell

in dark Avernus, while the gates of the heavens stand

open to those nourishing the divine seed within them.

Need I mention Hercules, Amphitryon’s son, he who

slew monsters; or Bacchus who bore his banners from

the East in triumph, after conquering the Indians and

Chinese, his chariot drawn through cities by Caucasian

tigers; or the Twins whom Leda bore, to whom sailors

turn in times of  danger; or Romulus Quirinus, Rome’s

hero? Do you not see how a god raised the human face

towards the heavens, giving mortals an upward gaze,

yet made the flocks and herds, the various species of

birds and wild beasts, to go on their bellies, sluggish

of mind and crude of nature? For the human species

is born for glory, and man is happy in seeking glory

if he accepts the gifts of heaven. So, listen a moment

to me, while I give a brief example: Rome was once

no match for Fidenae and the nearby Etruscan threat,

content to grow its population by granting of asylum;

yet see how high she has climbed by her own valour.

And see how a host of cities that once flourished were

ruined by excess. For neither the gods’ wrath nor an

enemy’s spears are as fatal as when Pleasure infects

the mind. Her attendants are foul Drunkenness and

Debauchery, Scandal hovers about her on dark wings.

Mine are Honour, Praise, and Fame, Glory with her

smiling face, and Victory raising snow-white wings

like mine, while Triumph, laurel-crowned, lifts me to

the stars. My house is pure and stands on a lofty hill;

a steep track leads there by a rocky ascent, so hard

is the effort you must undergo; it is never my custom

to deceive, and you must truly exert yourself to enter,

and not consider good what fickle Fortune can give

and also take away. Soon you will gain the heights

and gaze down on humankind below. You will ever

encounter the opposite of Pleasure’s blandishments.

On a bed of straw, beneath the stars, you will suffer

sleepless nights, mastering cold and hunger. You

shall worship justice in all you do, the gods will

stand witness and judge your actions. And then,

whenever your country, and dire event, demands,

you must be first to arm, first to enter the breach

in the enemy wall, and neither steel nor gold must

command your thoughts. I will give you no robes

dyed with Tyrian purple, no fragrant perfumes that

demean a man, but the gift of overcoming by force

that savage foe that harasses the armies of Rome

and, after the Carthaginian defeat, of placing your

proud laurels there, in the lap of Capitoline Jove.’

Book XV:121-148 Scipio’s choice, and an omen

Prophesying thus, from the shrine of her heart, Virtue

won Scipio to her side, who pleased by her examples

showed his approval. But Pleasure, indignant, could

not refrain from speaking: ‘I will not detain you long,’

she cried, ‘but know that a time will come, my time,

when the Romans will vie to absorb my doctrine and

follow my commands, and I alone will be honoured.’

Then, shaking her head, she rose to the dark clouds.  

Now, full of Virtue’s counsel, Scipio dreamed great

things, fired with desire for the task ahead. Where so

many shrank from war, he ascended the tall Rostrum,

claiming the weighty burden of an uncertain conflict.

All hearts were stirred: some thought his father’s gaze

others his uncle’s stern features were revived in him.

But, though excited, the silent fear of disaster filled

doubting minds anxiously assessing the vast burden

of the war, even friends uneasy at his slender years.

As the crowd reflected murmuring confusedly, see,

a serpent, its glittering scales spotted with gold, was

seen to glide over the sky, among the clouds, leaving

a fiery track through the air, heading for that region

of echoing shores where Atlas upholds the firmament.

Jove three times confirmed the omen with lightning,

and with sudden far-flung thunder shook the heavens.

Then men fell to their knees, hailing the portent, and

urged Scipio to arm, to go where the gods clearly led,

the path marked out for him by his father Jove’s sign.

Book XV:149-179 Scipio with his fleet reaches Tarragona

Men vied to join him, as comrades in arms and to help

in the campaign, begging to share in the arduous effort,

to serve alongside him bringing glory enough. Soon,

a new fleet was launched on the blue sea. All Italy was

with him as he crossed to Spain. Thus a north-westerly,

waging wild battle with the deep, hurls arching waves

against the Isthmus, and, rushing in a foaming flood

through the moaning rocks, mingles the Ionian waters

with the Aegean. Now Scipio leapt up to stand on his

ship’s stern, and fully-armed prayed, thus: ‘Neptune,

the divine Lord of the Trident, whose depths we seek

to cross, grant the fleet passage if my cause is right,

and deign to assist our efforts. I carry just war over

the sea.’ A light breeze blew, and drove the sails on

with following breath. The nimble vessels slipped

past Italy’s shores, where Tyrrhenian waters sound,

then their prows sped along the Ligurian coastline.

Now from the open sea they saw the soaring Alps

far off, there where earth invades the sky. Next was

the city of Marseilles, that Greek foundation, where

those colonists from Phocaea, encircled by warlike

tribes, appalled by the barbarous rites of their savage

neighbours, still retain, among those foreign peoples,

the manners, dress, and customs of their native land.

The general then set a course along the curving shore

till high wooded hills appeared, the Pyrenean forest

lost in the clouds; next ancient Emporiae settled by

the Greeks, then Tarragona, host to the vine, where

they found safe anchor, the ships secure behind its

harbour wall, the toil and dangers of the sea forgot.

Book XV:180-213 Scipio’s father appears to him in a dream

The dead of night brought Scipio profound slumber:

he dreamed his father’s ghost stood before him, and

with troubled gaze warned him thus: ‘My son, once

your father’s saviour, a son who now brings honour

to my grave, you must lay waste this land, a source

of deadly war, taming three Libyan generals, proud

of their vile slaughter, who split their army between

them. If you were to seek battle while they chose to

concentrate their forces, not even you could survive

a triple attack? Forgo that dangerous course, but be

not slow to adopt a better. There is a city, founded

by Teucer long ago, now New Carthage, and held

by Punic colonists. Like Libya’s Carthage, this is

their great capital in Spain. No other can rival its

treasures, its lofty site and harbour, its wealth of

fertile land, nor its skill and industry in forging

weapons of war. Move against it, my son, while

those generals backs are turned. No field of battle

could bring you equal glory, or such rich spoils.’

Thus his father advised, drawing closer to warn

him, when Scipio awoke and the vision faded.

He rose, then prayed to those gods who inhabit

the underworld, calling to his kinsmen’s shades

in supplication: ‘Be you my generals in war, lead

on to the city named; I will avenge you, and, with

the Spanish forces routed, will attend your graves

dressed in Tyrian purple, and offer sacrifice there,

and honour your tombs with games and contests.’

Riding ahead, he quickened the pace, leading his

army swiftly, scouring the plains, as in the games

at Elis, when the champion steed springs from his

starting gate, outpacing his rivals and, marvellous

to relate, drawing on the team, so that no eye can

follow that chariot in its flight as it carves the air.

Book XV:214-250 The capture of Cartagena (New Carthage)

Now, sunrise, on the seventh day of their march,

gradually revealed the citadel of New Carthage,

its towers rising higher the closer they came.

And, at the hour Scipio had appointed, Laelius

arrived with the fleet, blockading the city on

the seaward side, with a line of ships. Cartagena

was well-favoured by nature, its high walls are

surrounded by the waves, while to the eastward

a little island protects the bay’s narrow entrance.

But where the sun sets there is a barren extent

of standing water, exposed or hidden by the ebb

and flow of the tide. The city stands in front of

this lagoon facing the chilly north; and stands

high on the heights that stretch to the waters

below, its walls defended by that eternal sea. 

The Romans hastened to scale the slopes as

boldly as if they were bearing their standards

in victory across level ground. The leader in

the city’s defence was Aris, who under attack,

trusting to the lofty site and employing all his

skill, fortified the citadel further, as the nature

of the ground dictated. With only a little effort,

the Romans were dislodged from their footing,

rolling down the slopes their limbs damaged,

many breathing their last. But when the tide

turned and the waters of the lagoon flowed

swiftly back to sea, it was possible to cross

those places, where the tall ships had lately

ploughed their furrows, in safety, and Scipio,

advancing from this undefended direction,

now silently approached the walls, the crews

wading in  quickly from the boats, attacking

the city from the seaward side, which Aris

relying on the difficulties had disregarded.

Flat on the ground, with the Carthaginians

defeated, the wretched man yielded his neck

to the fetters, and surrendered the disarmed

inhabitants to servitude. Thus the Sun who

at his rising had seen the city besieged by an

army, saw it captured before he plunged his

chariot and team beneath the western waters.   

Book XV:251-285 The Romans celebrate their victory

Dawn came driving shadows from the earth;

first, altars were raised: a great bull was slain,

an offering to Neptune, and another to Jupiter.

Then true merit gained its reward, and valour

obtained the prize earned by its wounds: here,

medals gleamed on a man’s chest, or a torque

of gold encircled a neck; while there a warrior

shone with the high honour of a mural crown.

Laelius, above all, famous for his deeds and

descent, won thirty cattle, a noble decoration

for his naval victory, and the weapons taken

from the Punic general. Then martial banners

and spears were awarded on merit, and some

portion of the spoils granted with each award.

After honour had been paid to men and gods,

the captured wealth was assessed and allotted:

this gold for the Senate, those talents for war,

gifts for allied kings, above all for the temples

of the gods; the remainder to the soldiers who

had fought so well. Then Scipio summoned

the chief of a Spanish tribe, who was pledged

to a pretty girl whom he passionately loved;

Scipio, happy in his triumph, led her back,

her virginity unspoiled, to her joyful spouse.

Then, with their cares at rest, they set tables

on the nearby shore, feasted and made merry.

Laelius spoke: ‘Bless your pure heart, noble

general, bless the spirit in you. The glories,

the praise of mighty heroes, all their virtues

celebrated in song, must yield place to you.

Agamemnon of Mycenae, he who launched

a thousand ships, and Achilles who brought

his Thessalians to the war, were led by love

of woman to violate the pledge of alliance,

and every tent pitched on Trojan soil was

filled with slave-girls; to you the honour

of a foreign virgin is more sacred than was

Cassandra’s honour to the Greeks.’ So they

conversed together, until Night, her form

veiled in darkness, drove her black steeds

through the sky, persuading all to slumber.

Book XV:286-319 Philip V of Macedon attacks Aetolia

Meanwhile Aetolia was involved in a fierce

confrontation with Philp V of Macedon, his

fleet having suddenly attacked, while their

neighbours the Acarnanians joined forces

with the enemy. This new front resulted

from the alliance between Carthage and

Philip, against Rome. He was of a famous

royal line, proud to wield the sceptre of

the Aeacids, and of his ancestor Achilles.

He terrified Oricon, in Epirus, attacking

at night, making an armed assault on

un-walled villages of the Illyrian shore

where the people of Taulas lived, then

put to sea and fell upon the Phaecian

and Thresprotian lands, rushing through

Epirus in a vain and pointless campaign.

Next he showed his banners on the coast

of Anactorium, swiftly occupied the Gulf

of Ambracia, and the shoreline of Olpae.

His oars stirred the waters of Lefkada to

fury, passing Apollo’s temple at Actium.

Nor did he leave the harbours of Ithaca,

where Laertes once reigned, unvisited,

beneath Neriton’s stony slopes; Same;

and Cephalonia’s white breakers and

sounding cliffs. He even took delight

in visiting Pelops’ shores and the cities

of Achaia, approaching the citadel of

Oeneus, who suffered Diana’s vengeance,

a place where the Curetes once dwelt,

promising the Greeks there he would

fight for them against Rome. Next he

swept past Corinth, Patras, Pleuron’s

royal city, and twin-peaked Parnassus

whose cliffs echo with Apollo’s voice.

Often too, he was recalled to his own

country by war, when his kingdom was

attacked by the Sarmatian Orestae, or

an army of Dolopes invaded his lands.

Yet he was loth to desist from his idle

campaigns, with this pretence of war

around the coasts of Greece; though,

in the end, defeated now at sea then

on land, no longer hoping for aid from

Carthage, he begged for alliance with

Rome, accepting a curb on his powers.

Book XV:320-342 Fabius takes Tarentum (Taranto)

Now the fortunes of Tarentum, of Spartan

foundation, increased Rome’s power and

glory, for that disloyal city was conquered

finally by old Fabius, the last deed of that

cautious commander. Here too, his cunning

won bloodless victory, the city being taken

without risk. For learning that the leader of

the Punic garrison was passionately in love,

Fabius, a brave man but one keen on peace

and quiet, devised a ruse. The brother of

the woman involved (he being present in

the Roman camp) was compelled to go to

his sister, and promise her a rich reward

guaranteed to win a woman’s compliance,

if the Punic commander could be persuaded

to open the gates and let the Romans enter.

The Carthaginian gave way, and Fabius

achieved his wish, his army surrounding

the walls, and entering the unguarded city

by night. Yet when the news then arrived

that Marcellus had met his death fighting

in battle, it seemed as though the Sun had

changed course, turning back his chariot,

and deserting Rome. That giant of a man

had been laid low; that heart where Mars,

the fierce war-god dwelt, that heart never

daunted by danger, now was cold. Alas,

how great the ruin that brought Hannibal

glory! The terror of Carthage lay dead on

the field, yet if some god had let him live

a little longer, he might have robbed Scipio

of his distinction of ending the Second War.

Book XV:343-398 The death of Marcellus

Apulia was the field of conflict, and there a hill

rose between the twin camps of the Roman force,

the burden of command being shared by Crispinus

and Marcellus, the two consuls waging war as one.

Marcellus said: ‘I would have us search the woods

nearby and station men on the slopes between us,

lest Hannibal tries to occupy the hills before we do.

If you agree, Crispinus, I would like us both to act,

since nothing is lost by combining our experience.’

Once settled, all were quick to mount their fiery

horses. Marcellus saw his son donning his armour,

enjoying the excitement, and cried: ‘Your ardour

wondrously exceeds your father’s. May you meet

with quick success! I was proud of you in Syracuse,

when you watched the battle with a gaze like mine,

although too young to fight! Come, my noble lad,

stay by your father’s side, let me teach the one new

to war the art of battle.’ Then he embraced his son,

with a brief prayer: ‘O mightiest of the gods, grant

that I may offer you the greatest spoils, seized from

the Punic general, and borne on my lad’s shoulders!’

But, at that, Jupiter sent a shower of blood from out

the clear sky, the dark and inauspicious drops falling

on their armour, and he had barely ceased to speak,

they had barely entered that fatal valley, when a swift

troop of Numidians attacked them with their javelins,

storming down on them, a mass of the enemy rising

at them from ambush. When the brave Roman, now

surrounded, saw he had paid his last dues to the gods,

he sought to take to the underworld the glory of his

noble death. Now he rose in the saddle to hurl his

spear, now fought with the sword at close quarters,

and he might have survived that sudden onset in

the narrow pass, had not a missile struck his son.

For the father’s hand shook with grief, his ill-fated

shield, loosened, fell now from his nerveless grasp.

Then a lance pierced his undefended body, and he

fell with his face in the dust. When Hannibal, amid

the fury of battle, saw the weapon transfix Marcellus’

breast, he gave a mighty shout: ‘Carthage, you need

fear Rome’s power no more! That dread name, that

pillar of the Roman state lies low. But one who was

my peer in war must not descend without honours

to the shade. Heroic hearts find no place for envy.’

Soon a funeral pyre was raised, of mighty timbers

dragged from the forest, such that one might think

Hannibal himself had fallen. Incense and offerings

of meat, and the consul’s rods and shield were now

carried in procession, and Hannibal lit the flames,

saying: ‘We have won immortal glory, in robbing

Rome of Marcellus. Italy may now lay down her

arms. March in the funeral train of a proud spirit,

my men, grant his ashes the last tribute; for never

would I deny Rome that.’ Crispinus fared no better

in battle, his horse bore him to camp a dying man.

Book XV:399-432 Scipio and Hasdrubal Barca in Spain

Such were the events in Italy. But in the conflict in

Spain, the results were different. The Carthaginian

defeat had, by its speed, terrified the tribes allied to

them. The generals only hope was to unite all their

forces, but they saw young Scipio had begun his

campaign under bright auspices, as if he wielded

his father’s lightning-bolts in battle, taking, within

a single day and night, a city secure in its position

on a high hill with steep approaches, filling it with

piles of dead, while Hannibal, that mighty general,

had spent a year fighting in that land before he had

conquered Saguntum, so inferior in numbers and in

wealth to Carthage. Nearby, his camp pitched close

to the wooded cliffs, was Hasdrubal, inspired by his

brother’s mighty deeds. Here lay a mixed force of

Cantabrians and rebel Africans, here too Asturians,

swifter even than the agile Moors; with Hasdrubal

revered as much in Spain as Hannibal was feared

in Italy. It happened to be the anniversary of an old

and solemn Punic festival, the day on which those

first foundations of mighty Carthage had been laid,

native huts forming the beginnings of that new city. 

Now, Hasdrubal, recalling his city’s early history,

was enjoying the festival, his standards wreathed

with flowers, seeking  the gods’ favour. A splendid

cape, his brother’s gift, draped his shoulders. Worn

by Sicilian tyrants, Hieronymus of Syracuse had

gifted it to Hannibal amongst other presents, as a

pledge of close alliance. Two scenes were depicted

there: an eagle, wings outspread, bore Ganymede

through the clouds to the heavens, while beside

it that great cavern was embroidered, in purple,

home to the Cyclopes, where Polyphemus lay,

tearing with his fatal jaws at bleeding corpses,

around him the splintered bones that fell from

his mouth. He was shown extending his hand,

and demanding a cup of wine from Ulysses,  

while vomiting a mixture of wine and blood.

Book XV:433-470 Scipio attacks Hasdrubal’s camp

Hasdrubal, standing before the turf altars, prayed

for the gods’ favour, while every eye rested on

this mantle, a triumph of Sicilian embroidery.

But a messenger on horseback brought startling

news, that a hostile force approached. Worship

of the gods was suspended, in confusion, with

the rites and altars abandoned. The Carthaginians

sought the protection of their camp, and when

dew-wet Dawn faintly lit the sky they hastened

into battle. Bold Sapura was struck by Scipio’s

sounding spear, and both armies took it for an

omen. Scipio shouted: ‘Blessed spirits, your

first victim bites the dust. On, soldiers, fight

and kill, as you did when your dead generals

were alive!’ And as he spoke, they rushed in.

Laenas slew Myconus, Latinus slew Cirta, as

Maro killed Thysdrus and Catalina Nealces,

who incestuously loved his own sister. Then

Kartalo, ruler of the Libyan sands, was met

and overcome by fierce Nasidius. Spain now

trembled, as Laelius raged amongst the ranks

with a fury beyond belief. He was the pride

and glory of Rome, a man to whom Nature

granted every gift, and the gods denied none.

When he spoke in the market-place, his words

fell as sweetly from his lips as the honeyed

speeches of Nestor, king of Pylos, long ago.

Whenever the Senate, undecided, had asked

a speaker to address them, Laelius moved

their hearts as if by a magic spell. Yet when

the braying of the trumpet deafened men’s

ears in battle, this same Laelius showed

such ardour, he seemed to have been born

to fight: no action in life but he sought to

win honour. Now he downed Gala, a man

who owed his existence to a ruse, for his

mother had rescued him from the flames

of Carthaginian sacrifice, by substituting

another’s child, but no joy lasts that is got

by deceiving the gods. Next Laelius sent

Alabis, Murrus and Draces to the shades;

the last of these shrieking like a woman

as he died, the sword severing the head

from the neck, in the midst of his pleas,

while his lips still mouthed after death.

Book XV:471-492 Hasdrubal flees to Italy

But Hasdrubal showed no desire to fight.

He found concealment among the wooded

hills and pathless cliffs, unmoved by his

terrible loss, and the slaughter of his men.

He fled towards the Alps and Italy, a rich

reward for flight. The word was passed to

his forces silently: to cease the fight and

disperse among the trees and hills, with

whoever escaped to seek the heights of

the Pyrenees. He led the retreat, doffing

his splendid armour, and hidden behind

a Spanish shield, he fled to the mountains,

deliberately leaving his troops in extreme

disorder. The Romans, meanwhile, bore

their standards, in victory, to his deserted

camp. No captured city could have held

more plunder, and this, as Hasdrubal had

anticipated delayed the work of slaughter:

thus a beaver, taken from the river’s flow,

will bite off the body parts that led to his

being chased, and swim away, while his

hunters are occupied with their reward.

Now, with the Carthaginians concealed

among the trees, trusting to the wooded

heights, Scipio turned about in search of

wider conflict, and an enemy more likely

to face defeat. While, in the pass that led to

the Pyrenees, they fixed a trophy with this

inscription: This shield of Hasdrubal’s is

offered by Scipio, his conqueror, to Mars.’

Book XV:493-521 Hasdrubal crosses the Alps

Meanwhile, secure from alarm, Hasdrubal

first crossed the Pyrenees, then raised an

army in Gaul, in the kingdom of Bebryx.

He paid large amounts for soldiers, what

he had gained in war being spent on war.

The readiness of that spirited people was

enhanced by gold and silver from distant

mines, sent ahead of his march, and soon

the new camp was filled with mercenaries,

men born along the banks of the Rhône,

and through whose fields the Saône, most

sluggish of rivers, creeps. Winter was now

yielding to the milder air of spring, and

Hasdrubal marched swiftly through Gaul,

gazing in wonder at the pass his brother

had trod to cross the heights, ranking his

exploits with those of divine Hercules, in

whose footsteps Hannibal had followed. 

When he reached the summit, occupying

Hannibal’s camp, he cried: ‘How could

Rome raise walls high enough to defend

that city, when these could not bar him?

I pray success will crown so great a deed,

no jealous god resenting our climb toward

the heavens.’ Then he descended swiftly

from the summits, by an engineered road,

flying down in a series of forced marches.

Even Hannibal’s first incursion had not

caused such mighty terror and confusion

in Italy. Now, a second Hannibal appeared.

The two armies would unite, these generals,

gorged on victory and Roman blood, were

combining to augment their forces, the foe

would rush headlong against Rome, where

Carthaginian spear-heads were embedded

in the gates from Hannibal’s recent effort.

Book XV:522-559 Italy reflects, and rouses Claudius Nero

Italy herself reflected angrily on the matter:

‘Alas, you gods, am I held in such contempt

by these wild Carthaginians, I who allowed

Saturn to live and reign within my borders,

when he feared the power of his son Jove?

The tenth year is passing since Hannibal

first trampled my soil, a youth who has

only the gods left to defy, who raised an

army against me from the ends of the earth,

made light of the Alpine passes and fell

upon my lands, a burning fury. What heaps

of dead have I not hidden, how often has my

face been marred by the corpses of my sons!

No olive-tree ripens its berries for me now;

the sword reaps those unripe crops of mine;

the village roofs collapse into my lap, and

render my realm hideous with their ruins.

Must Hasdrubal too invade my wasted fields

and seek to scorch the little that war has left?

Wandering Africans then will till my fields,

and Libya will sow seed in Italy’s furrows,

unless I bury in a single grave all their armies

that march so proudly across my wide plains.’

So Italy reflected, and as black night enclosed

the sleep of gods and men she hastened towards

the camp where Nero, the consul and scion of

Sparta, lay. From his turf ramparts, he observed

Hannibal, who was close at hand and kept his

army within the bounds of Lucanian country.

Italy now made herself appear in Nero’s mind:

‘Glory of the Clausi, chief hope of Rome now

Marcellus is lost, banish sleep, awake! For if

you would sustain your country’s destiny, you

must dare what will make the conquerors, once

driven from our walls, shudder. The glitter of

Hasdrubal’s weapons has covered the plains

where the Sena retains the name granted it by

that Gallic tribe. Unless you lead your forces,

swiftly, to battle, your aid will come too late,

and Rome will be ruined. Rise, act, march on!

The open fields by the Metaurus, are destined

by me to furnish the grave where the bones

of these Carthaginians will lie.’ So saying, she

departed, seeming to draw after her the hesitant

general, opening the gates for the cavalry to exit.

Book XV:560-611 Nero and Livius join forces

His heart aflame, Nero leapt from his bed inspired,

and raising his hands to the sky he prayed to Earth,

Night, the stars above, and the Moon, whose light

would guide them silently on their way. Then he

chose men fit for the great campaign. His march

lay through the fields of Larino, near the Adriatic

shores; of the warlike Marrucini, and the Frentani,

loyal in wartime; of that Abruzzo where men, happy

in their labours, till the vine-clad hills. On he went,

faster than winged flight or lightning-bolts, winter

floods or Parthian arrows. Each man drove himself

forwards. ‘On, move; Italy’s safety, whether Rome

lives or dies, depends on you, thus the gods decree.’

So they shouted as they marched. Rather than his

exhorting them, their general led them eagerly on,

while, striving to match his speed, they increased

their own, unwearied by the effort night and day.

Meanwhile, in Rome, people trembled with fear,

hearing the danger of defeat was growing, while

arguing that Nero was far too complacent, that

a single setback might rob them of their lives.

‘We have no more weapons, gold, men, blood

to shed. Of course he chases Hasdrubal, unable

to face Hannibal alone! Hannibal will return to

force our gates, knowing our armies have left

camp and marched far away. The new-comer

and his proud brother will vie for the greatest

prize, the destruction of Rome.’ So the senators

murmured, troubled to the very heart, though

they were deeply concerned as yet to maintain

their dignity, considering any means to avoid

impending servitude and the anger of the gods.

While they lamented, Claudius Nero, entered

Marcus Livius’ camp, under cover of nightfall,

its ramparts a defence against Hasdrubal who

was camped nearby. Livius, a warlike skilful

general in the field, had formerly won great

glory as a soldier in his youth, but later was

condemned on a false charge by an unjust

populace, and had buried himself in rural

solitude for many a gloomy year. Yet when

this crisis came, with its fears of imminent

disaster, he was summoned again to serve,

with so many generals fallen, setting aside

resentment for his country’s sake. But this

arrival of fresh forces under Claudius had

not escaped Hasdrubal’s notice, though it

was cloaked by the shadows of the night.

He saw the dusty shields, the leanness of

men and horses from their rapid progress,

while the repeated trumpet-calls signalled

the armies of two generals combined. Why

if his brother Hannibal still lived had he

allowed their forces to unite? The only

strategy was to wait until the facts were

known, and to avoid a confrontation. He

therefore resolved to flee, nor were they

idle fears that determined him on flight.

Book XV:612-634 The Battle of the Metaurus River (207BC)

Night, the mother of sleep, had purged all

mortal hearts of their cares, while darkness

deepened the awful silence, when Hasdrubal

crept from camp, ordering his army to leave

noiselessly. In the moonless night they sped

swiftly through that sleeping countryside,

trying to make no sound. Yet the soil of Italy,

was aware of trampling feet, and sent them

on erroneous tracks in the darkness while,

favoured by the shadows, she drove them

in tight circles, retracing their own steps.

For where the Metaurus runs a winding

course between its curving banks, turning

back on itself in its stony bed, they wound

about in a narrow circuit, with vain effort,

the aid of darkness lost to their mistakes.

Dawn rose, exposing the fugitives. The gates

of the Roman camp opened and a fierce

cavalry charge ensued, a tempest of steel

hiding the field far and wide. There was as

yet no close encounter, but the missiles

fired in advance drank blood. Here Cretan

arrows flew through the air, destined to

prevent a Carthaginian retreat; there a hail

of javelins killed every man in its path.

Renouncing all thought of flight, the enemy

were forced to gather themselves hastily

in line of battle, vesting all hope in attack.

Book XV:635-657 The opposing generals address their troops

Hasdrubal (seeing their plight) seated tall

in their midst on his warhorse, stretched out

his arms and raised his voice: ‘By the glory

you found at the limits of the world, by my

brother’s deeds, I call on you to show that

Hannibal’s brother is here. Fortune intends

teaching Italy a lesson in defeat, turning on

Rome the force that conquered Spain, and

fought so often by the Pillars of Hercules.

Perhaps my brother himself may arrive in

time to fight. Let him behold a fitting sight,

one worthy of him; so cover the battlefield

with corpses. Hannibal has conquered every

Roman general we might have feared; their

only hope lies with Livius, while he, aged

by rejection and isolation, is now a doomed

victim at your mercy. On, on, I summon you,

kill this general whom Hannibal might feel

ashamed to fight, and end his sad old age.’

On the other side, Claudius Nero, spoke thus:

‘Why hold back from ending the mighty

struggle this war involves? Soldiers, you

have won great glory by your march, now

finish what is begun, by courage in the field.

Unless victory justifies our actions, we have

left camp for no valid reason, robbing it of

its defences. Be first to reap the honours; men

will remember how your coming won the day.’

Book XV:658-671 Marcus Livius attacks

In another place, Livius addressed his troops,

his helmet doffed, his white hair conspicuous:

‘Here, youngsters, watch now how I attack in

battle. Enter wherever I split the ranks with my

sword, and close with steel forever those Alpine

passes that opened so readily to Punic invaders.

If we fail to break their line with sudden victory,

if Hannibal, that Carthaginian lightning-bolt,

should instantly arrive, what god will save us

from the shades below?’ Then he donned his

helm, and made good his threat with the blade,

waging war fiercely, with his white hair hidden.

Where the enemy ranks were closely-packed

he killed a man with every javelin he threw;

while before him the Macae fled in disorder,

and the warlike Autololes, and the long-haired

Gallic warriors from the banks of the Rhône.

Book XV:672-691 Livius kills Nabis

Nabis, from the oracular sands of Ammon,

fought with his poisoned arrows, confident

of his safety in battle thinking the god would

protect him; and vowed proudly, but in vain,

to adorn his native shrine with Italian spoils.

His blue robes shone with Garamantian gems,

which glittered like the stars in the sky above,

while his helm gleamed with them, and his

shield was bright with gold. Horns coiled

on that helmet, and from it hung a sacred

ribbon to inspire terror and honour the god.

He carried a bow and a quiver of poisoned

arrows, steeped in asp venom, his weapons

of war. Leaning back in the saddle, he also,

as ever, supported a weighty Sarmatian pike

at his knee, to bear down on the enemy.

Now, with a great shout, he drove it through

Sabellus’ body-armour, and was dragging

his victim away in triumph, while calling in

triumph on Ammon’s name. But old Livius,

unable to bear the barbarian’s proud wrath,

hurled his javelin and, a victor over the victor,

robbed Nabis, at a blow, of his prey and his life.

Book XV:692-710 The death of Rutilus

Hasdrubal heard, with grief, Nabis’ cry as he

fell, and ran to him, driving a javelin through

Arabus from behind, who had begun to strip

the jewelled robes, and shield stiff with gold,

from the corpse. The wretch had grasped at

the garments with both hands, tearing them,

and baring the yet-quivering limbs. He fell

across the body of the man he was robbing,

restoring the sacred robes and gold ribbon.

Next Rutilus was killed by Canthus, lord

of that shore to which two brothers, those

indomitable Philaeni, had given their name.

Rutilius was wealthy, with a thousand sheep

bleating in his upland pens: he himself had

lived at ease, free of care, now tempering

the heat of the sun by dipping his flock in

the cool stream; now sitting, happily, on

the grass, to shear their fleeces gleaming

white as snow; or when the ewes were

brought home from pasture watching as

the lambs sought and found their mothers.

The metal of his treacherous shield was

pierced, and he died lamenting, all too

late, the leaving of his flocks and folds.

Book XV:711-734 Livius presses the attack

The Romans now attacked more fiercely,

driving onwards like a flood, a tempest,

a lightning-flash, breakers in a northerly,

or misty clouds that fly, high overhead,

when an easterly confuses sky and sea.

Behind their banners the lofty Gauls

were stationed, in the front line, yet

their ranks were shattered by a sudden

violent charge in the wedge formation.

Wearied now by their circuitous march,

breathless also after lengthy exertions,

tormented by the heat, they turned and

fled, with the unreliability characteristic

of their nation. The Romans hurled spears

at their backs, the arrows pursuing them

preventing their retreat. Thyrmis was slain

now at a single blow, Rhodanus by many,

while Morinus, hit by an arrow, in falling

was knocked from the saddle by a javelin.

Livius, loosening the reins, drove down on

the fugitives, thrusting his horse amongst

the retreating squadrons. There he severed

Mosa’s swollen neck from behind with his

sword. The helmeted head fell heavily to

the earth, while the terrified steed carried

the body, still mounted, into the fray. Now

Marcus Cato, who was darting to and fro

at the heart of the action, cried: ‘If only

Livius had opposed Hannibal, when we

lost the Alpine pass at the war’s inception!

Alas, what a mighty arm Rome neglected!

How many Carthaginian lives have been

spared by the sad vote of a foolish crowd!’

Book XV:735-758 Hasdrubal rallies his men

Meanwhile the Carthaginian line was folding,

the cowardice of the Gauls had made all fearful,

and Carthage’s fortunes were ebbing, while

winged Victory turned her favour on Rome.

Tall in the saddle, Livius, the consul, rode

triumphant, as if he had shed his years and

grown in stature. Behold, Hasdrubal, now

appeared, a squadron grey with dust behind

him, and brandishing his spear he shouted

out to his men: ‘Stand fast! Who is this foe

we retreat from? Shame on you! One old man

marred by the years is putting you to flight.

Is my arm less than it was, are you weary of

me? Belus was my ancestor; my line is kin

to Tyrian Dido; Hamilcar, famous in war, was

my father; my brother he whom neither lakes

nor mountains, rivers or plains can withstand.

Great Carthage ranks me second to Hannibal

and in the land along the Guadalquivir tribes

who have met me in battle say I match him.’

So saying, he entered the heart of the fray

and, as the consul’s bright shield gleamed

full in his sight, he raised and threw his spear.

Passing between the edge of the shield and

the top of the breastplate it grazed the top

of Livius’ shoulder, but that mistimed blow

drew little blood, and failed to penetrate his

body, denying Hasdrubal the glory he sought.

Book XV:759-777 The Romans counter-attack

The Romans were troubled, their spirits fell

at the dismal sight, but Livius called out to

them: ‘It is as if a woman’s nails scratched

my skin, at the empty sound of trumpets, or

a child struck me a blow with its open palm.

Forward men, show what sort of wounds a

Roman arm can deal!’ A vast cloud of spears

was launched, veiling the sun with its dense

shadow. Soon, the wide fields were covered

with the dead, in mutual slaughter, and those

corpses that fell at the river in such numbers

formed a bridge over the stream. So, when

Diana hunts the shady uplands, her mother

Latona looks on with joy and pride while

she beats the coverts of her Delian Mount

Cynthus, or crosses Maenalus with all her

Naiads, her companions, that furious host,

their sounding quivers filled with arrows.

There the wild creatures lie dead among

the cliffs and in their very lairs, in vales

and streams and caverns green with moss,

while that daughter of Latona, in her pride,

views her spoils from some mountain-top.

Book XV:778-808 The death of Hasdrubal

Nero, above all, hearing of old Livius’ wound,

carved a passage through the middle of the fray.

and seeing the battle finely balanced, cried out:

‘What then, what remains for Italy but to suffer?

If we cannot conquer here, how will we defeat

Hannibal?’ Then he rushed madly into the midst

of his enemies, and found Hasdrubal raging in

the front line. Now, as a monster of the angry

sea will scour the waters endlessly for its prey,

then in its hunger see a fish far off in the waves,

and mark it out, as it swims below the surface,

before swallowing the wide waters and its prize,

so Nero was swift to strike, crying: ‘You shall

no longer escape me. Here is no Pyrenean forest

to hide in, nor will you cheat me once again with

empty pledges, as you did once in Spain, where I

caught you, yet you won free with a lying treaty.’

So saying, he hurled his javelin and not in vain,

for the well-aimed tip lodged in Hasdrubal’s side,

and he fell. Then Nero attacked him fearlessly,

with drawn sword, crushing the quivering limbs

with his shield-boss. ‘If there is any last message

you would have me bear to your brother, I shall’

Nero cried, and Hasdrubal replied: ‘Death holds

no terrors. Take your victory; the avenger of my

death is swift approaching. If you would send

my brother my last words, here is my message:

let him burn the Capitol as victor, and mix my

bones and ashes with those of Jove.’ He longed,

fervently, to say more, but his mortal rage was

ended by the sword, his victor striking off that

treacherous head. And, their leader being slain,

his men, hope of victory lost, were slaughtered.

Book XV:809-823 Hannibal chooses caution

And now black night hid the light and the path

of the sun, while the Romans ate a frugal meal

and briefly slept. Then before day returned,

they carried their victorious banners back by

the same route to the camp, closing its gates

in their anxiety. There Nero, lifting the dead

general’s head aloft on his spear-point, cried:

‘Hannibal, with your brother’s head we have

repaid you for Cannae, the Trebia, and Lake

Trasimene. Try now to wage treacherous war

on dual fronts, or summon two armies to you.

Such the reward for any who choose to cross

the Alps to reach you.’ Hannibal suppressed

his tears, and made the disaster seem less in

bearing it bravely, while vowing beneath his

breath to sacrifice worthy victims in due time

to his brother’s shade. Meanwhile he veiled

disaster with inaction, removing his camp to

a distance, and so avoiding the risk of battle.

End of Book XV of the Punica