Faced with a common enemy, the Romans quickly overcame their panic and enthusiastically enlisted again to defend the city. At the same time, the Roman cavalry raced through the fields outside the city, urgently informing the villagers to evacuate immediately. A dozen messengers also sped out of the city in all directions to call for help from their colonial cities and allies…
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Ostia was located over twenty-five kilometres from Rome, with no other city-states in between. Rome's nearest ally was situated fifteen kilometres away. This resulted from the Romans' strong expansion over the past century, wherein they would continuously conquer nearby city-states and then move their population to Rome. As a result, even though Rome had kept growing and the land they owned had increased, there was a vast unoccupied area around them for dozens of kilometres, allowing the two armies of Theonia to march smoothly without any obstacles as if they had entered an uninhabited territory. It is unknown whether the Romans regretted their previous shortsighted and arbitrary actions in the past.
It was especially favourable to Theonia's two cavalry legions as they could speed along and charge ahead of the whole army.
Suddenly, they saw thick smoke rising in the distance.
“Damn it! The Romans must be burning their granaries!” Ledes exclaimed, recalling King Davos' order brought by the messenger the previous night, ‘In the early hours of tomorrow morning, you must lead the First and Second Cavalry Legions after the entire army sets off and rush as fast as possible towards the river port on the banks of the Tiber outside the western side of the city of Rome and seize the granary at all costs!’
Ledes began to feel anxious as he shouted, “Go faster! Prepare to put out the fire!”
In a hurry, Ledes ordered the buglers to sound the signal to charge while leading the cavalries to gallop faster.
The Romans built the river port after capturing Ostia, which became another outside channel. But due to the continuous influx of people and the lack of prior planning for the river port, they had to build it outside the city because there was no spare space to accommodate the port inside.
In the first few decades, the facilities at the river port were extremely crude. Only in the last decade did the Romans begin extensively developing the port, primarily due to aid from the Carthaginians and their trade with Rome. The expansion and improvement of the river port led to an increased number of merchant ships transporting goods through the river, which also led to the establishment of granaries adjacent to the port. Due to Rome's frequent wars for more than a decade, they had consumed a lot of grain and sometimes couldn't adequately supply themselves. As a result, Carthage had to aid them by transporting grain mainly by the river and unloading it at the port. After experiencing a fire, the Romans learned their lesson and stopped bringing grain into the city, where the houses were crammed, disorderly, and prone to fires. Instead, they placed the granary directly near the port, which was convenient and safe. Later, they began storing grain collected from other allies at the port and then transported it from there to the camp when the army went on an expedition.
When Ledes arrived with Theonia's First Cavalry Legion, he saw a large rectangular camp with a three-metre-high stone wall surrounding it and several towers inside. Smoke billowed from inside, but not a soul was to be seen or heard. In contrast, the walls of the city of Rome, less than two hundred metres away, were filled with soldiers, and their gates were closed.
Ledes immediately jumped off his horse, drew his short sword, and was about to run towards the camp's gate.
“Legatus, be careful!” Several guards beside him immediately pulled him back while covering their front with the cavalry shield, only to hear two bangs as two sharp arrows struck the shield.
Ledes broke into a cold sweat. After calming down, he fixed his eyes on several figures swaying above the camp wall. Then, after a moment's thought, he shouted, “First brigade, use your javelins to attack the enemy inside! Second brigade, dismount and see if you can ram the gate! The other brigades go around this camp and climb the wall!”
“Yes, Lord Legatus!!”
After a burst of shouting, the cavalry of the third, fourth and fifth brigades began to go around the camp. On the other hand, the cavalrymen of the second brigade ran directly towards the camp's gate, forcing the Roman soldiers on the wall to show their figures and attack the approaching Theonian soldiers with javelins and arrows. But the already prepared second group immediately attacked the enemy on the wall with javelins.
The Theonian cavalry can approach and attack the wall because it's not high, there are no trenches or even an abatis, and they outnumber the enemy. So even though the Roman soldiers have the higher ground, they are still at a disadvantage.
By this time, the other cavalry brigade had already gone around to different sections of the wall. They dismounted their horses, placed their shields on their backs, and left their spears with their mounts while their short swords hung from their waists. They then stood against the wall, with one crouching and the other stepping on their comrade's shoulder. Then slowly and carefully, they stood upright. Since the stone wall was only three metres high, the soldier above the other soldiers’ shoulders could easily reach the wall's edge. Then the soldier below would push his shoulder upwards, allowing the soldier above to climb the wall smoothly… In no time, hundreds of Theonian soldiers stood on the wall.
They saw dozens of large circular granaries side by side inside the camp, many of them already on fire, and a dozen Roman soldiers carrying tar and torches running between the granaries. So the Theonian soldiers immediately split up, with more than half of the soldiers quickly running down the wall to put out the fire, while the rest went down the walled walkway and killed the Roman soldiers who came attacking furiously.
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The soldiers on the western wall of Rome, relying on the height of the city wall, had a clear view of the situation in the granary camp and were concerned about seeing their fellow citizens in danger.
“General Scipio, Gaius and his companions wanted to burn down the granaries completely, so they refused to retreat to the city. They are heroes of Rome! We should go out of the city to save them!”
“The Theonian cavalry only had less than two thousand men, with most already dismounted their horses to fight and wearing only light armour. We can deal a heavy blow to this Theonian cavalry by sending our troops out of the city to attack them now!”
The older Scipio felt more interested in the senators' suggestion than the soldiers' pleading.
There were not only Roman soldiers atop the city wall but also some senators who were a little curious about the might of the Theonians. After all, this would be the first time they would see the Theonian army in person, but their arrival had naturally caused some problems for the older Scipio.
Initially, older Scipio planned to bring all the grain from the granaries into the city and then burn the granaries since he thought he had enough time to complete the task as the scout reported that the Theonians were still far away. He had even organised nearly ten thousand men and many wagons to carry the grain out of the city, hoping to complete the task before the Theonian army arrived.
But just as they were leaving the city, he received another report from the mounted scout that the Theonian cavalries were rushing towards Rome and were only less than fifteen kilometres away.
The speed of the Theonian cavalry had exceeded the expectations of the older Scipio, who not only failed to carry out his earlier plan but also had to retreat immediately back into the city. Worst of all, he couldn't immediately burn the granary to keep order and prevent chaos so that the people and pack animals wouldn’t block the city gate. But as a result, evacuating the grain transport had taken so long that by the time they had entered the city and tried to relight the granary, the Theonian cavalry was already very close to the city of Rome. And according to the report of the returning scout, the Theonian cavalries were heading straight for the granary.
Suddenly, the centurion Gaius, tasked with defending the granary, and a hundred and twenty soldiers under his command voluntarily chose to stay to complete this task.
But the heroism and tragedy of the Roman centuria had made the mistake of the older Scipio even more apparent to the senators. Although the impact of this blunder on his future political career in Rome was significant, he did not have the luxury of reflecting on it since he had to act quickly. Because if his fellow senator's proposal succeeded, it would not only deal a severe blow to the Theonians but also help to restore his image.
Just as he pondered how to send troops out of the city for a surprise attack, “Theonian cavalry! More Theonian cavalry are coming!!…” the soldiers' shout made him look up, only to see dirt and dust in the distance as countless Theonian cavalry in black helmets and armour approaches. And judging by the visible area, they are definitely not less.
And the older Scipio began to hesitate once he saw the newly arrived Theonian cavalry approaching the city, numbered around two thousand cavalries: The total number of the two Theonian cavalry units made him lack confidence in resolving the battle in a short time. After all, he had only three thousand elite soldiers in hand, and it was impossible for them to all leave the city for a surprise attack. While if he sent the recruits formed by the elderly and children, he worried their physical strength wouldn't be enough to support them.
Soon, he didn't need to hesitate anymore as the shouting of the soldiers drew back his attention in the rising dust in the distance: Hundreds of Theonian cavalry in bright armour and red cloaks rushed near the city and joined the team attacking the granary.
The rapid arrival of the Theonian army gave older Scipio the impression that they were advancing as quickly as possible, making it impossible for him to dispatch his troops. Doing so would endanger not only his own soldiers but also Rome itself.
He wasn't the only one thinking that, as even the senators and soldiers atop the city wall had similar thoughts. Therefore, the previously loud calls for battle and pleading disappeared, and the surrounding area became quiet, and only the occasional screams from the granary near the city could be heard.
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The second person to arrive at the river port granary was Theonia's Second Cavalry Legion. Legatus Kurcius quickly found Ledes, who was supervising the battle, saluted to his former captain and said, “Lord Ledes, what should we do?”