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Timoleon defeats Carthage


Bust of Plutarch. Museum of Delphi (Greece). Photo Jona Lendering.
Bust of Plutarch (Museum of Delphi)
The philosopher Plutarch of Chaeronea (46-c.122) is the author of a series of double biographies in which he compared Greeks and Romans, and tried to explore the nature of some type of man. They contain much historical information. The following text is taken from his Life of Timoleon, who tried to protect Syracuse from civil war and against Carthaginian aggression. The story of his fortunate victory over the Carthaginians is told below; Plutarch's source is the History by Timaeus of Tauromenium, who had, as a boy, met Timoleon.

The translation was made by Thomas Blomer and appeared in the Dryden series.

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Sicily. Design Jona Lendering.
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Meantime, the Carthaginians landed at the promontory of Lilybaeum, bringing with them an army of 70,000 men on board 200 galleys, besides a 1,000 other vessels laden with engines of battery, chariots, corn, and other military stores, as if they did not intend to manage the war by piecemeal and in parts as heretofore, but to drive the Greeks altogether and at once out of all Sicily. And indeed it was a force sufficient to overpower the Sicelians, even though they had been at perfect union among themselves, and had never been enfeebled by intestine quarrels.

 
Hearing that part of their subject territory was suffering devastation, they forthwith made toward the Corinthians with great fury, having Hasdrubal and Hamilcar for their generals; the report of whose number and strength coming suddenly to Syracuse, the citizens were so terrified, that hardly 3,000, among so many myriads of them, had the courage to take up arms and join Timoleon. The foreigners, serving for pay, were not above 4,000 in all, and about a 1,000 of these grew faint-hearted by the way, and forsook Timoleon in his march towards the enemy, looking on him as frantic and distracted, destitute of the sense which might have been expected from his time of life, thus to venture out against an army of 70,000 men, with no more than 5,000 foot and a 1,000 horse; and, when he should have kept those forces to defend the city, choosing rather to remove them eight days' journey from Syracuse, so that if they were beaten from the field, they would have no retreat, nor any burial if they fell upon it. Timoleon, however, reckoned it some kind of advantage, that these had thus discovered themselves before the battle, and encouraging the rest, led them with all speed to the river Cremisus, where it was told him the Carthaginians were drawn together. [...]

It was now about the beginning of summer, and conclusion of the month called Thargelion, not far from the solstice [1]; and the river sending up a thick mist, all the adjacent plain was at first darkened with the fog, so that for a while they could discern nothing from the enemy's camp; only a confused buzz and undistinguished mixture of voices came up to the hill from the distant motions and clamors of so vast a multitude. When the Corinthians had mounted, and stood on the top, and had laid down their bucklers to take breath and repose themselves, the sun coming round and drawing up the vapors from below, the gross foggy air that was now gathered and condensed above formed in a cloud upon the mountains; and, all the under places being clear and open, the river Cremisus appeared to them again, and they could descry the enemies passing over it, first with their formidable four-horse chariots of war, and then 10,000 footmen bearing white shields, whom they guessed to be all Carthaginians, from the splendor of their arms, and the slowness and order of their march. And when now the troops of various other nations, flowing in behind them, began to throng for passage in a tumultuous and unruly manner, Timoleon, perceiving that the river gave them opportunity to single off whatever number of their enemies they had a mind to engage at and bidding his soldiers observe how their forces were divided into two separate bodies by the intervention of the stream, some being already over, and others still to ford it, gave Demaretus command to fall in upon the Carthaginians with his horse, and disturb their ranks before they should be drawn up into form of battle; and coming down into the plain himself forming his right and left wing of other Sicilians, intermingling only a few strangers in each, he placed the natives of Syracuse in the middle, with the stoutest mercenaries he had about his own person; and waiting a little to observe the action of his horse, when they saw they were not only hindered from grappling with the Carthaginians by the armed chariots that ran to and fro before the army, but forced continually to wheel about to escape having their ranks broken, and so to repeat their charges anew, he took his buckler in his hand, and crying out to the foot that they should follow him with courage and confidence, he seemed to speak with a more than human accent, and a voice stronger than ordinary; whether it were that he naturally raised it so high in the vehemence and ardor with his mind to assault the enemy, or else, as many then thought, some god or other spoke with him. When his soldiers quickly gave an echo to it, and besought him to lead them on without any further delay, he made a sign to the horse, that they should draw off from the front where the chariots were, and pass sidewards to attack their enemies in the flank; then, making his vanguard firm by joining man to man and buckler to buckler, he caused the trumpet to sound, and so bore in upon the Carthaginians.

They, for their part, stoutly received and sustained his first onset; and having their bodies armed with breast-plates of iron, and helmets of brass on their heads, besides great bucklers to cover and secure them, they could easily repel the charge of the Greek spears. But when the business came to a decision by the sword, where mastery depends no less upon art than strength, all on a sudden from the mountain-tops violent peals of thunder and vivid flashes of lightning broke out; following upon which the darkness, that had been hovering about the higher grounds and the crests of the hills, descending to the place of battle and bringing a tempest of rain and of wind and hail along with it, was driven upon the Greeks behind, and fell only at their backs, but discharged itself in the very faces of the barbarians, the rain beating on them, and the lightning dazzling them without cessation; annoyances that in many ways distressed at any rate the inexperienced, who had not been used to such hardships, and, in particular, the claps of thunder, and the noise of the rain and hail beating on their arms, kept them from hearing the commands of their officers.

Besides which, the very mud also was a great hindrance to the Carthaginians, who were not lightly equipped, but, as I said before, loaded with heavy armor; and then their shirts underneath getting drenched, the foldings about the bosom filled with water, grew unwieldy and cumbersome to them as they fought, and made it easy for the Greeks to throw them down, and, when they were once down, impossible for them, under that weight, to disengage themselves and rise again with weapons in their hands. The river Cremisus, too, swollen partly by the rain, and partly by the stoppage of its course with the numbers that were passing through, overflowed its banks; and the level ground by the side of it, being so situated as to have a number of small ravines and hollows of the hillside descending upon it, was now filled with rivulets and currents that had no certain channel, in which the Carthaginians stumbled and rolled about, and found themselves in great difficulty. So that, in fine, the storm bearing still upon them, and the Greeks having cut in pieces four hundred men of their first ranks, the whole body of their army began to fly.

Great numbers were overtaken in the plain, and put to the sword there; and many of them, as they were making their way back through the river, falling foul upon others that were yet coming over, were borne away and overwhelmed by the waters; but the major part, attempting to get up the hill so as to make their escape, were intercepted and destroyed by the light-armed troops. It is said that, of ten thousand who lay dead after the fight, three thousand, at least, were Carthaginian citizens; a heavy loss and great grief to their countrymen; those that fell being men inferior to none among them as to birth, wealth, or reputation. Nor do their records mention that so many native Carthaginians were ever cut off before in any one battle; as they usually employed Africans, Spaniards, and Numidians in their wars, so that if they chanced to be defeated, it was still at the cost and damage of other nations.

The Greeks easily discovered of what condition and account the slain were by the richness of their spoils; for when they came to collect the booty, there was little reckoning made either of brass or iron, so abundant were better metals, and so common were silver and gold. Passing over the river they became masters of their camp and carriages. As for captives, a great many of them were stolen away and sold privately by the soldiers but about five thousand were brought in and delivered up for the benefit of the public; two hundred of their chariots of war were also taken. The tent of Timoleon then presented a most glorious and magnificent appearance, being heaped up and hung round with every variety of spoils and military ornaments, among which there were a thousand breastplates of rare workmanship and beauty, and bucklers to the number of ten thousand.

The victors being but few to strip so many that were vanquished, and having such valuable booty to occupy them, it was the third day after the fight before they could erect and finish the trophy of their conquest. Timoleon sent tidings of his victory to Corinth, with the best and goodliest arms he had taken as a proof of it; that he thus might render his country an object of emulation to the whole world, when, of all the cities of Greece, men should there alone behold the chief temples adorned, not with Grecian spoils, nor offerings obtained by the bloodshed and plunder of their own countrymen and kindred, and attended, therefore, with sad and unhappy remembrances, but with such as had been stripped from barbarians and enemies to their nation, with the noblest titles inscribed upon them, titles telling of the justice as well as fortitude of the conquerors; namely, that the people of Corinth, and Timoleon their general, having redeemed the Greeks of Sicily from Carthaginian bondage, made oblation of these to the gods, in grateful acknowledgment of their favor.






Notes

Note 1:
June, probably 340.




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