Battle of Ticinus - Battle

Battle

Livy and Polybius both give accounts of the battle, which agree on the main events, but differ in some of the details.

On the day before the battle Scipio was encamped in the base (castra) at Piacenza, where the colonists had planned to build. This settlement being in a loop on the right bank of the Po river, he had to construct a bridge to access it from the left bank, which is confused in Livy with the bridge constructed over the Ticinus some miles away. Polybius makes it clear that there were two bridges, one from the right to the left bank of the Po at Piacenza and one from the left to the right bank of the Ticinus, location unknown, but the best crossing is at Pavia, which was founded by Roman colonists as Ticinum, perhaps at the site of the fortifications Publius threw up to protect his new bridge. A fine permanent bridge stands there today. The ground on the right bank of the Ticinus north of there was swampy, no place for an army to become bogged down.

After building the bridge over the Ticinus and crossing it Scipio entered the level plain (farmland today) and camped five miles from Victumulae, in the country of the Insubres, believed to be Vigevano now. There is a town to the south of Vigevano, between Pavia and it, Gambolo, which still has some of the features of a large Roman camp, such as the ditch. The main road to Milano passes to the south of Gambolo. From it 19th-century travelers were told they could see the battlefield.

Scipio as consul superseded the praetors Manlius and Atilius. He could therefore have commanded three legions, about 12,000 infantry and several thousand allies, possibly around 20,000 men. The regular cavalry of three legions amounts to 900. Some Gallic cavalry, which fought in the battle but later defected, were about 2,000. In addition were 1,000 allied cavalry attached to Manlius at Rome, a total of about 4,000 cavalry.

At the same time as Scipio was making camp, Hannibal was camping upstream along the Po. The two were unknown to each other but making the discovery through scouts the next day both commanders decided on the same tactic: a reconnaissance in force to discover and test the strength of the enemy. Hannibal probably took the majority of his 6,000 cavalry that remained after crossing the Alps, while Scipio took all of his cavalry and a small number of velites (light infantry armed with javelins). This last decision was not in keeping with a fast-moving reconnaissance and was to cost Scipio the battle and nearly his life.

Coming within observation distance of each other at last the two armies stopped to form ranks. Hannibal offered his strongest motivations to the troops if they would fight to win: tax-free land in Italy, Spain or Africa, Carthaginian citizenship to allies and freedom to all slaves. He then placed his heavy, or "bridled", cavalry in the center and the light and swift-moving Numidian cavalry on the wings: a classic formation in which the wings would break off to ride around and attack the enemy rear. Scipio's less effective technique used the cavalry more like the infantry in a fixed line. The Gallic cavalry would be out front screening a line of javelin-throwers who would cast volleys into the front of the advancing enemy and then retreat through the ranks to the rear.

Hannibal seeing the infantry beginning to form ordered an immediate, all-out charge, which rode down upon the javelin-throwers before they could cast a single volley and sent them running for their lives through the ranks behind them. Livy portrays this retreat as some sort of cowardice but Polybius gives the additional detail. The main cavalry ranks then fought until the Numidian cavalry performed their planned envelopment and attacked the rear. Unable to maneuver because of the infantry milling about the Roman cavalry broke into small groups, some dismounting and fighting as infantry. Scipio was wounded. He found himself isolated with few to defend him and was soon surrounded.

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