All these movements took place very rapidly. Only a very short period elapsed from the time that the Roman army, officers and soldiers, were quietly sleeping in their camp, or rising slowly to prepare for the routine of an ordinary day, before they found themselves all drawn out in battle array some miles from their encampment, and surrounded and hemmed in by their foes. The events succeeded each other so rapidly as to appear to the soldiers like a dream; but very soon their wet and freezing clothes, their limbs benumbed and stiffened, the sleet which was driving along the plain, the endless lines of Carthaginian infantry, hemming them in on all sides, and the columns of horsemen and of elephants charging upon them, convinced them that their situation was one of dreadful reality. The calamity, too, which threatened them was of vast extent, as well as imminent and terrible; for, though the stratagem of Hannibal was very simple in its plan and management, still he had executed it on a great scale, and had brought out the whole Roman army. There were, it is said, about forty thousand that crossed the river, and about an equal number in the Carthaginian army to oppose them. Such a body of combatants covered, of course, a large extent of ground, and the conflict that ensued was one of the most terrible scenes of the many that Hannibal assisted in enacting.
The conflict continued for many hours, the Romans getting more and more into confusion all the time. The elephants of the Carthaginians, that is, the few that few remained, made great havoc in their ranks, and finally, after a combat of some hours, the whole army was broken up and fled, some portions in compact bodies, as their officers could keep them together, and others in hopeless and inextricable con: fusion. They made their way back to the river, which they reached at various points up and down the stream. In the mean time, the continued rain had swollen the waters still more, the low lands were overflowed, the deep places concealed, and the broad expanse of water in the center of the stream whirled in boiling and turbid eddies, whose surface was roughened by the December breeze, and dotted every where with the drops of rain still falling.
When the Roman army was thoroughly broken up and scattered, the Carthaginians gave up the further prosecution of the contest. They were too wet, cold, and exhausted themselves to feel any ardor in the pursuit of their enemies. Vast numbers of the Romans, however, attempted to re-cross the river, and were swept down and destroyed by the merciless flood, whose force they had not strength enough remaining to withstand. Other portions of the troops lay hid in lurking-places to which they had retreated, until night came on, and then they made rafts on which they contrived to float themselves back across the stream. Hannibal’s troops were too wet, and cold, and exhausted to go out again into the storm, and so they were unmolested in these attempts. Notwithstanding this, however, great numbers of them were carried down the stream and lost.
It was now December, too late for Hannibal to attempt to advance much farther that season, and yet the way before him was open to the Apennines, by the defeat of Sempronius, for neither he nor Scipio could now hope to make another stand against him till they should receive new re-enforcements from Rome. During the winter months Hannibal had various battles and adventures, sometimes with portions and detachments of the Roman army, and sometimes with the native tribes. He was sometimes in great difficulty for want of food for his army, until at length he bribed the governor of a castle, where a Roman granary was kept, to deliver it up to him, and after that he was well supplied.
The natives of the country were, however, not at all well disposed toward him, and in the course of the winter they attempted to impede his operations, and to harass his army by every means in their power. Finding his situation uncomfortable, he moved on toward the south, and at length determined that, inclement as the season was, he would cross the Apennines.
By looking at the map of Italy, it will be seen that the great valley of the Po extends across the whole north of Italy. The valley of the Arno and of the Umbro lies south of it, separated from it by a part of the Apennine chain. This southern valley was Etruria. Hannibal decided to attempt to pass over the mountains into Etruria. He thought he should find there a warmer climate, and inhabitants more well disposed toward him, besides being so much nearer Rome.