1 AGATHOCLES, sovereign of Sicily, having concluded a peace with the Carthaginians, reduced, by force of arms, a part of the cities which, presuming upon their strength, had thrown off their allegiance to him. Then, as if he were confined within too narrow limits in an island (a part of the dominion of which, even when he first began to rise, he could scarcely have hoped to obtain), he proceeded, after the example of Dionysius,1 who had subdued many cities of Italy, to cross over into that country. His first enemies there were the Bruttii, who, at that period, seem to have been the bravest and most powerful people of the country, and to have been extremely ready to attack their neighbours; for they had driven the inhabitants of many of the Greek cities from Italy, and had conquered in war the Lucanians their founders, and made peace with them on equal terms; such being the fierceness of their nature, that they had no respect even for those to whom they owed their origin.
The Lucanians were accustomed to breed up their children with the same kind of education as the Spartans; for, from their earliest boyhood, they were kept in the wilds among the shepherds, without any slaves to attend them, and even without clothes2 to wear or to sleep upon, that, from their first years, they might be accustomed to hardiness and spare diet; having no intercourse with the city. Their food was what they took in hunting, and their drink milk or water. Thus were they prepared for the toils of war.
Fifty of these people, who, at first, used to plunder the lands of their neighbours, but who, as numbers flocked to join them, increased in strength, and were tempted by hopes of greater booty, disturbed the whole of the neighbouring country; and Dionysius, the tyrant of Sicily, being wearied with complaints from his allies, had sent six hundred Africans to put a stop to their ravages. But the marauders, having seized a fort which the Africans had built, and which was betrayed into their hands by a woman named Bruttia, proceeded to build a city there for the shepherds, who, at the report of a new settlement, came in numbers to join them; and, from the name of the woman, they called themselves Bruttii.
Their first war was with the Lucanians, from whom they sprung. Encouraged by a victory over them, and making peace on equal terms, they subdued the rest of their neighbours by force of arms, and acquired, in a short time, such extraordinary strength, that they were thought formidable even by princes. After some time, Alexander, king of Epirus,3 coming into Italy with a great army to the aid of the Greek cities, was cut off by them with all his force; and their natural fierceness, increased by this success, was for a long time terrible to all around them. At last Agathocles, being importuned to come over, set sail, with the hope of enlarging his dominions, from Sicily to Italy.
2 At the first news of his arrival, the Bruttii, alarmed at his name, sent ambassadors to solicit alliance and friendship with him. Agathocles, inviting them to an entertainment, that they might not see his army shipped over, and appointing the next day for giving them audience, went off immediately after the banquet in a vessel, and left them in the lurch. But what followed this deceit was unhappy for him; for the violence of a disease4 which he contracted obliged him a few days after to return to Sicily. Being affected by the distemper through his whole body, and a pestilential humour spreading through all his nerves and joints, he was tormented, as it were, by an intestine war among all his members. As his life was despaired of, a contention arose between his son and grandson, each claiming the right of succession to his power as if he were already dead; and the grandson, after killing the son, got possession of the supreme dignity. Agathocles, therefore, when the pain of his disease and his anxiety of mind were grown intolerable, the one being increased by the severity of the other, resolved on embarking his wife Texena, and two infant sons5 that he had by her, with all his treasure, and servants, and regal furniture (in which no king at that time was richer), and sending her back to Egypt, from whence he had received her, fearing that they would find the usurper of his power their enemy. His wife, however, long entreated that she might not be separated from her sick husband, that the affliction of her departure might not be added to the atrocities of his grandson, and that she might not be made to appear as cruel in forsaking her husband as he in attacking his grandfather; saying that, “by marrying him, she not only engaged to share his good fortune, but all his fortune; nor would she unwillingly purchase, with the hazard of her own life, the privilege of receiving her husband’s last breath, and of performing, with all the care of conjugal duty and affection, the last offices at his funeral; which, when she was gone, no one would take upon himself to discharge.” The little children, at parting, embraced and clung to their father with doleful lamentations; while the wife, who was to see her husband no more, could not desist from kissing him. Nor were the tears of the old man less moving; the children wept for their dying father, the father for his banished children. They bewailed the forlorn condition of their parent, a sick old man; he lamented that his offspring, born to the prospect of a throne, should be left in want. At the same time the whole palace resounded with the cries of those who were witnesses to so cruel a separation. The necessity for departure, however, at length put a stop to their weeping, and the death of the prince followed the leave-taking of his children.
During these occurrences, the Carthaginians, learning the state of affairs in Sicily, and thinking that an opportunity was afforded them of securing the whole island, crossed over to it with a great force, and reduced several cities.
3 At this time, too, Pyrrhus was engaged in a war with the Romans, and, being entreated by the Sicilians, as has been said, to come to their assistance,6 and crossing, in consequence, over to Syracuse, and taking several cities, received the title of king of Sicily as well as of Epirus. Elated by this success, he destined for his son Helenus the kingdom of Sicily, as an inheritance from his grandfather (for he was the son of Agathocles’s daughter), and to Alexander that of Italy. He then fought many successful battles with the Carthaginians; but, after a time, ambassadors came to him from his Italian allies, announcing that “they could no longer withstand the Romans, and that, unless he gave them assistance, they must submit.” Alarmed at this danger from another quarter, and uncertain what to do, or whither first to direct his efforts, he took time, while he was in suspense between the two, for consideration. As the Carthaginians threatened him on one side, and the Romans on the other, it seemed hazardous not to transport a force into Italy, and more hazardous to withdraw troops from Sicily, lest the one should be lost by not receiving assistance, or the other by being deserted. In this conflict of perils, the safer determination seemed to be, to bring the struggle to an end, by exerting his utmost strength in Sicily, and then, after having subdued the Carthaginians, to carry his victorious army into Italy. He therefore fought a battle; but, though he had the advantage, yet, as he quitted Sicily, he seemed to flee as one defeated; and his allies, in consequence, revolted from him, and he lost his dominion in Sicily as speedily and easily as he had obtained it.
Experiencing no better success in Italy, he returned to Epirus. His fortune, indeed, good and bad, was wonderful for the examples which it gave of both. For as, at first, his good fortune, when his attempts succeeded even beyond his wishes, had procured him empire in Italy and Sicily, and so many victories over the Romans; so now his adverse fortune, overthrowing all that he had raised, as if to afford an illustration of human instability, added to his failure in Sicily the destruction of his fleet at sea, loss of honour in a battle with the Romans, and an ignominious retreat out of Italy.
4 When Pyrrhus had withdrawn from Sicily, Hiero was made governor of it; and such was the prudence he displayed in his office, that, by the unanimous consent of all the cities, he was first made general against the Carthaginians, and soon after king. The fortune of Hiero, in his infancy, had been as it were a presage of his future dignity. He was the son or Hierocles, a man of high rank, whose descent was traced from Gelo an ancient prince of Sicily. His extraction on the mother’s side, however, was so mean as to be even dishonourable; for he was the child of a female slave, and was in consequence exposed by his father as a disgrace to his family. But, when he was thus left destitute of human aid, bees for several days fed him with honey, which was heaped round him as he lay. Hence his father, admonished by a communication from the soothsayers, who signified that sovereign power was foreboded to the infant, took him home again, and brought him up most carefully with the hope that he would attain the promised honour. As he was learning his lesson at school, too, among his equals in age, a wolf, that suddenly appeared in the midst of the boys, snatched from him his book. And when he was grown up, and commencing his first campaign, an eagle settled on his shield, and an owl upon his spear; a prodigy which indicated that he would be prudent in counsel, active in the field, and a king. He fought frequently, moreover, with persons that challenged him, and always gained the victory; and he was presented by king Pyrrhus with many military gifts. The handsomeness of his person was remarkable, and his bodily strength wonderful. He was affable in his address, just in his dealings, moderate in command; so that nothing kingly seemed wanting to him but a kingdom.
1 See xx. 1.
2 Sine veste.] J. G. Graevius thinks it possible that we ought to read una veste, in conformity with what Justin, iii. 3, says of the Spartans: Juvenibus non amplius una veste uti toto anno permisit. Or sine veste may, as Scheffer suggests, be taken for without any outer garment, as he was caned nudus among the Romans who was clad only with the tunica.
3 See xii. 1, 2; xviii. 1, 2.
4 Occasioned by poison prepared for him and his son Agathocles by Maenon, who wished to secure for Archagathus (son of that Archagathus who was killed in Africa, xxii. 8) the succession to his grandfather’s throne. See Diod. Sic. xxi. fragm. 19.Wetzel.
5 Lest his grandson should put them to death.
6 See xviii. 2.