Marcellus marched with his entire forces against Leontini, having sent for Appius also, in order that he might [p. 932]
attack it in another quarter; when, such was the ardour of the troops in consequence of the indignation they felt at the Roman guard's being put to the sword during the negotiations for a peace, that they took the town by storm on the first assault.
Hippocrates and Epicydes, perceiving that the enemy were getting possession of the walls and breaking open the gates, retired with a few others into the citadel, from which they fled unobserved during the night to Herbessus.
The Syracusans, who had marched from home with eight thousand troops, were met at the river Myla by a messenger, who informed them that the city was taken.
The rest which he stated was a mixture of truth and falsehood; he said that there had been an indiscriminate massacre of the soldiers and the townsmen, and that he did not think that one person who had arrived at puberty had survived;
that the town had been pillaged, and the property of the rich men given to the troops.
On receiving such direful news the army halted; and while all were under violent excitement, the generals, Sosis and Dinomenes, consulted together as to the course to be taken.
The scourging and beheading of two thousand deserters had given to this false statement a plausibility which excited alarm; but no violence was offered to any of the Leontine or other soldiers after the city was taken;
and every man's property was restored to him, with the exception only of such as was destroyed in the first confusion which attended the capture of the city.
The troops, who complained of their fellow-soldiers having been betrayed and butchered, could neither be induced to proceed to Leontini, nor wait where they were for more certain intelligence. The praetors, perceiving their minds disposed to mutiny, but concluding that their violence would not be of long continuance, if
those who had led them on to such folly were removed, led the troops to Megara, whence they themselves with a few horsemen proceeded to Herbessus, under the expectation of having the city betrayed to them in the general consternation;
but being disappointed in this attempt, they resolved to resort to force, and moved their camp from Megara on the following day, in order to attack Herbessus with all their forces.
Hippocrates and Epicydes having formed the design of putting themselves into the hands of the soldiers, who were for the most part accustomed to them, and were now incensed at the report of the [p. 933]
massacre of their comrades, not so much as a safe measure on the first view of it as that it was their only course, now that all hope was cut off, went out to meet the army.
It happened that the troops which marched in the van were six hundred Cretans, who had been engaged in the service of Hieronymus under their command, and were under obligation to Hannibal, having been captured at the Trasimenus among the Roman auxiliaries, and dismissed by him.
Hippocrates and Epicydes, recognising them by their standards and the fashion of their armour, held out olive branches, and the fillets usually worn by suppliants, and implored them to receive them into their ranks, protect them when received, and not betray them to the Syracusans, by whom they themselves would soon be delivered up to the Romans to be butchered.