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Mary Macgregor

The Battle of Crimisus

The exiles who had returned to Sicily, and the colonists who had come to settle there, were needed, not only to till the ground but to defend the island. For the Carthaginians, angry with Mago's failure, now sent to Sicily an enormous army, seventy thousand strong.

The Syracusans were frightened to see so large a force, and not more than three thousand men were willing to go with Timoleon against the enemy. He hired four thousand soldiers, but of these one thousand deserted before a battle was fought.

Near the river Crimisus the Carthaginians encamped, and thither Timoleon hastened with his faint-hearted army.

On their way they met a number of mules laden with baskets of parsley. Now the Sicilians were used to place wreaths of parsley upon the tombs of their dead, so they were sure that it was a bad omen to meet the mules, and they grew still more uneasy.

But Timoleon laughed at their fears, telling them that in Corinth the victors at the games were crowned with chaplets of parsley. He then lifted some from the baskets, and twisting it into a wreath he placed it on his head, his officers first and then the soldiers following his example.

At that moment two eagles flew toward the army. One carried in its talons a snake, which it had killed, the other uttered loud cries as of victory. Here was a good omen! It was ever a sign of success to see an eagle, and the soldiers thanked the gods and plucked up courage.

Before long Timoleon led his men to the top of a hill that looked down on the river Crimisus. But at first he could see nothing, for a thick mist veiled the river.

The hill was still hidden from sight when the mist lifted from the river, and Timoleon saw that the Carthaginians had begun to cross to the other side, but they had no idea that the enemy was near.

Now was the time, thought Timoleon, to charge the enemy, while it was crossing the river. So bidding the trumpets sound, he seized his shield and ordered his troops to advance.

The courage of the men had returned, and with cheers they rushed down the hill and charged the Carthaginians, who, taken by surprise, yet fought bravely. They wore heavy armour and their breastplates were able to resist the thrust of the Corinthian spears. Soon the men were at close quarters with swords drawn, and a terrible struggle began.

It seemed that now one side, now the other would conquer. While the victory still hung in the balance, a violent storm broke over the battlefield.

The thunder crashed so that the orders of the officers could no longer be heard. Lightning flashed in the eyes of the startled horses and blinded them, while torrents of rain and hail dashed in the faces of the Carthaginians.

As the ground grew muddy, the soldiers slipped and fell to the ground. The Sicilians, who wore light armour, easily struggled to their feet, but their foes found it almost impossible to rise.

Soon the river overflowed its banks and swept across the battlefield. This was more than the Carthaginians could bear, and they turned and fled, but many were overtaken by the swift-footed Sicilians and slain.

The victorious army found more spoil than they had thought possible—a thousand breastplates and ten thousand shields of marvellous workmanship, as well as ornaments of gold and silver were taken.

When tidings were sent to Corinth of the great victory of Crimisus, the richest of the spoil was also sent to the city.

On the booty were written these words, "The people of Corinth and Timoleon, their general, having redeemed the Greeks of Sicily from Carthaginian bondage, make oblation of these to the gods, in grateful acknowledgement of their favour."

Sicily was now free, and the people in their gratitude begged Timoleon to become their king. But this he would not do, nor would he even keep the command of the army. His wife and children whom he had left in Corinth joined him, and for a time he lived with them in Syracuse as quietly as any other citizen. When he left the city it was to live in a beautiful country house which was given to him by the grateful people of Syracuse.

As he grew older, Timoleon's eyesight failed, and at length he became quite blind. But old and blind as he was the people did not forget all that he had done for them, and they loved and trusted him as in happier days.

If trouble arose in the assembly, they would beg him to come to give them his advice. And the old man would order his car, which was drawn by mules, and be driven to the hall. Here he would sit and listen to the troubles of the people, and when he spoke it was seldom that his words were not obeyed.

Three or four years after the battle of Crimisus, Timoleon died. The grief of the Syracusans was deep, for they had loved their deliverer well.

Thousands of men and women, clad in white and crowned with garlands, followed his body as it was carried slowly through the city, past the places where once the palaces of the tyrants had stood.

As the bier was laid on the funeral pile, a herald cried aloud, "The people of Syracuse inter Timoleon the Corinthian at the public expense and decree that his memory be honoured for ever, by games held each year, the prizes to be competed for in music, in horse-races and all sorts of bodily exercises, and this because he suppressed tyrants, overthrew the barbarian, replenished the principalities that were desolate with new inhabitants, and then restored the Sicilian Greeks to the privilege of living by their own laws."