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which leads to Perusia, with the apparent design of ravaging the rich plain of Central Italy which extends from Perusia to Spoletum, and is traversed by the great road from Ariminum to Rome.
Here Hannibal, learning that Flaminius had at length quitted Arretium and was upon his trail, prepared an ambuscade for the Roman army. The ground on the north shore of the lake is peculiarly favourable to such a design. But the uncertainty which prevails as to the exact scene of the battle renders it unprofitable to enter into minute details which can, after all, be little more than imaginary.
The probability is that the battle was fought near the present village of Passignano. At that point, and for some 1500 yards eastward towards Perusia, as well as for 1000 yards westwards, the road runs close to the water's edge on the right, and is hemmed in on the left by cliffs which make it an absolute defile. At the Perusia end of the pass a streamlet falls into the lake from a mountain gorge on the left, and the defile terminates, but the road continues in a straight course over the hills to Perusia. At the end of the defile the lake shore turns to the south-west almost at right angles to the direction of the road, and the hills receding from the lake leave a small plain between them and the water. Here Hannibal placed his heavy Spanish and African infantry to stop the Roman march, while the heavy Gaulish cavalry was to charge the left flank of the advancing column when it emerged from the defile.
All the light infantry was ranged along the top of the cliffs overlooking the pass, while the Gaulish infantry and Numidian cavalry, posted in rear of it, were with
drawn from the road and concealed from sight by intervening high ground.
Flaminius, coming from Cortona, arrived late at night at the lake shore where he encamped, too late it is said to examine properly the ground on the line of his next day's march. He pictured to himself in lively colours the havoc which perhaps1 the foreigners were already making of one of the richest districts of Italy; and without making any reconnaissance he set forward early in the morning, eager to overtake the invader. The morning mist hung thickly over the lake and low grounds, leaving the heights comparatively clear, and Flaminius rejoiced in the friendly veil which would conceal his movements from the enemy's scouts. He pushed on rapidly, and hoped he might still be in time to fall on the rear of Hannibal's army while yet in column of march, and encumbered by the rich plunder of the valley of the Arno.
It is supposed that the head of the Roman column, pressing eagerly forward and suspecting no danger, was attacked in front by Hannibal's infantry, and on the left flank by his cavalry, as it emerged from the Perusia end of the pass; while the Roman main body, still committed in the defile, was overwhelmed by huge stones rolled down from above, and charged by the Gaulish infantry and Numidian cavalry in the rear.
Of the Roman army only 6000 men cut their way through their opponents and escaped off the field to Perusia. Of the remainder, 9000 were made prisoners, the rest were slain; and among the latter was Flaminius himself. In the words of Arnold, "He died bravely, sword in hand, having committed no greater military error than many an impetuous soldier, whose death in his country's cause has been felt to throw a veil over his rashness, and whose memory is pitied and honoured. The party feelings which have so coloured the language of the ancient writers respecting him need not be shared by a modern historian. Flaminius was indeed an unequal antagonist to Hannibal; but in his previous life, as consul and as censor, he had served his country well: and if the defile of Thrasymenus witnessed his rashness, it also contains his honourable grave."
The 6000 fugitives invested in Perusia, destitute of provisions and cut off from all hope of succour, surrendered at discretion. Hannibal retained such of his prisoners as were Roman citizens or of the Latin name; but he allowed the remainder to depart, with the assurance that, far from being their enemy, he had invaded Italy for the purpose of liberating its oppressed peoples from the tyranny of Roman dominion.
The road to Rome now seemed open to the conqueror, whose loss in the late battle was only 1500 men. The army of Servilius was still at Ariminum, and no regular force existed between Hannibal and Rome. But he knew he could not hope to subdue that city so long as she was surrounded by faithful allies.* He must first detach the neighbouring provinces from their allegiance; and the only way to do so was to make their inhabitants personal witnesses of the frequent defeat of the Roman armies, and personal sufferers by the calamities of war, from which they might think they could only escape by deserting the cause of a city which was apparently already deserted by fortune. Hannibal therefore, after ravaging the rich plains of Umbria, and having failed in an attempt to surprise Spoletum, crossed the Apennines in the direction of Ancona, invaded Picenum, and, levying contributions in every direction, marched by the coast-road into Apulia, where he hoped to form for himself a secure base of operations which should be in communication with Carthage by sea.
The Roman spirit rose with disaster; the word "Peace" was not even whispered in the city, nor was it proposed to recall a single soldier from Spain. To remedy the evils of divided command, Fabius was appointed dictator and Minucius his master of the horse or lieutenant.
* See Observation 4.
Quintus Fabius Maximus, chosen dictator in this emergency, belonged to one of the noblest and at the same time most moderate families of the aristocracy, and he was himself of a nature no less gentle than wise. Although probably not a strong believer in the religion of the state, he was a consistent observer of its rites and obligations; because he was convinced that without a reverence for the gods the character of a nation must assuredly degenerate, and that a false religion was therefore far better for its professors than none at all. He knew also what a powerful engine religion or superstition was to influence the masses; and therefore, on the very day of his inauguration as dictator, he summoned the senate, and, dwelling on the importance of propitiating the gods, moved that the Sibylline books should forthwith be consulted: and, having observed the directions of the oracle, he now turned to oppose the invader.
In anticipation of Hannibal's advance upon Rome, stringent orders were issued to the inhabitants of the districts through which he might be expected to march, to destroy the corn, to burn the houses, to lay waste the lands, and to remove themselves and families and cattle into fortified towns. Bridges were everywhere broken down, and the defences of the city were strengthened.
Meanwhile the army of Servilius was withdrawn from Ariminum and reinforced by two newly raised legions. Of this force, numbering about 50,000 men, Fabius now took the command, and having led it through Campania and Samnium into Apulia, he encamped at the distance of six miles from the Carthaginian army.
The consul Servilius was appointed to command the