Numbers were at once swept away by the stream, but the crowd who had struck upon the ford pressed forward. When they were in midstream in a tumultuous mass Hannibal launched his cavalry upon them, and a desperate conflict ensued in the river. The combat was too unequal to last long. The Spaniards, waist deep in the rapid stream, had difficulty in retaining their feet, they were ignorant of the width or precise direction of the ford, and were hampered by their own masses; the cavalry, on the other hand, were free to use their weapons, and the weight and impetus of their charge was alone sufficient to sweep the Spanish from their footing into deep water.
Many were drowned, many more cut down, and the rest driven in disorder back across the river. But fresh hordes had now arrived; Hannibal sounded the retreat, and the cavalry retired as the Spaniards again threw themselves into the stream. As the confused mass poured across the ford the two divisions of infantry fell upon them, while the arrows of the archers swept the struggling mass. Without order or discipline, bewildered at this attack by a foe whom they had regarded as flying, the Spaniards were driven back across the river, the Carthaginians crossing in their rear.
The flying Iberians scattered terror among their comrades still flocking down to the bank, and as the Carthaginian infantry in solid column fell upon them, a panic seized the whole host and they scattered over the plain. The Carthaginian cavalry followed close behind the infantry, and at once dashed forward among the broken masses, until the Spanish army, lately so confident of victory, was but a broken mass of panic stricken fugitives.
The victory of Toledo was followed at once by the submission of the whole of the tribes of Spain south of the Ebro, and Hannibal, having seen that the country was everywhere pacified, marched back with his army to Carthagena to pass the winter there (220-219 B.C.).
CHAPTER VII: A WOLF HUNT
The summer’s work had been a hard one and the young soldiers of the Carthaginian cavalry rejoiced when they marched into Carthagena again, with the prospect of four months’ rest and gaiety. When in the field their discipline was as strict and their work as hard as that of the other corps, but, whereas, when they went into winter quarters, the rest of the army were placed under tents or huts, this corps d’elite were for the time their own masters.
Two or three times a week they drilled and exercised their horses, but with these exceptions they were free to do as they chose. Scarce one but had relations or friends in Carthagena with whom they took up their abode, and those who were not so fortunate found a home at the great military club, of which, ranking as they did with the officers of other corps, they were all members.