As soon as the Romans established their camp at Lake Timavus, the Istrians themselves occupied a place hidden behind a hill. From then on they shadowed the Roman troops by zigzagging paths, alert for any opportunity. None of the activity in the camp or on the water escaped their notice. When they observed that the detachments in front of the camp were weak and that the crowds of unarmed traders in the busy commercial area between the camp and the shore had no protection from the land or the sea, the Istrians attacked two outposts simultaneously. Their targets were the cohort from Placentia and the maniples of the second legion.
An early morning mist had concealed the beginning of the Istrians' enterprise. This lifted with the first warmth of the sun, but even as the light grew somewhat brighter, it was still murky (as is often the case) and magnified the size of everything. The Romans were deceived into thinking that the enemy force was much larger than it actually was. The soldiers of both detachments were terrified. They fled to the camp in a great panic and compounded the fear their initial stampede had provoked when they were unable to explain their flight or indeed to answer any questions at all.
Then an outcry was heard from the camp's entrances since there was no detachment to fend off an attack. Rushing about in the darkness had caused the Romans to bump into one another so much that it was unclear whether or not the enemy was within the rampart. Amidst the shouting, a single voice was heard: 'To the sea!' This chance, ill-considered outburst from one man reached every corner of the camp. And so men began to run down to the shore just as if they had been pg 5ordered to do so. At first it was only a few, and although some were armed, most had no weapons. Then more men joined them. Finally, practically everyone did, including the consul himself. His efforts to recall the fleeing men had proved useless: they ignored his orders and his authority and even his begging.
One man alone held his ground; this was Marcus Licinius Strabo, a military tribune from the third legion, who had been left behind with three maniples from his legion. The Istrians made an assault into the empty camp and, encountering no other opposition, overwhelmed him in front of the general's headquarters even as he was marshalling his men and shouting out encouragement to them. The fight was disproportionately fierce considering the small number of defenders involved, and it lasted until the tribune and all of those who had stood by him were slaughtered.
The Istrians tore down and ransacked the general's headquarters. Then they made their way to the quaestor's quarters, the meeting area, and the trading district. There they came across all the supplies neatly arranged and exposed to view, and in the quaestor's quarters they discovered couches set up for a meal. Their king immediately lay down and began to eat. It did not take all the others long to forget about the fighting and the enemy and to do the same. Unaccustomed to the rather luxurious fare, they greedily loaded down their bodies with food and drink.