John C. Yardley and Dexter Hoyos (eds), Oxford World's Classics: Livy: Hannibal's War: Books Twenty-One to Thirty
When Hannibal was already not far from the town, he sent a party of Gaetulians ahead under an officer named Isalca.* He told Isalca to begin with conciliatory words, should he be granted the opportunity to parley, and to try to coax those inside to open the gates and admit a garrison. If they remained defiant, Isalca was to use force and try to break into the city wherever he could.
When the Gaetulians approached the walls, the silence suggested that they were deserted. The barbarians assumed the Romans had been frightened into withdrawal, and so they prepared to force the gates and smash the bolts. Suddenly, the gates opened and two cohorts, formed up inside expressly for the purpose, burst forth with a deafening clamour and wreaked havoc on the enemy. The first wave repulsed in this way, Maharbal was sent in with a stronger force, but he, too, could not stem the counterattack from the cohorts. Finally, Hannibal encamped right before the city walls and prepared to storm this little town, and its little garrison, with an all-out assault and using all of his troops. While he pressed ahead and attacked the enemy, completely surrounding the walls with a ring of troops, he lost a number of men, including his best fighters, to missiles from the wall and turrets. On one occasion, when the enemy took the initiative with a sortie, Hannibal almost cut them off from the town by setting a column of elephants in their way.* He then drove them in panic into the town with comparatively heavy losses, given their numerical weakness. There would have been further casualties had night not broken off the battle.
pg 156The following day the hearts of all the Carthaginians were fired up for the attack, especially when the prospect of a golden 'wall-scaling crown' was set before them and after the commander himself delivered some sharp words. These conquerors of Saguntum were mounting a lacklustre assault on a small fortress on level ground, he said, and he reminded them one and all of Cannae, Trasimene, and the Trebia. Then they began moving up the mantlets and making tunnels. And the Roman allies did not lack energy or ingenuity in countering the various designs of the enemy. They set up protective devices against the mantlets, used intercepting ditches to head off the enemy tunnels, and took countermeasures against all their operations, whether open or covert, until eventually humiliation made Hannibal drop his enterprise. He fortified his camp, established a small garrison (to avoid the impression of abandoning the campaign), and withdrew to winter quarters in Capua.
In Capua, Hannibal kept his army in housing for most of the winter. It was a force that many ordeals over a long period had hardened to face all life's discomforts, but which had no experience of, or exposure to, its good things. The result was that men whom the most intense misery had failed to break were now ruined by excessive comfort and unlimited pleasure—and the more thoroughly ruined because, thanks to their inexperience, they had immersed themselves in them all the more eagerly. Sleep, drink, dinner-parties, whores, baths, and inactivity that, from habit, became sweeter every day—all this sapped their physical and moral strength. So much so, in fact, that their protection now came from past victories rather than their current strength, and this came to be regarded by military scientists as a greater blunder on the leader's part than his failure to march on Rome straight from the battle of Cannae. For Hannibal's hesitation on that occasion could have been seen as merely postponing the victory, but this mistake could be seen as having deprived him of the strength needed to win. And so, indeed, when he left Capua, it was as if he were at the head of another army. No trace remained of its former discipline.* Large numbers came back from the city embroiled in relationships with prostitutes and, as soon as they were bivouacked in tents, and were faced with marching and other military chores, their lack of strength and morale was like that of a raw recruit. Then, throughout the summer season, most began to slip away from the standards without leave, and the deserters' hiding-place was always Capua.