Helmet and Spear - Alfred J. Church

The Deliverer from Corinth

The younger Dionysius was indeed wholly unequal to the position into which he was thrust by the accident of birth. He was entirely inexperienced in government, for his father had jealously excluded him from all share in public affairs, and he had little capacity for learning the art of rule when he found himself under the necessity of practising it. Some ability he had, but it was not in the direction of politics. As a ruler he seems to have had few ideas beyond securing his own safety and getting as much enjoyment as possible out of the opportunities of power. The history of his reign may be told in a very few words. He held the power inherited from his father during a period of fourteen years. Then he was expelled from Syracuse, but contrived to establish himself at Locri, with which city he was connected through his mother. After the lapse of ten years he regained possession of Syracuse. But his power was not secure, and he could not spare any thought or energy for the general interests of the Island. The other Sicilian cities were no better off. Carthage, of course, made use of the opportunity thus given, and steadily increased her power. The situation became so threatening in 344 that some Syracusan exiles bethought them of invoking the aid of Corinth, their mother city. Corinth acceded to their request, but rather by way of permission than of giving active help. No expedition was sent by the State. But a general was nominated and appointed at a public assembly; Corinthian citizens were allowed to volunteer for service. Finally seven ships were sent by the State, two being added to this number by Corcyra, another Corinthian colony, and one by Leucadia, also Corinthian in origin. But the greater part of the force that was raised were mercenaries. Something must be said about the general, who was one of the most remarkable figures in Greek history.

Timoleon was a noble citizen of Corinth who had saved the liberties of his country by a terrible sacrifice. His elder brother Timophanes, an able and unscrupulous soldier, had established himself as a despot by help of a band of mercenaries who had been hired for the protection of the city against the threatened danger of Athenian invasion. Timoleon remonstrated with him, but in vain. Then he resolved to free his country at any cost. He communicated his intention to two, one account says three, friends. They went together and asked for an interview with Timophanes. Timoleon addressed another appeal to his brother, and was contemptuously repulsed. His companions then drew their swords, for, thanks to their introducer, they had been permitted to enter the tyrant's presence with arms, and put Timophanes to death. Timoleon took no part in the deed, but stood apart, his face covered with his mantle and weeping bitterly. The act met with enthusiastic approval from the great majority of Corinthian citizens. A few who had looked for some personal gain from the favour of the despot, and in their hearts regretted his death, pretended to be shocked by the way in which it had been brought about. To Timoleon himself the event was the cause of the deepest and most permanent sorrow. He shut himself up in his house, took no part in public affairs, and refused the visits of his friends. The arrival of the Syracusan exiles delivered him from this miserable existence. At the Assembly held for the appointment of a general, name after name had been proposed in vain. The internal dissensions of Syracuse were so notorious at Corinth that no one was willing to undertake the thankless task of intervening in its affairs. Unexpectedly some one in the Assembly—it was thought at the time by a divine inspiration—proposed the name of Timoleon. It was received with general acclamation, and Timoleon thankfully accepted the post. He contrived to elude the Carthaginian squadron which was sent to watch him, and reached Sicily. Some four years were spent in restoring order and freedom in the Greek cities. For some reason with which we are not acquainted, Carthage did not interfere with him whilst so engaged. War is said to have been precipitated by a violation of the Carthaginian territory. That it would certainly have broken out sooner or later may safely be affirmed.

Carthage evidently made a great effort to bring the war to a successful issue. She seems to have been aware that circumstances were unusually favourable, for the Greek cities of Sicily had never before been in so deplorable a condition of weakness. It was, indeed a happy thing for the cause of freedom that so exceptionally able a man as Timoleon had the conduct of affairs. The army landed at LilybŠum, under the command of Hasdrubal and Hamilcar, numbered 70,000. Of these, not less than 10,000 were native Carthaginians. Carthage was always sparing of the blood of her own citizens, preferring to buy even at lavish prices the valour and skill which she needed. On this occasion she raised an unprecedently large native force. They were equipped, too, in the most costly fashion. Each soldier was clothed in complete armour, much heavier and, therefore, more impenetrable than that usually worn. Each, too, had an elaborately ornamented breastplate. A corps d'elite, numbering 2,500, was the nucleus of the force. A fleet of two hundred ships of war accompanied the army, whose needs were supplied by a vast multitude of nearly a thousand transports. One important item in the war material was a number of chariots. The personal effects of the Carthaginian soldiers, many of whom belonged to the wealthiest families in the city, splendid tents and rich goblets and other plate for the table, were costly in the extreme.

Timoleon could not raise more than 12,000 men. He had 3,000 Syracusan citizens, an unknown number, possibly about 6,000, of volunteers from other Greek cities, and a force of mercenaries. His cavalry numbered one thousand. But he could not keep with him even the whole of these. When he had nearly reached the border of the Carthaginian territory there was a mutiny among the mercenaries. Their pay was considerably in arrears, and one of their officers took advantage of this fact to rouse them against the commander-in-chief. "He is taking you," he said, "on a desperate errand. You will have to encounter an enemy who can match every one of our soldiers with six of his own. And he does not even pay you your wages." Never did the strong personality of Timoleon show itself to more advantage. The mutineers got, in a way, all they wanted. They were sent back to Syracuse with instructions to the authorities at home that they were to be paid off at once, whatever it might cost to raise the money.

This concession seemed to put a premium on mutiny. Nevertheless, Timoleon by his personal influence succeeded in checking the movement. The troops that were left, when the discontented element was removed, followed him with unabated loyalty and courage. Marching westward into the heart of the Carthaginian territory, he reached the stream known as the Crimessus. If he had before to contend against the avarice of his soldiers, he had now to deal with their fears. The army was encountered by some mules carrying loads of parsley. The men were dismayed at what they took as an unlucky omen, for parsley was commonly used for the garlands that are placed on tombs. Timoleon was equal to the occasion. "With this," he cried, seizing a sprig of the herb, "we crown our conquerors in the Isthmian Games at home. It is our symbol of victory," and he put a chaplet on his own head and adorned his officers in the same way.

The Greek army had now reached the brow of the hill which forms the eastern bank of the valley of the Crimessus. The whole country was covered with a mist, but there came up from the valley beneath a confused sound as of a great host in motion. Suddenly the mist lifted, and Timoleon saw below him the great Carthaginian army. The war-chariots had already crossed the river and were drawn up on the eastern shore; the Carthaginian infantry, in their splendid armour, were in the very act of the passage; pressing on their rear in a disorderly crowd was a multitude of mercenaries and native African levies. Timoleon saw his opportunity, and promptly seized it. He could never have so good a chance of delivering a successful attack on the enemy as when they were thus divided, some being actually in the river and some on the further shore. After a brief exhortation to his men, he led them down the steep slope to the river. The cavalry went first, and charged the native Carthaginians, who were just struggling out of the river and forming themselves in line on the bank. But for a time they charged in vain. Indeed, they had to do their best to save themselves from being broken up, for the chariots were driven furiously backwards and forwards among them. They could hardly keep their own lines; on the lines of the enemy they made no impression. Timoleon then changed his plan. Recalling the cavalry, he sent it to operate on the flank of the enemy, while he proceeded to lead his infantry to a front attack. He took his shield from the attendant that carried it, and bade his men follow him. "He shouted to the infantry to be of good cheer and follow him," says Plutarch, "in a voice much louder than was his natural wont. It may have been the excitement of the conflict that lent it such a power, but the common belief at the time was "that something divine was speaking through him." The work that they had to do required no little enthusiasm of courage. The Carthaginians were stout soldiers and splendidly armed. The spear availed little against them; the Greeks had to get under their guard and assail them with the sword. At this critical point of the battle something happened which convinced Timoleon's soldiers that their leader had powers more than mortal on his side.



The mist that had cleared away from the valley, and risen to the hilltop, now seemed to descend again in a furious storm. Besides the sound and sight of the thunder and the lightning—and there were but few spirits in that day hardy enough to despise these terrors—there was a blinding storm of rain and hail driven fiercely by a tempestuous wind into the faces of the Carthaginians. To the Greeks, who had it behind them, it caused little inconvenience. And then the river began to rise. The Carthaginians began to stagger under the weight of their heavy armour and saturated clothing, and when once a man had fallen there was no hope of his rising again. It was not long before the four hundred picked soldiers who formed the front ranks were cut down. These champions gone, the rest broke up and attempted to flee. This was almost impossible. Many were slain in the attempt; many others were drowned; and there were thousands of prisoners. Never before had such a blow fallen on Carthage. She lost, not as usual, the mercenaries whom it was easy to replace as long as her wealth held out, but her noblest sons. On the other hand, the Greeks, besides winning a very complete victory, gathered a spoil more magnificent than the most experienced campaigner had ever seen.

Timoleon had not yet finished his work. He had still to put down the despots whose thrones were propped up by the power of Carthage, and Carthage was not inclined to give up her position in Sicily. In the course of the next year, however, the despots were all destroyed, and Carthage was glad to conclude a peace. By this she bound herself to keep to the western side of the Halycus (Platani) and not to interfere with the internal affairs of the Greek cities.

It is needless to continue in detail the story of the conflict between Greece and Carthage. The result was practically fixed by the victory of Timoleon at the Crimessus. Carthage did not indeed altogether abandon her ambition. She still coveted Sicily, still hoped, it may be, to acquire it, and came, once at least, as near to attaining this end as she had ever done before. In 309 B.C. Syracuse had again lost the freedom which Timoleon had given back to her, and had fallen under the domination of one of the ablest and most unscrupulous in the long list of Sicilian tyrants, Agathocles. This man provoked a war with Carthage, but found himself unequal to his antagonist, and after a series of defeats was shut up in Syracuse. This city was, as it had been eighty-odd years before, the only place in the Island which the Greeks could call their own. Then Agathocles conceived a daring scheme. He would transfer the war to Africa, and attack Carthage at home, where, as he shrewdly perceived, her weakest points were to be found. An invader could always reckon upon the sympathy and support of the subject races, which suffered from the exacting rule of the Carthaginian government. Agathocles carried out his plan, and for a time achieved a brilliant success. He afterwards met with reverses, but his main object, the rescue of Sicily, was fully achieved.

Agathocles died in 289 B.C. Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, famous for the victories which he won over Rome, was the next to take up the part of the leader of the Sicilian Greeks in their long struggle with Carthage. He accomplished little. In fact he spent two years only in the Island. The most memorable incident of his stay was that Carthage offered him alliance on most advantageous terms, and that he refused it unless she would agree to evacuate the Island. This was an honourable action, for the offer would have given him a most important advantage in the renewed attack upon Rome which he was planning. But the Sicilian Greeks showed little gratitude for his self-denial; in fact, they became so hostile that he had no alternative left him but to leave the Island. "How fair a wrestling-ring," he is reported to have said as he took his last look of Sicily, "are we leaving to Rome and Carthage! "With this departure of Pyrrhus, Greece, we may say, disappears from the scene, and Rome takes her part. Pyrrhus left Sicily in 276, and Rome came for the first time into collision with Carthage twelve years afterwards in what is called the First Punic War. These wars will be the subject of my Fourth Book.