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Marcus Junianus Justinus
Epitome of the Philippic History of Pompeius Trogus.
translated, with notes, by the Rev. John Selby Watson.
London: Henry G. Bohn, York Street, Convent Garden (1853).


Table of contents



Rise of Agathocles in Sicily, I.—Becomes master of Syracuse by the aid of Hamilcar, II.—His wars in Sicily, III.—The Carthaginians besiege Syracuse; Agathocles carries the war against them into Africa, IV.—His speech to his army, promising them the plunder of Carthage, V.—Superstition of the soldiers; Agathocles burns his ships, defeats the Carthaginians, and lays waste the country, VI. VII.—Returns to Sicily, and drives the Carthaginians from it; his farther proceedings, VIII.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

1 AGATHOCLES,1 tyrant of Sicily, who attained greatness equal to that of the elder Dionysius, rose to royal dignity from the lowest and meanest origin. He was born in Sicily, his father being a potter, and spent a youth not more honourable than his birth; for, being remarkable for beauty and gracefulness of person, he supported himself a considerable time by submitting to the infamous lust of others. When he had passed the years of puberty, he transferred his services from men to women. Having thus become infamous with both sexes, he next changed his way of life for that of a robber. Some time after, having gone to Syracuse and been received as a citizen among the other inhabitants, he was long without credit, appearing to have as little of property to lose as he had of character to blacken. At last, enlisting in the army as a common soldier, he showed himself ready for every kind of audacity, his life being then not less distinguished by restlessness than it had previously been by infamy. He was noted for activity in the field, and for eloquence in making harangues. In a short time, accordingly, he became a centurion, and soon after a tribune. In his first campaign against the people of Aetna,2 he gave the Syracusans great proofs of what he could do: in the next, against the Campanians, he excited such hopes of himself throughout the army, that he was chosen to fill the place of the deceased general, Damascon, whose wife, after the death of her husband, he married, having previously had a criminal connection with her. And, not content, that from being poor he was suddenly made rich, he engaged in piracy against his own country. He was saved from death by his companions, who, when apprehended and put to the torture, denied his guilt. Twice he attempted to make himself sovereign of Syracuse; and twice he was driven into exile.

2 By the Murgantines, with whom he took refuge in his banishment, he was first, from hatred to the Syracusans, made praetor, and afterwards general-in-chief: in the war which he conducted for them, he both took the city of the Leontines, and proceeded to besiege his native city, Syracuse: when Hamilcar, general of the Carthaginians, being entreated to aid it, laid aside his hatred as an enemy, and sent a body of troops thither. Thus, at one and the same time, Syracuse was both defended by an enemy with the love of a citizen, and attacked by a citizen with the hatred of an enemy. But Agathocles, seeing that the city was defended with more vigour than it was assailed, entreated Hamilcar, through his deputies, to undertake the settlement of a peace between him and the Syracusans, promising him particular services in return for the favour. Hamilcar, induced by such hopes, and by dread of his power, made an alliance with him, on condition that whatever assistance he furnished Agathocles against the Syracusans, he himself should receive as much for the augmentation of his power at home. Not only peace, in consequence, was procured for Agathocles, but he was also appointed praetor at Syracuse; and he then swore to Hamilcar that he would be faithful to the Carthaginians, the [sacred] fires, at the same time, being set forth, and touched by him.3 Some time after, having received from Hamilcar five thousand African troops, he put to death the most powerful of the leading citizens; and then, as if intending to re-model the constitution, he ordered the people to be summoned to an assembly in the theatre, convoking the senate, in the meantime, in the Gymnasium, as though he designed to make some previous arrangements with them. His measures being thus taken, he sent his troops to surround the people, and caused the senate to be massacred, and, when he had finished the slaughter of them, cut off the richest and boldest of the commoners.

3 These things being done, he made choice of troops, and embodied a regular army; with which, he suddenly attacked several of the neighbouring cities when they were under no apprehension of hostilities. He also disgracefully harassed, with the connivance of Hamilcar, certain allies of the Carthaginians, who, in consequence, sent complaints to Carthage, not so much against Agathocles as against Hamilcar, accusing “the former, indeed, as an oppressor and tyrant, but the latter as a traitor, by whom the possessions of their allies, under a settled compact, were betrayed to the bitterest of enemies; for as, at first, Syracuse (a city always hostile to the Carthaginians, and a competitor with Carthage for the dominion of Sicily) was delivered to Agathocles as a bond of union with Hamilcar, so, at the present time, the cities of the allies of Carthage were given up to the same tyrant under pretence of making peace. They warned them, therefore, that these proceedings would shortly come home to themselves, and that they would feel what mischief they had brought,4 not more upon Sicily than upon Africa itself.” At these complaints the senate was incensed against Hamilcar, but as he was in command of the army, they gave their votes concerning him secretly, and caused their several opinions, before they were openly read, to be put in an urn, and sealed up, until the other Hamilcar, the son of Gisco, should return from Sicily. But the death of Hamilcar prevented all effects from these subtle contrivances and suppressed judgments,5 and he, whom his fellow citizens had unjustly condemned unheard, was freed from danger of punishment by the kindness of destiny. The proceeding furnished Agathocles with a pretext for making war on the Carthaginians. His first engagement was with Hamilcar, the son of Gisco, by whom he was defeated, and retired to Syracuse to prepare himself for war with fresh vigour. But the result of his second encounter was the same as that of the first.

4 The victorious Carthaginians, in consequence, having invested Syracuse with a close siege, Agathocles, perceiving that he was neither a match for them in the field, nor provided for enduring a blockade, and being deserted, moreover, by his allies, who were disgusted at his cruelties, resolved to transfer the war into Africa; a resolution formed with wonderful audacity, that he should make war on the city of a people for whom he was not a match in his own city; that he who could not defend his own country should invade that of others; and that one who had been conquered should brave his conquerors. Nor was the secrecy of his plan less striking than the contrivance of it. Stating merely to the people, that “he had found out a way to victory, and that they had only to prepare their minds to endure a short siege, or that, if any of them were dissatisfied with their present circumstances, he gave them full liberty to depart,” he proceeded, after one thousand six hundred had left him, to furnish the rest with provisions and money for the necessities of a blockade, taking away with him only fifty talents for present use, and intending to get further supplies rather from his enemies than his friends. He then obliged all the slaves that were of age for war, after receiving their freedom, to take the military oath, and put them and the greater part of the soldiers, on ship-board, supposing that, as the condition of both was made equal, there would be a mutual emulation in bravery between them.

5 In the seventh year of his reign, therefore, accompanied by his two grown-up sons, Archagathus and Hemclides, he directed his course towards Africa, not one of his men knowing whither he was sailing; but while they all supposed that they were going to Italy or Sardinia for plunder, he landed his army on the coast of Africa, and then for the first time made known his intentions to them all. He reminded them in what condition Syracuse was, “for which there was no other remedy but that they should inflict on the enemy the distresses that they themselves were suffering. Wars,” he said, “were conducted in one way at home and in another abroad; at home, a people's only support was what the resources of their country supplied; but abroad, the enemy might be beaten by their own strength, while their allies fell off, and from hatred of their long tyranny, looked about for foreign aid. To this was added, that the cities and fortresses of Africa were not secured with walls, or situated on eminences, but lay in level plains without any fortifications, and might all be induced, by the fear of destruction, to join in the war against Carthage. A greater war, in consequence, would blaze forth against the Carthaginians from Africa itself than from Sicily, as the forces of the whole region would combine against a city greater in name than in power, and he himself would thus gain from the country the strength which he had not brought into it. Nor would victory be only in a small degree promoted by the sudden terror of the Carthaginians, who, astonished at such daring on the part of their enemies, would be in utter consternation. Besides, there would be the burning of country houses, the plundering of fortresses and towns that offered resistance, and siege laid to Carthage itself; from all which disasters they would learn that wars were practicable not only for them against others, but for others against them. By these means the Carthaginians might not only be conquered, but Sicily might be delivered from them; for they would not continue to besiege Syracuse, when they were suffering from a siege of their own city. Nowhere else, therefore, could war be found more easy, or plunder more abundant, for, if Carthage were taken, all Africa and Sicily would be the prize of the victors. The glory, too, of so honourable an enterprise, would be so celebrated through all ages, that it could never be buried in oblivion; for it would be said that they were the only men in the world who had carried abroad against their enemies a war which they could not withstand at home; who, when defeated, had pursued their conquerors, and besieged the besiegers of their own city. They ought all accordingly, to prosecute, with equal courage and cheerfulness, an enterprise, than which none could offer them a more noble reward if they were victorious, or greater honour to their memory if they were conquered.”

6 By these exhortations the courage of the soldiers was excited; but the superstitious influence of an omen had spread some dismay among them; for the sun had been eclipsed6 during their voyage. But with regard to this phenomenon Agathocles was at no less pains to satisfy them than he had been with regard to the war; alleging that, “if it had happened before they set out, he should have thought it a portent unfavourable to their departure, but since it had occurred after they had set sail, its signification was directed against those to whom they were going. Besides,” he said, “the eclipses of the heavenly bodies always presaged a change in the present state of things, and it was therefore certain that an alteration was foretold in the flourishing condition of the Carthaginians and in their own adverse circumstances.” Having thus pacified his soldiers, he ordered all the ships, with the consent of the army, to be set on fire, in order that, the means of flight being taken away, they might understand that they must either conquer or die.

While they were devastating the country wherever they went, and laying farm-houses and fortresses in ashes, Hanno advanced to meet them with thirty thousand Carthaginians. When they came to a battle, two thousand of the Sicilians, and three thousand of the Carthaginians, with their general himself, were left on the field. By this victory the spirits of the Sicilians were elated, and those of the Carthaginians depressed. Agathocles, taking advantage of his success, stormed several towns and forts, took a vast quantity of plunder, and killed many thousands of the enemy. He then pitched his camp at the distance of five miles from Carthage, that they might view from the walls of the city the destruction of their most valuable possessions, the devastation of their lands, and the burning of their houses. At the same time a great rumour of the destruction of the Carthaginian army, and of the capture of their cities, was spread through all Africa, and astonishment fell upon every one, wondering how so sudden a war could have surprised so great an empire, especially from an enemy already conquered. This wonder was gradually changed into a contempt for the Carthaginians; and not long after, not only the populace of Africa, but the most eminent cities, out of fondness for change, revolted to Agathocles, and furnished the victorious army with corn and money.

7 To these disasters of the Carthaginians, and as if to crown their evil fortune, was added the destruction of their army and its general in Sicily. For after the departure of Agathocles from the island, the Carthaginians, prosecuting the siege of Syracuse with less vigour, were reported to have been utterly cut off by Antander, the brother of Agathocles. The fortune of the Carthaginians, therefore, being similar at home and abroad, not only their tributary towns, but even princes that were in alliance with them, began to fall off, estimating the obligations of confederacy not by the standard of honour but by that of fortune. Among these was Opheltas, king of Cyrene, who, grasping, with extravagant hopes, at the dominion of all Africa, made an alliance with Agathocles through ambassadors, arranging that, when the Carthaginians were subdued, the government of Sicily should fall to Agathocles, and that of Africa to himself. But when he came, accordingly, with a numerous army, to take a share in the war, Agathocles, after throwing him off his guard by the affability of his address and the abjectness of his flattery, and after they had supped together several times, and he had been adopted by Opheltas as a son, put him to death, and taking the command of his forces, defeated the Carthaginians, who were renewing the war with all their might, in a second great battle, but with much loss to both armies. At this result of the contest, such despair was felt by the Carthaginians, that, had not a mutiny occurred among the troops of Agathocles, Bomilcar, the Carthaginian general,7 would have gone over to him with his army. For this treachery he was nailed to a cross by the Carthaginians in the middle of the forum, that the place which had formerly been the distinguished scene of his honours might also bear testimony to his punishment. Bomilcar, however, bore the cruelty of his countrymen with such fortitude, that from his cross, as if he had been on a judgment-seat, he inveighed against the injustice of the Carthaginians, upbraiding them sometimes with “having cut off Hanno,8 on a false charge of aspiring to sovereignty;” sometimes with “having banished the innocent Gisco;”9 and sometimes with “having secretly condemned his uncle Hamilcar,10 merely because he wished to make Agathocles their ally rather than their enemy.” After uttering these charges with a loud voice, in a numerous assembly of the people, he expired.

8 Agathocles, meanwhile, having overcome all opposition in Africa, left the command of his army to his son Archagathus, and went back to Sicily, thinking that all he had done in Africa was as nothing, if Syracuse was still to be besieged; for after the death of Hamilcar the son of Gisco, a fresh army had been sent thither by the Carthaginians. Immediately on his arrival, all the cities of Sicily, having previously heard of his achievements in Africa, unanimously submitted to him; and being thus enabled to drive the Carthaginians from Sicily, he made himself master of the whole island. Returning afterwards to Africa, he was received by his army in a state of mutiny; for the discharge of their arrears of pay had been deferred by the son till the arrival of his father. Summoning them, therefore, to a general assembly, he proceeded to pacify them with soothing words, saying that “pay was not to be asked of him, but to be taken from the enemy; that they must gain a common victory, and common spoil; and that they must continue to support him for a short time, till what remained of the war was finished, as they were certain that the capture of Carthage would satisfy all their desires.” The mutiny being thus allayed, he led the army, after an interval of some days, against the camp of the enemy, but commencing an engagement too rashly, lost the greater part of his force. Retreating to his camp, therefore, and finding the odium of his rash engagement affecting his character, and dreading, at the same time, a revival of the former murmurs at his failure in paying the arrears, he fled from his camp at midnight, attended only by his son Archagathus. When the soldiers heard of his departure, they were in no less consternation than if they had been captured by the enemy, exclaiming that “they had been twice deserted by their leader in the midst of the enemy's country, and that the care of their lives had been abandoned by him by whom not even their burial should have been neglected.” As they were going to pursue Agathocles, they were met by some Numidians, and returned to the camp, but not without having seized and brought back Archagathus, who, through mistaking his way in the night, had been separated from his father. Agathocles, with the ships in which he had returned from Sicily, and the men that he had left to guard them, arrived safe at Syracuse; affording a signal instance of dishonourable conduct, a prince deserting his army, and a father abandoning his children.

In Africa, meanwhile, after the flight of Agathocles, his soldiers, making a capitulation with the enemy, and putting to death the sons of Agathocles, surrendered themselves to the Carthaginians. Archagathus, when he was going to be killed by Arcesilaus, a former friend of his father, asked him “what he thought Agathocles would do to the children of him by whom he was rendered childless?” Arcesilaus replied, that “he felt no concern, since he knew that his children would certainly survive those of Agathocles.” Some time after, the Carthaginians sent new commanders into Sicily, to terminate what remained of the war there, and Agathocles made peace with them on equal terms.


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1 All that took place in Sicily from the year B.C. 342 to B.C. 316, is omitted by Justin. During that period Timoleon, whom Justin does not even name, expelled the Carthaginians from Sicily, and gave liberty to the whole island. See Plutarch, Cornelius Nepos, and Diodorus Siculus, lib. xvi.

2 Adversus Aetnaeos.] Aetna was a town at the foot of Mount Aetna, not far from Catana.

3 The text of Wetzel, with the older editions, has expositis ignibus cereis tactisque, “ignes cerei” being interpreted “lighted waxen tapers.” But it may be doubted whether those two words will fairly bear that sense. Many other editions have ignibus Cereris, a conjecture of Sebisius, which Berneccerus, Scheffer, and Faber approve, because Ceres was worshipped in Sicily, and because Juvenal, Sat. xiv., has Vendet perjuria summa Exigua, Cereris tangens aramque pedemque. I am better pleased with a conjecture of Peyraredus, expositis ignibus sacris, tactisque, and have translated the passage accordingly. Nic. Heinsius would read Tunc Hamilcari aris rex positis insigni ceremonia, tactisque, &c.; Graevius, Tunc Hamilcari aris positis, et ignibus Cereris, tactisque, &c., on the supposition that aris might have been absorbed, as it were, by the preceding Hamilcari.

4 Namely, by sending out Hamilcar.

5 Sententias inauditas.] Justin means the secret votes, of which he had just spoken, and which were sealed up in an urn.—Vorstius.

6 In the third year of the 117th olympiad, B.C. 309, on the 15th of August, at two in the afternoon, according to the calculations of astronomers.—Wetzel.

7 Bomilcar, rex Poenorum.] He was one of the suffetes. See the first note on
xix. 1.

8 See
xxi. 4.

9 Concerning his banishment nothing has been said before.—Wetzel.

10 See the
2nd and 3rd chapters of this book.


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The English translation of Justin's Epitome was entered by David Camden (2003) from Watson's 1853 edition. This text is in the public domain and may be copied and distributed for private and educational use, provided this original notice is kept intact. Any commercial use of this text, including print-publication and inclusion in subscription-based archives, is prohibited.

The Latin text and French translation, along with the secondary material written in French, are copyright © Marie-Pierre Arnaud-Lindet 2003, and are NOT in the public domain.

This material may only be used for private and educational use and provided that its copyright status is properly cited. Any modification, remote loading, publication, reproduction on another site, diffusion on the internet, or commercial use of these texts is strictly prohibited without the prior agreement of the author.