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Translated by Rev. Canon Roberts
Book XXXVIII Chapter 14: The battle of Ilipa. A stratagem of Scipio[206 BC]
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After the strength of each side had been sufficiently tested in these encounters Hasdrubal led out his army to battle, on which the Romans did the same. Each army remained standing in front of its camp, neither caring to begin the fight. Towards sunset the two armies, first the Carthaginian and then the Roman, marched back to camp. This went on for some days; the Carthaginians were always the first to get into line and the first to receive the order to retire when they were tired out with standing. No forward movement took place on either side, no missile was discharged, no battle-shout raised. The Romans were posted in the centre on the one side, the Carthaginians in the centre of the other; the flanks on both armies were composed of Spanish troops. In front of the Carthaginian line were the elephants which looked in the distance like towers. It was generally supposed in both camps that they would fight in the order in which they had been standing, and that themain battle would be between the Romans and Carthaginians in the centre, the principals in the war and fairly matched in courage and in arms. When Scipio found that this was assumed as a matter of course, he carefully altered his dispositions for the day on which he intended to fight. The previous evening he sent a tessera through the camp ordering the men to take their breakfast and see that their horses were fed before daybreak, the cavalry were at the same time to be fully armed with their horses ready, bitted and saddled. Day had scarcely broken when he sent the whole of his cavalry with the light infantry against the Carthaginian outposts, and at once followed them up with the heavy infantry of the legions under his personal command. Contrary to universal expectation he had made his wings the strongest part of his army by posting the Roman troops there, the auxiliaries occupied the centre. The shouts of the cavalry roused Hasdrubal and he rushed out of his tent. When he saw the melee in front of the rampart and the disordered state of his men, and in the distance the glittering standards of the legions and the whole plain covered with the enemy, he at once sent the whole of his mounted force against the hostile cavalry. He then led his infantry out of the camp, and formed his battle line without any change in the existing order. The cavalry fight had now been going on for some time without either side gaining the advantage. Nor could any decision be arrived at, for as each side was in turn driven back they retreated into safety amongst their infantry. But when the main bodies were within half a mile of each other, Scipio recalled his cavalry and ordered them to pass to the rear of the infantry, whose ranks opened out to give them passage, he then formed them into two divisions, and posted one as a support behind each of the wings. Then when the moment for executing his maneuver arrived he ordered the Spaniards in the centre to make a slow advance, and sent word to Silanus and Marcius that they were to extend to the left as they had seen him extend to the right, and engage the enemy with their light cavalry and infantry before the centers had time to close. Each wing was thus lengthened by three infantry cohorts and three troops of horse, besides velites, and in this formation they advanced against the enemy at a run, the others following en echelon. The line curved inwards towards the centre because of the slower advance of the Spaniards. The wings were already engaged whilst the Carthaginians and African veterans, the main strength of their army, had not yet had the chance of discharging a single missile. They did not dare to leave their place in the line and help their comrades for fear of leaving the centre open to the advance of the enemy. The wings were being pressed by a double attack, the cavalry and light infantry had wheeled round and were making a flank charge, whilst the cohorts were pressing their front in order to sever them from their centre. |
Actions in Spain in 206 BC
Event: Actions in Spain in 206 BC
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Scipio Africanus the Elder
Tessera:A wooden tablet on which the watchword was written -- it was not as a rule given verbally -- and frequently, also, the order of the day, as in the present instances.
Standard:When an army was in camp, they were fixed in the ground, each marking the station of the cohort to which it belonged; when they were taken up it was the signal for breaking up the camp and commencing the march.
Horse:a. the animal. b. cavalry.