Next year’s Consuls, however, Publius Furius (223 B.C.), and Gaius Flaminius, again invaded the Celtic territory, through the country of the Anares who dwelt not far from Marseilles. Having admitted this tribe to their friendship, they crossed into the territory of the Insubres, near the junction of the Po and Adda. Both in crossing and in encamping on the other side, they suffered some loss, and at first remained on the spot, but later made a truce and evacuated the territory under its terms. After a circuitous march of some days, they crossed the river Clusius and reached the country of the Cenomani, who were their allies, and accompanied by them, again invaded from the district at the foot of the Alps the plains of the Insubres and began to lay the country waste and pillage their dwellings.
The chieftains of the Insubres, seeing that the Romans adhered to their purpose of attacking them, decided to try their luck in a decisive battle. Collecting all their forces in one place, they took down the golden standards called “immovable” from the temple of Minerva, and having made all other necessary preparations, boldly took up a menacing position opposite the enemy. They were about fifty thousand strong. The Romans, on the one hand, as they saw that the enemy were much more numerous than themselves, were desirous of employing also the forces of their Celtic allies, but on the other hand, taking into consideration Gaulish fickleness and the fact that they were going to fight against those of the same nation as these allies, they were shy of asking such men to participate in an action of such vital importance. Finally, remaining themselves on their side of the river, they sent the Celts who were with them across it, and demolished the bridges that crossed the stream, firstly as a precaution against their allies, and secondly to leave themselves no hope of safety except in victory, the river, which was impassable, lying in their rear. After taking these measures they prepared for battle.
The Romans are thought to have managed matters very skilfully in this battle, their tribunes having instructed them how they should fight, both as individuals and collectively. For they had observed from former battles that Gauls in general are most formidable and spirited in their first onslaught, while still fresh, and that, from the way their swords are made, as has been already explained, only the first cut takes effect; after this they at once assume the shape of a strigil, being so much bent both length-wise and side-wise that unless the men are given leisure to rest them on the ground and set them straight with the foot, the second blow is quite ineffectual. The tribunes therefore distributed amongst the front lines the spears of the triarii who were stationed behind them, ordering them to use their swords instead only after the spears were done with. They then drew up opposite the Celts in order of battle and engaged. Upon the Gauls slashing first at the spears and making their swords unserviceable the Romans came to close quarters, having rendered the enemy helpless by depriving them of the power of raising their hands and cutting, which is the peculiar and only stroke of the Gauls, as their swords have no points. The Romans, on the contrary, instead of slashing, continued to thrust with their swords which did not bend, the points being very effective. Thus, striking one blow after another on the breast or face, they slew the greater part of their adversaries.
This was solely due to the foresight of the tribunes, the Consul Flaminius being thought to have mismanaged the battle by deploying his force at the very edge of the river-bank and thus rendering impossible a tactical movement peculiar to the Romans, as he left the lines no room to fall back gradually. For had the troops been even in the slightest degree pushed back from their ground during the battle, they would have had to throw themselves into the river, all owing to their general’s blunder. However, as it was, they gained a decisive victory by their own skill and valour, as I said, and returned to Rome with a quantity of booty and many trophies.
Next year the Celts sent ambassadors begging (222 B.C.) for peace and engaging to accept any conditions, but the new Consuls Marcus Claudius and Gnaeus Cornelius strongly urged that no peace should be granted them. On meeting with a refusal, the Celts decided to resort to their last hope and again appealed to the Gaesatae on the Rhone, and hired a force of about thirty thousand men. When they had these troops they kept them in readiness and awaited the attack of the enemy. The Roman Consuls, when the season came, invaded the territory of the Insubres with their legions. Encamping round a city called Acerrae lying between the Po and the Alps, they laid siege to it. The Insubres could not come to the assistance of the besieged, as the Romans had occupied all the advantageous positions, but, with the object of making the latter raise the siege, they crossed the Po with part of their forces, and entering the territory of the Anares, laid siege to a town there called Clastidium. On the Consuls learning of this, Marcus Claudius set off in haste with the cavalry and a small body of infantry to relieve the besieged if possible. The Celts, as soon as they were aware of the enemy’s arrival, raised the siege and advancing to meet them, drew up in order of battle. When the Romans boldly charged them with their cavalry alone, they at first stood firm, but afterwards, being taken both in the rear and on the flank, they found themselves in difficulties and were finally put to rout by the cavalry unaided, many of them throwing themselves into the river and being swept away by the current, while the larger number were cut to pieces by the enemy.
The Romans now took Acerrae, which was well stocked with corn, the Gauls retiring to Mediolanum, the chief place in the territory of the Insubres. Gnaeus followed close on their heels, and suddenly appeared before Mediolanum. The Gauls at first did not stir, but, when he was on his way back to Acerrae, they sallied out, and made a bold attack on his rear, in which they killed a considerable number of the Romans and even forced a portion of them to take to flight, until Gnaeus, calling back the forces in advance, urged the fugitives to rally and withstand the enemy. After this the Romans, on their part obeying their Consul, continued to fight vigorously with their assailants, and the Celts after holding their ground for a time, encouraged as they were by their momentary success, were shortly put to flight and took refuge on the mountains. Gnaeus, following them, laid waste the country and took Mediolanum itself by assault, upon which the chieftains of the Insubres, despairing of safety, put themselves entirely at the mercy of the Romans.
Such was the end of the war against the Celts.
(Source: Polybius, The Histories, Vol.I, Book II, Loeb Classical Library)
Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Anastasius Philoponus