p187 Heº was succeeded by the younger Dionysius, his p188 eldest son, who began life at twenty-eight years of age as one of the most powerful sovereigns in the west, and ended it as a schoolmaster in Corinth. Few dynasties have been enduring, of which the founder was a conqueror, and Dionysius the Second exhibited all the faults and weaknesses which were to be expected in a youth who had been brought up without experience of the world, still less of government, whose chief occupation had been a manual art, and whose only amusements had consisted in unbridled excess. It was no wonder that he could not wield the power which had fallen to him as an inheritance, or that he should have been completely dominated by a man who, although himself not strong of purpose, was a tower of strength compared with such a weakling.
This man was Dion, sometimes said to have been the father-in‑law of the young prince, but who was really his brother-in‑law; a Platonist, a mystic, and a dreamer, wise in his beginnings, devoted in his pursuit of an ideal, honourable, as some weak and good men are, with sudden lapses from the right that shock us the more because their right was so high; a man of sad and thoughtful disposition, who gradually degenerated from a noble beginning to a miserable end.
He conceived the plan of inducing Plato himself to make a second visit to Syracuse, that his influence might save the young Dionysius from destruction, and teach him to make a fact of the Ideal State, and the great philosopher p189 fancied that his own opportunity was come at last and yielded to the tyrant's request. The aspect of the Syracusan court was changed, the sounds of revelry died away, the halls were strewn with sand that the master might draw geometrical figures upon them, and the scapegrace despot became as gentle and forgiving as an ideal Platonist should be. But he became as weak to the influence of his courtiers as he was docile to the new teachings of philosophy, and before long Dion was banished to the Peloponnesus and afterwards to Athens, under the thin pretence of an embassy. For a time Plato remained with the tyrant, against his will perhaps, for Dionysius made him live in the castle on Ortygia and had him closely watched. But a small war in which Syracuse became engaged soon required the attention of the sovereign, and the philosopher was suffered to depart to Greece. Yet he was induced to return a third time, and chiefly through his friendship for the banished Dion; but though he was received magnificently and pressed with splendid gifts which he refused to accept, he was not able to obtain anything for his friend, whose great possessions were presently confiscated, while Plato soon found himself treated almost like a prisoner, if not worse; for he had been constantly advising Dionysius to give up his life-guard, and the soldiers who now watched him, being of that body, hated him and would gladly have murdered him. But a ship having been sent from Greece by p190 Archytas, Plato's friend, with orders to bring the philosopher home, he was allowed to sail without opposition. "I fear," said the tyrant when they parted, "that you and your friends will speak ill of me when you get home." "I trust," answered Plato, smiling, "that we shall never be so much at a loss for a subject of conversation as to speak of you at all."
Then Dionysius married his sister Arete, who was Dion's wife, to a courtier, against her will, and Dion's gentle nature was roused at last. He raised a small force of mercenary soldiers, in Zacynthus, that is now called Zante, and led them up to make a solemn sacrifice in the temple of Apollo; and though the moon was eclipsed on that very night, to the consternation of his men, his soothsayer Miltas persuaded them that the portent foretold the overshadowing of Dionysius' power, and they were satisfied. A storm drove the five small ships far to southward, and they made Sicily at last at Minoa, a Phoenician town west of Akragas. Dion landed by force but without bloodshed, and marching eastward gathered an army of twenty thousand men. The tyrant was known to be absent from Syracuse, and the letter that warned him of his enemies' approach was lost by the messenger, who had a piece of meat in the same wallet with it, and fell asleep under a tree: a wolf carried off the bag with all its contents. Dion passed on, and came within sight of Syracuse at dawn; in the level rays of the morning sun he sacrificed to p191 Apollo for the freedom of the city and of Sicily, and his devoted followers crowned themselves with garlands. At the first news that Dion was at hand, the whole city rose, the tyrant's governor, Timocrates, fled in headlong haste, and the citizens came forth by thousands, in festal garments, to bring Dion through the gates in triumph. Entering the city, he caused it to be proclaimed that he was come to free Syracuse and all Sicily from the despot's hands, and to restore the democracy of earlier days. The wildest enthusiasm took possession of the people. Only a small body of loyal troops held Epipolae and the castle of Ortygia. The first place Dion seized at once, and he set free all the prisoners who were kept there. The castle withstood him for a time, and the result was an irregular war, in the course of which Dion lost his hold upon the people, was removed from his generalship by them to make way for his secret enemy Heraclides, and was obliged to retire to Leontini. In his absence the people were badly beaten by the tyrant's soldiers, who made a vigorous sally, slew many hundreds, and plundered the houses as if they had been in an enemy's city. Humiliated by this defeat and even more terrified than humiliated, the Syracusans sent messengers entreating Dion to return and save them. They found him in his house at sunset and appealed to him with all the eloquence of terror. His gentle nature, incapable of Achillean wrath, yielded to their entreaties, and calling his soldiers p192 together he set forth at once to the rescue. At the news of his approach the besieged force withdrew into the castle, and once more the people hesitated as to whether they should admit Dion or not. But before morning the garrison of the castle sallied out again, and by way of hastening a solution of the situation set fire to the city. Dion reached the gates in time to witness the spectacle, but too late to save more than half the city. Heraclides surrendered to his old leader unconditionally, and many entreated Dion to give him up to the soldiery to be dealt with as they chose. But the kind-hearted man gently quoted the maxim of Plato and asked whether, because Heraclides had been envious and faithless, Dion should therefore be wrathful and cruel.
A formal siege of the castle was now undertaken, while the friends of Dionysius were gathering forces elsewhere to rescue it. But Dion's military operations were systematic and complete, the promised assistance did not reach the besieged, and they finally capitulated, on condition that the members of the tyrant's family should be allowed to depart with such treasure as they could take with them.
It will be remembered that Dion's expedition to liberate Syracuse from the tyrant had not been undertaken until his wife had been forcibly married to another. During the whole time and up to the capitulation of Ortygia, both she and Dion's son, and her mother p193 Aristomache, had been within the castle, helpless to render him any assistance or to communicate with him. As he entered the stronghold, they came forward to meet him. First came Aristomache leading his son, while his wife Arete followed at a little distance with streaming eyes, for she knew not how Dion would look upon her after she had so long been the wife of another. But when he had embraced his son and Aristomache, the latter led forward his wife and spoke these words: "Your banishment has made us all miserable alike, and your victorious return has filled us all with joy, excepting her whom it was my ill fortune to see married by force to another. How shall she salute you now? Are you only her mother's brother, or will you be still her husband?" Then Dion clasped Arete in his arms very tenderly, and they took their son and went to his own house, where he intended live thenceforward. He was too conscientious to make himself despot in Dionysius' place, yet too aristocratic by nature to found a true democracy. He had freed Syracuse and liberated all Sicily, but he was unable to follow up his advantage. He dreamed of something between a monarchy and a commonwealth, and between those two forms of government there could only be an aristocracy. He attempted to control the people, refused to allow them to demolish the castle, and prevented them from tearing the ashes of the elder Dionysius from the tomb; he kept himself aloof from the masses and chose Corinthians p194 for his counsellors; his intention, as Plutarch says, was to restrain the government of the people, which, according to Plato, is a warehouse of governments, and to set up a Lacedaemonian constitution. Meanwhile, Heraclides, whose life he had spared, opposed him at every turn and accused him of every crime against liberty, until the gentle Platonist fell into the state of exasperation which is peculiar to weak characters, and, out of sheer weariness and annoyance, consented to the suggestion of his friends that Heraclides should be murdered. It was his own death warrant. The deed being done, in a sudden revulsion of feeling he decreed that the murdered man should have a magnificent funeral at the public expense, and he addressed the people in a speech which was at once a political harangue, an impeachment, a panegyric of the dead man, and an apology for having slain him. After this his character and his intelligence rapidly degenerated; his only son, scarcely more than a boy, committed suicide in a fit of disappointment over a trifle; the furies of Heraclides pursued him even in his own house, and the gigantic spectre of a woman swept the hall of his home at nightfall with a phantom broom; a settled melancholy that was fraught with terror possessed him, and he saw a conspirator and a murderer in every man who approached him. Like the elder Dionysius, he employed spies throughout the city, but unlike him, he lacked the cynical courage to execute unhesitatingly p195 every one whom he suspected. On pretence of creating an imaginary conspiracy for the sake of detecting it, and increasing Dion's popularity by a general pardon of those concerned, — a trick which could hardly deceive a schoolboy, — his former friends conspired in good earnest to take his life. They came to him at last in his own house, all unarmed, lest they should be searched by his guards and their weapons taken from them, and they trusted to slay him with their hands; but when they could not, because he was very strong, none dared to out to fetch a sword wherewith to kill him, and so they held him fast for the greater part of an hour; but at last one of their number who had remained outside, came to the window and passed in a knife to them. And so they slew him. That was the miserable end of the attempt to restore liberty in Sicily.
The leader of the murderers was one Callippus, an Athenian, who had long been Dion's friend. He instantly seized the power, and reigned thirteen months, a military despot hated by all alike, till he was driven out on his first attempt to extend his dominions. Two or three years later he was slain near Rhegium, and with the very knife by Dion had died, by two of his fellow-murderers.
Syracuse became the sport of any adventurer who could gain the momentary support of the soldiery, and at last it was the turn of the younger Dionysius, who had succeeded in holding Rhegium and Locri throughout p196 the confusion of those years. Returning to Syracuse, he showed himself at his worst, and ruled by a system of terror which has rarely been equalled and never surpassed. Not Syracuse only but all Sicily had fallen into a miserable condition; the mercenaries employed by the tyrants at the height of their power overran the country far and wide, supporting themselves by plunder and revelling in every species of licentious excess. Anarchy reigned supreme; Carthage had concluded a treaty with Rome and again stretched out her grasping hand in an attempt to get possession of the coveted island; in utmost fear the Syracusans turned to Corinth for help, imploring the assistance of a general if not of an armed force. Their request was granted, and Corinth sent them a man whose name stands almost alone in history, the patriot soldier Timoleon, he who saved his brother's life in battle by a miracle of reckless courage, but gave him over to a just death when he seized the power and attempted to make himself the tyrant of Corinth.
We contemplate Timoleon's almost unattainable moral greatness with a sort of despair, and with realize that an example may be so perfect as to discourage all attempt at imitation. He risks his life with magnificent recklessness to save his brother from the enemies' spears, and then, with antique virtue, after using every means of affectionate persuasion in vain, he orders the same brother to be executed before his eyes, that his p197 country may be saved from tyranny; yet being very human at heart, he withdraws from public life, and almost from the society of mankind, to mourn in solitude for nearly twenty years the deed which he would have done again. Emerging at last from his retirement in the hope of setting free an enslaved country, he exhibits, with the most exiguous resources, the most magnificent gifts of generalship, carries all before him in a series of brilliant actions, liberates Sicily, restores democratic freedom, vanquishes the Carthaginians, and establishes just laws. The idol of his adopted people, the arbiter of their destinies, and almost their predestined master, not a thought of holding the rulership assails him, nor is the lustre of his patriotism dimmed by the least breath of ambition; after teaching a nation to govern itself wisely, he retires to the peaceful privacy of an ordinary citizen's condition, and he lives out the calm remainder of his days in the enjoyment of the liberty he has created, and under the rare protection of the laws he has called into existence. It is indeed hard to see how human nature could approach nearer to perfection from the beginning to the end of a career fraught with danger, difficulties, and perplexing problems.
Timoleon's departure from Corinth was accompanied by the most propitious signs and auguries. Demeter and Persephone appeared to their priestesses in dreams, clad in the garb of travellers and promising to accompany p198 and protect the expedition. When Timoleon sacrificed to Apollo in Delphi, a wreath embroidered with crowns and images of victory fell from its place and encircled his head; and when at last his ships put to sea, mysterious fires came down from heaven and floated through the darkness before them, night after night, until the ships made the Italian coast. Nor is the last occurrence perhaps altogether a fable, for in fair weather, and in certain conditions of the air, seafaring men are familiar with the lights of Saint Elmo, the electric glow that sometimes settles on the mastheads and hangs at the yardarms in balls of fire for whole nights together, and which must naturally have seemed to the ancients but nothing less than a heavenly portent.
The story of Timoleon's war of liberation must be briefly told. In Rhegium he found a Carthaginian fleet, of which the commanders were disposed to prevent his movement upon Syracuse; but in concert with the people of the city he called the Carthaginian generals to a council within the walls, and while long arguments were made to cause delay, Timoleon's fleet slipped out of the harbour and got to sea; then, when he received news that they were under way, he himself disappeared in the crowd, reached his own vessel, which had waited for him, and was beyond pursuit before the council broke up and the Carthaginians discovered that they had been tricked. Sailing down the east coast, he was received with open arms in Tauromenium, p199 and he looked about for a second ally. At last the people of Hadranum, now Adernò, being divided into two parties, the one asked help of Timoleon, the other of Icetes or Hicetas, who held all of Syracuse except Ortygia and was in good understanding with the Carthaginians; Timoleon surprised and put to flight his force, and Hadranum opened its gates.
Dionysius was meanwhile driven to last extremities in his castle on the little island; he was hemmed in on all sides, and he saw that whether Icetes or Timoleon won the day, his own lordship was at an end. He sent messengers to Timoleon secretly, and treated with him for the surrender of the island, on the condition of being allowed to escape with one ship and all the treasure he could carry. This was granted; four hundred of Timoleon's men entered the fortress in spite of the vigilance of Icetes, and the Dionysian dynasty was at an end. Timoleon held Catania and supplied Ortygia with provisions by means of a number of small vessels which regularly ran the blockade. Icetes went out to attack Catania in order to destroy the base of supplies. He was not in sight of the latter place when news came that in his absence the Corinthians in Ortygia had succeeded in seizing Achradina, and had connected it with the island by hasty works, and he hurriedly returned to Syracuse. And now a long siege followed, with little fighting, and it came to pass that in the idle days Timoleon's Corinthian p200 soldiers came out to catch fish in the ponds near the marsh, and the Greeks who were with Icetes came likewise, so that they made friendly acquaintance; for they had no reason for quarrelling except that they were mercenaries on opposite sides, and had to fight when they were led out to battle. They told each other that Icetes ought to side with Timoleon, and that both should drive out the Carthaginians, and presently it was rumoured that Icetes would do so. Thereupon, without striking another blow, the Carthaginian general suddenly withdrew his whole army and fleet, and sailed away to Africa. They were hardly out of sight when Timoleon led up his force, and in a triple attack drove Icetes out of Syracuse altogether. He had accomplished the first part of his task, and he set to work to reorganize the liberated people.
He now showed his vast intellectual and moral superiority over Dion. The latter's first move was to establish himself in the castle on Ortygia, as if expecting to be attacked by the people he had freed; Timoleon called upon the inhabitants to raze the tyrant's fortress to the ground, and to build the people's tribunal upon the spot, and he began to make them frame laws which should be administered there, while he himself lived simply, openly, and unattended.
Sicily had been reduced to a desperate condition by civil war, and Syracuse, like many other Sicilian cities, p201 was half depopulated. The grass grew high in the market-places, the deer and wild boar from the forests grazed under the very walls of the towns, and sometimes made their way into the deserted streets. The few rich survivors had retired to strong castles of their own in the mountain fastnesses, as men did in the desolation of the dark ages, and the poor had been enslaved or exterminated. The need of a new population was evident, and Timoleon called upon Corinth for colonists. The mother city sent ten thousand; the rest of Sicily together with Southern Italy sent fifty thousand; the new colonists consented to pay for the land and houses they occupied, and the old inhabitants actually paid for what was already theirs, in order that a public fund might be created. To increase the resources of the state, Timoleon took several cities from the Phoenicians, the most important of which was Entella, and sold them to Greek colonists, a proceeding which is justified when one considers the extent of the injuries done to the Greeks by the Carthaginians, but which doubtless contributed to bring on a new struggle with Carthage. The shameful retreat of the latter's general from Syracuse, almost without having struck a blow, led to his speedy disgrace, and though he died by his own hand, even suicide could not save him from infamy, and his dead body was nailed to the cross.
Carthage now prepared for another great expedition, Hasdrubal and Hamilcar were chosen as generals, the p202 usual vast army of mercenaries landed at Lilybaeum, and another reign of terror began in Sicily. Timoleon's force was insignificant, and his war material was scanty; as he was marching to Akragas, a mutiny broke out in his little army, and a thousand of his mercenary Greeks deserted him and returned to Syracuse. The Carthaginians marched upon Entella, which Timoleon had taken from their people; he had determined to intercept the enemy, when he was checked by meeting with a number of mules laden with parsley; for parsley was used for funeral crowns, and the omen was therefore evil. But Timoleon took some of the leaves, and made a chaplet, and crowned himself, saying that parsley was used also for the victors in the Isthmian Games, and encouraged his men, saying that crowns were given them even before victory. So they took courage and marched, and a heavy mist hid the enemy from them, while they heard the inarticulate hum of the camp at no great distance; and when the mist began to lift the Carthaginians were already crossing the river, with their chariots and a thousand men who carried white shields. So Timoleon sent down his cavalry, but the chariots drove furiously up and down in front of the enemy's ranks and the horses would not charge them.
Then Timoleon cried aloud to his foot-soldiers to follow him, and his voice was clearer and louder than the voice of a man, so that it was as if a god spoke to them; he took his sword and shield in his hands, and p203 the trumpets screamed, and he rushed forward, and a great tempest with thunder and much rain had gathered behind him on the hill and came down with him and beat into the faces of his enemies, and the thunder roared, and the hail rattled on their iron breast-plates and brass helmets with a deafening noise, so that they could not hear the orders their officers gave; and the Greeks put them to sudden rout and wild confusion, and ten thousand of them were slain or drowned in the river, for they were weighed down by their heavy armour. This is the first time that as many as three thousand natives of Carthage were slain in a battle. After that the Greeks took the camp and all it held, with many prisoners; and so that expedition ended.
Now the Carthaginians, seeing that the Greeks were the bravest and most invincible of men, hired Greek soldiers to fight for them, and a new expedition was sent out with seventy ships, and sailed to Messina, where a dim war was fought of which not much is known; but three tyrants, Icetes of Leontini, Mamercus of Catania, and Hippo of Messina, were allied with the Carthaginians against Timoleon, and he beat them one by one; yet when peace was made he was obliged to leave Carthage the lordship of the western cities. Of the three despots, Hippo fell into the hands of his own people, and they scourged him and put him to death in the theatre of Messina, gathering thither all the children of the city to see the tyrant's end, that p204 they might always remember it. Icetes was executed by the Corinthians as a traitor to the Greeks, and because he had drowned the wife and the sister of the son of Dion, the Syracusans also slew his wife and daughters after a mock trial. As for Mamercus, when Timoleon had beaten him in battle, he surrendered; but Timoleon gave him up to the Syracusans to judge him, which they did in the theatre. When they would not hear his defence, he, being unarmed, broke from his keepers, and running at great speed across the open orchestra, he threw himself forward upon his head, against the wall, hoping to die; but he lived to perish on the cross, like a common robber. And with his death the most strenuous part of Timoleon's task was accomplished. He had freed all Sicily from the tyrants, and he had reduced the power of Carthage. He repopulated the deserted cities of Sicily and taught them how to enrich and strengthen themselves, and unlike Dionysus the elder he did not aim at the aggrandizement of Syracuse to the detriment of all the rest: it was under his guidance that Akragas, which had never recovered from the Carthaginian conquest, became once more a strong and independent city.
He spent his old age, afflicted with total blindness, in encouraging the work he had begun; on important occasions, when his counsels could not be spared, he was carried to the theatre where the people went to p205 deliberate, and every appearance was a triumph, followed by his immediate return to the privacy of his house given him by the city, in which he dwelt with his wife and his children, and in which at last he died, one of the most splendid types of human honour, courage, and wisdom that ever freed a nation from slavery.
Chosen youths bore his body over the ground where the tyrant's castle had stood, and the whole population of Syracuse followed it to the market-place, where the funeral pile was erected. His ashes were buried on the spot, and about his tomb a great gymnasium was built. Games were then and there instituted in his memory, and the proclamation which decreed them called him 'the destroyer of tyrants, the subduer of barbarians, the man who had peopled again great cities that lay desolate, and who had restored to all Sicilians their laws and ancient rights.'
A Sicilian courtyard
The immediate result of Timoleon's labours was not lasting, but it was long before the spirit he had instilled into the life of Syracuse altogether disappeared, and even under the worst tyranny of Agathocles some of the forms of freedom were preserved. During some twenty years after Timoleon's death, the city remained free, and as is often the case in prosperous times the records of that period are few and confused. Agriculture prospered, commerce throve, architects built, sculptors modelled, and poets made verses; p206 but history is silent and only resumes her labour to tell of new disasters. The story of the extraordinary man to whom the tyranny of Syracuse next fell is so fantastic that it deserves telling for its own sake, as well as for some resemblance that it bears to the fable of Oedipus.
In Rhegium, in the days of Timoleon, there lived a Greek called Carcinus, of noble birth and great p207 possessions, and he was exiled by his fellow-citizens, and went and dwelt in Sicily, in the city of Thermae, which is now Termini, on the north side of the island. He married a woman of that city, and when a son was about to be born to him, he was visited by evil dreams. At that time certain Carthaginians were going to the oracle of Delphi, and he besought them to ask for him the interpretations of his visions. They brought him word that his son should be the cause of great misfortunes to the Carthaginians and to all Sicily; therefore, when the child was born, he caused it to be exposed in a desert place, and set a watch lest any one should come and save it or by any means keep it alive. Yet the child did not die, and the mother watched her opportunity until the guard grew careless, and she took up her child and fled with it to the house of her brother and named it Agathocles, after her own father. The child grew up and was very beautiful, and stronger than other children, and when he was seven years old, his father, not knowing him, praised his beauty and strength, his mother answered, feigning sadness, "So would our boy have been, if you had let him live." Then Carcinus repented suddenly of what he had done and turned away weeping bitterly; but his wife comforted him and told him the truth, and he acknowledged his son and brought him home. By and by Carcinus left Thermae with all his family and p208 went and lived in Syracuse, where he died soon after, and Agathocles grew up with his mother. She, believing in great things for him, caused a little statue of him to be made and set it up as an offering before one of the temples, and at once a swarm of bees settled upon it and built their hive; the soothsayers interpreted the sign to mean that the boy should win high fame.
He grew up of great stature and marvellous strength, and a rich man of Syracuse, named Damas, took him under his protection and caused him to be appointed one of the leaders of a thousand in the army. Damas died childless, and Agathocles immediately married the rich man's widow, and became thenceforward one of the most important persons in Syracuse. He kept his military position in spite of his wealth and showed extraordinary military talent; but when he did not receive the advancement he expected, after a brilliant engagement in Italy, and when no attention was paid to his claims, he left the city and seems to have lived for some time as a sort of free lance, while cherishing the most adventurous designs. He even besieged Crotona on his own account, and failing to take it, sought employment as a general of Tarentine mercenaries. Meanwhile, the party that had opposed him in Syracuse fell from power, and he returned to his home, to find himself before long in his old command of a thousand men, opposed to the Carthaginians, with p209 whom the fallen party had allied itself. In spite of his courage and brilliant actions the Syracusans would not confer upon him the generalship, since it was clear to them from the first that he aimed at making himself despot. Turning upon him as suddenly as they had turned upon the opposite party, they bade him quit the city at once, and sent out men to kill him as he should ride by; but he, being warned, dressed a slave in his own armour and clad himself in rags. He escaped, and the slave was murdered in his stead.
Being now banished, he immediately came to an understanding with his country's enemies, the Carthaginians, and by their influence upon the oligarchy of six hundred which now ruled Syracuse he obtained his recall, and took solemn oath before the people to do nothing contrary to their freedom or their rights. He had now reached the stage at which aspirants to despotism appear as the friends of the oppressed populace, and he did not hesitate to use his power for the destruction of the oligarchy. On pretence of reducing a small revolution in the interior, he was allowed to get together a chosen force, and on the day appointed for his departure he gathered his soldiers in the buildings about the tomb of Timoleon in the market-place. In an address of stirring eloquence he accused the six hundred of setting him aside from public offices on account of his attachment to the people; and as his impeachment turned to a fiery arraignment p210 and at last to a tremendous invective, the soldiers cried out for the blood of the accused. Then, as if only yielding to pressure, he ordered that the trumpets should give the signal to fall upon the six hundred and upon all who should help or harbour them. The gates were shut against any who should escape death, and the infuriated soldiers stormed every house which might give shelter to their prey. The streets ran blood. Four thousand of the richest citizens were put to the sword, and many perished in attempting to leap from the walls in flight. Some were brought bound before Agathocles to be executed or banished at his will. About six thousand escaped to Akragas.
On the following day Agathocles called a general meeting of the people, and, acting out the favourite comedy of the despot, he declared that he had freed the city from the tyranny of the oligarchy, that he was worn out by the struggle for a righteous cause, and that he refused to keep even the semblance of a power to which he had never aspired. Thereupon, he laid down his military cloak and turned away, well knowing what was to follow. The thousands who were before him were the men who yesterday had plundered the houses of the nobles at his word; they would not lose a leader who might bid them plunder again; they unanimously declared him their general and dictator, and he made a pretence of refusing the dignity only that he might be the more certain of holding it for his life.
p211 From the first he showed that he had profited by the example of Dion the unsuccessful, and of the half-deified Timoleon. Strong, brave, and no longer young, he scorned to surround himself with a body-guard, and took that surer means of safety which lay in binding the populace to him by the joint bonds of gratification and greed; for he gave them what was not his, and promised to give them whatsoever was not theirs already. What the nature of his patriotism was, is clear from the fact that he did not hesitate to ally himself with the Carthaginians, the hereditary enemies of his country.
Tyranny is as often remembered by the people for the immediate advantages it brings them, as for the evils it sooner or later inflicts. The order which Agathocles introduced by force was more advantageous to Sicily than the chaos that had followed when the quarrelsome nature of the Greek people had rendered futile the noble institutions of Timoleon; and though it is true that under Agathocles Sicily produced no famous artist or poet, there can be no doubt but that her wealth and power increased suddenly and prodigiously. It would be impossible to explain otherwise how the tyrant could have so far got the advantage of Carthage, after the old quarrel was renewed, as to carry war into Africa, winning many battles and failing only at the last when he had been on the point of decisive victory.
Friendly relations were broken by the discontent of the Carthaginians when their general interfered to p212 make peace between Agathocles and the Greek cities, and so arranged matters as to give Syracuse the lordship of the island, with the exception of the old Phoenician towns; for the tyrant's treaty had really been rather a personal agreement with Hamilcar than a national affair, and Carthage did not hesitate to set it aside. Then began the usual gathering of mercenaries, and the preparations for a great invasion, while Agathocles, on his side, collected a great force of mercenaries, though not without difficulty; for whereas Dionysius the elder had always succeeded in making Sicily feel that he was her true representative and natural leader against foreign influence, Agathocles was distrusted by many and opposed by not a few, and his frightful cruelties may fairly be ascribed to the exceptional danger of his situation. He was not even a native of the city he ruled. He held his position, not by employing spies and paying life-guards whom he could implicitly trust to destroy the few who dared to plot against his life, but by the wholesale massacre of every party that was organized to oppose him; and when he had thus cleared the situation by bloodshed, he went about with careless courage and without ever showing the slightest suspicion of individuals.
Street in Syracuse to‑day
Carthage was not ready for war until he had completely established his supremacy in Sicily, and when at last her fleet put to sea, a violent storm destroyed many ships with the troops they carried. Another p213 Hamilcar — the name was frequent — commanded the force, and in spite of all losses succeeded in encamping with an army of forty-five thousand men on Mount Ecnomus, the huge headland that juts out to the eastward of Girgenti; Agathocles encamped over against him, still further east and beyond the salt river. Both armies waited and watched, sending down foraging parties to drive up cattle from the valley. Then Agathocles, having observed how the enemy conducted those small expeditions, laid an ambush for them, fell upon them unawares, drove back the few survivors to the camp, and taking advantage of the momentary confusion, led a general attack. Before the Carthaginians could give battle the Greeks were upon them, filling the ditches that protected their camp and tearing down the stockades. The battle would have been won but for the Balearic slingers, whose slings hurled stones weighing an English pound, and who at last drove the Greeks out; and then defeat followed upon repulse, as an unexpected reënforcement landed from Africa, and defeat became disaster in a general rout, in which no less than seven thousand of the Greeks were slaughtered. Yet strange to say the survivors remained faithful to their leader, who burned his camp and fell back first upon Gela, now Terranova, and at last upon Syracuse, while Hamilcar made a triumphal progress through the island, the cities opening their gates to him as to a liberator. Agathocles seemed lost. He saved himself p214 by a stroke of astonishing boldness. He determined to leave a small garrison in Syracuse and to invade Carthage without delay, while all her forces were abroad. It was the conception of a man of genius, and though he did not accomplish the conquest of Carthage, which was reserved for the vast power of Rome, he succeeded in freeing Sicily and in reëstablishing his despotic position. Hamilcar had pursued him to Syracuse, had besieged the city, and was actually blockading the harbour with his fleet, when Agathocles set forth on his expedition. He waited until the Carthaginian ships put out to capture a convoy of vessels with provisions for the city, and sailed out with sixty men-of‑war. The Carthaginians saw him, supposed he meant to give battle, and drew up to await his attack, and by the time they understood that he was heading to southward he had gained enough distance to p215 greatly reduce the chances of being overtaken. Nevertheless, the Carthaginian fleet gave chase, while the cornº ships quietly entered the harbour, and Syracuse was provisioned for a long siege. The whole affair was one of those brilliant manoeuvres that prove the born general.
The Greeks believed that they were beyond pursuit, heading for the African coast, when, on the morning of the day, the Carthaginian ships hove in sight, still in full chase, and gaining visibly. A race for life and death began, in the dead calm, and the oars pulled desperately, hour after hour. If the Greeks could reach the land and intrench themselves, they would have the advantage, for their enemies would have to attack them from the water's edge; but if they were overtaken on the high sea, they could expect nothing but destruction in a battle with a force so far superior to their own; and Syracuse would be lost also. Still the Carthaginians crept up astern, hour after hour, while Agathocles counted the miles that lay between him and the land, and knew that his fate hung by a hair. His men knew it too, and they reached the shore in time, southwest of what is now Cape Bon, in a strong place at the entrance to an ancient stone quarry of vast extent, and they threw up fortifications and beached their vessels. But the leader knew that the ships were a weakness and a temptation to flight, where men were to win or die, and with a heroism that has p216 seldom been equalled, and commanding an obedience that has never been surpassed, he burned the fleet as it lay on the shore, firing his own vessel with his own hand, while every captain followed his example.
During the fire, the Carthaginians, at some distance from the shore, were filled with joy; but their mood changed when they saw that Agathocles was leading his army to the interior, without waiting to give battle. It was too late to overtake him now; he was entering the richest part of their country with a large army of the bravest men in the world, and men whose only hope lay in victory; the Carthaginians fell to weeping and mourning and draped the bows of their ships with black.
Agathocles marched on without hindrance, seized the rich city of Megalopolis, plundered it, and took Tunes next, only •ten miles from Carthage. The great city, even in such sudden and utter need, when her main force was either in Sicily or at sea, was able to send out forty-one thousand men and two thousand chariots to meet the invaders. Agathocles had less than fifteen thousand soldiers, all told; he helped himself by strange stratagems that savour of Homeric times, spreading out the shield-covers of his heavy-armed infantry on staves, to represent a reserve of soldiers that did not exist, and loosing a number of owls among his men, who suddenly took great courage as the birds sacred to Pallas settled blinking upon their helmets and p217 shields. One thinks of the young Louis Napoleon and the trained eagle that was allowed to fly at his first landing — a trick which Ulysses might have invented and Homer described.
The Greeks fought like madmen, the drivers of the enemy's chariots were shot down and the cavalry pelted to death, the famous heavy-armed infantry charged, the chief general of the Carthaginians was slain, and their ranks wavered, — the next in command turned traitor, it is said, and commanded a hasty retreat, which presently became a rout and massacre, and Agathocles was master of the field. In the Carthaginian camp he found twenty thousand pairs of manacles, brought out to shackle the Greeks who were to have been taken prisoners.
With the small force at his disposal he could not hope to take the strong city, fortified as it was at every point and more than amply provisioned. But it was the policy of Carthage to allow no other town to protect itself by fortifications, lest any should turn against her, and Agathocles seized one place after another, with vast booty. Meanwhile the Carthaginians sent to Hamilcar in Sicily for help, and made horrible burnt sacrifices of many little children to their cruel gods.
Hamilcar received the news of the Carthaginian defeat before Syracuse and, at the same time, the bronze beaks of the ships burned by Agathocles were brought to him. Hoping to prevent the beleaguered p218 were trophies, and proclaimed to them the defeat and destruction of Agathocles, calling upon them to surrender at once; but they held firm, and before long they were informed of the truth in an unexpected manner. For Agathocles had sent a vessel with the news of his victory; it appeared off Syracuse in the morning, and after an exciting race, in which it escaped the enemy's blockade, it entered the harbour with flying streamers, the whole ship's company drawn up on deck, and intoning a victorious chaunt. Hamilcar tried to take advantage of the excitement that reigned in the city in order to storm a weak point, but he was repulsed, and soon afterwards despatched five thousand men to the help of Carthage. Agathocles performed marvels of quick marching, as he darted from one point to another, subduing the cities in succession, but unable to hold them for any length of time, for lack of men. He created a sort of floating domination of fear that centred round him in a movable kingdom wherever he appeared, but which could not under any circumstances become a permanent conquest; he plotted and conspired with native princes and Carthaginian traitors to obtain some influence more lasting than that of the sword, and more than once it seemed as if he might succeed. For instance, there was a certain Ophellas, who had been a general with Alexander the Great and had made himself prince of Cyrene on the African p219 coast; Agathocles induced him by great promises to join in the conquest of Carthage, and the old soldier, after overcoming the difficulties of a three months' march through a desert country, reached Tunes with over ten thousand fighting men and as many camp-followers, besides women and children. Agathocles did not hesitate to do one of the most atrociously treacherous deeds in history; he wanted the troops without their leader, whose influence might rival his own; he spent a few days in friendly intercourse with him in his camp, and then returning to his own soldiers, accused Ophellas to them of attempting his life. Wrought up to fury by his words, they rushed upon the camp of his new ally, a great number of whose men were absent to collect provisions, and after a short and desperate struggle, Ophellas was slain. Agathocles then took the army into his own pay and shipped the camp-followers with all the women and children to Syracuse. A storm dispersed the miserable convoy, most of the ships sank, one or two were driven as far north as Ischia in the bay of Naples, and but a very few reached Syracuse alive.
Meanwhile, the conspiracy of the Carthaginian traitors broke out in open revolution in the capital, under the leadership of Bomilcar; but they had miscalculated their strength, the movement was crushed, and he himself was executed. This was in reality the end of Agathocles' hopes in Africa; had the revolution succeeded, p220 he would without doubt have destroyed Bomilcar as cynically as he had murdered Ophellas, and Carthage might have been his; but, as it turned out, the Carthaginians learned their own strength by the failure of the attempt, and from that time forward the power of the Greeks diminished. Not realizing the situation, Agathocles left his son in command and crossed over to Sicily with a small force; for while the Carthaginians had all this time maintained the blockade of Syracuse, Akragas, once more an independent and powerful city, was making an attempt to dominate Sicily, and to that end had taken into its friendship all those whom Agathocles had exiled. In a short time, however, Agathocles put a stop to these schemes, and, having effectually checked the Akragantines, had only to contend with the exiled Syracusan aristocracy under Dinocrates. Meanwhile, in his absence, his son suffered a succession of defeats in Africa, and found himself driven down to Tunes, and so hemmed in that he sent an urgent appeal to his father to return and help him. It was some time before Agathocles was able to leave Sicily, and when he reached Africa, he found himself with a small force opposed to one of those enormous armies which the Carthaginians again and again collected in the course of their wars. They, on their side, did not desire battle unless Agathocles attacked them, and when he did so, they had no difficulty in driving him back to his position with fearful loss, and p221 the end of the war was hastened by a hideous fire which broke out in the Carthaginian camp on the following night. As usual after a victory, the handsomest of the captives were burnt alive as a sacrifice to the gods; a sudden squall drove the flames from the altar upon the sacred tent, which caught fire and set the neighbouring tents of the generals in a blaze. In an instant the whole Carthaginian camp, consisting chiefly of huts of reeds and of straw, became a sea of fire, and the entire army fled in the direction of Carthage, in the wildest confusion. A large body of Libyans deserted from the Greek army, believing that the flames proceeded from bonfires lighted to celebrate the Carthaginian victory. When they attempted to join the Carthaginians, however, they were taken for a hostile force, in the confusion, and thousands of them were slain. The rest returned to the Greeks, and, being again taken for enemies, were most of them slaughtered. Had Agathocles known the condition of the Carthaginians on that night, he might have struck a decisive blow; but the truth was only known in the morning, when the remainder of the Libyans deserted in a body.
The situation was now desperate, and Agathocles attempted to escape to Sicily, intending to leave the rest of his army to its fate. His son, who was to have been left also, discovered his father's treachery, and disclosed it to the soldiers, who seized Agathocles and loaded him with chains. It was not until a false p222 alarm of the enemy's approach was raised in the camp that the tyrant was released from his bonds, in order that he might lead the Greeks in a final attempt to save themselves. But Agathocles had more regard for his own safety. He was brave to recklessness, but not devoted; when a cause was lost, he abandoned it. With a few faithful followers, he got on board a small ship and slipped away in the night. The next day the soldiers murdered both his sons, and treated with the Carthaginians for peace, which was granted. Those of the Greeks who refused the terms were either crucified or forced to work in chains upon the lands they had laid waste but a few months earlier. It is said that the sons of Agathocles were slain on the anniversary of that day on which their father had murdered Ophellas.
But the career of the great adventurer was not yet over, nor was his influence in Sicily by any means gone. Landing in Selinus, he gathered a small force, which he led at once, with the unerring instinct of the born tyrant, against Segesta, the ancient rival and enemy of the Selinuntines. After laying a heavy tribute upon the city, he suddenly accused the citizens of attempting to murder him, and turned his soldiers upon them with orders to spare no living thing. He caused the rich men to be tortured before him, till they revealed the hiding-place of their treasures, and they had them put to death. Only the most beautiful boys and girls were spared to be sold as slaves in p223 Italy. The city was levelled to the ground, and the very name of the place was changed when he gave the site to be inhabited by those of his adherents who would take it. That was the end of Segesta, and of the great city that in its day had brought so much evil upon Sicily; nothing survived the destroying wrath of Agathocles but the little lonely theatre high on the overhanging hill, and the great temple that still stands in its dark beauty up the deserted mountain side.
Greek Theatre at Segesta
But this was not all. The army of Africa which he had abandoned in its last need had murdered his two sons, and they also must be avenged. He sent word to his brother Antandros to take vengeance upon all the relatives of the soldiers he had left behind him in Africa, and Antandros executed the order to the letter. Thousands of old men, women, and children were driven down to the seashore and slaughtered on the beach like sheep. The sea was red with their blood and none dared to bury their bodies.
Gathering strength, as it were, from each new deed of terror, and imposing himself upon the Sicilians by fear rather than by strength, he turned against the party of the exiles, whose army counted nearly thirty thousand men, and with a force of scarcely six thousand defeated them totally in a single battle. It is needless to say that he massacred in cold blood several thousands of the prisoners he took, but it is a strange fact that he spared Dinocrates himself, treated him p224 with the greatest kindness, and employed him as a general of his troops during the rest of his life.
From that time forward the power of the hoary tyrant was unchecked, and he extended his dominions far up the mainland and through the islands, laying Lipari under tribute and seizing Corcyra, which is Corfu, after completely vanquishing a Macedonian fleet; and when the people of that island complained that he laid waste their land, he laughed and said it was the vengeance of the Sicilians because Ulysses, an island man, had blinded the Sicilian shepherd Polyphemus long ago; and again, on his return from that expedition, he massacred two thousand of his soldiers who dared to demand their pay that was overdue. He plundered Crotona, too, by a piece of outrageous treachery, and the gradual decay of the great southern city began from that day, and continued through the wars that followed; and he who stands by the solitary column which is all that remains of Hera's temple, may remember that Agathocles must have sacrificed there in gratitude to the gods for the abomination they had permitted him to work in the beautiful city.
He made himself also a friend of Ptolemy Soter and married that king's daughter by Berenice; and he gave his own daughter to Pyrrhus the Epirote conqueror; he also allied himself with Demetrius, king of Macedonia, who was called Besieger of Cities, and he perhaps dreamt of conquests in the east. But most p225 of all he desired to humble the Carthaginians and to be revenged upon them for the defeats he had suffered at their hands, and he was seventy-two years of age when he began to fit out a great expedition against them.
But his destiny overtook him before his ships were ready to sail out from Syracuse. He had a favourite slave, named Mainon, whom he had brought from Segesta and trusted, whose eyes had looked upon the slaughter of his people and had seen his home levelled to the earth; and though this slave smiled, and did his service, and was promoted to high office, he would not forgive, and he waited for his opportunity more than sixteen years. Then he took a tooth-pick which the tyrant used, and he rubbed upon it a very subtle poison, which bred a dreadful corruption, with unspeakable pain, first in the mouth and by and by through the whole body. So when Agathocles had lost even his power of speech, Mainon and those who hated him took him and laid him still alive upon his pyre; and so he perished, in the year 289 B.C., as strange a compound of genius, cruelty, reckless courage, and shameful faithlessness as ever ruled by alternate terror and popularity.
It is said that during the awful and protracted sufferings caused by the poison, he formally presented the Syracusans with their freedom, hoping, perhaps, by a piece of theatrical magnanimity to obtain the privilege p226 of dying in his bed. We do not know the truth, but he was no sooner dead in the flames of his own funeral pile than the people seized upon his possessions, destroyed his statues, and banished all his mercenaries, attendants, and creatures. Even Mainon, who had delivered them of the tyrant, fled from the city. He afterwards raised a force among Agathocles' veterans and attempted to seize Syracuse, but was successfully opposed by the people, who chose a certain Icetes for their general. As Holm says, with his usual keenness, it is clear that Syracuse remained a free city for a time, as the citizens immediately made war upon each other.
The days of Sicilian unity, such as it had been under Dionysius and Agathocles, were over, and were never to return. Icetes seized the tyranny of Syracuse, and tyrants sprang up in other cities, while Carthage still held her possessions in the west, and the Italian mercenaries of Agathocles founded a state of some power in the north, calling themselves Mamertines from Mamers, the Oscan god Mars, familiar in Roman mythology. It was to be foreseen that during the internal struggles which decimated the population of Syracuse, and surely destroyed its power, the Carthaginians would make another attempt at conquest. They appeared with a hundred ships and fifty thousand men and laid siege to the city as of old. Then Syracuse appealed to Pyrrhus, once the friend of Agathocles, p227 who was called the Eagle and the Alexander of his day, and whose alliance had already been sought by Tarentum against the Romans. He dreamed of conquering all Sicily, all Italy, all the world, and he equipped himself for a great struggle, and carried war into the heart of the Roman country. He beat the Romans in battle, but he knew, and said frankly, that a few more such victories would ruin him. He was in winter quarters in Tarentum when the Syracusan ambassadors came to him and implored his help. Hoping for easier conquests, he set out for Tauromenium with his army and his famous elephants. The Carthaginians did not await his coming, but withdrew with their fleet and their forces, and he entered Syracuse in triumph; the rival factions united to deliver up their city, their fleet, their army, and their treasure to his care. But he was determined to drive the Carthaginians out of Sicily altogether, and he now advanced westward with more than thirty thousand men, accompanied by two hundred ships that sailed round the coast.
Before Eryx, the lofty stronghold above Drepanon, a position which even now looks almost impregnable, he went forward alone and fully armed, and made his vow of games and sacrifices to Hercules; the trumpets sounded, the scaling-ladders were set against the walls, and he himself was the first to reach the rampart. Hand to hand he grappled with the foe, stabbing, thrusting, wrestling with superhuman strength, unhurt p228 in the thick of the perilous fray, till men shrank away from him in awe, as if he had been a god, and the fortress was taken with great slaughter. A half-ruined mediaeval castle, partly a town gaol, is built round all that remains of Aphrodite's temple — a bit of marble, a tank hollowed in the rock, and the marvel of Sicily lying far below in a haze of colour. As he stood there, the Molossian king must have felt that he could take the island in the hollow of his hand; and so he did. But he used his conquest ill, and he tried to press the people to serve under him against Carthage, until they rebelled; and he murdered some of the great in Syracuse, as the tyrants had always done; but before his expedition was ready he found himself so hemmed in by treachery, smouldering revolution, and sedition, that he took an excuse to go back to Italy and left the island to itself. It is told that as he sailed away he looked back, and said to those about him that they were leaving behind a great field, in which the Romans and the Carthaginians might exercise their arms. And so it came to pass, for he was beaten by the Romans at the river by Beneventum, on the same ground where Charles of Anjou destroyed Manfred and his army fifteen hundred years later, and where many other famous fights were fought in after times.
With the reign of Hiero the second the story of the Greeks in the south hastens to its close, while the vast shadow of Rome spreads wide over the mainland and p229 the islands. With the departure of Pyrrhus and the consequent freedom from all restraint, the old troubles broke out in Syracuse, the usual consequences followed, and while the citizens took one side, the soldiers took the other. The troops chose two generals, Hiero and another; they entered the city by treachery, got possession of the power, and from that time Hiero appears alone in command. He was a man of no great birth, but as soon as he had made himself ruler, the usual fables and legends were told of his childhood and early years; how he had been exposed to die of hunger as an infant, and afterwards recognized by his father; how, when he was a boy in school, a wolf rushed in and tore his tablets from his hand, and how, when he ran out to follow the wild beast and get them back, the schoolhouse fell in, and he alone was saved of all the children; owls perched upon his lance, and eagles on his shield, in short, of him was told the whole cycle of fairy tales, which, for the people, distinguished the great man from the common crowd. Yet in one respect he was unlike the rest of those strong men who had grasped the power with rude hands and held it with an iron grip before him; he was young, kind, and gentle, and after the first bold stroke he seems to have held his own, or what he had taken for his own, more by the love of his subjects than any rougher means. To strengthen his position he married the lovely Philistis, through whom he allied himself, by the female line, p230 with the great house of Dionysius. Of all the beautiful heads which we find upon the gold and silver coins of Sicily, and there are many, none can compare with that of Hiero's queen. One may fancy that Helen of Troy had such a face, or Semiramis, or divine Athene herself, but it is hard to believe that so fair a woman ever lived; and if such little history of her as has come down to us be true, she was as good and wise as she was beautiful.
Coin with the head of Queen Philistis
Hiero could no longer hope to face Carthage in war as Agathocles had done, still less to stem the tide of Rome's advancing might; he could not even hope to rule all Sicily, and he contented himself with opposing the nearer and more dangerous enemies of Syracuse. Foremost of these were the Mamertines, who had already given Pyrrhus trouble and whose compact strength was penetrating into the interior of Sicily like a wedge. Hiero did not ally himself with the Romans, but succeeded in keeping on good terms with them by occasionally doing them a service, and while they were engaged in conquering the people of Rhegium, he endeavoured to make himself master of Messina on the other side of the straits. After taking a number of small towns belonging to the Mamertines, he fought a pitched battle with them near Messina itself and so p231 completely defeated them that they were about to abandon the city, when a Carthaginian fleet appeared, not with the open intention of helping the Mamertines, but with such a considerable force as left no doubt of their ultimate intentions, in Hiero's mind. Contenting himself with the victory he had won, he withdrew to Syracuse, where the people crowned him king with great festivities and rejoicing. From this time forward, Messina was coveted by three powers, — by Hiero himself, by the Carthaginians, and by Rome; and as the population divided itself into two parties, the one for Carthage, the other for the Romans, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the latter should gain the upper hand. And so it happened. The Mamertines sent an embassy to Rome from Messina, asking for help, in the year 265 B.C., and the favourable answer returned by the Romans became the cause of the first Punic war.
But this was not the end of Hiero's reign, for the events which followed occupied a considerable time and it was not until he had governed more than fifty years, and was nearly ninety years of age, that he at last left his kingdom to his grandson, who, after a series of mistakes chiefly attributable to his advisers, lost his life by the hands of conspirators and left his kingdom a prey to the Romans.
It must not be forgotten that during Hiero's long reign, Sicily became the battlefield of Rome and Carthage, as Pyrrhus had seen that it must, and that the p232 first part of the struggle for empire occupied no less than three and twenty years, during which the war was waged without ceasing from one end of Sicily to the other, through more than half of Italy and over many hundred miles of sea. It must be remembered, however, that the first Punic war was called the Sicilian war in Rome, and that the first move of importance made by the Romans was the capture of Messina, or perhaps, as we should say, the occupation of that city, since Caius Claudius got possession of it without striking a blow. As the Carthaginians had frequently done on former occasions, they now landed their forces at Lilybaeum and marched along the southern coast towards Akragas, which now becomes Agrigentum in history. But the situation was not the same as in former times, since the adversary of Carthage was no longer Syracuse but Rome; and it was the object of Hanno, the Carthaginian general, to make alliance with the Sicilian cities against a common enemy instead of destroying everything he found in his way, as his predecessors had done. Hiero and the Syracusans joined him, as Agrigentum had already agreed to do, and the Sicilian armies moved up to the neighbourhood of Messina, where it was expected that the fighting should begin. Before attempting to bring over his troops the Roman general, who was the consul Appius Claudius, attempted to persuade both the Carthaginians and Hiero to retire. As soon as he had received their p233 refusal, he brought a large force over by night, in all manner of little craft, of the roughest and poorest description, whereupon he got the nickname 'Caudex,' which may be interpreted to mean the trunk of a tree hollowed to form a boat, in fact what we familiarly call a 'dug-out.' When one considers the difficulty of navigating the straits of Messina at the present day, when steam vessels under way sometimes become unmanageable in the currents and are driven into collision, it must be admitted that what Appius Claudius accomplished was no light undertaking, even with the help of fishermen and boatmen who knew the waters; yet the immediate result of the daring move was of less importance than might have been expected. Hiero and his troops were nearer to Messina than the Carthaginians, and sustained the first attack, the result of which was so much to their disadvantage that Hiero withdrew towards Syracuse on the following night with all his force, and evidently with the intention of withdrawing from his alliance with Carthage as soon as possible. Left to deal with the Carthaginians only, the Romans found them strongly intrenched between the little lagoons, which are still to be seen near the Faro, and the sea, and after a fruitless attempt to carry the works Appius Claudius left a garrison in Messina and made a move against Syracuse. He accomplished nothing, however, though he exposed himself to great personal risk, and he soon afterwards retired to Italy.
p234 In a book of the present dimensions it is impossible to narrate in detail the stirring events of the first Punic war, even so far as they concern Sicily. The reader to whom German or Italian is familiar should read the masterly work of Holm, whom I have followed very closely in the main, and of whom Professor Freeman says that he appears to have collected everything of value in Sicilian history, and from the most varied sources. The principal matter with which we are concerned is the general condition of affairs in the south, when the first war with Carthage began, and the general result upon the country when the war ended, after a duration of twenty-two years.
When Pyrrhus had been decisively beaten, Rome ruled the south of Italy to the Straits, having gradually got possession of all those rich Greek cities, and their dependencies, which had still refused to acknowledge her supremacy after she had finally defeated the Samnites and Gauls at Sentinum in 295 B.C. Her occupation of Messina gave her a hold upon Sicily, which was before long greatly strengthened by the more or less voluntary submission of a great number of other cities that foresaw the result of the struggle and wished to be on the winning side, even though the Romans were exacting allies. As for Hiero, he waited and temporized, with a skill at which we can only guess, but which proves him to have possessed that true historical sense that alone can p235 give a keen intuition of future history, and which has been possessed by every really great statesman in all times; and after manoeuvring to avoid anything like a battle with the Romans, so long as he was still nominally on the Carthaginian side, he became convinced that the Romans were to be the winners, and he openly allied himself with them. A Carthaginian fleet which arrived near Syracuse soon afterwards, ostensibly to help him, but of course in the hope of getting control of the city as a base of operations, sailed away again. The conditions of the alliance acknowledged Hiero as king of a small territory in the southeast corner of the island, but required of him the payment of a proportionate tribute to Rome, and it is no wonder if Hiero, remembering the deeds of his predecessors, who had never really consolidated their power, should have supposed that Rome could conquer Carthage with comparative ease. From the outbreak of the first Punic war to the destruction of Carthage, the fight lasted a hundred and eighteen years; but though Hiero was deceived as to the magnitude of the memorable struggle, his judgment of the result was correct, and his instinct was not at fault in regard to the immediate advantages of the alliance he made. If he had remained the friend of Carthage, there can be no doubt but that Syracuse would have become their chief stronghold, instead of Agrigentum, and would have suffered the final disaster p236 which overtook their city. Instead, and without at any time performing any brilliant action, or winning any great battle, he shielded Syracuse from danger throughout his reign, and at last made himself so indispensable to Rome that she was forced to accept from him a present of money, which the Senate would have given much to refuse, for the sake of Rome's dignity; yet, as soon as the first long war was over, he helped the Carthaginians to put down the great mutiny that broke out in their own army.
His character was upright and honourable in the extreme, and while protecting his small kingdom from the consequences of the war which was being waged between the two great nations, he devoted himself to its welfare in every other way, improved its agriculture and made it one of the most important trading states in the world, at a time when the commerce of Carthage was necessarily greatly reduced. The position occupied by Syracuse under Hiero may aptly be compared with that of Belgium from the date of its independence to the present day, though under a totally different form of government, and in widely different conditions; but a solid modern representative government possesses over the very best form of the ancient absolute monarchy the inestimable advantage that its stability at no time depends upon the genius of an individual, and therefore, to use a comparison from commerce, it bears the same relation to absolutism that a long-established p237 corporation bears to an individual banker who has no partners.
While the Romans were besieging Agrigentum, losing a fleet at Lipari, winning battles in the west of the island, slowly driving their enemies back and establishing their power with that astonishing comprehension of military supply which they early displayed in warfare, Hiero was enriching Syracuse, extending his trade and multiplying those resources of wealth and provisions which made him indispensable to the Romans themselves. His success in this respect proves what Sicily could do in peace after a century and a half of bloodshed, or much more, if one choose to go farther back, beyond the first Carthaginian invasion — a century and a half of foreign wars, internal dissensions, race struggles, and cruel tyrannies. The same boundless recuperative power is in the island to‑day, and the time is not far distant when the commerce and manufactures of Sicily will equal that of all Italy, from the straits to Florence, and will compare favourably with that of the whole Italian peninsula.
Hiero's government has been described as a wise combination of magnificence and economy, of strength and gentleness; he dealt with foreign powers in the name of the Syracusan people, not in his own; he refused the outward insignia of royalty, and seems to have lived simply in the vast city he had restored and beautified, surrounding himself with such men of talent p238 as he could attract to Syracuse. He made presents of great value not only to Rome but to Egypt, and even to Rhodes, most often in the form of corn and probably in times of scarcity; but we hear no tales of his own extravagance, still less of any excessive exactions, whether to satisfy his own caprices or for any purpose of aggrandizement or conquest. His was a model government for times of peace; it lacked every element, except wealth, which could have made it successful in war, and would have been obliged, like Carthage, to employ mercenaries altogether, for lack of a standing army. Two great nations, the one warlike, the other commercial, tried the two methods on a vast scale, and Carthage, the commercial nation, lost in the end, and the poor Roman annihilated the rich Phoenician.
The greatest man at Hiero's court was without doubt Archimedes, and the most extraordinary of Hiero's works, though by far the least useful, was the ship of four thousand and two hundred tons which he sent to Alexandria as a present to Ptolemy.
Archimedes was born in 287 B.C., being according to some authorities a relative of Hiero's family. He must certainly be ranked with the greatest mathematicians and mechanics that ever lived, and his natural gifts developed to the proportions of genius in the congenial atmosphere of Syracuse. It will be remembered that the Syracusans at all times showed considerable p239 inventive talent, especially in the arts of war, and that the elder Dionysius held a sort of congress of engineers and shipbuilders, who designed the first ships that were built with five banks of oars, as well as the long-range catapults which did such execution upon the Carthaginian fleet, when planted at the entrance of the harbour. The magnitude of the works which remain in Syracuse, the astonishing ease with which the builders handled the great masses of stone, the marvellous beauty of the theatre hewn out of the live rock, by sheer quarrying and without any builder's work, the graceful curves and the harmonious proportions of the amphitheatre,a which far surpasses the Roman colosseum, and which almost rivals it in size, all these show to what a height the art of architecture, the science of mathematics, and the skill of the stone-cutter were carried in the only city of that day which rivalled Athens and Alexandria. From his earliest youth Archimedes must have watched the builders at work and studied the plans and sketches and working drawings that were used on the spot, and his intensely practical genius must have begun to grapple with the greatest problems in mathematics and the most difficult theorems of geometry, long before he dreamed that he possessed the power to solve the one or demonstrate the other. The results his studies have left to the world are enormous, and can hardly be completely understood without some p240 mathematical learning. His method of squaring the parabola was the first step towards all accurate measurement of curved figures. His discovery of the relation between a cylinder, of which the height equals the diameter, to the greatest sphere it can contain, has remained for all time one of the greatest mathematical feats accomplished by the human mind. His theory of the centre of gravity justified Lagrange in calling him the father of mechanics. He was the discoverer of specific gravity, which is one of the chief foundations of modern chemistry, and it was when he found, in testing a gold crown for the king, that the difference between the weight of any body when weighed in the air and when weighed under water is equal to the weight of the volume of water which the object displaces, that he uttered his memorable exclamation, 'Eureka!' 'I have found it!' That he should have invented the lever as a mechanical engine is impossible, but he undoubtedly invented some of its applications, and he must have discovered its laws when he said, 'Give me a place to stand and I will move the world.' Holm doubts whether he actually set fire to the Roman fleet with a burning-glass, when, after Hiero's death, the city was besieged by Marcellus; but the historian cites two interesting parallel instances to prove that such a feat was possible. In 514 A.D. Proculus is said to have fired Vitalian's fleet before Constantinople by the same means. Further, p241 in 1747 Buffon succeeded in setting fire to wood at a distance of •a hundred and fifty feet, and in melting lead at a hundred and forty feet, by means of a system of one hundred and sixty movable mirrors, by which, in the month of April, and when the sunlight was not strong, he concentrated the sun's rays upon a point. Archimedes invented countless machines of less importance, such as the hydraulic serpent, which was probably the instrument worked by a single man in pumping out Hiero's ship. His whole life was p242 spent in the application of mathematics and mechanics to useful needs in peace and war. His end was characteristic of his life, for when Marcellus, on taking Syracuse, gave orders that no one should harm him, it is said that a soldier came upon unawares and stepped upon the figure he was drawing in sand. The man of genius protested sharply against the disturbance. The soldier drew his sword and killed the greatest man in the world with a foolish laugh.
Peasant woman of Monteleoneb
We have in Athenaeus a very elaborate description of the great ship which Hiero built and launched inside the harbour of Syracuse. Judging from the nature of the ground, and with some knowledge of shipbuilding, I think that it would have been impossible to build a vessel of four thousand tons and more in the arsenal near Ortygia. The work must have been done in the low land by the shore, outside the gate, and between it and the swamp.
Athenaeus says that Hiero brought enough timber from Mount Etna to build sixty triremes and that he got planks and lumber for various purposes from other parts of Sicily and from Italy. Archias the Corinthian was the chief builder, and three hundred workmen were employed only to trim the timber. As soon as the planking was finished it was covered with sheet lead, as we use sheet copper. The hull was built in six months, and Archimedes launched it by a system of screws worked by a few persons. The p243 vessel was bolted with brass, and brass nails were used, the holes being plugged with lead, driven in upon tarred canvas. The ship was constructed with twenty banks of oars, and here it is as well to say at once that nothing whatever is known as to the arrangement of the banks, even in the ordinary trireme; the late Professor Breusing, who was not only for many years the director of the celebrated naval school in Bremerhaven, but also a very eminent philologian, has completely destroyed the old-fashioned belief of scholars that three banks of oars situated one above the other could under any circumstances have been pulled at the same time. Those who are interested in the subject may consult his invaluable work, 'Die Nautik der Alten.' That Hiero's ship had at least three decks is certain from the otherwise confusing description of Athenaeus. He says that it had three entrances, the lowest leading to the hold, which was reached by two long ladders; the second gave access to the eating-rooms, and the third was for the soldiers. A great number of rooms are described, of which the floors were made of mosaic and depicted very beautifully the whole story of the Iliad. On the upper deck was a gymnasium, and also a garden filled with all sorts of plants, set in casks full of earth, and there were walks shaded with awnings, and a temple to Venus paved with Sicilian agate, the walls and roof being made of cypress wood and the doors of ivory and citron. There was a state cabin, containing five p244 couches, a bookcase, and a clock set into the ceiling, and there was a complete bath having a tank lined with marble from Tauromenium. There were also stalls for ten horses on each side. In the fore part of the vessel there was a large fresh-water tank made of wood and tarred canvas, and holding two thousand measures; there was also a fish tank filled with salt water. Figures of Atlas at well-proportioned intervals, and apparently carved in wood, carried the rail or were placed outside the bulwarks to support the great weight of the wooden turrets. There was a catapult on deck which hurled a stone weighing three talents, or an arrow twelve cubits long, equivalent to eighteen feet. The vessel had three masts, each carrying two yards, which latter were fitted with a curious device for dropping heavy weights upon an attacking vessel. Finally, the bulwark was protected with iron throughout, and there were a number of very long grappling hooks.
This vast construction appears to have been launched and sent to sea as a present to Ptolemy during a time of dearth in Egypt, with an enormous cargo, consisting of sixty thousand measures of corn, ten thousand jars of Sicilian salt fish, five hundred tons' weight of wool, and five hundred tons of other freight.
The reign of Hiero the Second connects the story of the Greeks with that of the Romans, and his alliance with the latter helped to determine the future p245 position of Sicily; the destinies of the southern mainland were already decided, and Italy was altogether Roman. One of the most important turning points in Roman history was the subjugation of the great island, which became Rome's first province, because it was too thoroughly Hellenic to be incorporated in the Republic. The influence and domination of the Greeks in the south had lasted, at the beginning of the first Punic war, from about 700 B.C. to 264 B.C., that is to say, more than four hundred years, during which the original elements of the population, as well as the greater part of the Phoenician colonies in Sicily, had become completely hellenized in speech, manners, and culture, and to a great extent also in blood, by constant intermarriages in time of peace. The reason why greater Greece never became a consolidated empire lay in the Greek character, and not in the lack of enterprise, of military ability, or of a common interest. Had the whole south at any time remained united for a century, it would have easily grown to be a match for Carthage. The astonishing success of Gelon, of the elder Dionysius, and of Agathocles, are sufficient proof that this is true. But the Greek had neither the Roman's conception of political unity, nor the Carthaginian's commercial talent. He was as incapable of sinking his highly original personality in the ranks of an organization as he was of devoting his p246 whole energies to money making; he was a free lance rather than a trained soldier; an artist, not a middle-class citizen; a man of genius, not a banker. In the heat of enthusiasm there were few feats which he could not accomplish, but his restless blood could not brook the daily round of a humdrum existence. In war he loved the brilliant pageant, the high paean song, the splendid arms, the woven garlands, the air of triumph before the battle, and the trophy and the sacrifice after the fight. When peace followed war, he craved the excitement of the great Greek games, the emotions of the almost impossibly beautiful in art, the heart-beating of the reckless player throwing for high stakes, the physical intoxication of wine, and the intellectual intoxication of the theatre; and when these palled he lost patience with peace and became the most gratuitously quarrelsome of human beings, taking offence at the hue of his neighbour's cloak, attacking a friend for an imaginary slight upon the least of his innumerable vanities, and making war about nothing, with the fine conviction of a thoroughly ill-tempered child that smashes its new doll to atoms rather than be good for five minutes. There is often something rudimentary and childlike in very gifted men; a lack of patience that makes the long way of thought intolerably irksome and drives the man of genius to the accomplishment of the apparently impossible by the shortest road.
p247 As the Greek was individually, so were the Greeks in a body, wherever they established themselves, in the fertile plains and undulating hills of Asia Minor, in the wild mountains and isolated valleys of their own Greece, and in that greater Hellas with which this story has been concerned. They were always at odds with each other, and they rarely fought a foreign foe without seeing the faces of their born countrymen in the ranks that opposed them; they were alike incapable of submitting without a murmur to the rule of a single master, and of governing themselves as one whole by the orderly judgment of the many. Wherever they appeared they excited admiration and they often inspired terror; wherever they dwelt, even for a brief term of years, they left behind them works of lasting beauty; but whereas, as artists, as poets, and as philosophers, they created a standard that has made rivalry impossible and imitation ridiculous, their government has left no trace in the lands they once inhabited, and their laws have had less influence upon the subsequent law-givers of mankind than those of the Chinese or the Aztecs. In their arts and in their literature they worked for all time; in their government they were opportunists and intriguers, when they were not visionaries, and the type of their race having disappeared from the world, the conditions under which it lived are beyond the comprehension of p248 other civilized peoples. 'These Greeks,' said the Roman, 'can do everything to perfection, yet they are the barbers and we are the praetors.' The slight foundation of truth contained in the paradox explains the failure of the Greek race to reach that height of domination to which many other races have attained. When we see what they did for themselves we cannot but wish that they might have obtained the power to do as much for others, that they might have outnumbered and outfought the Romans, spreading over Italy, over Europe, over Asia, and Africa as the Romans did. The vast monuments of Rome would have been as perfect in beauty as they are stupendous in dimensions; four-fifths or nine-tenths of the best Greek literature would not have perished utterly, or have been preserved in miserable fragments; and the enlightenment of an Augustan age might not, perhaps, have been closely followed by the brutal horrors of a Nero's reign.
But these are idle dreams. The Greeks filled the south with their monuments and overspread it with their civilization during more than four centuries, and when the end of their story came they were no nearer to extinction as a people than the Poles were when their kingdom was divided among the nations of Europe. They simply ceased to have any political existence and became, with all they had, with their resources undiminished, their wealth unspent, their energies still all p249 alive with them, the possession, body and soul, of a race that had mastered the only art they could ever learn, the art of governing men; and thereafter, recognizing once and for always their position as a part of their conquerors' property, they worked for him and for Roman money as they had once laboured for glory and for themselves; and in the slow decadence of genius in captivity, their supreme gifts were weakened by degrees, then scattered, and then lost. Henceforth the history of the south becomes for more than half a thousand years the story of the Romans, from the days of Appius Claudius who took Messina till after the times of Christian Constantine.
a A slip by our author; like all ancient amphitheatres, the one in Syracuse is Roman. The remains we now see apparently date to the imperial age, some two hundred and fifty to three hundred years after the time of Archimedes.
b This may save us, dear reader, an e‑mail: Monteleone is a common name among Italian towns. I know of eight places by the name, and there are probably more. The only one in the area covered by our book, and thus the one almost certainly meant here, is Monteleone di Puglia; the others are Monteleone in Forlì province, Monteleone in Pavia province, Monteleone di Fermo, Monteleone Rocca Doría, and Monteleone Sabino, about which I have no information; and two beautiful towns in Umbria, for which see my pages: Monteleone d'Orvieto and Monteleone di Spoleto.
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