The Seventh Book

Chapter XXI

Eighteenth and Nineteenth Years of the War – Arrival of Gylippus at

Syracuse – Fortification of Decelea – Successes of the Syracusans


After refitting their ships, Gylippus and Pythen coasted along from

Tarentum to Epizephyrian Locris. They now received the more correct

information that Syracuse was not yet completely invested, but that

it was still possible for an army arriving at Epipolae to effect an

entrance; and they consulted, accordingly, whether they should keep

Sicily on their right and risk sailing in by sea, or, leaving it on

their left, should first sail to Himera and, taking with them the

Himeraeans and any others that might agree to join them, go to Syracuse

by land. Finally they determined to sail for Himera, especially as

the four Athenian ships which Nicias had at length sent off, on hearing

that they were at Locris, had not yet arrived at Rhegium. Accordingly,

before these reached their post, the Peloponnesians crossed the strait

and, after touching at Rhegium and Messina, came to Himera. Arrived

there, they persuaded the Himeraeans to join in the war, and not only

to go with them themselves but to provide arms for the seamen from

their vessels which they had drawn ashore at Himera; and they sent

and appointed a place for the Selinuntines to meet them with all their

forces. A few troops were also promised by the Geloans and some of

the Sicels, who were now ready to join them with much greater alacrity,

owing to the recent death of Archonidas, a powerful Sicel king in

that neighbourhood and friendly to Athens, and owing also to the vigour

shown by Gylippus in coming from Lacedaemon. Gylippus now took with

him about seven hundred of his sailors and marines, that number only

having arms, a thousand heavy infantry and light troops from Himera

with a body of a hundred horse, some light troops and cavalry from

Selinus, a few Geloans, and Sicels numbering a thousand in all, and

set out on his march for Syracuse.


Meanwhile the Corinthian fleet from Leucas made all haste to arrive;

and one of their commanders, Gongylus, starting last with a single

ship, was the first to reach Syracuse, a little before Gylippus. Gongylus

found the Syracusans on the point of holding an assembly to consider

whether they should put an end to the war. This he prevented, and

reassured them by telling them that more vessels were still to arrive,

and that Gylippus, son of Cleandridas, had been dispatched by the

Lacedaemonians to take the command. Upon this the Syracusans took

courage, and immediately marched out with all their forces to meet

Gylippus, who they found was now close at hand. Meanwhile Gylippus,

after taking Ietae, a fort of the Sicels, on his way, formed his army

in order of battle, and so arrived at Epipolae, and ascending by Euryelus,

as the Athenians had done at first, now advanced with the Syracusans

against the Athenian lines. His arrival chanced at a critical moment.

The Athenians had already finished a double wall of six or seven furlongs

to the great harbour, with the exception of a small portion next the

sea, which they were still engaged upon; and in the remainder of the

circle towards Trogilus on the other sea, stones had been laid ready

for building for the greater part of the distance, and some points

had been left half finished, while others were entirely completed.

The danger of Syracuse had indeed been great.


Meanwhile the Athenians, recovering from the confusion into which

they had been first thrown by the sudden approach of Gylippus and

the Syracusans, formed in order of battle. Gylippus halted at a short

distance off and sent on a herald to tell them that, if they would

evacuate Sicily with bag and baggage within five days’ time, he was

willing to make a truce accordingly. The Athenians treated this proposition

with contempt, and dismissed the herald without an answer. After this

both sides began to prepare for action. Gylippus, observing that the

Syracusans were in disorder and did not easily fall into line, drew

off his troops more into the open ground, while Nicias did not lead

on the Athenians but lay still by his own wall. When Gylippus saw

that they did not come on, he led off his army to the citadel of the

quarter of Apollo Temenites, and passed the night there. On the following

day he led out the main body of his army, and, drawing them up in

order of battle before the walls of the Athenians to prevent their

going to the relief of any other quarter, dispatched a strong force

against Fort Labdalum, and took it, and put all whom he found in it

to the sword, the place not being within sight of the Athenians. On

the same day an Athenian galley that lay moored off the harbour was

captured by the Syracusans.


After this the Syracusans and their allies began to carry a single

wall, starting from the city, in a slanting direction up Epipolae,

in order that the Athenians, unless they could hinder the work, might

be no longer able to invest them. Meanwhile the Athenians, having

now finished their wall down to the sea, had come up to the heights;

and part of their wall being weak, Gylippus drew out his army by night

and attacked it. However, the Athenians who happened to be bivouacking

outside took the alarm and came out to meet him, upon seeing which

he quickly led his men back again. The Athenians now built their wall

higher, and in future kept guard at this point themselves, disposing

their confederates along the remainder of the works, at the stations

assigned to them. Nicias also determined to fortify Plemmyrium, a

promontory over against the city, which juts out and narrows the mouth

of the Great Harbour. He thought that the fortification of this place

would make it easier to bring in supplies, as they would be able to

carry on their blockade from a less distance, near to the port occupied

by the Syracusans; instead of being obliged, upon every movement of

the enemy’s navy, to put out against them from the bottom of the great

harbour. Besides this, he now began to pay more attention to the war

by sea, seeing that the coming of Gylippus had diminished their hopes

by land. Accordingly, he conveyed over his ships and some troops,

and built three forts in which he placed most of his baggage, and

moored there for the future the larger craft and men-of-war. This

was the first and chief occasion of the losses which the crews experienced.

The water which they used was scarce and had to be fetched from far,

and the sailors could not go out for firewood without being cut off

by the Syracusan horse, who were masters of the country; a third of

the enemy’s cavalry being stationed at the little town of Olympieum,

to prevent plundering incursions on the part of the Athenians at Plemmyrium.

Meanwhile Nicias learned that the rest of the Corinthian fleet was

approaching, and sent twenty ships to watch for them, with orders

to be on the look-out for them about Locris and Rhegium and the approach

to Sicily.


Gylippus, meanwhile, went on with the wall across Epipolae, using

the stones which the Athenians had laid down for their own wall, and

at the same time constantly led out the Syracusans and their allies,

and formed them in order of battle in front of the lines, the Athenians

forming against him. At last he thought that the moment was come,

and began the attack; and a hand-to-hand fight ensued between the

lines, where the Syracusan cavalry could be of no use; and the Syracusans

and their allies were defeated and took up their dead under truce,

while the Athenians erected a trophy. After this Gylippus called the

soldiers together, and said that the fault was not theirs but his;

he had kept their lines too much within the works, and had thus deprived

them of the services of their cavalry and darters. He would now, therefore,

lead them on a second time. He begged them to remember that in material

force they would be fully a match for their opponents, while, with

respect to moral advantages, it were intolerable if Peloponnesians

and Dorians should not feel confident of overcoming Ionians and islanders

with the motley rabble that accompanied them, and of driving them

out of the country.


After this he embraced the first opportunity that offered of again

leading them against the enemy. Now Nicias and the Athenians held

the opinion that even if the Syracusans should not wish to offer battle,

it was necessary for them to prevent the building of the cross wall,

as it already almost overlapped the extreme point of their own, and

if it went any further it would from that moment make no difference

whether they fought ever so many successful actions, or never fought

at all. They accordingly came out to meet the Syracusans. Gylippus

led out his heavy infantry further from the fortifications than on

the former occasion, and so joined battle; posting his horse and darters

upon the flank of the Athenians in the open space, where the works

of the two walls terminated. During the engagement the cavalry attacked

and routed the left wing of the Athenians, which was opposed to them;

and the rest of the Athenian army was in consequence defeated by the

Syracusans and driven headlong within their lines. The night following

the Syracusans carried their wall up to the Athenian works and passed

them, thus putting it out of their power any longer to stop them,

and depriving them, even if victorious in the field, of all chance

of investing the city for the future.


After this the remaining twelve vessels of the Corinthians, Ambraciots,

and Leucadians sailed into the harbour under the command of Erasinides,

a Corinthian, having eluded the Athenian ships on guard, and helped

the Syracusans in completing the remainder of the cross wall. Meanwhile

Gylippus went into the rest of Sicily to raise land and naval forces,

and also to bring over any of the cities that either were lukewarm

in the cause or had hitherto kept out of the war altogether. Syracusan

and Corinthian envoys were also dispatched to Lacedaemon and Corinth

to get a fresh force sent over, in any way that might offer, either

in merchant vessels or transports, or in any other manner likely to

prove successful, as the Athenians too were sending for reinforcements;

while the Syracusans proceeded to man a fleet and to exercise, meaning

to try their fortune in this way also, and generally became exceedingly



Nicias perceiving this, and seeing the strength of the enemy and his

own difficulties daily increasing, himself also sent to Athens. He

had before sent frequent reports of events as they occurred, and felt

it especially incumbent upon him to do so now, as he thought that

they were in a critical position, and that, unless speedily recalled

or strongly reinforced from home, they had no hope of safety. He feared,

however, that the messengers, either through inability to speak, or

through failure of memory, or from a wish to please the multitude,

might not report the truth, and so thought it best to write a letter,

to ensure that the Athenians should know his own opinion without its

being lost in transmission, and be able to decide upon the real facts

of the case.


His emissaries, accordingly, departed with the letter and the requisite

verbal instructions; and he attended to the affairs of the army, making

it his aim now to keep on the defensive and to avoid any unnecessary



At the close of the same summer the Athenian general Euetion marched

in concert with Perdiccas with a large body of Thracians against Amphipolis,

and failing to take it brought some galleys round into the Strymon,

and blockaded the town from the river, having his base at Himeraeum.


Summer was now over. The winter ensuing, the persons sent by Nicias,

reaching Athens, gave the verbal messages which had been entrusted

to them, and answered any questions that were asked them, and delivered

the letter. The clerk of the city now came forward and read out to

the Athenians the letter, which was as follows:


«Our past operations, Athenians, have been made known to you by many

other letters; it is now time for you to become equally familiar with

our present condition, and to take your measures accordingly. We had

defeated in most of our engagements with them the Syracusans, against

whom we were sent, and we had built the works which we now occupy,

when Gylippus arrived from Lacedaemon with an army obtained from Peloponnese

and from some of the cities in Sicily. In our first battle with him

we were victorious; in the battle on the following day we were overpowered

by a multitude of cavalry and darters, and compelled to retire within

our lines. We have now, therefore, been forced by the numbers of those

opposed to us to discontinue the work of circumvallation, and to remain

inactive; being unable to make use even of all the force we have,

since a large portion of our heavy infantry is absorbed in the defence

of our lines. Meanwhile the enemy have carried a single wall past

our lines, thus making it impossible for us to invest them in future,

until this cross wall be attacked by a strong force and captured.

So that the besieger in name has become, at least from the land side,

the besieged in reality; as we are prevented by their cavalry from

even going for any distance into the country.


«Besides this, an embassy has been dispatched to Peloponnese to procure

reinforcements, and Gylippus has gone to the cities in Sicily, partly

in the hope of inducing those that are at present neutral to join

him in the war, partly of bringing from his allies additional contingents

for the land forces and material for the navy. For I understand that

they contemplate a combined attack, upon our lines with their land

forces and with their fleet by sea. You must none of you be surprised

that I say by sea also. They have discovered that the length of the

time we have now been in commission has rotted our ships and wasted

our crews, and that with the entireness of our crews and the soundness

of our ships the pristine efficiency of our navy has departed. For

it is impossible for us to haul our ships ashore and careen them,

because, the enemy’s vessels being as many or more than our own, we

are constantly anticipating an attack. Indeed, they may be seen exercising,

and it lies with them to take the initiative; and not having to maintain

a blockade, they have greater facilities for drying their ships.


«This we should scarcely be able to do, even if we had plenty of ships

to spare, and were freed from our present necessity of exhausting

all our strength upon the blockade. For it is already difficult to

carry in supplies past Syracuse; and were we to relax our vigilance

in the slightest degree it would become impossible. The losses which

our crews have suffered and still continue to suffer arise from the

following causes. Expeditions for fuel and for forage, and the distance

from which water has to be fetched, cause our sailors to be cut off

by the Syracusan cavalry; the loss of our previous superiority emboldens

our slaves to desert; our foreign seamen are impressed by the unexpected

appearance of a navy against us, and the strength of the enemy’s resistance;

such of them as were pressed into the service take the first opportunity

of departing to their respective cities; such as were originally seduced

by the temptation of high pay, and expected little fighting and large

gains, leave us either by desertion to the enemy or by availing themselves

of one or other of the various facilities of escape which the magnitude

of Sicily affords them. Some even engage in trade themselves and prevail

upon the captains to take Hyccaric slaves on board in their place;

thus they have ruined the efficiency of our navy.


«Now I need not remind you that the time during which a crew is in

its prime is short, and that the number of sailors who can start a

ship on her way and keep the rowing in time is small. But by far my

greatest trouble is, that holding the post which I do, I am prevented

by the natural indocility of the Athenian seaman from putting a stop

to these evils; and that meanwhile we have no source from which to

recruit our crews, which the enemy can do from many quarters, but

are compelled to depend both for supplying the crews in service and

for making good our losses upon the men whom we brought with us. For

our present confederates, Naxos and Catana, are incapable of supplying

  1. There is only one thing more wanting to our opponents, I mean

the defection of our Italian markets. If they were to see you neglect

to relieve us from our present condition, and were to go over to the

enemy, famine would compel us to evacuate, and Syracuse would finish

the war without a blow.


«I might, it is true, have written to you something different and

more agreeable than this, but nothing certainly more useful, if it

is desirable for you to know the real state of things here before

taking your measures. Besides I know that it is your nature to love

to be told the best side of things, and then to blame the teller if

the expectations which he has raised in your minds are not answered

by the result; and I therefore thought it safest to declare to you

the truth.


«Now you are not to think that either your generals or your soldiers

have ceased to be a match for the forces originally opposed to them.

But you are to reflect that a general Sicilian coalition is being

formed against us; that a fresh army is expected from Peloponnese,

while the force we have here is unable to cope even with our present

antagonists; and you must promptly decide either to recall us or to

send out to us another fleet and army as numerous again, with a large

sum of money, and someone to succeed me, as a disease in the kidneys

unfits me for retaining my post. I have, I think, some claim on your

indulgence, as while I was in my prime I did you much good service

in my commands. But whatever you mean to do, do it at the commencement

of spring and without delay, as the enemy will obtain his Sicilian

reinforcements shortly, those from Peloponnese after a longer interval;

and unless you attend to the matter the former will be here before

you, while the latter will elude you as they have done before.»


Such were the contents of Nicias’s letter. When the Athenians had

heard it they refused to accept his resignation, but chose him two

colleagues, naming Menander and Euthydemus, two of the officers at

the seat of war, to fill their places until their arrival, that Nicias

might not be left alone in his sickness to bear the whole weight of

affairs. They also voted to send out another army and navy, drawn

partly from the Athenians on the muster-roll, partly from the allies.

The colleagues chosen for Nicias were Demosthenes, son of Alcisthenes,

and Eurymedon, son of Thucles. Eurymedon was sent off at once, about

the time of the winter solstice, with ten ships, a hundred and twenty

talents of silver, and instructions to tell the army that reinforcements

would arrive, and that care would be taken of them; but Demosthenes

stayed behind to organize the expedition, meaning to start as soon

as it was spring, and sent for troops to the allies, and meanwhile

got together money, ships, and heavy infantry at home.


The Athenians also sent twenty vessels round Peloponnese to prevent

any one crossing over to Sicily from Corinth or Peloponnese. For the

Corinthians, filled with confidence by the favourable alteration in

Sicilian affairs which had been reported by the envoys upon their

arrival, and convinced that the fleet which they had before sent out

had not been without its use, were now preparing to dispatch a force

of heavy infantry in merchant vessels to Sicily, while the Lacedaemonians

did the like for the rest of Peloponnese. The Corinthians also manned

a fleet of twenty-five vessels, intending to try the result of a battle

with the squadron on guard at Naupactus, and meanwhile to make it

less easy for the Athenians there to hinder the departure of their

merchantmen, by obliging them to keep an eye upon the galleys thus

arrayed against them.


In the meantime the Lacedaemonians prepared for their invasion of

Attica, in accordance with their own previous resolve, and at the

instigation of the Syracusans and Corinthians, who wished for an invasion

to arrest the reinforcements which they heard that Athens was about

to send to Sicily. Alcibiades also urgently advised the fortification

of Decelea, and a vigorous prosecution of the war. But the Lacedaemonians

derived most encouragement from the belief that Athens, with two wars

on her hands, against themselves and against the Siceliots, would

be more easy to subdue, and from the conviction that she had been

the first to infringe the truce. In the former war, they considered,

the offence had been more on their own side, both on account of the

entrance of the Thebans into Plataea in time of peace, and also of

their own refusal to listen to the Athenian offer of arbitration,

in spite of the clause in the former treaty that where arbitration

should be offered there should be no appeal to arms. For this reason

they thought that they deserved their misfortunes, and took to heart

seriously the disaster at Pylos and whatever else had befallen them.

But when, besides the ravages from Pylos, which went on without any

intermission, the thirty Athenian ships came out from Argos and wasted

part of Epidaurus, Prasiae, and other places; when upon every dispute

that arose as to the interpretation of any doubtful point in the treaty,

their own offers of arbitration were always rejected by the Athenians,

the Lacedaemonians at length decided that Athens had now committed

the very same offence as they had before done, and had become the

guilty party; and they began to be full of ardour for the war. They

spent this winter in sending round to their allies for iron, and in

getting ready the other implements for building their fort; and meanwhile

began raising at home, and also by forced requisitions in the rest

of Peloponnese, a force to be sent out in the merchantmen to their

allies in Sicily. Winter thus ended, and with it the eighteenth year

of this war of which Thucydides is the historian.


In the first days of the spring following, at an earlier period than

usual, the Lacedaemonians and their allies invaded Attica, under the

command of Agis, son of Archidamus, king of the Lacedaemonians. They

began by devastating the parts bordering upon the plain, and next

proceeded to fortify Decelea, dividing the work among the different

cities. Decelea is about thirteen or fourteen miles from the city

of Athens, and the same distance or not much further from Boeotia;

and the fort was meant to annoy the plain and the richest parts of

the country, being in sight of Athens. While the Peloponnesians and

their allies in Attica were engaged in the work of fortification,

their countrymen at home sent off, at about the same time, the heavy

infantry in the merchant vessels to Sicily; the Lacedaemonians furnishing

a picked force of Helots and Neodamodes (or freedmen), six hundred

heavy infantry in all, under the command of Eccritus, a Spartan; and

the Boeotians three hundred heavy infantry, commanded by two Thebans,

Xenon and Nicon, and by Hegesander, a Thespian. These were among the

first to put out into the open sea, starting from Taenarus in Laconia.

Not long after their departure the Corinthians sent off a force of

five hundred heavy infantry, consisting partly of men from Corinth

itself, and partly of Arcadian mercenaries, placed under the command

of Alexarchus, a Corinthian. The Sicyonians also sent off two hundred

heavy infantry at same time as the Corinthians, under the command

of Sargeus, a Sicyonian. Meantime the five-and-twenty vessels manned

by Corinth during the winter lay confronting the twenty Athenian ships

at Naupactus until the heavy infantry in the merchantmen were fairly

on their way from Peloponnese; thus fulfilling the object for which

they had been manned originally, which was to divert the attention

of the Athenians from the merchantmen to the galleys.


During this time the Athenians were not idle. Simultaneously with

the fortification of Decelea, at the very beginning of spring, they

sent thirty ships round Peloponnese, under Charicles, son of Apollodorus,

with instructions to call at Argos and demand a force of their heavy

infantry for the fleet, agreeably to the alliance. At the same time

they dispatched Demosthenes to Sicily, as they had intended, with

sixty Athenian and five Chian vessels, twelve hundred Athenian heavy

infantry from the muster-roll, and as many of the islanders as could

be raised in the different quarters, drawing upon the other subject

allies for whatever they could supply that would be of use for the

war. Demosthenes was instructed first to sail round with Charicles

and to operate with him upon the coasts of Laconia, and accordingly

sailed to Aegina and there waited for the remainder of his armament,

and for Charicles to fetch the Argive troops.


In Sicily, about the same time in this spring, Gylippus came to Syracuse

with as many troops as he could bring from the cities which he had

persuaded to join. Calling the Syracusans together, he told them that

they must man as many ships as possible, and try their hand at a sea-fight,

by which he hoped to achieve an advantage in the war not unworthy

of the risk. With him Hermocrates actively joined in trying to encourage

his countrymen to attack the Athenians at sea, saying that the latter

had not inherited their naval prowess nor would they retain it for

ever; they had been landsmen even to a greater degree than the Syracusans,

and had only become a maritime power when obliged by the Mede. Besides,

to daring spirits like the Athenians, a daring adversary would seem

the most formidable; and the Athenian plan of paralysing by the boldness

of their attack a neighbour often not their inferior in strength could

now be used against them with as good effect by the Syracusans. He

was convinced also that the unlooked-for spectacle of Syracusans daring

to face the Athenian navy would cause a terror to the enemy, the advantages

of which would far outweigh any loss that Athenian science might inflict

upon their inexperience. He accordingly urged them to throw aside

their fears and to try their fortune at sea; and the Syracusans, under

the influence of Gylippus and Hermocrates, and perhaps some others,

made up their minds for the sea-fight and began to man their vessels.


When the fleet was ready, Gylippus led out the whole army by night;

his plan being to assault in person the forts on Plemmyrium by land,

while thirty-five Syracusan galleys sailed according to appointment

against the enemy from the great harbour, and the forty-five remaining

came round from the lesser harbour, where they had their arsenal,

in order to effect a junction with those inside and simultaneously

to attack Plemmyrium, and thus to distract the Athenians by assaulting

them on two sides at once. The Athenians quickly manned sixty ships,

and with twenty-five of these engaged the thirty-five of the Syracusans

in the great harbour, sending the rest to meet those sailing round

from the arsenal; and an action now ensued directly in front of the

mouth of the great harbour, maintained with equal tenacity on both

sides; the one wishing to force the passage, the other to prevent



In the meantime, while the Athenians in Plemmyrium were down at the

sea, attending to the engagement, Gylippus made a sudden attack on

the forts in the early morning and took the largest first, and afterwards

the two smaller, whose garrisons did not wait for him, seeing the

largest so easily taken. At the fall of the first fort, the men from

it who succeeded in taking refuge in their boats and merchantmen,

found great difficulty in reaching the camp, as the Syracusans were

having the best of it in the engagement in the great harbour, and

sent a fast-sailing galley to pursue them. But when the two others

fell, the Syracusans were now being defeated; and the fugitives from

these sailed alongshore with more ease. The Syracusan ships fighting

off the mouth of the harbour forced their way through the Athenian

vessels and sailing in without any order fell foul of one another,

and transferred the victory to the Athenians; who not only routed

the squadron in question, but also that by which they were at first

being defeated in the harbour, sinking eleven of the Syracusan vessels

and killing most of the men, except the crews of three ships whom

they made prisoners. Their own loss was confined to three vessels;

and after hauling ashore the Syracusan wrecks and setting up a trophy

upon the islet in front of Plemmyrium, they retired to their own camp.


Unsuccessful at sea, the Syracusans had nevertheless the forts in

Plemmyrium, for which they set up three trophies. One of the two last

taken they razed, but put in order and garrisoned the two others.

In the capture of the forts a great many men were killed and made

prisoners, and a great quantity of property was taken in all. As the

Athenians had used them as a magazine, there was a large stock of

goods and corn of the merchants inside, and also a large stock belonging

to the captains; the masts and other furniture of forty galleys being

taken, besides three galleys which had been drawn up on shore. Indeed

the first and chiefest cause of the ruin of the Athenian army was

the capture of Plemmyrium; even the entrance of the harbour being

now no longer safe for carrying in provisions, as the Syracusan vessels

were stationed there to prevent it, and nothing could be brought in

without fighting; besides the general impression of dismay and discouragement

produced upon the army.


After this the Syracusans sent out twelve ships under the command

of Agatharchus, a Syracusan. One of these went to Peloponnese with

ambassadors to describe the hopeful state of their affairs, and to

incite the Peloponnesians to prosecute the war there even more actively

than they were now doing, while the eleven others sailed to Italy,

hearing that vessels laden with stores were on their way to the Athenians.

After falling in with and destroying most of the vessels in question,

and burning in the Caulonian territory a quantity of timber for shipbuilding,

which had been got ready for the Athenians, the Syracusan squadron

went to Locri, and one of the merchantmen from Peloponnese coming

in, while they were at anchor there, carrying Thespian heavy infantry,

took these on board and sailed alongshore towards home. The Athenians

were on the look-out for them with twenty ships at Megara, but were

only able to take one vessel with its crew; the rest getting clear

off to Syracuse. There was also some skirmishing in the harbour about

the piles which the Syracusans had driven in the sea in front of the

old docks, to allow their ships to lie at anchor inside, without being

hurt by the Athenians sailing up and running them down. The Athenians

brought up to them a ship of ten thousand talents burden furnished

with wooden turrets and screens, and fastened ropes round the piles

from their boats, wrenched them up and broke them, or dived down and

sawed them in two. Meanwhile the Syracusans plied them with missiles

from the docks, to which they replied from their large vessel; until

at last most of the piles were removed by the Athenians. But the most

awkward part of the stockade was the part out of sight: some of the

piles which had been driven in did not appear above water, so that

it was dangerous to sail up, for fear of running the ships upon them,

just as upon a reef, through not seeing them. However divers went

down and sawed off even these for reward; although the Syracusans

drove in others. Indeed there was no end to the contrivances to which

they resorted against each other, as might be expected between two

hostile armies confronting each other at such a short distance: and

skirmishes and all kinds of other attempts were of constant occurrence.

Meanwhile the Syracusans sent embassies to the cities, composed of

Corinthians, Ambraciots, and Lacedaemonians, to tell them of the capture

of Plemmyrium, and that their defeat in the sea-fight was due less

to the strength of the enemy than to their own disorder; and generally,

to let them know that they were full of hope, and to desire them to

come to their help with ships and troops, as the Athenians were expected

with a fresh army, and if the one already there could be destroyed

before the other arrived, the war would be at an end.


While the contending parties in Sicily were thus engaged, Demosthenes,

having now got together the armament with which he was to go to the

island, put out from Aegina, and making sail for Peloponnese, joined

Charicles and the thirty ships of the Athenians. Taking on board the

heavy infantry from Argos they sailed to Laconia, and, after first

plundering part of Epidaurus Limera, landed on the coast of Laconia,

opposite Cythera, where the temple of Apollo stands, and, laying waste

part of the country, fortified a sort of isthmus, to which the Helots

of the Lacedaemonians might desert, and from whence plundering incursions

might be made as from Pylos. Demosthenes helped to occupy this place,

and then immediately sailed on to Corcyra to take up some of the allies

in that island, and so to proceed without delay to Sicily; while Charicles

waited until he had completed the fortification of the place and,

leaving a garrison there, returned home subsequently with his thirty

ships and the Argives also.


This same summer arrived at Athens thirteen hundred targeteers, Thracian

swordsmen of the tribe of the Dii, who were to have sailed to Sicily

with Demosthenes. Since they had come too late, the Athenians determined

to send them back to Thrace, whence they had come; to keep them for

the Decelean war appearing too expensive, as the pay of each man was

a drachma a day. Indeed since Decelea had been first fortified by

the whole Peloponnesian army during this summer, and then occupied

for the annoyance of the country by the garrisons from the cities

relieving each other at stated intervals, it had been doing great

mischief to the Athenians; in fact this occupation, by the destruction

of property and loss of men which resulted from it, was one of the

principal causes of their ruin. Previously the invasions were short,

and did not prevent their enjoying their land during the rest of the

time: the enemy was now permanently fixed in Attica; at one time it

was an attack in force, at another it was the regular garrison overrunning

the country and making forays for its subsistence, and the Lacedaemonian

king, Agis, was in the field and diligently prosecuting the war; great

mischief was therefore done to the Athenians. They were deprived of

their whole country: more than twenty thousand slaves had deserted,

a great part of them artisans, and all their sheep and beasts of burden

were lost; and as the cavalry rode out daily upon excursions to Decelea

and to guard the country, their horses were either lamed by being

constantly worked upon rocky ground, or wounded by the enemy.


Besides, the transport of provisions from Euboea, which had before

been carried on so much more quickly overland by Decelea from Oropus,

was now effected at great cost by sea round Sunium; everything the

city required had to be imported from abroad, and instead of a city

it became a fortress. Summer and winter the Athenians were worn out

by having to keep guard on the fortifications, during the day by turns,

by night all together, the cavalry excepted, at the different military

posts or upon the wall. But what most oppressed them was that they

had two wars at once, and had thus reached a pitch of frenzy which

no one would have believed possible if he had heard of it before it

had come to pass. For could any one have imagined that even when besieged

by the Peloponnesians entrenched in Attica, they would still, instead

of withdrawing from Sicily, stay on there besieging in like manner

Syracuse, a town (taken as a town) in no way inferior to Athens, or

would so thoroughly upset the Hellenic estimate of their strength

and audacity, as to give the spectacle of a people which, at the beginning

of the war, some thought might hold out one year, some two, none more

than three, if the Peloponnesians invaded their country, now seventeen

years after the first invasion, after having already suffered from

all the evils of war, going to Sicily and undertaking a new war nothing

inferior to that which they already had with the Peloponnesians? These

causes, the great losses from Decelea, and the other heavy charges

that fell upon them, produced their financial embarrassment; and it

was at this time that they imposed upon their subjects, instead of

the tribute, the tax of a twentieth upon all imports and exports by

sea, which they thought would bring them in more money; their expenditure

being now not the same as at first, but having grown with the war

while their revenues decayed.


Accordingly, not wishing to incur expense in their present want of

money, they sent back at once the Thracians who came too late for

Demosthenes, under the conduct of Diitrephes, who was instructed,

as they were to pass through the Euripus, to make use of them if possible

in the voyage alongshore to injure the enemy. Diitrephes first landed

them at Tanagra and hastily snatched some booty; he then sailed across

the Euripus in the evening from Chalcis in Euboea and disembarking

in Boeotia led them against Mycalessus. The night he passed unobserved

near the temple of Hermes, not quite two miles from Mycalessus, and

at daybreak assaulted and took the town, which is not a large one;

the inhabitants being off their guard and not expecting that any one

would ever come up so far from the sea to molest them, the wall too

being weak, and in some places having tumbled down, while in others

it had not been built to any height, and the gates also being left

open through their feeling of security. The Thracians bursting into

Mycalessus sacked the houses and temples, and butchered the inhabitants,

sparing neither youth nor age, but killing all they fell in with,

one after the other, children and women, and even beasts of burden,

and whatever other living creatures they saw; the Thracian race, like

the bloodiest of the barbarians, being even more so when it has nothing

to fear. Everywhere confusion reigned and death in all its shapes;

and in particular they attacked a boys’ school, the largest that there

was in the place, into which the children had just gone, and massacred

them all. In short, the disaster falling upon the whole town was unsurpassed

in magnitude, and unapproached by any in suddenness and in horror.


Meanwhile the Thebans heard of it and marched to the rescue, and overtaking

the Thracians before they had gone far, recovered the plunder and

drove them in panic to the Euripus and the sea, where the vessels

which brought them were lying. The greatest slaughter took place while

they were embarking, as they did not know how to swim, and those in

the vessels on seeing what was going on on on shore moored them out

of bowshot: in the rest of the retreat the Thracians made a very respectable

defence against the Theban horse, by which they were first attacked,

dashing out and closing their ranks according to the tactics of their

country, and lost only a few men in that part of the affair. A good

number who were after plunder were actually caught in the town and

put to death. Altogether the Thracians had two hundred and fifty killed

out of thirteen hundred, the Thebans and the rest who came to the

rescue about twenty, troopers and heavy infantry, with Scirphondas,

one of the Boeotarchs. The Mycalessians lost a large proportion of

their population.


While Mycalessus thus experienced a calamity for its extent as lamentable

as any that happened in the war, Demosthenes, whom we left sailing

to Corcyra, after the building of the fort in Laconia, found a merchantman

lying at Phea in Elis, in which the Corinthian heavy infantry were

to cross to Sicily. The ship he destroyed, but the men escaped, and

subsequently got another in which they pursued their voyage. After

this, arriving at Zacynthus and Cephallenia, he took a body of heavy

infantry on board, and sending for some of the Messenians from Naupactus,

crossed over to the opposite coast of Acarnania, to Alyzia, and to

Anactorium which was held by the Athenians. While he was in these

parts he was met by Eurymedon returning from Sicily, where he had

been sent, as has been mentioned, during the winter, with the money

for the army, who told him the news, and also that he had heard, while

at sea, that the Syracusans had taken Plemmyrium. Here, also, Conon

came to them, the commander at Naupactus, with news that the twenty-five

Corinthian ships stationed opposite to him, far from giving over the

war, were meditating an engagement; and he therefore begged them to

send him some ships, as his own eighteen were not a match for the

enemy’s twenty-five. Demosthenes and Eurymedon, accordingly, sent

ten of their best sailers with Conon to reinforce the squadron at

Naupactus, and meanwhile prepared for the muster of their forces;

Eurymedon, who was now the colleague of Demosthenes, and had turned

back in consequence of his appointment, sailing to Corcyra to tell

them to man fifteen ships and to enlist heavy infantry; while Demosthenes

raised slingers and darters from the parts about Acarnania.


Meanwhile the envoys, already mentioned, who had gone from Syracuse

to the cities after the capture of Plemmyrium, had succeeded in their

mission, and were about to bring the army that they had collected,

when Nicias got scent of it, and sent to the Centoripae and Alicyaeans

and other of the friendly Sicels, who held the passes, not to let

the enemy through, but to combine to prevent their passing, there

being no other way by which they could even attempt it, as the Agrigentines

would not give them a passage through their country. Agreeably to

this request the Sicels laid a triple ambuscade for the Siceliots

upon their march, and attacking them suddenly, while off their guard,

killed about eight hundred of them and all the envoys, the Corinthian

only excepted, by whom fifteen hundred who escaped were conducted

to Syracuse.


About the same time the Camarinaeans also came to the assistance of

Syracuse with five hundred heavy infantry, three hundred darters,

and as many archers, while the Geloans sent crews for five ships,

four hundred darters, and two hundred horse. Indeed almost the whole

of Sicily, except the Agrigentines, who were neutral, now ceased merely

to watch events as it had hitherto done, and actively joined Syracuse

against the Athenians.


While the Syracusans after the Sicel disaster put off any immediate

attack upon the Athenians, Demosthenes and Eurymedon, whose forces

from Corcyra and the continent were now ready, crossed the Ionian

Gulf with all their armament to the Iapygian promontory, and starting

from thence touched at the Choerades Isles lying off Iapygia, where

they took on board a hundred and fifty Iapygian darters of the Messapian

tribe, and after renewing an old friendship with Artas the chief,

who had furnished them with the darters, arrived at Metapontium in

Italy. Here they persuaded their allies the Metapontines to send with

them three hundred darters and two galleys, and with this reinforcement

coasted on to Thurii, where they found the party hostile to Athens

recently expelled by a revolution, and accordingly remained there

to muster and review the whole army, to see if any had been left behind,

and to prevail upon the Thurians resolutely to join them in their

expedition, and in the circumstances in which they found themselves

to conclude a defensive and offensive alliance with the Athenians.


About the same time the Peloponnesians in the twenty-five ships stationed

opposite to the squadron at Naupactus to protect the passage of the

transports to Sicily had got ready for engaging, and manning some

additional vessels, so as to be numerically little inferior to the

Athenians, anchored off Erineus in Achaia in the Rhypic country. The

place off which they lay being in the form of a crescent, the land

forces furnished by the Corinthians and their allies on the spot came

up and ranged themselves upon the projecting headlands on either side,

while the fleet, under the command of Polyanthes, a Corinthian, held

the intervening space and blocked up the entrance. The Athenians under

Diphilus now sailed out against them with thirty-three ships from

Naupactus, and the Corinthians, at first not moving, at length thought

they saw their opportunity, raised the signal, and advanced and engaged

the Athenians. After an obstinate struggle, the Corinthians lost three

ships, and without sinking any altogether, disabled seven of the enemy,

which were struck prow to prow and had their foreships stove in by

the Corinthian vessels, whose cheeks had been strengthened for this

very purpose. After an action of this even character, in which either

party could claim the victory (although the Athenians became masters

of the wrecks through the wind driving them out to sea, the Corinthians

not putting out again to meet them), the two combatants parted. No

pursuit took place, and no prisoners were made on either side; the

Corinthians and Peloponnesians who were fighting near the shore escaping

with ease, and none of the Athenian vessels having been sunk. The

Athenians now sailed back to Naupactus, and the Corinthians immediately

set up a trophy as victors, because they had disabled a greater number

of the enemy’s ships. Moreover they held that they had not been worsted,

for the very same reason that their opponent held that he had not

been victorious; the Corinthians considering that they were conquerors,

if not decidedly conquered, and the Athenians thinking themselves

vanquished, because not decidedly victorious. However, when the Peloponnesians

sailed off and their land forces had dispersed, the Athenians also

set up a trophy as victors in Achaia, about two miles and a quarter

from Erineus, the Corinthian station.


This was the termination of the action at Naupactus. To return to

Demosthenes and Eurymedon: the Thurians having now got ready to join

in the expedition with seven hundred heavy infantry and three hundred

darters, the two generals ordered the ships to sail along the coast

to the Crotonian territory, and meanwhile held a review of all the

land forces upon the river Sybaris, and then led them through the

Thurian country. Arrived at the river Hylias, they here received a

message from the Crotonians, saying that they would not allow the

army to pass through their country; upon which the Athenians descended

towards the shore, and bivouacked near the sea and the mouth of the

Hylias, where the fleet also met them, and the next day embarked and

sailed along the coast touching at all the cities except Locri, until

they came to Petra in the Rhegian territory.


Meanwhile the Syracusans hearing of their approach resolved to make

a second attempt with their fleet and their other forces on shore,

which they had been collecting for this very purpose in order to do

something before their arrival. In addition to other improvements

suggested by the former sea-fight which they now adopted in the equipment

of their navy, they cut down their prows to a smaller compass to make

them more solid and made their cheeks stouter, and from these let

stays into the vessels’ sides for a length of six cubits within and

without, in the same way as the Corinthians had altered their prows

before engaging the squadron at Naupactus. The Syracusans thought

that they would thus have an advantage over the Athenian vessels,

which were not constructed with equal strength, but were slight in

the bows, from their being more used to sail round and charge the

enemy’s side than to meet him prow to prow, and that the battle being

in the great harbour, with a great many ships in not much room, was

also a fact in their favour. Charging prow to prow, they would stave

in the enemy’s bows, by striking with solid and stout beaks against

hollow and weak ones; and secondly, the Athenians for want of room

would be unable to use their favourite manoeuvre of breaking the line

or of sailing round, as the Syracusans would do their best not to

let them do the one, and want of room would prevent their doing the

other. This charging prow to prow, which had hitherto been thought

want of skill in a helmsman, would be the Syracusans’ chief manoeuvre,

as being that which they should find most useful, since the Athenians,

if repulsed, would not be able to back water in any direction except

towards the shore, and that only for a little way, and in the little

space in front of their own camp. The rest of the harbour would be

commanded by the Syracusans; and the Athenians, if hard pressed, by

crowding together in a small space and all to the same point, would

run foul of one another and fall into disorder, which was, in fact,

the thing that did the Athenians most harm in all the sea-fights,

they not having, like the Syracusans, the whole harbour to retreat

over. As to their sailing round into the open sea, this would be impossible,

with the Syracusans in possession of the way out and in, especially

as Plemmyrium would be hostile to them, and the mouth of the harbour

was not large.


With these contrivances to suit their skill and ability, and now more

confident after the previous sea-fight, the Syracusans attacked by

land and sea at once. The town force Gylippus led out a little the

first and brought them up to the wall of the Athenians, where it looked

towards the city, while the force from the Olympieum, that is to say,

the heavy infantry that were there with the horse and the light troops

of the Syracusans, advanced against the wall from the opposite side;

the ships of the Syracusans and allies sailing out immediately afterwards.

The Athenians at first fancied that they were to be attacked by land

only, and it was not without alarm that they saw the fleet suddenly

approaching as well; and while some were forming upon the walls and

in front of them against the advancing enemy, and some marching out

in haste against the numbers of horse and darters coming from the

Olympieum and from outside, others manned the ships or rushed down

to the beach to oppose the enemy, and when the ships were manned put

out with seventy-five sail against about eighty of the Syracusans.


After spending a great part of the day in advancing and retreating

and skirmishing with each other, without either being able to gain

any advantage worth speaking of, except that the Syracusans sank one

or two of the Athenian vessels, they parted, the land force at the

same time retiring from the lines. The next day the Syracusans remained

quiet, and gave no signs of what they were going to do; but Nicias,

seeing that the battle had been a drawn one, and expecting that they

would attack again, compelled the captains to refit any of the ships

that had suffered, and moored merchant vessels before the stockade

which they had driven into the sea in front of their ships, to serve

instead of an enclosed harbour, at about two hundred feet from each

other, in order that any ship that was hard pressed might be able

to retreat in safety and sail out again at leisure. These preparations

occupied the Athenians all day until nightfall.


The next day the Syracusans began operations at an earlier hour, but

with the same plan of attack by land and sea. A great part of the

day the rivals spent as before, confronting and skirmishing with each

other; until at last Ariston, son of Pyrrhicus, a Corinthian, the

ablest helmsman in the Syracusan service, persuaded their naval commanders

to send to the officials in the city, and tell them to move the sale

market as quickly as they could down to the sea, and oblige every

one to bring whatever eatables he had and sell them there, thus enabling

the commanders to land the crews and dine at once close to the ships,

and shortly afterwards, the selfsame day, to attack the Athenians

again when they were not expecting it.


In compliance with this advice a messenger was sent and the market

got ready, upon which the Syracusans suddenly backed water and withdrew

to the town, and at once landed and took their dinner upon the spot;

while the Athenians, supposing that they had returned to the town

because they felt they were beaten, disembarked at their leisure and

set about getting their dinners and about their other occupations,

under the idea that they done with fighting for that day. Suddenly

the Syracusans had manned their ships and again sailed against them;

and the Athenians, in great confusion and most of them fasting, got

on board, and with great difficulty put out to meet them. For some

time both parties remained on the defensive without engaging, until

the Athenians at last resolved not to let themselves be worn out by

waiting where they were, but to attack without delay, and giving a

cheer, went into action. The Syracusans received them, and charging

prow to prow as they had intended, stove in a great part of the Athenian

foreships by the strength of their beaks; the darters on the decks

also did great damage to the Athenians, but still greater damage was

done by the Syracusans who went about in small boats, ran in upon

the oars of the Athenian galleys, and sailed against their sides,

and discharged from thence their darts upon the sailors.


At last, fighting hard in this fashion, the Syracusans gained the

victory, and the Athenians turned and fled between the merchantmen

to their own station. The Syracusan ships pursued them as far as the

merchantmen, where they were stopped by the beams armed with dolphins

suspended from those vessels over the passage. Two of the Syracusan

vessels went too near in the excitement of victory and were destroyed,

one of them being taken with its crew. After sinking seven of the

Athenian vessels and disabling many, and taking most of the men prisoners

and killing others, the Syracusans retired and set up trophies for

both the engagements, being now confident of having a decided superiority

by sea, and by no means despairing of equal success by land.


Chapter XXII


Nineteenth Year of the War – Arrival of Demosthenes – Defeat of the

Athenians at Epipolae – Folly and Obstinancy of Nicias


In the meantime, while the Syracusans were preparing for a second

attack upon both elements, Demosthenes and Eurymedon arrived with

the succours from Athens, consisting of about seventy-three ships,

including the foreigners; nearly five thousand heavy infantry, Athenian

and allied; a large number of darters, Hellenic and barbarian, and

slingers and archers and everything else upon a corresponding scale.

The Syracusans and their allies were for the moment not a little dismayed

at the idea that there was to be no term or ending to their dangers,

seeing, in spite of the fortification of Decelea, a new army arrive

nearly equal to the former, and the power of Athens proving so great

in every quarter. On the other hand, the first Athenian armament regained

a certain confidence in the midst of its misfortunes. Demosthenes,

seeing how matters stood, felt that he could not drag on and fare

as Nicias had done, who by wintering in Catana instead of at once

attacking Syracuse had allowed the terror of his first arrival to

evaporate in contempt, and had given time to Gylippus to arrive with

a force from Peloponnese, which the Syracusans would never have sent

for if he had attacked immediately; for they fancied that they were

a match for him by themselves, and would not have discovered their

inferiority until they were already invested, and even if they then

sent for succours, they would no longer have been equally able to

profit by their arrival. Recollecting this, and well aware that it

was now on the first day after his arrival that he like Nicias was

most formidable to the enemy, Demosthenes determined to lose no time

in drawing the utmost profit from the consternation at the moment

inspired by his army; and seeing that the counterwall of the Syracusans,

which hindered the Athenians from investing them, was a single one,

and that he who should become master of the way up to Epipolae, and

afterwards of the camp there, would find no difficulty in taking it,

as no one would even wait for his attack, made all haste to attempt

the enterprise. This he took to be the shortest way of ending the

war, as he would either succeed and take Syracuse, or would lead back

the armament instead of frittering away the lives of the Athenians

engaged in the expedition and the resources of the country at large.


First therefore the Athenians went out and laid waste the lands of

the Syracusans about the Anapus and carried all before them as at

first by land and by sea, the Syracusans not offering to oppose them

upon either element, unless it were with their cavalry and darters

from the Olympieum. Next Demosthenes resolved to attempt the counterwall

first by means of engines. As however the engines that he brought

up were burnt by the enemy fighting from the wall, and the rest of

the forces repulsed after attacking at many different points, he determined

to delay no longer, and having obtained the consent of Nicias and

his fellow commanders, proceeded to put in execution his plan of attacking

Epipolae. As by day it seemed impossible to approach and get up without

being observed, he ordered provisions for five days, took all the

masons and carpenters, and other things, such as arrows, and everything

else that they could want for the work of fortification if successful,

and, after the first watch, set out with Eurymedon and Menander and

the whole army for Epipolae, Nicias being left behind in the lines.

Having come up by the hill of Euryelus (where the former army had

ascended at first) unobserved by the enemy’s guards, they went up

to the fort which the Syracusans had there, and took it, and put to

the sword part of the garrison. The greater number, however, escaped

at once and gave the alarm to the camps, of which there were three

upon Epipolae, defended by outworks, one of the Syracusans, one of

the other Siceliots, and one of the allies; and also to the six hundred

Syracusans forming the original garrison for this part of Epipolae.

These at once advanced against the assailants and, falling in with

Demosthenes and the Athenians, were routed by them after a sharp resistance,

the victors immediately pushing on, eager to achieve the objects of

the attack without giving time for their ardour to cool; meanwhile

others from the very beginning were taking the counterwall of the

Syracusans, which was abandoned by its garrison, and pulling down

the battlements. The Syracusans and the allies, and Gylippus with

the troops under his command, advanced to the rescue from the outworks,

but engaged in some consternation (a night attack being a piece of

audacity which they had never expected), and were at first compelled

to retreat. But while the Athenians, flushed with their victory, now

advanced with less order, wishing to make their way as quickly as

possible through the whole force of the enemy not yet engaged, without

relaxing their attack or giving them time to rally, the Boeotians

made the first stand against them, attacked them, routed them, and

put them to flight.


The Athenians now fell into great disorder and perplexity, so that

it was not easy to get from one side or the other any detailed account

of the affair. By day certainly the combatants have a clearer notion,

though even then by no means of all that takes place, no one knowing

much of anything that does not go on in his own immediate neighbourhood;

but in a night engagement (and this was the only one that occurred

between great armies during the war) how could any one know anything

for certain? Although there was a bright moon they saw each other

only as men do by moonlight, that is to say, they could distinguish

the form of the body, but could not tell for certain whether it was

a friend or an enemy. Both had great numbers of heavy infantry moving

about in a small space. Some of the Athenians were already defeated,

while others were coming up yet unconquered for their first attack.

A large part also of the rest of their forces either had only just

got up, or were still ascending, so that they did not know which way

to march. Owing to the rout that had taken place all in front was

now in confusion, and the noise made it difficult to distinguish anything.

The victorious Syracusans and allies were cheering each other on with

loud cries, by night the only possible means of communication, and

meanwhile receiving all who came against them; while the Athenians

were seeking for one another, taking all in front of them for enemies,

even although they might be some of their now flying friends; and

by constantly asking for the watchword, which was their only means

of recognition, not only caused great confusion among themselves by

asking all at once, but also made it known to the enemy, whose own

they did not so readily discover, as the Syracusans were victorious

and not scattered, and thus less easily mistaken. The result was that

if the Athenians fell in with a party of the enemy that was weaker

than they, it escaped them through knowing their watchword; while

if they themselves failed to answer they were put to the sword. But

what hurt them as much, or indeed more than anything else, was the

singing of the paean, from the perplexity which it caused by being

nearly the same on either side; the Argives and Corcyraeans and any

other Dorian peoples in the army, struck terror into the Athenians

whenever they raised their paean, no less than did the enemy. Thus,

after being once thrown into disorder, they ended by coming into collision

with each other in many parts of the field, friends with friends,

and citizens with citizens, and not only terrified one another, but

even came to blows and could only be parted with difficulty. In the

pursuit many perished by throwing themselves down the cliffs, the

way down from Epipolae being narrow; and of those who got down safely

into the plain, although many, especially those who belonged to the

first armament, escaped through their better acquaintance with the

locality, some of the newcomers lost their way and wandered over the

country, and were cut off in the morning by the Syracusan cavalry

and killed.


The next day the Syracusans set up two trophies, one upon Epipolae

where the ascent had been made, and the other on the spot where the

first check was given by the Boeotians; and the Athenians took back

their dead under truce. A great many of the Athenians and allies were

killed, although still more arms were taken than could be accounted

for by the number of the dead, as some of those who were obliged to

leap down from the cliffs without their shields escaped with their

lives and did not perish like the rest.


After this the Syracusans, recovering their old confidence at such

an unexpected stroke of good fortune, dispatched Sicanus with fifteen

ships to Agrigentum where there was a revolution, to induce if possible

the city to join them; while Gylippus again went by land into the

rest of Sicily to bring up reinforcements, being now in hope of taking

the Athenian lines by storm, after the result of the affair on Epipolae.


In the meantime the Athenian generals consulted upon the disaster

which had happened, and upon the general weakness of the army. They

saw themselves unsuccessful in their enterprises, and the soldiers

disgusted with their stay; disease being rife among them owing to

its being the sickly season of the year, and to the marshy and unhealthy

nature of the spot in which they were encamped; and the state of their

affairs generally being thought desperate. Accordingly, Demosthenes

was of opinion that they ought not to stay any longer; but agreeably

to his original idea in risking the attempt upon Epipolae, now that

this had failed, he gave his vote for going away without further loss

of time, while the sea might yet be crossed, and their late reinforcement

might give them the superiority at all events on that element. He

also said that it would be more profitable for the state to carry

on the war against those who were building fortifications in Attica,

than against the Syracusans whom it was no longer easy to subdue;

besides which it was not right to squander large sums of money to

no purpose by going on with the siege.


This was the opinion of Demosthenes. Nicias, without denying the bad

state of their affairs, was unwilling to avow their weakness, or to

have it reported to the enemy that the Athenians in full council were

openly voting for retreat; for in that case they would be much less

likely to effect it when they wanted without discovery. Moreover,

his own particular information still gave him reason to hope that

the affairs of the enemy would soon be in a worse state than their

own, if the Athenians persevered in the siege; as they would wear

out the Syracusans by want of money, especially with the more extensive

command of the sea now given them by their present navy. Besides this,

there was a party in Syracuse who wished to betray the city to the

Athenians, and kept sending him messages and telling him not to raise

the siege. Accordingly, knowing this and really waiting because he

hesitated between the two courses and wished to see his way more clearly,

in his public speech on this occasion he refused to lead off the army,

saying he was sure the Athenians would never approve of their returning

without a vote of theirs. Those who would vote upon their conduct,

instead of judging the facts as eye-witnesses like themselves and

not from what they might hear from hostile critics, would simply be

guided by the calumnies of the first clever speaker; while many, indeed

most, of the soldiers on the spot, who now so loudly proclaimed the

danger of their position, when they reached Athens would proclaim

just as loudly the opposite, and would say that their generals had

been bribed to betray them and return. For himself, therefore, who

knew the Athenian temper, sooner than perish under a dishonourable

charge and by an unjust sentence at the hands of the Athenians, he

would rather take his chance and die, if die he must, a soldier’s

death at the hand of the enemy. Besides, after all, the Syracusans

were in a worse case than themselves. What with paying mercenaries,

spending upon fortified posts, and now for a full year maintaining

a large navy, they were already at a loss and would soon be at a standstill:

they had already spent two thousand talents and incurred heavy debts

besides, and could not lose even ever so small a fraction of their

present force through not paying it, without ruin to their cause;

depending as they did more upon mercenaries than upon soldiers obliged

to serve, like their own. He therefore said that they ought to stay

and carry on the siege, and not depart defeated in point of money,

in which they were much superior.


Nicias spoke positively because he had exact information of the financial

distress at Syracuse, and also because of the strength of the Athenian

party there which kept sending him messages not to raise the siege;

besides which he had more confidence than before in his fleet, and

felt sure at least of its success. Demosthenes, however, would not

hear for a moment of continuing the siege, but said that if they could

not lead off the army without a decree from Athens, and if they were

obliged to stay on, they ought to remove to Thapsus or Catana; where

their land forces would have a wide extent of country to overrun,

and could live by plundering the enemy, and would thus do them damage;

while the fleet would have the open sea to fight in, that is to say,

instead of a narrow space which was all in the enemy’s favour, a wide

sea-room where their science would be of use, and where they could

retreat or advance without being confined or circumscribed either

when they put out or put in. In any case he was altogether opposed

to their staying on where they were, and insisted on removing at once,

as quickly and with as little delay as possible; and in this judgment

Eurymedon agreed. Nicias however still objecting, a certain diffidence

and hesitation came over them, with a suspicion that Nicias might

have some further information to make him so positive.


Chapter XXIII


Nineteenth Year of the War – Battles in the Great Harbour – Retreat

and Annihilation of the Athenian Army


While the Athenians lingered on in this way without moving from where

they were, Gylippus and Sicanus now arrived at Syracuse. Sicanus had

failed to gain Agrigentum, the party friendly to the Syracusans having

been driven out while he was still at Gela; but Gylippus was accompanied

not only by a large number of troops raised in Sicily, but by the

heavy infantry sent off in the spring from Peloponnese in the merchantmen,

who had arrived at Selinus from Libya. They had been carried to Libya

by a storm, and having obtained two galleys and pilots from the Cyrenians,

on their voyage alongshore had taken sides with the Euesperitae and

had defeated the Libyans who were besieging them, and from thence

coasting on to Neapolis, a Carthaginian mart, and the nearest point

to Sicily, from which it is only two days’ and a night’s voyage, there

crossed over and came to Selinus. Immediately upon their arrival the

Syracusans prepared to attack the Athenians again by land and sea

at once. The Athenian generals seeing a fresh army come to the aid

of the enemy, and that their own circumstances, far from improving,

were becoming daily worse, and above all distressed by the sickness

of the soldiers, now began to repent of not having removed before;

and Nicias no longer offering the same opposition, except by urging

that there should be no open voting, they gave orders as secretly

as possible for all to be prepared to sail out from the camp at a

given signal. All was at last ready, and they were on the point of

sailing away, when an eclipse of the moon, which was then at the full,

took place. Most of the Athenians, deeply impressed by this occurrence,

now urged the generals to wait; and Nicias, who was somewhat over-addicted

to divination and practices of that kind, refused from that moment

even to take the question of departure into consideration, until they

had waited the thrice nine days prescribed by the soothsayers.


The besiegers were thus condemned to stay in the country; and the

Syracusans, getting wind of what had happened, became more eager than

ever to press the Athenians, who had now themselves acknowledged that

they were no longer their superiors either by sea or by land, as otherwise

they would never have planned to sail away. Besides which the Syracusans

did not wish them to settle in any other part of Sicily, where they

would be more difficult to deal with, but desired to force them to

fight at sea as quickly as possible, in a position favourable to themselves.

Accordingly they manned their ships and practised for as many days

as they thought sufficient. When the moment arrived they assaulted

on the first day the Athenian lines, and upon a small force of heavy

infantry and horse sallying out against them by certain gates, cut

off some of the former and routed and pursued them to the lines, where,

as the entrance was narrow, the Athenians lost seventy horses and

some few of the heavy infantry.


Drawing off their troops for this day, on the next the Syracusans

went out with a fleet of seventy-six sail, and at the same time advanced

with their land forces against the lines. The Athenians put out to

meet them with eighty-six ships, came to close quarters, and engaged.

The Syracusans and their allies first defeated the Athenian centre,

and then caught Eurymedon, the commander of the right wing, who was

sailing out from the line more towards the land in order to surround

the enemy, in the hollow and recess of the harbour, and killed him

and destroyed the ships accompanying him; after which they now chased

the whole Athenian fleet before them and drove them ashore.


Gylippus seeing the enemy’s fleet defeated and carried ashore beyond

their stockades and camp, ran down to the breakwater with some of

his troops, in order to cut off the men as they landed and make it

easier for the Syracusans to tow off the vessels by the shore being

friendly ground. The Tyrrhenians who guarded this point for the Athenians,

seeing them come on in disorder, advanced out against them and attacked

and routed their van, hurling it into the marsh of Lysimeleia. Afterwards

the Syracusan and allied troops arrived in greater numbers, and the

Athenians fearing for their ships came up also to the rescue and engaged

them, and defeated and pursued them to some distance and killed a

few of their heavy infantry. They succeeded in rescuing most of their

ships and brought them down by their camp; eighteen however were taken

by the Syracusans and their allies, and all the men killed. The rest

the enemy tried to burn by means of an old merchantman which they

filled with faggots and pine-wood, set on fire, and let drift down

the wind which blew full on the Athenians. The Athenians, however,

alarmed for their ships, contrived means for stopping it and putting

it out, and checking the flames and the nearer approach of the merchantman,

thus escaped the danger.


After this the Syracusans set up a trophy for the sea-fight and for

the heavy infantry whom they had cut off up at the lines, where they

took the horses; and the Athenians for the rout of the foot driven

by the Tyrrhenians into the marsh, and for their own victory with

the rest of the army.


The Syracusans had now gained a decisive victory at sea, where until

now they had feared the reinforcement brought by Demosthenes, and

deep, in consequence, was the despondency of the Athenians, and great

their disappointment, and greater still their regret for having come

on the expedition. These were the only cities that they had yet encountered,

similar to their own in character, under democracies like themselves,

which had ships and horses, and were of considerable magnitude. They

had been unable to divide and bring them over by holding out the prospect

of changes in their governments, or to crush them by their great superiority

in force, but had failed in most of their attempts, and being already

in perplexity, had now been defeated at sea, where defeat could never

have been expected, and were thus plunged deeper in embarrassment

than ever.


Meanwhile the Syracusans immediately began to sail freely along the

harbour, and determined to close up its mouth, so that the Athenians

might not be able to steal out in future, even if they wished. Indeed,

the Syracusans no longer thought only of saving themselves, but also

how to hinder the escape of the enemy; thinking, and thinking rightly,

that they were now much the stronger, and that to conquer the Athenians

and their allies by land and sea would win them great glory in Hellas.

The rest of the Hellenes would thus immediately be either freed or

released from apprehension, as the remaining forces of Athens would

be henceforth unable to sustain the war that would be waged against

her; while they, the Syracusans, would be regarded as the authors

of this deliverance, and would be held in high admiration, not only

with all men now living but also with posterity. Nor were these the

only considerations that gave dignity to the struggle. They would

thus conquer not only the Athenians but also their numerous allies,

and conquer not alone, but with their companions in arms, commanding

side by side with the Corinthians and Lacedaemonians, having offered

their city to stand in the van of danger, and having been in a great

measure the pioneers of naval success.


Indeed, there were never so many peoples assembled before a single

city, if we except the grand total gathered together in this war under

Athens and Lacedaemon. The following were the states on either side

who came to Syracuse to fight for or against Sicily, to help to conquer

or defend the island. Right or community of blood was not the bond

of union between them, so much as interest or compulsion as the case

might be. The Athenians themselves being Ionians went against the

Dorians of Syracuse of their own free will; and the peoples still

speaking Attic and using the Athenian laws, the Lemnians, Imbrians,

and Aeginetans, that is to say the then occupants of Aegina, being

their colonists, went with them. To these must be also added the Hestiaeans

dwelling at Hestiaea in Euboea. Of the rest some joined in the expedition

as subjects of the Athenians, others as independent allies, others

as mercenaries. To the number of the subjects paying tribute belonged

the Eretrians, Chalcidians, Styrians, and Carystians from Euboea;

the Ceans, Andrians, and Tenians from the islands; and the Milesians,

Samians, and Chians from Ionia. The Chians, however, joined as independent

allies, paying no tribute, but furnishing ships. Most of these were

Ionians and descended from the Athenians, except the Carystians, who

are Dryopes, and although subjects and obliged to serve, were still

Ionians fighting against Dorians. Besides these there were men of

Aeolic race, the Methymnians, subjects who provided ships, not tribute,

and the Tenedians and Aenians who paid tribute. These Aeolians fought

against their Aeolian founders, the Boeotians in the Syracusan army,

because they were obliged, while the Plataeans, the only native Boeotians

opposed to Boeotians, did so upon a just quarrel. Of the Rhodians

and Cytherians, both Dorians, the latter, Lacedaemonian colonists,

fought in the Athenian ranks against their Lacedaemonian countrymen

with Gylippus; while the Rhodians, Argives by race, were compelled

to bear arms against the Dorian Syracusans and their own colonists,

the Geloans, serving with the Syracusans. Of the islanders round Peloponnese,

the Cephallenians and Zacynthians accompanied the Athenians as independent

allies, although their insular position really left them little choice

in the matter, owing to the maritime supremacy of Athens, while the

Corcyraeans, who were not only Dorians but Corinthians, were openly

serving against Corinthians and Syracusans, although colonists of

the former and of the same race as the latter, under colour of compulsion,

but really out of free will through hatred of Corinth. The Messenians,

as they are now called in Naupactus and from Pylos, then held by the

Athenians, were taken with them to the war. There were also a few

Megarian exiles, whose fate it was to be now fighting against the

Megarian Selinuntines.


The engagement of the rest was more of a voluntary nature. It was

less the league than hatred of the Lacedaemonians and the immediate

private advantage of each individual that persuaded the Dorian Argives

to join the Ionian Athenians in a war against Dorians; while the Mantineans

and other Arcadian mercenaries, accustomed to go against the enemy

pointed out to them at the moment, were led by interest to regard

the Arcadians serving with the Corinthians as just as much their enemies

as any others. The Cretans and Aetolians also served for hire, and

the Cretans who had joined the Rhodians in founding Gela, thus came

to consent to fight for pay against, instead of for, their colonists.

There were also some Acarnanians paid to serve, although they came

chiefly for love of Demosthenes and out of goodwill to the Athenians

whose allies they were. These all lived on the Hellenic side of the

Ionian Gulf. Of the Italiots, there were the Thurians and Metapontines,

dragged into the quarrel by the stern necessities of a time of revolution;

of the Siceliots, the Naxians and the Catanians; and of the barbarians,

the Egestaeans, who called in the Athenians, most of the Sicels, and

outside Sicily some Tyrrhenian enemies of Syracuse and Iapygian mercenaries.


Such were the peoples serving with the Athenians. Against these the

Syracusans had the Camarinaeans their neighbours, the Geloans who

live next to them; then passing over the neutral Agrigentines, the

Selinuntines settled on the farther side of the island. These inhabit

the part of Sicily looking towards Libya; the Himeraeans came from

the side towards the Tyrrhenian Sea, being the only Hellenic inhabitants

in that quarter, and the only people that came from thence to the

aid of the Syracusans. Of the Hellenes in Sicily the above peoples

joined in the war, all Dorians and independent, and of the barbarians

the Sicels only, that is to say, such as did not go over to the Athenians.

Of the Hellenes outside Sicily there were the Lacedaemonians, who

provided a Spartan to take the command, and a force of Neodamodes

or Freedmen, and of Helots; the Corinthians, who alone joined with

naval and land forces, with their Leucadian and Ambraciot kinsmen;

some mercenaries sent by Corinth from Arcadia; some Sicyonians forced

to serve, and from outside Peloponnese the Boeotians. In comparison,

however, with these foreign auxiliaries, the great Siceliot cities

furnished more in every department- numbers of heavy infantry, ships,

and horses, and an immense multitude besides having been brought together;

while in comparison, again, one may say, with all the rest put together,

more was provided by the Syracusans themselves, both from the greatness

of the city and from the fact that they were in the greatest danger.


Such were the auxiliaries brought together on either side, all of

which had by this time joined, neither party experiencing any subsequent

accession. It was no wonder, therefore, if the Syracusans and their

allies thought that it would win them great glory if they could follow

up their recent victory in the sea-fight by the capture of the whole

Athenian armada, without letting it escape either by sea or by land.

They began at once to close up the Great Harbour by means of boats,

merchant vessels, and galleys moored broadside across its mouth, which

is nearly a mile wide, and made all their other arrangements for the

event of the Athenians again venturing to fight at sea. There was,

in fact, nothing little either in their plans or their ideas.


The Athenians, seeing them closing up the harbour and informed of

their further designs, called a council of war. The generals and colonels

assembled and discussed the difficulties of the situation; the point

which pressed most being that they no longer had provisions for immediate

use (having sent on to Catana to tell them not to send any, in the

belief that they were going away), and that they would not have any

in future unless they could command the sea. They therefore determined

to evacuate their upper lines, to enclose with a cross wall and garrison

a small space close to the ships, only just sufficient to hold their

stores and sick, and manning all the ships, seaworthy or not, with

every man that could be spared from the rest of their land forces,

to fight it out at sea, and, if victorious, to go to Catana, if not,

to burn their vessels, form in close order, and retreat by land for

the nearest friendly place they could reach, Hellenic or barbarian.

This was no sooner settled than carried into effect; they descended

gradually from the upper lines and manned all their vessels, compelling

all to go on board who were of age to be in any way of use. They thus

succeeded in manning about one hundred and ten ships in all, on board

of which they embarked a number of archers and darters taken from

the Acarnanians and from the other foreigners, making all other provisions

allowed by the nature of their plan and by the necessities which imposed

  1. All was now nearly ready, and Nicias, seeing the soldiery disheartened

by their unprecedented and decided defeat at sea, and by reason of

the scarcity of provisions eager to fight it out as soon as possible,

called them all together, and first addressed them, speaking as follows:


«Soldiers of the Athenians and of the allies, we have all an equal

interest in the coming struggle, in which life and country are at

stake for us quite as much as they can be for the enemy; since if

our fleet wins the day, each can see his native city again, wherever

that city may be. You must not lose heart, or be like men without

any experience, who fail in a first essay and ever afterwards fearfully

forebode a future as disastrous. But let the Athenians among you who

have already had experience of many wars, and the allies who have

joined us in so many expeditions, remember the surprises of war, and

with the hope that fortune will not be always against us, prepare

to fight again in a manner worthy of the number which you see yourselves

to be.


«Now, whatever we thought would be of service against the crush of

vessels in such a narrow harbour, and against the force upon the decks

of the enemy, from which we suffered before, has all been considered

with the helmsmen, and, as far as our means allowed, provided. A number

of archers and darters will go on board, and a multitude that we should

not have employed in an action in the open sea, where our science

would be crippled by the weight of the vessels; but in the present

land-fight that we are forced to make from shipboard all this will

be useful. We have also discovered the changes in construction that

we must make to meet theirs; and against the thickness of their cheeks,

which did us the greatest mischief, we have provided grappling-irons,

which will prevent an assailant backing water after charging, if the

soldiers on deck here do their duty; since we are absolutely compelled

to fight a land battle from the fleet, and it seems to be our interest

neither to back water ourselves, nor to let the enemy do so, especially

as the shore, except so much of it as may be held by our troops, is

hostile ground.


«You must remember this and fight on as long as you can, and must

not let yourselves be driven ashore, but once alongside must make

up your minds not to part company until you have swept the heavy infantry

from the enemy’s deck. I say this more for the heavy infantry than

for the seamen, as it is more the business of the men on deck; and

our land forces are even now on the whole the strongest. The sailors

I advise, and at the same time implore, not to be too much daunted

by their misfortunes, now that we have our decks better armed and

greater number of vessels. Bear in mind how well worth preserving

is the pleasure felt by those of you who through your knowledge of

our language and imitation of our manners were always considered Athenians,

even though not so in reality, and as such were honoured throughout

Hellas, and had your full share of the advantages of our empire, and

more than your share in the respect of our subjects and in protection

from ill treatment. You, therefore, with whom alone we freely share

our empire, we now justly require not to betray that empire in its

extremity, and in scorn of Corinthians, whom you have often conquered,

and of Siceliots, none of whom so much as presumed to stand against

us when our navy was in its prime, we ask you to repel them, and to

show that even in sickness and disaster your skill is more than a

match for the fortune and vigour of any other.


«For the Athenians among you I add once more this reflection: You

left behind you no more such ships in your docks as these, no more

heavy infantry in their flower; if you do aught but conquer, our enemies

here will immediately sail thither, and those that are left of us

at Athens will become unable to repel their home assailants, reinforced

by these new allies. Here you will fall at once into the hands of

the Syracusans- I need not remind you of the intentions with which

you attacked them- and your countrymen at home will fall into those

of the Lacedaemonians. Since the fate of both thus hangs upon this

single battle, now, if ever, stand firm, and remember, each and all,

that you who are now going on board are the army and navy of the Athenians,

and all that is left of the state and the great name of Athens, in

whose defence if any man has any advantage in skill or courage, now

is the time for him to show it, and thus serve himself and save all.»


After this address Nicias at once gave orders to man the ships. Meanwhile

Gylippus and the Syracusans could perceive by the preparations which

they saw going on that the Athenians meant to fight at sea. They had

also notice of the grappling-irons, against which they specially provided

by stretching hides over the prows and much of the upper part of their

vessels, in order that the irons when thrown might slip off without

taking hold. All being now ready, the generals and Gylippus addressed

them in the following terms:


«Syracusans and allies, the glorious character of our past achievements

and the no less glorious results at issue in the coming battle are,

we think, understood by most of you, or you would never have thrown

yourselves with such ardour into the struggle; and if there be any

one not as fully aware of the facts as he ought to be, we will declare

them to him. The Athenians came to this country first to effect the

conquest of Sicily, and after that, if successful, of Peloponnese

and the rest of Hellas, possessing already the greatest empire yet

known, of present or former times, among the Hellenes. Here for the

first time they found in you men who faced their navy which made them

masters everywhere; you have already defeated them in the previous

sea-fights, and will in all likelihood defeat them again now. When

men are once checked in what they consider their special excellence,

their whole opinion of themselves suffers more than if they had not

at first believed in their superiority, the unexpected shock to their

pride causing them to give way more than their real strength warrants;

and this is probably now the case with the Athenians.


«With us it is different. The original estimate of ourselves which

gave us courage in the days of our unskilfulness has been strengthened,

while the conviction superadded to it that we must be the best seamen

of the time, if we have conquered the best, has given a double measure

of hope to every man among us; and, for the most part, where there

is the greatest hope, there is also the greatest ardour for action.

The means to combat us which they have tried to find in copying our

armament are familiar to our warfare, and will be met by proper provisions;

while they will never be able to have a number of heavy infantry on

their decks, contrary to their custom, and a number of darters (born

landsmen, one may say, Acarnanians and others, embarked afloat, who

will not know how to discharge their weapons when they have to keep

still), without hampering their vessels and falling all into confusion

among themselves through fighting not according to their own tactics.

For they will gain nothing by the number of their ships- I say this

to those of you who may be alarmed by having to fight against odds-

as a quantity of ships in a confined space will only be slower in

executing the movements required, and most exposed to injury from

our means of offence. Indeed, if you would know the plain truth, as

we are credibly informed, the excess of their sufferings and the necessities

of their present distress have made them desperate; they have no confidence

in their force, but wish to try their fortune in the only way they

can, and either to force their passage and sail out, or after this

to retreat by land, it being impossible for them to be worse off than

they are.


«The fortune of our greatest enemies having thus betrayed itself,

and their disorder being what I have described, let us engage in anger,

convinced that, as between adversaries, nothing is more legitimate

than to claim to sate the whole wrath of one’s soul in punishing the

aggressor, and nothing more sweet, as the proverb has it, than the

vengeance upon an enemy, which it will now be ours to take. That enemies

they are and mortal enemies you all know, since they came here to

enslave our country, and if successful had in reserve for our men

all that is most dreadful, and for our children and wives all that

is most dishonourable, and for the whole city the name which conveys

the greatest reproach. None should therefore relent or think it gain

if they go away without further danger to us. This they will do just

the same, even if they get the victory; while if we succeed, as we

may expect, in chastising them, and in handing down to all Sicily

her ancient freedom strengthened and confirmed, we shall have achieved

no mean triumph. And the rarest dangers are those in which failure

brings little loss and success the greatest advantage.»


After the above address to the soldiers on their side, the Syracusan

generals and Gylippus now perceived that the Athenians were manning

their ships, and immediately proceeded to man their own also. Meanwhile

Nicias, appalled by the position of affairs, realizing the greatness

and the nearness of the danger now that they were on the point of

putting out from shore, and thinking, as men are apt to think in great

crises, that when all has been done they have still something left

to do, and when all has been said that they have not yet said enough,

again called on the captains one by one, addressing each by his father’s

name and by his own, and by that of his tribe, and adjured them not

to belie their own personal renown, or to obscure the hereditary virtues

for which their ancestors were illustrious: he reminded them of their

country, the freest of the free, and of the unfettered discretion

allowed in it to all to live as they pleased; and added other arguments

such as men would use at such a crisis, and which, with little alteration,

are made to serve on all occasions alike- appeals to wives, children,

and national gods- without caring whether they are thought commonplace,

but loudly invoking them in the belief that they will be of use in

the consternation of the moment. Having thus admonished them, not,

he felt, as he would, but as he could, Nicias withdrew and led the

troops to the sea, and ranged them in as long a line as he was able,

in order to aid as far as possible in sustaining the courage of the

men afloat; while Demosthenes, Menander, and Euthydemus, who took

the command on board, put out from their own camp and sailed straight

to the barrier across the mouth of the harbour and to the passage

left open, to try to force their way out.


The Syracusans and their allies had already put out with about the

same number of ships as before, a part of which kept guard at the

outlet, and the remainder all round the rest of the harbour, in order

to attack the Athenians on all sides at once; while the land forces

held themselves in readiness at the points at which the vessels might

put into the shore. The Syracusan fleet was commanded by Sicanus and

Agatharchus, who had each a wing of the whole force, with Pythen and

the Corinthians in the centre. When the rest of the Athenians came

up to the barrier, with the first shock of their charge they overpowered

the ships stationed there, and tried to undo the fastenings; after

this, as the Syracusans and allies bore down upon them from all quarters,

the action spread from the barrier over the whole harbour, and was

more obstinately disputed than any of the preceding ones. On either

side the rowers showed great zeal in bringing up their vessels at

the boatswains’ orders, and the helmsmen great skill in manoeuvring,

and great emulation one with another; while the ships once alongside,

the soldiers on board did their best not to let the service on deck

be outdone by the others; in short, every man strove to prove himself

the first in his particular department. And as many ships were engaged

in a small compass (for these were the largest fleets fighting in

the narrowest space ever known, being together little short of two

hundred), the regular attacks with the beak were few, there being

no opportunity of backing water or of breaking the line; while the

collisions caused by one ship chancing to run foul of another, either

in flying from or attacking a third, were more frequent. So long as

a vessel was coming up to the charge the men on the decks rained darts

and arrows and stones upon her; but once alongside, the heavy infantry

tried to board each other’s vessel, fighting hand to hand. In many

quarters it happened, by reason of the narrow room, that a vessel

was charging an enemy on one side and being charged herself on another,

and that two or sometimes more ships had perforce got entangled round

one, obliging the helmsmen to attend to defence here, offence there,

not to one thing at once, but to many on all sides; while the huge

din caused by the number of ships crashing together not only spread

terror, but made the orders of the boatswains inaudible. The boatswains

on either side in the discharge of their duty and in the heat of the

conflict shouted incessantly orders and appeals to their men; the

Athenians they urged to force the passage out, and now if ever to

show their mettle and lay hold of a safe return to their country;

to the Syracusans and their allies they cried that it would be glorious

to prevent the escape of the enemy, and, conquering, to exalt the

countries that were theirs. The generals, moreover, on either side,

if they saw any in any part of the battle backing ashore without being

forced to do so, called out to the captain by name and asked him-

the Athenians, whether they were retreating because they thought the

thrice hostile shore more their own than that sea which had cost them

so much labour to win; the Syracusans, whether they were flying from

the flying Athenians, whom they well knew to be eager to escape in

whatever way they could.


Meanwhile the two armies on shore, while victory hung in the balance,

were a prey to the most agonizing and conflicting emotions; the natives

thirsting for more glory than they had already won, while the invaders

feared to find themselves in even worse plight than before. The all

of the Athenians being set upon their fleet, their fear for the event

was like nothing they had ever felt; while their view of the struggle

was necessarily as chequered as the battle itself. Close to the scene

of action and not all looking at the same point at once, some saw

their friends victorious and took courage and fell to calling upon

heaven not to deprive them of salvation, while others who had their

eyes turned upon the losers, wailed and cried aloud, and, although

spectators, were more overcome than the actual combatants. Others,

again, were gazing at some spot where the battle was evenly disputed;

as the strife was protracted without decision, their swaying bodies

reflected the agitation of their minds, and they suffered the worst

agony of all, ever just within reach of safety or just on the point

of destruction. In short, in that one Athenian army as long as the

sea-fight remained doubtful there was every sound to be heard at once,

shrieks, cheers, «We win,» «We lose,» and all the other manifold exclamations

that a great host would necessarily utter in great peril; and with

the men in the fleet it was nearly the same; until at last the Syracusans

and their allies, after the battle had lasted a long while, put the

Athenians to flight, and with much shouting and cheering chased them

in open rout to the shore. The naval force, one one way, one another,

as many as were not taken afloat now ran ashore and rushed from on

board their ships to their camp; while the army, no more divided,

but carried away by one impulse, all with shrieks and groans deplored

the event, and ran down, some to help the ships, others to guard what

was left of their wall, while the remaining and most numerous part

already began to consider how they should save themselves. Indeed,

the panic of the present moment had never been surpassed. They now

suffered very nearly what they had inflicted at Pylos; as then the

Lacedaemonians with the loss of their fleet lost also the men who

had crossed over to the island, so now the Athenians had no hope of

escaping by land, without the help of some extraordinary accident.


The sea-fight having been a severe one, and many ships and lives having

been lost on both sides, the victorious Syracusans and their allies

now picked up their wrecks and dead, and sailed off to the city and

set up a trophy. The Athenians, overwhelmed by their misfortune, never

even thought. of asking leave to take up their dead or wrecks, but

wished to retreat that very night. Demosthenes, however, went to Nicias

and gave it as his opinion that they should man the ships they had

left and make another effort to force their passage out next morning;

saying that they had still left more ships fit for service than the

enemy, the Athenians having about sixty remaining as against less

than fifty of their opponents. Nicias was quite of his mind; but when

they wished to man the vessels, the sailors refused to go on board,

being so utterly overcome by their defeat as no longer to believe

in the possibility of success.


Accordingly they all now made up their minds to retreat by land. Meanwhile

the Syracusan Hermocrates- suspecting their intention, and impressed

by the danger of allowing a force of that magnitude to retire by land,

establish itself in some other part of Sicily, and from thence renew

the war- went and stated his views to the authorities, and pointed

out to them that they ought not to let the enemy get away by night,

but that all the Syracusans and their allies should at once march

out and block up the roads and seize and guard the passes. The authorities

were entirely of his opinion, and thought that it ought to be done,

but on the other hand felt sure that the people, who had given themselves

over to rejoicing, and were taking their ease after a great battle

at sea, would not be easily brought to obey; besides, they were celebrating

a festival, having on that day a sacrifice to Heracles, and most of

them in their rapture at the victory had fallen to drinking at the

festival, and would probably consent to anything sooner than to take

up their arms and march out at that moment. For these reasons the

thing appeared impracticable to the magistrates; and Hermocrates,

finding himself unable to do anything further with them, had now recourse

to the following stratagem of his own. What he feared was that the

Athenians might quietly get the start of them by passing the most

difficult places during the night; and he therefore sent, as soon

as it was dusk, some friends of his own to the camp with some horsemen

who rode up within earshot and called out to some of the men, as though

they were well-wishers of the Athenians, and told them to tell Nicias

(who had in fact some correspondents who informed him of what went

on inside the town) not to lead off the army by night as the Syracusans

were guarding the roads, but to make his preparations at his leisure

and to retreat by day. After saying this they departed; and their

hearers informed the Athenian generals, who put off going for that

night on the strength of this message, not doubting its sincerity.


Since after all they had not set out at once, they now determined

to stay also the following day to give time to the soldiers to pack

up as well as they could the most useful articles, and, leaving everything

else behind, to start only with what was strictly necessary for their

personal subsistence. Meanwhile the Syracusans and Gylippus marched

out and blocked up the roads through the country by which the Athenians

were likely to pass, and kept guard at the fords of the streams and

rivers, posting themselves so as to receive them and stop the army

where they thought best; while their fleet sailed up to the beach

and towed off the ships of the Athenians. Some few were burned by

the Athenians themselves as they had intended; the rest the Syracusans

lashed on to their own at their leisure as they had been thrown up

on shore, without any one trying to stop them, and conveyed to the



After this, Nicias and Demosthenes now thinking that enough had been

done in the way of preparation, the removal of the army took place

upon the second day after the sea-fight. It was a lamentable scene,

not merely from the single circumstance that they were retreating

after having lost all their ships, their great hopes gone, and themselves

and the state in peril; but also in leaving the camp there were things

most grievous for every eye and heart to contemplate. The dead lay

unburied, and each man as he recognized a friend among them shuddered

with grief and horror; while the living whom they were leaving behind,

wounded or sick, were to the living far more shocking than the dead,

and more to be pitied than those who had perished. These fell to entreating

and bewailing until their friends knew not what to do, begging them

to take them and loudly calling to each individual comrade or relative

whom they could see, hanging upon the necks of their tent-fellows

in the act of departure, and following as far as they could, and,

when their bodily strength failed them, calling again and again upon

heaven and shrieking aloud as they were left behind. So that the whole

army being filled with tears and distracted after this fashion found

it not easy to go, even from an enemy’s land, where they had already

suffered evils too great for tears and in the unknown future before

them feared to suffer more. Dejection and self-condemnation were also

rife among them. Indeed they could only be compared to a starved-out

town, and that no small one, escaping; the whole multitude upon the

march being not less than forty thousand men. All carried anything

they could which might be of use, and the heavy infantry and troopers,

contrary to their wont, while under arms carried their own victuals,

in some cases for want of servants, in others through not trusting

them; as they had long been deserting and now did so in greater numbers

than ever. Yet even thus they did not carry enough, as there was no

longer food in the camp. Moreover their disgrace generally, and the

universality of their sufferings, however to a certain extent alleviated

by being borne in company, were still felt at the moment a heavy burden,

especially when they contrasted the splendour and glory of their setting

out with the humiliation in which it had ended. For this was by far

the greatest reverse that ever befell an Hellenic army. They had come

to enslave others, and were departing in fear of being enslaved themselves:

they had sailed out with prayer and paeans, and now started to go

back with omens directly contrary; travelling by land instead of by

sea, and trusting not in their fleet but in their heavy infantry.

Nevertheless the greatness of the danger still impending made all

this appear tolerable.


Nicias seeing the army dejected and greatly altered, passed along

the ranks and encouraged and comforted them as far as was possible

under the circumstances, raising his voice still higher and higher

as he went from one company to another in his earnestness, and in

his anxiety that the benefit of his words might reach as many as possible:


«Athenians and allies, even in our present position we must still

hope on, since men have ere now been saved from worse straits than

this; and you must not condemn yourselves too severely either because

of your disasters or because of your present unmerited sufferings.

I myself who am not superior to any of you in strength- indeed you

see how I am in my sickness- and who in the gifts of fortune am, I

think, whether in private life or otherwise, the equal of any, am

now exposed to the same danger as the meanest among you; and yet my

life has been one of much devotion toward the gods, and of much justice

and without offence toward men. I have, therefore, still a strong

hope for the future, and our misfortunes do not terrify me as much

as they might. Indeed we may hope that they will be lightened: our

enemies have had good fortune enough; and if any of the gods was offended

at our expedition, we have been already amply punished. Others before

us have attacked their neighbours and have done what men will do without

suffering more than they could bear; and we may now justly expect

to find the gods more kind, for we have become fitter objects for

their pity than their jealousy. And then look at yourselves, mark

the numbers and efficiency of the heavy infantry marching in your

ranks, and do not give way too much to despondency, but reflect that

you are yourselves at once a city wherever you sit down, and that

there is no other in Sicily that could easily resist your attack,

or expel you when once established. The safety and order of the march

is for yourselves to look to; the one thought of each man being that

the spot on which he may be forced to fight must be conquered and

held as his country and stronghold. Meanwhile we shall hasten on our

way night and day alike, as our provisions are scanty; and if we can

reach some friendly place of the Sicels, whom fear of the Syracusans

still keeps true to us, you may forthwith consider yourselves safe.

A message has been sent on to them with directions to meet us with

supplies of food. To sum up, be convinced, soldiers, that you must

be brave, as there is no place near for your cowardice to take refuge

in, and that if you now escape from the enemy, you may all see again

what your hearts desire, while those of you who are Athenians will

raise up again the great power of the state, fallen though it be.

Men make the city and not walls or ships without men in them.»


As he made this address, Nicias went along the ranks, and brought

back to their place any of the troops that he saw straggling out of

the line; while Demosthenes did as much for his part of the army,

addressing them in words very similar. The army marched in a hollow

square, the division under Nicias leading, and that of Demosthenes

following, the heavy infantry being outside and the baggage-carriers

and the bulk of the army in the middle. When they arrived at the ford

of the river Anapus there they found drawn up a body of the Syracusans

and allies, and routing these, made good their passage and pushed

on, harassed by the charges of the Syracusan horse and by the missiles

of their light troops. On that day they advanced about four miles

and a half, halting for the night upon a certain hill. On the next

they started early and got on about two miles further, and descended

into a place in the plain and there encamped, in order to procure

some eatables from the houses, as the place was inhabited, and to

carry on with them water from thence, as for many furlongs in front,

in the direction in which they were going, it was not plentiful. The

Syracusans meanwhile went on and fortified the pass in front, where

there was a steep hill with a rocky ravine on each side of it, called

the Acraean cliff. The next day the Athenians advancing found themselves

impeded by the missiles and charges of the horse and darters, both

very numerous, of the Syracusans and allies; and after fighting for

a long while, at length retired to the same camp, where they had no

longer provisions as before, it being impossible to leave their position

by reason of the cavalry.


Early next morning they started afresh and forced their way to the

hill, which had been fortified, where they found before them the enemy’s

infantry drawn up many shields deep to defend the fortification, the

pass being narrow. The Athenians assaulted the work, but were greeted

by a storm of missiles from the hill, which told with the greater

effect through its being a steep one, and unable to force the passage,

retreated again and rested. Meanwhile occurred some claps of thunder

and rain, as often happens towards autumn, which still further disheartened

the Athenians, who thought all these things to be omens of their approaching

ruin. While they were resting, Gylippus and the Syracusans sent a

part of their army to throw up works in their rear on the way by which

they had advanced; however, the Athenians immediately sent some of

their men and prevented them; after which they retreated more towards

the plain and halted for the night. When they advanced the next day

the Syracusans surrounded and attacked them on every side, and disabled

many of them, falling back if the Athenians advanced and coming on

if they retired, and in particular assaulting their rear, in the hope

of routing them in detail, and thus striking a panic into the whole

army. For a long while the Athenians persevered in this fashion, but

after advancing for four or five furlongs halted to rest in the plain,

the Syracusans also withdrawing to their own camp.


During the night Nicias and Demosthenes, seeing the wretched condition

of their troops, now in want of every kind of necessary, and numbers

of them disabled in the numerous attacks of the enemy, determined

to light as many fires as possible, and to lead off the army, no longer

by the same route as they had intended, but towards the sea in the

opposite direction to that guarded by the Syracusans. The whole of

this route was leading the army not to Catana but to the other side

of Sicily, towards Camarina, Gela, and the other Hellenic and barbarian

towns in that quarter. They accordingly lit a number of fires and

set out by night. Now all armies, and the greatest most of all, are

liable to fears and alarms, especially when they are marching by night

through an enemy’s country and with the enemy near; and the Athenians

falling into one of these panics, the leading division, that of Nicias,

kept together and got on a good way in front, while that of Demosthenes,

comprising rather more than half the army, got separated and marched

on in some disorder. By morning, however, they reached the sea, and

getting into the Helorine road, pushed on in order to reach the river

Cacyparis, and to follow the stream up through the interior, where

they hoped to be met by the Sicels whom they had sent for. Arrived

at the river, they found there also a Syracusan party engaged in barring

the passage of the ford with a wall and a palisade, and forcing this

guard, crossed the river and went on to another called the Erineus,

according to the advice of their guides.


Meanwhile, when day came and the Syracusans and allies found that

the Athenians were gone, most of them accused Gylippus of having let

them escape on purpose, and hastily pursuing by the road which they

had no difficulty in finding that they had taken, overtook them about

dinner-time. They first came up with the troops under Demosthenes,

who were behind and marching somewhat slowly and in disorder, owing

to the night panic above referred to, and at once attacked and engaged

them, the Syracusan horse surrounding them with more ease now that

they were separated from the rest and hemming them in on one spot.

The division of Nicias was five or six miles on in front, as he led

them more rapidly, thinking that under the circumstances their safety

lay not in staying and fighting, unless obliged, but in retreating

as fast as possible, and only fighting when forced to do so. On the

other hand, Demosthenes was, generally speaking, harassed more incessantly,

as his post in the rear left him the first exposed to the attacks

of the enemy; and now, finding that the Syracusans were in pursuit,

he omitted to push on, in order to form his men for battle, and so

lingered until he was surrounded by his pursuers and himself and the

Athenians with him placed in the most distressing position, being

huddled into an enclosure with a wall all round it, a road on this

side and on that, and olive-trees in great number, where missiles

were showered in upon them from every quarter. This mode of attack

the Syracusans had with good reason adopted in preference to fighting

at close quarters, as to risk a struggle with desperate men was now

more for the advantage of the Athenians than for their own; besides,

their success had now become so certain that they began to spare themselves

a little in order not to be cut off in the moment of victory, thinking

too that, as it was, they would be able in this way to subdue and

capture the enemy.


In fact, after plying the Athenians and allies all day long from every

side with missiles, they at length saw that they were worn out with

their wounds and other sufferings; and Gylippus and the Syracusans

and their allies made a proclamation, offering their liberty to any

of the islanders who chose to come over to them; and some few cities

went over. Afterwards a capitulation was agreed upon for all the rest

with Demosthenes, to lay down their arms on condition that no one

was to be put to death either by violence or imprisonment or want

of the necessaries of life. Upon this they surrendered to the number

of six thousand in all, laying down all the money in their possession,

which filled the hollows of four shields, and were immediately conveyed

by the Syracusans to the town.


Meanwhile Nicias with his division arrived that day at the river Erineus,

crossed over, and posted his army upon some high ground upon the other

side. The next day the Syracusans overtook him and told him that the

troops under Demosthenes had surrendered, and invited him to follow

their example. Incredulous of the fact, Nicias asked for a truce to

send a horseman to see, and upon the return of the messenger with

the tidings that they had surrendered, sent a herald to Gylippus and

the Syracusans, saying that he was ready to agree with them on behalf

of the Athenians to repay whatever money the Syracusans had spent

upon the war if they would let his army go; and offered until the

money was paid to give Athenians as hostages, one for every talent.

The Syracusans and Gylippus rejected this proposition, and attacked

this division as they had the other, standing all round and plying

them with missiles until the evening. Food and necessaries were as

miserably wanting to the troops of Nicias as they had been to their

comrades; nevertheless they watched for the quiet of the night to

resume their march. But as they were taking up their arms the Syracusans

perceived it and raised their paean, upon which the Athenians, finding

that they were discovered, laid them down again, except about three

hundred men who forced their way through the guards and went on during

the night as they were able.


As soon as it was day Nicias put his army in motion, pressed, as before,

by the Syracusans and their allies, pelted from every side by their

missiles, and struck down by their javelins. The Athenians pushed

on for the Assinarus, impelled by the attacks made upon them from

every side by a numerous cavalry and the swarm of other arms, fancying

that they should breathe more freely if once across the river, and

driven on also by their exhaustion and craving for water. Once there

they rushed in, and all order was at an end, each man wanting to cross

first, and the attacks of the enemy making it difficult to cross at

all; forced to huddle together, they fell against and trod down one

another, some dying immediately upon the javelins, others getting

entangled together and stumbling over the articles of baggage, without

being able to rise again. Meanwhile the opposite bank, which was steep,

was lined by the Syracusans, who showered missiles down upon the Athenians,

most of them drinking greedily and heaped together in disorder in

the hollow bed of the river. The Peloponnesians also came down and

butchered them, especially those in the water, which was thus immediately

spoiled, but which they went on drinking just the same, mud and all,

bloody as it was, most even fighting to have it.


At last, when many dead now lay piled one upon another in the stream,

and part of the army had been destroyed at the river, and the few

that escaped from thence cut off by the cavalry, Nicias surrendered

himself to Gylippus, whom he trusted more than he did the Syracusans,

and told him and the Lacedaemonians to do what they liked with him,

but to stop the slaughter of the soldiers. Gylippus, after this, immediately

gave orders to make prisoners; upon which the rest were brought together

alive, except a large number secreted by the soldiery, and a party

was sent in pursuit of the three hundred who had got through the guard

during the night, and who were now taken with the rest. The number

of the enemy collected as public property was not considerable; but

that secreted was very large, and all Sicily was filled with them,

no convention having been made in their case as for those taken with

Demosthenes. Besides this, a large portion were killed outright, the

carnage being very great, and not exceeded by any in this Sicilian

war. In the numerous other encounters upon the march, not a few also

had fallen. Nevertheless many escaped, some at the moment, others

served as slaves, and then ran away subsequently. These found refuge

at Catana.


The Syracusans and their allies now mustered and took up the spoils

and as many prisoners as they could, and went back to the city. The

rest of their Athenian and allied captives were deposited in the quarries,

this seeming the safest way of keeping them; but Nicias and Demosthenes

were butchered, against the will of Gylippus, who thought that it

would be the crown of his triumph if he could take the enemy’s generals

to Lacedaemon. One of them, as it happened, Demosthenes, was one of

her greatest enemies, on account of the affair of the island and of

Pylos; while the other, Nicias, was for the same reasons one of her

greatest friends, owing to his exertions to procure the release of

the prisoners by persuading the Athenians to make peace. For these

reasons the Lacedaemonians felt kindly towards him; and it was in

this that Nicias himself mainly confided when he surrendered to Gylippus.

But some of the Syracusans who had been in correspondence with him

were afraid, it was said, of his being put to the torture and troubling

their success by his revelations; others, especially the Corinthians,

of his escaping, as he was wealthy, by means of bribes, and living

to do them further mischief; and these persuaded the allies and put

him to death. This or the like was the cause of the death of a man

who, of all the Hellenes in my time, least deserved such a fate, seeing

that the whole course of his life had been regulated with strict attention

to virtue.


The prisoners in the quarries were at first hardly treated by the

Syracusans. Crowded in a narrow hole, without any roof to cover them,

the heat of the sun and the stifling closeness of the air tormented

them during the day, and then the nights, which came on autumnal and

chilly, made them ill by the violence of the change; besides, as they

had to do everything in the same place for want of room, and the bodies

of those who died of their wounds or from the variation in the temperature,

or from similar causes, were left heaped together one upon another,

intolerable stenches arose; while hunger and thirst never ceased to

afflict them, each man during eight months having only half a pint

of water and a pint of corn given him daily. In short, no single suffering

to be apprehended by men thrust into such a place was spared them.

For some seventy days they thus lived all together, after which all,

except the Athenians and any Siceliots or Italiots who had joined

in the expedition, were sold. The total number of prisoners taken

it would be difficult to state exactly, but it could not have been

less than seven thousand.


This was the greatest Hellenic achievement of any in thig war, or,

in my opinion, in Hellenic history; at once most glorious to the victors,

and most calamitous to the conquered. They were beaten at all points

and altogether; all that they suffered was great; they were destroyed,

as the saying is, with a total destruction, their fleet, their army,

everything was destroyed, and few out of many returned home. Such

were the events in Sicily.