Rome faced war on two fronts, south and north. Carthage now had two armies and almost two Hannibals, in Italy.
Continuing Battle of Metaurus,
our selection from The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: from Marathon to Waterloo by Edward Creasy published in 1851. The selection is presented in eleven easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in Battle of Metaurus.
Time: 207 BC
Place: Metaurus River, Italy
Nero instantly ordered seven thousand picked men, a thousand being cavalry, to hold themselves in readiness for a secret expedition against one of Hannibal’s garrisons, and as soon as night had set in he hurried forward on his bold enterprise; but he quickly left the southern road toward Lucania, and, wheeling round, pressed northward with the utmost rapidity toward Picenum. He had, during the preceding afternoon, sent messengers to Rome, who were to lay Hasdrubal’s letters before the senate. There was a law forbidding a consul to make war or march his army beyond the limits of the province assigned to him; but in such an emergency, Nero did not wait for the permission of the senate to execute his project, but informed them that he was already on his march to join Livius against Hasdrubal. He advised them to send the two legions which formed the home garrison on to Narnia, so as to defend that pass of the Flaminian road against Hasdrubal, in case he should march upon Rome before the consular armies could attack him. They were to supply the place of these two legions at Rome by a levy en masse in the city, and by ordering up the reserve legion from Capua. These were his communications to the senate. He also sent horsemen forward along his line of march, with orders to the local authorities to bring stores of provisions and refreshment of every kind to the roadside, and to have relays of carriages ready for the conveyance of the wearied soldiers. Such were the precautions which he took for accelerating his march; and when he had advanced some little distance from his camp, he briefly informed his soldiers of the real object of their expedition. He told them that never was there a design more seemingly audacious and more really safe. He said he was leading them to a certain victory, for his colleague had an army large enough to balance the enemy already, so that their swords would decisively turn the scale. The very rumor that a fresh consul and a fresh army had come up, when heard on the battle-field — and he would take care that they should not be heard of before they were seen and felt — would settle the business. They would have all the credit of the victory and of having dealt the final decisive blow. He appealed to the enthusiastic reception which they already met with on their line of march as a proof and an omen of their good fortune. And, indeed, their whole path was amid the vows and prayers and praises of their countrymen. The entire population of the districts through which they passed flocked to the roadside to see and bless the deliverers of their country. Food, drink, and refreshments of every kind were eagerly pressed on their acceptance. Each peasant thought a favor was conferred on him if one of Nero’s chosen band would accept aught at his hands. The soldiers caught the full spirit of their leader. Night and day they marched forward, taking their hurried meals in the ranks, and resting by relay in the wagons which the zeal of the country people provided, and which followed in the rear of the column.
Meanwhile, at Rome, the news of Nero’s expedition had caused the greatest excitement and alarm. All men felt the full audacity of the enterprise, but hesitated what epithet to apply to it. It was evident that Nero’s conduct would be judged of by the event, that most unfair criterion, as the Roman historian truly terms it. People reasoned on the perilous state in which Nero had left the rest of his army, without a general, and deprived of the core of its strength, in the vicinity of the terrible Hannibal. They speculated on how long it would take Hannibal to pursue and overtake Nero himself, and his expeditionary force. They talked over the former disasters of the war, and the fall of both the consuls of the last year. All these calamities had come on them while they had only one Carthaginian general and army to deal with in Italy. Now they had two Punic wars at a time. They had two Carthaginian armies, they had almost two Hannibals, in Italy. Hasdrubal was sprung from the same father; trained up in the same hostility to Rome; equally practised in battle against their legions; and, if the comparative speed and success with which he had crossed the Alps were a fair test, he was even a better general than his brother. With fear for their interpreter of every rumor, they exaggerated the strength of their enemy’s forces in every quarter, and criticized and distrusted their own.
Fortunately for Rome, while she was thus a prey to terror and anxiety, her consul’s nerves were stout and strong, and he resolutely urged on his march toward Sena, where his colleague Livius and the praetor Porcius were encamped, Hasdrubal’s army being in position about half a mile to their north. Nero had sent couriers forward to apprise his colleague of his project and of his approach; and by the advice of Livius, Nero so timed his final march as to reach the camp at Sena by night. According to a previous arrangement, Nero’s men were received silently into the tents of their comrades, each according to his rank. By these means there was no enlargement of the camp that could betray to Hasdrubal the accession of force which the Romans had received. This was considerable, as Nero’s numbers had been increased on the march by the volunteers, who offered themselves in crowds, and from whom he selected the most promising men, and especially the veterans of former campaigns.
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