Hasdrubal Barca - 244 BC to 207 BC
Hasdrubal Barca was one of Hannibal Barca's brothers, and is said to have been about three years younger than Hannibal, thus putting his date of birth around 244 BC. He came across from Africa with his brother-in-law, also called Hasdrubal, at probably around the age of ten or eleven to start training under his father Hamilcar's tutelage in the arts of warfare and leadership. By the end of 229 BC, Hasdrubal Barca was campaigning with his father and elder brother in Spain.
In late 229 or early 228, Hamilcar moved into the hinterland of Acra Leuce, accompanied by his sons Hannibal and Hasdrubal, while Hasdrubal the Elder commanded elsewhere. This was to be Hamilcar's last campaign.
He perhaps began in the Spring, and worked his way towards a town called Helice, starving out and storming Segisa, Ilunum and Turbola. When he reached Helice, he put it under siege. He must have been content to starve them into submission as when winter arrived, he sent the bulk of his army to winter-quarters in Arca Leuce to ease his own problems of supply. With his force weakened, Hamilcar was approached by the king of the Orissi, who had a large army with him who pretended friendship with Hamilcar in order to aid the besieged. Hamilcar was caught off guard when they betrayed him, and his army was defeated and put to flight. In order to save his sons, Hamilcar drew off the pursuit. Hannibal and Hasdrubal escaped, but Hamilcar perished as he plunged into a broad flooding river when he was about to be overtaken.
When Hannibal departed Spain at the outbreak of the Second Punic War, he left it in overall command of his brother, Hasdrubal Barca. The first action as a general we hear of Hasdrubal is in 218 BC, where he hastened to the aid of Hanno, who was attacked and defeated by Gnaeus Scipio who had landed at Emporion (a colony of Marseille and ally of Rome with a force of 25,000 men). Unable to help Hanno, Hasdrubal attacked the crews of Scipio's ships who were milling about the countryside, and then withdrew to Cartagena.
This is the only action we hear Hasdrubal undertaking in 218 BC (Livy reports a second intervention, but has likely misunderstood his sources, as Scipio had already gone into winter quarters at Tarraco by this point). Hasdrubal had failed to prevent the Roman army from overrunning much of the territory north of the Ebro to the Pyrenees.
Hasdrubal's next move took place the following year. Hasdrubal commanded a fleet of 40 quinqueremes and advanced to the Ebro. It was a sound strategy intended to destroy the Roman fleet thus severing Scipio's communications with Rome. Hasdrubal could then attempt to crush the Romans on land. The Romans had originally had 60 quinqueremes for the war in Spain, but Polybius reports that he only had 35 ships with him (3.95). One explantation by Lazenby is that they were undermanned. Scipio had realised his land army needed bulking up, and had drafted them into it, and also Hasdrubal's attack the previous year may have been quite devastating to some crews. The Romans however, with the aid of warships from Marseille won and we have a tantalising glimpse of this naval battle from a fragment surviving from Hannibal's Greek historian, Sosylus (Jacoby, FGH 176 F 1):
they all fought outstandingly, but most of all the ships of the Massilians, who were the first to join battle and were wholly responsible for the success of the Romans. In sum, their leaders encouraged the others and made them bolder, while they themselves attacked the enemy with exceptional bravery. The Carthaginians suffered a two-fold defeat, because the Massilians knew their particular style of fighting. If the Carthaginians are facing some ships prow to prow, they advance as if they are going to attack, but instead of attacking immediately, they sail through the enemy line, turn round and ram the enemy's ships from the side.
The Massilians had found out about a tactic which is said to have employed at Artemisium by Heracleides of Mylasa, who was one of the cleverest men of his time. When they drew up their line, they ordered the front ships to face forwards, but to leave other ships waiting behind them at suitable intervals, which as soon as the first ships had been passed could take the opportunity to attack the enemy's ships as they were still advancing, without moving from their original formation. This is what Heracleides did in past times, and as a result he was responsible for the victory. And now, as we said, the Massilians followed the description of this ancient event. As the Carthaginians advanced in the anticipated fashion . . . they fought alongside . . . the Carthaginians turned to flight . . .
Book 4 of the Deeds of Hannibal, by Sosylus.
Hasdrubal's force fled to the shore having lost 6 warships in the process. They were followed by the Romans, who captured a further 19 warships. Hasdrubal had lost half of the Carthaginian Spanish fleet in one battle. Rome would remain unchallenged at sea in Spain for the rest of the war.
Livy goes on to say that Rome followed up this attack by taking a few Spanish towns south of the Ebro, and persuading no less than 120 tribes to join them. Scipio advanced to the pass of Castulo, and Hasdrubal retired to Lusitana by the Atlantic coast. When he moved next, according to Livy, was to aid the Ilergetes who had been fighting punitive forces of Scipio on their territory. Hasdrubal moved to the Ebro, but heard that Scipio's allies, the Celtiberes, had attacked Carthaginian Spain. Hasdrubal apparently hastened to meet them, and was twice defeated by the Celtiberes. However, this whole detailed account by Livy is perhaps unhistorical, as we do not hear of this in Polybius, who stated the Romans did not venture across the Ebro after their naval victory. Polybius says with the news of the naval victory, Rome dispatched his brother, Publius, to Spain with 20 warships. Livy adds 8000 men and supplies.
The brothers advanced to Saguntum with no challenge from Hasdrubal. Through treachery they managed to convince the Carthaginian commander Bostar into releasing hostages, which the Scipio's promptly returned to their homes to garner political support from the Iberian tribes.
In 216 BC, Hasdrubal's problems intensified. Unable to challenge the Romans until he received reinforcements, he was unable to take the offensive due to a serious uprising of the Iberian tribe called the Tartesii, which he crushed in some vicious fighting. After this he received word from the Carthaginian senate that he should advance to Italy and aid his brother there. Hasdrubal's response to this request is recorded by Livy:
Hasdrubal at once sent a despatch to Carthage pointing out what mischief the mere rumour of his departure had caused, and also that if he did really leave Spain it would pass into the hands of the Romans before he crossed the Ebro. He went on to say that not only had he neither a force nor a general to leave in his place, but the Roman generals were men whom he found it difficult to oppose even when his strength was equal to theirs. If, therefore, they were at all anxious to retain Spain they should send a man with a powerful army to succeed him, and even though all went well with his successor he would not find it an easy province to govern. (23.27)
The senate sent a considerable force to Spain under the command of an officer called Himilco, and Hasdrubal set off for Italy in late 216 BC early 215 BC.
Hasdrubal met the Romans at the mouth of the Ebro. Hasdrubal appears to have attempted a Cannae, and placed his Spanish infantry in the centre (without the curve), flanked by Phonei (likely Carthaginian and Phoenician levies from settlements in Spain) and on the right, Africans and mercenaries. On his flanks he set up his cavalry.
Just as at Cannae, the Phonei and Africans and mercenaries wheeled in at the Roman flanks as they chomped through the Spanish centre, but unlike Hannibal's victory, Hasdrubal's centre collapsed and the Romans were able to drive outwards and attacked the Phoeni, Africans and mercenaries. Hasdruba's army was destroyed, but he managed to escape. This was a critical time for the war. Had Hasdrubal managed to win, he would have arrived in Italy to reinforce his brother, along with reinforcements led by Hannibal's other brother, Mago, intended for Italy, which had to be diverted to Spain instead. With things going badly in Italy, this may well have been what Hannibal needed to win the war.
In 215 BC, Livy records further Roman victories in Spain. The first sees another massive Roman victory against Hasdrubal, who had been joined by two other Carthaginian armies led by Mago and Hamilcar son of Bomilcar. Hasdrubal lay siege to the Iberian town of Iliturgi (who had obviously joined Rome by this point). If we are to believe Livy, 16,000 Romans took to the field against Hasdrubal's 60,000 strong army. The Romans won an 'undisputed' victory, killing more than 16,000 Carthaginians, taking 3000 prisoners, capturing 1000 horses and seven elephants (along with killing 5 elephants). Apparently the Romans captured all three camps. The numbers here are ridiculous. He continues to say that Hasdrubal's defeated army made good their losses by recruiting heavily from a friendly province, and attacked Intibili. There was a second engagement against the Romans, who again beat Hasdrubal, killing more than 13,000, taking over 2000 prisoners, and nine elephants. According to Livy, due to these victories, nearly all of Spain allied with Rome (Livy, 23.48).
Livy records in 214 BC that Hasdrubal and his brother Mago destroyed a large Spanish army before the Romans could cross the Ebro to aid their allies. Publius Scipio continued across the Ebro, and encamped at White Fort (where the Barca's lost their father, Hamilcar years before), though his column was attacked and a few stragglers were killed. Publius moved his camp from White Fort and encamped by Mount Victory, and was joined by his brother, Gnaeus and his army. Hasdrubal received further reinforcements when he was joined by Hasdrubal Gisgo and his 'full' army. The Carthaginians set up position across the river and opposite the Roman camp. Hasdrubal almost managed to kill Publius Scipio as the Roman went out to reconnoitre 'with a party marching light', and had to hold up on a hill as he was surrounded by Carthaginians, being rescued later by his brother Gnaeus (Livy, 24.41).
Next, we hear from Livy a further attempt on Iliturgi, but Gnaeus came promptly to the town's aid, killing 12,000 Carthaginians in two engagements and taking 1000 prisoners. The town of Bigerra was also being attacked by Carthaginians, but was relieved by Gnaeus Scipio. A further battle ensued at Munda, where the Carthaginians lost 39 elephants (to pikes) 12,000 men and captured 3000. This was followed by another defeat with the Romans pressing their advantage from their previous victory, killing a further 6000 Carthaginians. After these defeats in a matter of days, Hasdrubal sent his brother Mago to raise fresh troops. Mago returned quickly with a force of Celts, but again the Romans defeated the Carthaginians, killing 8000, and capturing nearly 1000. After this victory, the Romans marched to Saguntum and captured the city.
For the next two years there appears little activity in Spain. The Romans did not further their offensive until 213-212 BC according to Livy, but as he asserts that they did nothing for two years, it must have been in 211 BC that the Scipio's made a move south of the Ebro. According to Appian (History of Spain, 15) Hasdrubal Barca was recalled to Africa during the years 213-212 BC to deal with a Numidian rebellion led by their king Syphax, who had apparently gone over to the Romans. Upon succesfully dealing with the sitaution, Hasdrubal returned to Spain with fresh reinforcements from Afica. Livy says that the Scipio's had formed an alliance with Syphax before their deaths in 211 BC, and sent him some centurions to help train his soldier's in infantry tactics. He also states that the Carthaginians allied themselves with a Numidian enemy of Syphax, called Gala (Massinissa's father) who helped them beat Syphax (Livy, 24.48).
In 211 BC, the Scipio brothers were faced by three Carthaginian generals (Hasdrubal and Mago Barca, and Hasdrubal Gisgo). They divided their forces in an attempt to crush the Carthaginian forces. Perhaps they had incorrect information about the Carthaginian army sizes, but one force made up of two-thirds of the total Roman and allied troops led by Publius Scipio went to deal with Mago and Hasdrubal Gisgo, who were joined leading one army, while Gnaeus went to hunt down Hasdrubal Barca with one third of his army, including 20,000 Celtiberian troops that had joined the Romans in the winter of 212 BC (Livy, 25.32). We now see Hasdrubal Barca intelligently dealing with the Roman army. Aware that Gnaeus was relying on his Celtiberian allies, he arranged secret conversations with the Celitberian leaders (Livy, 25.33). He paid them off at a high price to abandon the Romans and the Celtiberians returned home to their families. Whether this is a Roman fiction to explain Gaenus' defeat at the hands of Hasdrubal is unknown, but Livy's prejudice against barbarian cultures is quite evident. Gnaeus, now faced with a superior Carthaginian force, moved off, but Hasdrubal crossed the river hot on his heels. Before Gnaeus' retreat, Publius' force had also suffered defeat at the hands of Hasdrubal Gisgo and Mago Barca, and they met up with Hasdrubal Barca. Gnaeus Scipio and his outnumbered force took up position on a hill, making a rampart out of their pack-loads, but Hasdrubal's bolstered army made short work of them. Gnaeus was killed either in the fighting, or at a watch tower he had fled too.
Hasdrubal, through bribery and luck in regards to the Roman forces splitting up, averted catastrophe in Spain at a point when Rome was beginning to get a firmer grip on the land south of the Ebro river. Why Hasdrubal Barca did not press his advantage and attempt to cross into Italy at this point was said to be down to the actions of the remnants of the Scipios armies, some 8000 men who holed up at the Ebro river led by Lucius Marcius, a Roman knight nominated by the survivors to take over. Hasdrubal Barca appears to have withdrawn from the Ebro, leaving Hasdrubal Gisgo and Mago to hold the line there and try and finish the Romans (more on this in Mago's section!)
In late Autumn of 211, Lucius Marcius' beleaguered force who had managed to hold the line against both Hasdrubal Gisgo and Mago's attacks was reinforced from Rome. Claudius Nero arrived with 12,000 infantry and 1,100 cavarly, and took over in command from Marcius. Apparently, they managed to trap Hasdrubal Barca in a valley as he was encamped at a place called the Black Stones, in the country of the Ausetani between Iliturgi and Mentissa (this pass has been identified with the defile still called Monte Negro between Cabanes and Barriol). Hasdrubal entered negotiations with the Romans for safe passage of his army in return for parts of Spain, which Nero was delighted by. Hasdrubal used these negotiations to secretly evacuate his men from the pass, starting with the heavy troopers during the first night, and not in large numbers. This is what Livy has to say on this event:
He was careful to see that not very many went out that night, as a small body would make but little noise and be more likely to escape observation. They would also find their way more easily through the narrow and difficult foot-paths. The next day he kept the appointment, but so much time was taken up in discussing and writing down a number of things which had nothing to do with the matters they had agreed to discuss, that the whole day was lost and the business adjourned till the morrow. So another opportunity was afforded him of sending off a fresh body of troops by night. The discussion was not brought to a close the next day, and so it went on; several days were occupied in discussing terms, and the nights in despatching the Carthaginians secretly from their camp. When the greater part of the army had escaped, Hasdrubal no longer kept to the conditions which he had himself proposed, and there was less and less desire to come to terms as his sincerity diminished with his fears. Almost the entire force of infantry had now got out of the defile when, at daybreak, a dense fog covered the valley and the whole of the surrounding country. No sooner did Hasdrubal become aware of this than he sent a message to Nero begging that the interview might be put off for that day as it was a day on which the Carthaginians were forbidden by their religion to transact any important business. Even this did not arouse any suspicion of trickery. On learning that he would be excused for that day, Hasdrubal promptly left his camp with the cavalry and elephants, and by keeping his movements secret, emerged into safety. About ten o'clock the sun dispersed the mist, and the Romans saw that the hostile camp was deserted. Then, recognising at last the trick which the Carthaginian had played upon him and how he had been befooled, Nero hurriedly prepared to follow him and force him to an engagement. The enemy, however, declined battle; only a few skirmishes took place between the Carthaginian rear and the Roman advanced guard. (Livy, 26.17)
Next we hear of Hasdrubal Barca is in 210 BC. A new Roman commander had been appointed in charge in Spain to take over from Nero. Most likely in the summer of 210 BC, P. Cornelius Scipio, son of Publius and nephew to Gnaeus Scipio killed the year before, landed at Emporion with a force of 10,000 infantry and 1000 cavalry, bolstering the Roman army in Spain to 28,000 infantry, and 3000 cavalry. He marched to Tarraco and spent the rest of the year garnering further support of the Iberian tribes and touring the areas under Roman control, congratulating the Roman troops there. He also spent time figuring out where the Carthaginian armies were. The information we have on Hasdrubal's whereabouts comes from Polybius, who has a very important source; a letter from Scipio to Philip V of Macedon on the capture of New Carthage. According to the letter, Hasdrubal Barca, Mago and Hasdrubal Gisgo had been quarreling and had separated into three respective armies. Hasdrubal Barca was besieging a city among the Carpetani in what is now the modern province of Toledo (Polybius, 10.7).
In only what can be described as a gross strategic error, and possibly one that lost Spain for Carthage, New Carthage was left vulnerable to attack. Why Hasdrubal Barca or no Carthaginian army was within easy reach of the most important city for their interests in Spain can not be known, or why the city was poorly garrisoned with 1000 men. Perhaps Hasdrubal Barca, whom Hannibal had left in overall command, had lost control of his younger brother Mago, and Gisgo, who appear to have now been operating separately if we are to believe Scipio's letter? Perhaps they couldn't believe capturing New Carthage could be done, as it was in a solid defensive position? Either way, Scipio boldly attacked in 209 BC, and with inside knowledge, a land and naval attack, succeeded in capturing the city. Livy presents us with a detailed description of the result of captured people, and materials, which had a huge impact on the ability of Hasdrubal Barca to maintain the war in Spain:
As many as 10,000 freemen were made prisoners. Those who were citizens were set free and Scipio gave them back their city and all the property which the war had left them. There were some 2000 artisans; these Scipio allotted to the public service, and held out to them hopes of recovering their liberty if they did their best in the tasks which the war demanded. The rest of the able-bodied population and the sturdiest of the slaves he assigned to the fleet to make up the complement of rowers. He also augmented his fleet by five vessels which he had seized. Besides all this population there were the Spanish hostages; these he treated with as much consideration as though they had been children of the allies of Rome. An enormous amount of munitions of war was also secured; 120 catapults of the largest size and 281 smaller ones, 23 of the heavier ballistae and 52 lighter ones, together with an immense number of scorpions of various calibre, as well as missiles and other arms. 73 military standards were also captured. A vast quantity of gold and silver was brought to the general, including 287 golden bowls, almost all of which were at least a pound in weight, 18,300 pounds of silver plate and coinage, the former comprising a large number of vessels. This was all weighed and counted and then made over to the quaestor C. Flaminius, as were also 10,000 bushels of wheat and 270 pecks of barley. In the harbour 63 transports were captured, some of them with their cargoes of corn and arms, as well as bronze, iron, sails, esparto grass, and other articles required for the fleet. Amidst such an enormous supply of military and naval stores, the actual city itself was regarded as the least important capture of all. (Livy, 26.47)
The next we hear of Hasdrubal Barca, it is 209/208, and it is more bad news. Two supposedly staunch allies of Carthage and powerful Spanish chieftains Andobales and Mandonius abandoned Hasdrubal's camp. Apprently, according to Polybius, they disliked the arrogance of the Carthaginians and were dissatisfied with their treatment by Hasdrubal, who had at some point demanded a large sum of money and that they hand over their wives and daughters as hostages (10.35). Aware of the increasing negative disposition of Carthage's Iberian allies, Hasdrubal Barca decided it was time to bring the Romans to battle. Hasdrubal's decision is told by Polybius:
Surrounded by such difficulties Hasdrubal was agitated by many conflicting emotions and anxieties. He was vexed by the desertion of Andobales; vexed by the opposition and feud between himself and the other commanders; and greatly alarmed as to the arrival of Scipio, expecting that he would immediately bring his forces to attack him. Perceiving therefore that he was being abandoned by the Iberians, and that they were joining the Romans with one accord, he decided upon the following plan of action. He resolved that he must collect the best force he could, and give the enemy battle: if fortune declared in his favour he could then consider his next step in safety, but if the battle turned out unfavourably for him, he would retreat with those that survived into Gaul; and collecting from that country as many of the natives as he could, would go to Italy, and take his share in the same fortune as his brother Hannibal. (10.37)
In the Spring of 208 BC, Hasdrubal Barca had moved to a town called Baecula, strategically blocking Scipio's advance to the Baetis Valley. Upon Scipio's arrival, and after a brief skirmish between his cavalry and Scipio's advance of light troops, Hasdrubal withdrew to a strong defensive position with a flat-topped hill with steep front and sides protected by a river at the rear. Hasdrubal was probably tempting Scipio to attack while he awaited for Mago and Gisgo's armies to arrive and whom were marching towards his position. The Battle of Baecula is another rare battle where we do actually have the tactical dispositions of Hasdrubal's army compared to Livy's sketchy years of battles and defeats between 217-212 BC.
Hasdrubal set up his Numidian cavalry and light armed Balearic and African troops on a slope surrounded by a wall-like rim in the front (Livy, 27.18), which Scipio attacked first with his skirmishers and a picked infantry force. Hasdrubal waited to see the outcome of the fight, and when his men became hard-pressed, he ordered forward his main forces to occupy the height above the slope to support his men, which was what Scipio had been hoping for. Scipio reinforced his attackers with the rest of his skirmishers, then quickly moved around the hill to the right while he order Laelius to move around the hill to the left. When Scipio attacked Hasdrubal's flanks, Hasdrubal had not yet deployed his whole force and had realised he had been outmanoeuvred. With haste, Hasdrubal withdrew, sacrificing his light troops as he moved away with the treasury, elephants, and perhaps up to two-thirds of his army. According to Livy he lost 8000 men. Hasdrubal had lost, but he had not lost his whole army. He now marched towards the Tagus River. Livy records a meeting between Hasdrubal and his fellow generals to discuss what the next move should be. It was decided to continue on to Italy to meet up with his brother:
A council of war was then held. Some of those present urged the immediate pursuit of Hasdrubal, but Scipio thought it hazardous in case Mago and the other Hasdrubal should join forces with him. He contented himself with sending a division to occupy the passes of the Pyrenees, and spent the remainder of the summer in receiving the submission of the Spanish tribes. A few days after the battle of Baecula, when Scipio had descended from the pass of Castulo on his return to Tarraco, the two Carthaginian generals, Hasdrubal Gisgo and Mago, came from Further Spain to join forces with Hasdrubal. They were too late to prevent his defeat, but their arrival was very timely in enabling them to concert measures for the prosecution of the war. When they came to compare notes as to the feeling in the different provinces, Hasdrubal Gisgo considered that as the distant coast of Spain between Gades and the ocean still knew nothing of the Romans, it was so far faithful to Carthage. The other Hasdrubal and Mago were agreed as to the influence which Scipio's generous treatment had had upon the feelings of all states and individuals alike, and they were convinced that the desertions could not be checked until all the Spanish soldiery had either been removed to the furthest corners of Spain or transported into Gaul. They decided therefore, without waiting for the sanction of the senate, that Hasdrubal must proceed to Italy, the focus of the war where the decisive conflict would be fought. In this way he would remove all the Spanish soldiers out of Spain far beyond the spell of Scipio's name. (Livy, 27.20)
Hasdrubal spent the rest of 208 BC in preparation for an invasion of Italy, and joining up with Hannibal. Marseille discovered his whereabouts in France when he arrived and sent word to Rome, along with Roman agents who passed on that Hasdrubal intended to cross the Alps in the spring. The Roman consul Salinator was given command of a consular army to face him, made up of two legions and their respective Roman allies, while they sent the other consul, Nero to face Hannibal with a further consular army. Further armies similar in size to the armies of the consuls were spread out across the Italian peninsular; one under the command of Terrentius Varro was in Etruria, another led by L. Porcius Licinus was positioned in ager gallicus. In the south of Italy, Q Fulvius Flaccus commanded two legions in Bruttium, Q. Claudius Flamen two legions in the region of Tarentum, and C. Hostilius Tubulus one legion at Capua. This is now what Hannibal and Hasdrubal would have face in Italy alone and along with the two freshly raised legions urbane, in all that year Rome had 23 legions in the field spread out across the various theatres of war! (Lazenby, Hannibal's War, p.181)
Hasdrubal set out of winter quarters having conscripted into his army 8000 Ligurians who would meet him when he arrived in Italy, forcing the consuls who had heard of this move to complete their levy quickly and leave for their provinces. Livy describes Hasdrubal's march through the Alps as rapid, that the Gallic, Averni and Aline tribes not only allowed him to cross their borders, but joined forces with him. Hannibal had helped Hasdrubal by rendering the route practical, and Hasdrubal emerged into Cisalpine Gaul much earlier than expected, and with his army intact and healthy. Livy, however goes on to say that Hasdrubal squandered what he gained by speed by laying siege to Placentia. There may well be a practical reason for this, and that Hasdrubal had hoped to attract more Gauls into his army my the attack of Placentia, and to give sufficient time for forage for his army, particularly for the cavalry.
Hasdrubal did not have many options available to him for movement from Cisapline Gaul: one through the Appenines leading to Etruria was blocked by Varro, while if he marched southeastwards that led to Ariminium and the coastal route south was blocked by Licinus. When he did decide to head for his brother, Hasdrubal moved eastwards towards the coastal route, sending out four Celts and two Numidian horsemen carrying letters for Hannibal, the letters saying they would meet up in Umbria. Perhaps this was an attempt to make the Romans believe he was going to cross the Appenines, and thus draw them away from his intended southern coastal route, otherwise it was quite naïve, and brings to question why he didn't tell the messengers verbally instead. However, whatever his intention, the Romans saw that he did not intend to croos the Appenine route, and thus two Roman armies (Salinator's and Porcius') converged and blocked Hasdrubal's march.
Meanwhile Hannibal was moving through Bruttium advancing towards Apulia, probably surprised by the speed of Hasdrubal's march through the Alps, Hannibal broke winter quarters quite late. His march was dogged by Nero and was he was forced into running fights as he moved. One of Hasdrubal's messengers, and thus, the letter fell into the Romans hands, and Nero handpicked 6000 of his best infantry, and 1000 cavalry and slipped away from his camp with Hannibal none-the-wiser, to join up with Salinator's force against Hasdrubal, sending messengers ahead to Salinator to tell him of his coming, and how best to join up forces.
Nero joined up with Salinator secretly and at night after a swift march, and slipped into the camp, his men sharing the tents of Salinator's army to not reveal new tents, as Hasdrubal's camp was quite close (about seven hundred metres away) and the precaution was thought of as necessary. They deployed for battle the next day, and Hasdrubal accepted the challenge, which leads me to believe that the forces were probably even. Hasdrubal wasn't to be fooled however, as Livy tells us:
Hasdrubal had ridden to the front with a handful of cavalry, when he noticed in the hostile ranks some well-worn shields which he had not seen before, and some unusually lean horses; the numbers, too, seemed greater than usual. Suspecting the truth he hastily withdrew his troops into camp and sent men down to the river from which the Romans obtained water, to catch if they could some of the watering parties and see whether they were especially sunburnt, as is generally the case after a long march. He ordered, at the same time, mounted patrols to ride round the consul's camp and observe whether the lines had been extended in any direction and to notice at the same time whether the bugle-call was sounded once or twice in the camp. They reported that both the camps-M. Livius' camp and that of L. Porcius-were just as they had been, no addition had been made, and this misled him. But they also informed him that the bugle-call was sounded once in the praetor's camp and twice in the consul's, and this perturbed the veteran commander, familiar as he was with the habits of the Romans. He concluded that both the consuls were there and was anxiously wondering how the one consul had got away from Hannibal. Least of all could he suspect what had actually occurred, namely that Hannibal had been so completely outwitted that he did not know the whereabouts of the commander and the army whose camp had been so close to his own. As his brother had not ventured to follow the consul, he felt quite certain that he had sustained a serious defeat, and he felt the gravest apprehensions lest he should have come too late to save a desperate situation, and lest the Romans should enjoy the same good fortune in Italy which they had met with in Spain. Then again he was convinced that his letter had never reached Hannibal, but had been intercepted by the consul who then hastened to crush him. Amidst these gloomy forebodings he ordered the camp fires to be extinguished, and gave the signal at the first watch for all the baggage to be collected in silence. The army then left the camp. In the hurry and confusion of the night march the guides, who had not been kept under very close observation, slipped away; one hid himself in a place selected beforehand, the other swam across the Metaurus at a spot well known to him. The column deprived of its guides marched on aimlessly across country, and many, worn out by sleeplessness flung themselves down to rest, those who remained with the standards becoming fewer and fewer. Until daylight showed him his route, Hasdrubal ordered the head of the column to advance cautiously, but finding that owing to the bends and turns of the river he had made little progress, he made arrangements for crossing it as soon as daybreak should show him a convenient place. But he was unable to find one, for the further he marched from the sea, the higher were the banks which confined the stream, and by thus wasting the day he gave his enemy time to follow him. (Livy, 27.47)
The night march was a disastrous attempt. Hasdrubal's army began to split up and blundered through the dark, and soon found himself being attacked by the Roman cavalry and skirmishers as light broke. Hasdrubal, in face of these attacks and in command of a ragged army that had lost men throughout the night march, tried to set up camp on a hill overlooking the river, but with the arrival of the main Roman host led by Salinator, set up for battle instead. Hasdrubal set up the Celts on the hill on his left, massed his Spaniards on the right, with the elephant corp in front of their right wing. This setup makes it apparent that he wanted to smash the Roman left while the Roman right struggled against his Celts setup on the hill. The struggle was even until Nero with a touch of inspired military genius, withdrew some of his men from the rear ranks of the right wing and marched them to the left wing, falling upon the elephants and Spaniards on the flank and rear. His Spaniards and elephants were annihilated, and Polybius says that Hasdrubal, having done all that a good general should, charged into the thick of the fight and perished. Hasdrubal's severed head would later be flung into an outpost of Hannibal's.