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History of The Peloponnesian War - Book VI   


Seventeenth and Eighteenth Years of the War -
Inaction of the Athenian Army - Alcibiades
at Sparta - Investment of Syracuse


THE Athenian generals left in Sicily now divided the armament into
two parts, and, each taking one by lot, sailed with the whole for
Selinus and Egesta, wishing to know whether the Egestaeans would
give the money, and to look into the question of Selinus and ascertain
the state of the quarrel between her and Egesta. Coasting along
Sicily, with the shore on their left, on the side towards the Tyrrhene
Gulf they touched at Himera, the only Hellenic city in that part of
the island, and being refused admission resumed their voyage. On their
way they took Hyccara, a petty Sicanian seaport, nevertheless at war
with Egesta, and making slaves of the inhabitants gave up the town
to the Egestaeans, some of whose horse had joined them; after which
the army proceeded through the territory of the Sicels until it
reached Catana, while the fleet sailed along the coast with the slaves
on board. Meanwhile Nicias sailed straight from Hyccara along the
coast and went to Egesta and, after transacting his other business and
receiving thirty talents, rejoined the forces. They now sold their
slaves for the sum of one hundred and twenty talents, and sailed round
to their Sicel allies to urge them to send troops; and meanwhile
went with half their own force to the hostile town of Hybla in the
territory of Gela, but did not succeed in taking it.
Summer was now over. The winter following, the Athenians at once
began to prepare for moving on Syracuse, and the Syracusans on their
side for marching against them. From the moment when the Athenians
failed to attack them instantly as they at first feared and
expected, every day that passed did something to revive their courage;
and when they saw them sailing far away from them on the other side of
Sicily, and going to Hybla only to fail in their attempts to storm it,
they thought less of them than ever, and called upon their generals,
as the multitude is apt to do in its moments of confidence, to lead
them to Catana, since the enemy would not come to them. Parties also
of the Syracusan horse employed in reconnoitring constantly rode up to
the Athenian armament, and among other insults asked them whether they
had not really come to settle with the Syracusans in a foreign country
rather than to resettle the Leontines in their own.
Aware of this, the Athenian generals determined to draw them out
in mass as far as possible from the city, and themselves in the
meantime to sail by night alongshore, and take up at their leisure a
convenient position. This they knew they could not so well do, if they
had to disembark from their ships in front of a force prepared for
them, or to go by land openly. The numerous cavalry of the
Syracusans (a force which they were themselves without) would then
be able to do the greatest mischief to their light troops and the
crowd that followed them; but this plan would enable them to take up a
position in which the horse could do them no hurt worth speaking of,
some Syracusan exiles with the army having told them of the spot
near the Olympieum, which they afterwards occupied. In pursuance of
their idea, the generals imagined the following stratagem. They sent
to Syracuse a man devoted to them, and by the Syracusan generals
thought to be no less in their interest; he was a native of Catana,
and said he came from persons in that place, whose names the Syracusan
generals were acquainted with, and whom they knew to be among the
members of their party still left in the city. He told them that the
Athenians passed the night in the town, at some distance from their
arms, and that if the Syracusans would name a day and come with all
their people at daybreak to attack the armament, they, their
friends, would close the gates upon the troops in the city, and set
fire to the vessels, while the Syracusans would easily take the camp
by an attack upon the stockade. In this they would be aided by many of
the Catanians, who were already prepared to act, and from whom he
himself came.

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