The Battle of Cannae

He soon found, however, that he could not remain any longer where he was. His provisions were exhausted, and he could obtain no more. The Roman would not come out of their encampment to give him battle on equal terms, and they were too strongly in trenched to be attacked where they were. He determined, therefore, to evacuate that part of the country, and move, by a sudden march, into Apulia.

Apulia was on the eastern side of Italy. The River Aufidus runs through it, having a town named Cannae near its mouth. The region of the Aufidus was a warm and sunny valley, which was now waving with ripening grain. Being farther south than the place where he had been, and more exposed to the influence of the sun, Hannibal thought that the crops would be sooner ripe, and that, at least, he should have a new field to plunder.

He accordingly decided now to leave his camp in earnest, and move into Apulia. He made the same arrangements as before, when his departure was a mere pretense. He left tents pitched and fires burning, but marched his army off the ground by night and secretly, so that the Romans did not perceive his departure; and the next day, when they saw the appearances of silence and solitude about the camp, they suspected another deception, and made no move themselves. At length, however, intelligence came that the long columns of Hannibal’s army had been seen already far to the eastward, and moving on as fast as possible, with all their baggage. The Romans, after much debate and uncertainty, resolved to follow. The eagles of the Apennines looked down upon the two great moving masses, creeping slowly along through the forests and valleys like swarms of insects, one following the other, led on by a strange but strong attraction, drawing them toward each other when at a distance, but kept asunder by a still stronger repulsion when near.

The Roman army came up with that of Hannibal on the River Aufidus, near Cannae, and the two vast encampments were formed with all the noise and excitement attendant on the movements of two great armies posting themselves on the eve of a battle, in the neighborhood of each other. In the Roman camp, the confusion was greatly aggravated by the angry disputes which immediately arose between the consuls and their respective adherents as to the course to be pursued. Varro insisted on giving the Carthaginians immediate battle. AEmilius refused. Varro said that he must protest against continuing any longer these inexcusable delays, and insist on a battle. He could not consent to be responsible any further for allowing Italy to lie at the mercy of such a scourge. AEmilius replied that if Varro did precipitate a battle, he himself protested against his rashness, and could not be, in any degree, responsible for the result. The various officers took sides, some with one consul and some with the other, but most with Varro. The dissension filled the camp with excitement, agitation, and ill will.