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the accession of the Gauls since its descent from the Alps, that it was little, if at all, inferior in numbers. It was Hannibal's policy to bring on a decisive battle as soon as possible. It is true the Gauls were friendly and furnished all his wants; but they were proverbially fickle, they were impatient to share in the plunder of Roman territory, and they would naturally chafe at a delay, the effect of which was to throw the burden of supporting the Carthaginian army exclusively upon them.
To force the Romans to a battle Hannibal attacked their magazines. One of the principal of these, Clastidium, was betrayed into his hands by the treachery of its governor; and in it he found large supplies of corn. After this, the Carthaginian army encamped on the right bank of the Trebbia, opposite to and within sight of the Roman camp. As Scipio was still disabled by his wound received at the Ticinus, the sole command of the Roman army devolved on Sempronius, who was no less eager to fight than Hannibal; and he is not to be censured for rashness in desiring to bring on an engagement,— for the hostile armies were equal in strength, and Hannibal's transcendent genius was as yet unproved,— but for the entire disregard of all military rules he evinced in conducting the operation.
Early in the morning, Hannibal sent his Numidians across the river to skirmish with the Roman horse, and, if possible, to entice the Romans by retreating to cross the river in pursuit. He had previously posted his brother Mago with 2000 picked men in an ambush, in the overgrown bed of a watercourse, in such a position that, when passed by the Romans in their advance after crossing the river, Mago might burst out upon their flank and rear, while Hannibal engaged them in front.
Sempronius fell into the snare; he ordered first his cavalry and then his whole army to follow the flying Numidians across the river. It was mid-winter, bitterly cold, and the stream ran breast high. It is said the Romans had not broken their fast, and thus wet, exhausted, and half-frozen, Sempronius after crossing formed his troops in order of battle with the river in their rear.*
Meanwhile Hannibal's men had breakfasted and formed leisurely to meet the enemy's attack.
The Romans as was their custom were formed in three lines, with the cavalry, only 4000 strong, on the flanks, in the order which has been described in the introductory remarks.
Hannibal drew up his army in two lines. In the first were his light troops and Balearic slingers. The second line was composed of his heavy-armed African, Spanish, and Gaulish infantry, amounting to about 20,000 men.
The elephants and the cavalry, 10,000 strong, were divided between the wings.
The battle was opened as usual by the light troops; and the Roman Velites, already exhausted with their morning work, were soon driven through the intervals of the maniples to the rear. The Roman cavalry too, charged by the elephants and by the greatly superior hostile cavalry, was broken immediately and driven off the field. But when the Roman infantry came to close, their courage and discipline seemed capable of restoring the balance; but at this critical moment Mago's ambush burst on their rear, while the victorious Carthaginian cavalry, which had returned from the pursuit of the Roman horse, charged both their flanks, and Hannibal pressed them in front. No troops could withstand such an onset. The centre legions indeed, commanded by Sempronius, overbearing all opposition, burst through their opponents and marched clear off the field to Placentia *; but the remainder were driven back into the Trebbia with tremendous slaughter.
* See Obseryation 6.
Only a small remnant reached the opposite bank, and Scipio, after nightfall, leading this remnant once more across the river, passed the enemy in the dark, and joined his colleague within the walls of Placentia.
Thus ended Hannibal's first campaign in Italy
See Observations 7 and 8.
OBSERVATIONS ON THE FOREGOING CHAPTER.
1. Hannibal's sagacity is evidenced by his resolution to provoke a war with Rome. He was well aware of the moral force which attaches generally to the initiative in war; and he perceived also that the relative circumstances of the two powers lent a particular value to the initiative in the present instance. In the first Punic war all the success had been on the side of the Romans and the tide of fortune had set in too strongly in their favour to admit of its being turned by the genius of Hamilcar, who was advanced to the command of the Carthaginian armies too late for that purpose. In consequence of their successes in that war, Hannibal calculated that the Romans, reposing in a haughty security, would be very slow to believe that their despised enemies would willingly engage with them in a second struggle. Hence the Roman apathy in permitting Saguntum to fall, without any more active attempt at its relief than the remonstrance of an envoy. Hence also the time that was lost to Rome, and gained by Hannibal for his preparations, in sending ambassadors to Carthage to demand an explanation after the fall of Saguntum, in place of immediately declaring war and accompanying that declaration with an invasion of Africa, for which purpose Sicily would have served as a convenient stepping-stone and base of operations.