September 21, 217 BC
Location: Foothills of the central Apennine Mountains
Hannibal’s invasion of Italy and subsequent victories in the battles of Trebia and Lake Trasimene shocked the Romans. Prodictator Quintus Fabius Maximus ordered a controversial plan known as the Fabian strategy. His plan was to move the Roman legions to the high ground and engage in small skirmishes to disrupt Hannibal’s supplies.
The newly formed legion known as Legio XIX spent months building fortifications in the foothills of the Apennine Mountains. Many of the legionaries spoiled for a fight but were forced to spend their time fortifying their defenses and patrolling the foothills, seeking Carthaginian foraging parties.
Decimus Lucius Vorenus was placed in charge of a scouting party. At his disposal were two contubernii (squads of eight legionaries) and twelve Roman archers. One contubernium was led by Sextus Cornelius Scaro, only recently given a temporary promotion to lead a group of inexperienced replacements.
As they patrolled the foothills of the Apennine mountains Vorenus spotted a group of Numidian cavalry rushing up an embankment, followed by a large group of Iberian infantry armed with short spears and shields. Vorenus split his force in half, placing his group in the front and having Scaro’s forces on his right flank. The Numidian cavalry foolishly charged towards the line of Vorenus’ legionaries followed by the Iberian infantry.
Scaro ordered his archers to volley fire at the opposing force. The arrows dropped two of the infantry. Another volley into the charging cavalry caused two horses to buck and throw their riders. The archers under Vorenus’ command also pelted their enemies with arrows, causing the Iberian commander to order his troops to charge at full speed. The Iberians broke formation and ran, soon engaging Vorenus’ legionaries.
A deadly melee soon showed the efficiency of the Romans’ tactics. Their interlocked shields made it very difficult for the Iberians to engage them. Those still in the back ranks were also being pelted with arrows. The Numidian cavalry officer, protected by shield and scale armor, was completely surrounded by legionaries but somehow surviving. Vorenus ordered a legionary to drop the horse. The horse fell from a vicious wound and the Numidian officer was immediately dispatched.
The Iberian infantry were swiftly losing men and then Scaro’s legionaries moved into their rear. Surrounded and being cut to pieces, two Iberians sprinted across to the embankment, fleeing for their lives. The legionaries did not go unscathed though, as four fell to the ground. One Iberian troop managed to charge and kill one of Vorenus’ brave archers.
The aftermath for the Romans of Legio XIX were three dead and two grievously wounded as well as one captured Iberian infantryman. Vorenus wisely chose to demand his surrender, as Vorenus’ commanding officer would enjoy interrogating the Iberian.