UNIVERSAL HISTORY.- THE ANCIENT WORLD.
While these preparations were making on the side of the Romans, Hannibal
was steadily though not without great difficulty, advancing to his purpose.
After the passage of the Rhone, he proceeded to the Isere, and ascended
this stream to the foot of the Little St. Bernard. From this point he
commenced the passage of the Alps. The native tribes of this region
attacked him with great audacity, and many of his troops were cut off. Many
more perished amid the solitudes of the mountain passes. Most of the
elephants pitched from the precipices, and went down roaring into
fathomless chasms-a scene without a parallel in history. At last the
survivors emerged in the valley of the Duria, and soon found themselves on
the sunny plains of Cisalpine Gaul. The Carthaginians were reduced one-half
in numbers, and the rest were chilled and exhausted. A few days' rest,
however, brought the veterans again into condition for battle, and Hannibal
signalized his first week in Italy by the capture of the capital of the
Taurinians-the modern Turin. So decisive and energetic were his blows that
the other Gaulish tribes took counsel of discretion and sent in their
submission to the invader.
Meanwhile the consul Scipio gathered what forces he could from the colonies
of Placentia and Cremona, and with no adequate idea of the character of his
antagonist, advanced to meet him. The Roman march was up the left bank of
the Po as far as the Ticinus, where the consul encountered a part of the
Carthaginian array, and was severely handled. He was himself badly wounded
and compelled to save his army by a retreat to Placentia. Here on the banks
of the Trebia he made a stand, and awaited the arrival of Sempronius from
Sicily. The latter had already been ordered to return to Italy, and his
troops had been embarked for Ariminum. From this point the army marched
rapidly to Placentia, and formed a junction with Scipio.
The Romans were now superior in numbers to the Carthaginians, and the
consuls no longer avoided battle. It was already midwinter, B.C. 218. The
December rains had filled the Trebia bank full. The weather was cold and
gloomy, the air thick with sleet and snow. Hannibal succeeded by
maneuvering in drawing the Romans from their position on the other side of
the river and joining battle on a field of his own choosing. The consuls
proved no match in generalship for the Carthaginian. The contest was hotly
waged for a brief time, but the Romans were presently thrown into confusion
by a charge of the Numidian cavalry, and driven back to the river. The
slaughter became excessive. Those who were not slain or drowned escaped
across the Trebia and took refuge within the fortifications of Placentia.
The defeat was decisive. The Gaulish populations of Cisalpine rose in a
mass and joined themselves to Hannibal's standard. To the barbaric
imagination of the North as well as to the sun-born imagination of Africa
the spoils of all Italy seemed waiting to be devoured.
Rome was now thoroughly aroused from her apathy. She came suddenly to
understand that there was a herd of African lions loose within her borders.
After the battle of Trebia she began to prepare resistance with her old
time energy. In the spring of B. C. 217 four new legions were levied and
equipped. Two of these were sent forward, under the command of the recently
elected consul, Cneius Servilius to Ariminum, and the other two, commanded
by Caius Flaminius, were dispatched to Arretium. The latter general was the
favorite of the Roman people, being the same who as tribune had secured the
passage of that agrarian law by which the northern lands had been recently
distributed to the poor; but he was by no means possessed of such military
talents as to make him a match for Hannibal.
The latter now crossed the Apennines, and reached the valley of the Arno,
whence he proceeded towards Perusia, leaving the consular army under
Flaminius in Arretium. The Roman consul followed in his track as far as
Lake Trasimenus, where the Carthaginian had posted himself for battle. The
latter took possession of the heights commanding a narrow defile, through
which the Roman army must pass. On the day of the battle the region about
the lake was surrounded with a thick fog, and the Romans, uninformed of the
position of their enemy, advanced into the defile,