Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Trebia, the first major battle fought by Hannibal against the Romans in the Second Punic War. Hannibal had crossed the Alps from Spain into Italy with an army of some 40 000 men, and Tiberius Sempronius Longus (eager for battle with an election approaching) foolishly walked his larger army straight into an ambush. Here is Livy’s account of the battle:
Sempronius ad tumultum Numidarum primum omnem equitatum, ferox ea parte virium, deinde sex milia peditum, postremo omnes copias ad destinatum iam ante consilio avidus certaminis eduxit.
Sempronius, eager for the contest, as soon as battle was provoked by the Numidians, led out all the cavalry, being full of confidence in that part of the forces; then six thousand infantry, and lastly all his army, to the place already determined in his plan.
erat forte brumae tempus et nivalis dies in locis Alpibus Appenninoque interiectis, propinquitate etiam fluminum ac paludum praegelidis. ad hoc raptim eductis hominibus atque equis, non capto ante cibo, non ope ulla ad arcendum frigus adhibita, nihil caloris inerat, et quidquid aurae fluminis appropinquabant, adflabat acrior frigoris vis.
It happened to be the winter season and a snowy day, in the region which lies between the Alps and the Apennine, and excessively cold by the proximity of rivers and marshes: besides, there was no heat in the bodies of the men and horses thus hastily led out without having first taken food, or employed any means to keep off the cold; and the nearer they approached to the blasts from the river, a keener degree of cold blew upon them.
ut vero refugientes Numidas insequentes aquam ingressi sunt—et erat pectoribus tenus aucta nocturno imbri—tum utique egressis rigere omnibus corpora ut vix armorum tenendorum potentia esset, et simul lassitudine et procedente iam die fame etiam deficere.
But when, in pursuit of the flying Numidians, they entered the water, (and it was swollen by rain in the night as high as their breasts,) then in truth the bodies of all, on landing, were so benumbed, that they were scarcely able to hold their arms; and as the day advanced they began to grow faint, both from fatigue and hunger.
Hannibalis interim miles ignibus ante tentoria factis oleoque per manipulos, ut mollirent artus, misso et cibo per otium capto, ubi transgressos flumen hostes nuntiatum est, alacer animis corporibusque arma capit atque in aciem procedit…
In the mean time the soldiers of Hannibal, fires having been kindled before the tents, and oil sent through the companies to soften their limbs, and their food having been taken at leisure, as soon as it was announced that the enemy had passed the river, seized their arms with vigour of mind and body, and advanced to the battle…
pedestris pugna par animis magis quam viribus erat, quas recentes Poenus paulo ante curatis corporibus in proelium attulerat; contra ieiuna fessaque corpora Romanis et rigentia gelu torpebant. restitissent tamen animis, si cum pedite solum foret pugnatum; sed et Baliares pulso equite iaculabantur in latera et elephanti iam in mediam peditum aciem sese tulerant et Mago Numidaeque, simul latebras eorum improvida praeterlata acies est, exorti ab tergo ingentem tumultum ac terrorem fecere.
The battle between the infantry was equal rather in courage than strength; for the Carthaginian brought the latter entire to the action, having a little before refreshed themselves, while, on the contrary, the bodies of the Romans, suffering from fasting and fatigue, and stiff with cold, were quite benumbed. They would have made a stand, however, by dint of courage, if they had only had to fight with the infantry. But the Baliares, having beaten off the cavalry, poured spears on their flanks, and the elephants had already penetrated to the centre of the line of the infantry; while Mago and the Numidians, as soon as the army had passed their place of ambush without observing them, starting up on their rear, occasioned great disorder and alarm.
Livy XXI, 54-55.