Late December 218 BC. Hannibal’s army has recovered from the ordeal of crossing the Alps, and unwritten laws of ancient warfare say that this is the time to move to winter quarters. Hannibal, however, can’t – he’s in enemy territory; neither is the Roman consul Servilius willing to wait for warmer weather. He wants a military success before his term ends, and he is not overly worried about the Carthaginian army, thinking the weather is worse for the Africans than it is for the Romans. Hannibal, with his inferior numbers, plans to make good every tactical advantage he can, and to force the Romans to fight tired, hungry, and frozen to the bone. Romans and Carthaginians are encamped at opposite banks of the river Trebia.
Just before sunrise, Hannibal went on a walk around the camp with Maharbal. Several units still looked bleary, cursing the cold, but most were already at breakfast, and wherever Hannibal appeared, the men did their best not to cut a bad figure before their commander.
The Numidians were in the process of rubbing themselves with oil that Hasdrubal had distributed among them the previous night. They would cross the Trebia to draw out Sempronius, and bait him across the river. They were sitting around fires, huddled under blankets, and did their best to drown out their chattering teeth with the loudest and self-assured banter possible.
Warning: terrible proportions.
“The only g-g-good thing,” one of the men shouted to Hannibal and Maharbal, “is that the river c-c-can’t be any colder than the Alps!”
Hannibal grinned as he joined them at the fire. “I hate to tell you this, Gaia,” he said in Numidian. “But I’m afraid this’ll be colder. At least you’ll have something to do to get warmed up again this time.”
“Hurry up with your breakfast over there!” another man shouted to the Punic camp as he was pulling his chiton back over his head. “We’ll get you some Sempronius for afters!”
“No unnecessary heroics, Gulussa,” Hannibal warned. “Draw them out and get them to follow you into the river, but don’t let them get you.”
“No worries,” Gulussa replied. “They can’t get us, we’re too slippery.”
They all laughed, and Maharbal added, “Be careful not to slip off your horse, Gulussa.”
Maharbal turned away with a suppressed grin, and Gaia roared with laughter. “Too much information.”“I can’t!” the man chuckled. “I didn’t oil my thighs on purpose. That’s where my horse’ll keep me warm.”
Hannibal gave Gulussa a clap on the shoulder. “Think a few warm thoughts, but keep them to yourself. I’d like to keep my breakfast to myself, too.” He wiped his hand on his cloak. “Bah. Yes, I think the Romans won’t get you. Good luck.”