At the time when the circumvallation of Capua was carrying on with the greatest activity, the siege of Syracuse, which had been forwarded by intestine treachery, in addition to the efforts and bravery of the general and his army, was brought to a conclusion.
For in the beginning of spring, Marcellus being in doubt whether he should direct the operations of the war against Himilco and Hippocrates at Agrigentum, or press the siege of Syracuse;
though he saw that it was impossible to take the city by force, which, from its situation, both with respect to sea and land, was impregnable;
nor by famine, as it was supported by an uninterrupted supply of provisions from Carthage; yet that he might leave no course untried, directed the Syracusan deserters (and there were in the Roman camp some men in this situation of the highest [p. 990]
rank, who had been driven out of the city during the defection from the Romans, because they were averse to a change of measures) to sound the feelings of those who were of the same party in conferences, and to promise them, that if Syracuse was delivered up, they should have their liberty, and be governed by their own laws.
There was no opportunity, however, of having a conference; for as many were suspected of disaffection, the attention and observation of all were exerted, lest any thing of the kind should occur unknown to them.
One of the exiles, who was a servant, having been allowed to enter the city in the character of a deserter, assembled a few persons, and opened a conversation upon the subject. After this, certain persons, covering themselves with nets in a fishing smack, were in this way conveyed round to the Roman camp, and conferred with the fugitives.
The same was frequently repeated by different parties, one after another; and at last they amounted to eighty. But after every thing had been concerted for betraying the city, the plot was reported to Epicydes, by one Attalus, who felt hurt that he had not been intrusted with the secret; and they were all put to death with torture. This attempt having miscarried, another hope was immediately raised.
One Damippus, a Lacedaemonian, who had been sent from Syracuse to king Philip, had been taken prisoner by the Roman fleet.
Epicydes was particularly anxious to ransom this man above any other; nor was Marcellus disinclined to grant it; the Romans, even at this time, being desirous of gaining the friendship of the Aetolians, with whom the Lacedaemonians were in alliance.
Some persons having been sent to treat respecting his ransom, the most central and convenient place to both parties for this purpose appeared to be at the Trogilian port, near the tower called Galeagra.
As they went there several times, one of the Romans, having a near view of the wall, and having determined its height, as nearly as it could be done by conjecture, from counting the stones, and by forming an estimate, in his own mind, what was the height of each stone in the face of the work;
and having come to the conclusion that it was considerably lower than he himself and all the rest had supposed it, and that it was capable of being scaled with ladders of moderate size, laid the matter before Marcellus.
It appeared a thing not to be neglected; but as the spot could not be ap- [p. 991]
proached, being on this very account guarded with extraordinary care, a favourable opportunity of doing it was sought for.
This a deserter suggested, who brought intelligence that the Syracusans were celebrating the festival of Diana; that it was to last three days, and that as there was a deficiency of other things during the siege, the feasts would be more profusely celebrated with wine, which was furnished by Epicydes to the people in general, and distributed through the tribes by persons of distinction.
When Marcellus had received this intelligence, he communicated it to a few of the military tribunes; then having selected, through their means, such centurions and soldiers as had courage and energy enough for so important an enterprise, and having privately gotten together a number of scaling-ladders, he directed that a signal should be given to the rest of the troops to take their refreshment, and go to rest early, for they were to go upon an expedition that night.
Then the time, as it was supposed, having arrived, when, after having feasted from the middle of the day, they would have had their fill of wine, and have begun to sleep, he ordered the soldiers of one company to proceed with the ladders, while about a thousand armed men were in silence marched to the spot in a slender column.
The foremost having mounted the wall, without noise or confusion, the others followed in order; the boldness of the former inspiring even the irresolute with courage.