about the same time, when in the citadel of Tarentum scarcity was barely endurable, the Roman garrison posted there and Marcus Livius, the commander of the garrison and citadel, had all their hopes in supplies sent from Sicily;
and that these might safely pass along the coast of Italy, a fleet of about twenty ships lay at anchor at Regium.
commanding the fleet and in charge of supplies was Decimus Quinctius, a man of unknown family, but made famous as a soldier by many brave deeds. at first only five ships, of which the largest were two [p. 147]
triremes, had been assigned to him by Marcellus.
later, as he repeatedly showed energy, three quinqueremes were added. finally by personally demanding from the allies and from Regium and Velia and
the ships due under the treaty, he formed a fleet of twenty ships, as has been said above. this fleet had sailed from Regium when Democrates with an equal number of Tarentine ships met it off Sapriportis,2
about fifteen miles from the city.
at that time the Roman, as it happened, was approaching under sail, not foreseeing an impending battle.
but in the neighbourhood of Croton and Sybaris3
he had fully manned the ships with oarsmen, and had a fleet remarkably equipped and armed considering the size of the ships. and it happened then that about the same time the wind dropped entirely and the enemy came in
sight, with the result that time enough was left to take down the rigging4
and to get the oarsmen and soldiers ready for the battle that was imminent. seldom have regular fleets ever clashed with such spirit, since they were fighting for a greater issue than themselves.
the Tarentines, having regained their city from the Romans after almost a hundred years,5
fought to free the citadel as well, in the hope that they would cut off the enemy's supplies also, if by a naval battle they should deprive them of their command of the sea;
the Romans, in order to show by keeping their hold upon the citadel that Tarentum had been lost, not by force and courage, but by treachery and a surprise.
accordingly after the signal had been given on [p. 149]
both sides, and they had encountered each other6
with their beaks and did not reverse their motion with oars nor allow the enemy to cast loose from them, a commander closing in on a ship would throw grappling —irons7
on it, and they engaged in a battle at such close quarters that they fought not only with missiles, but also with swords, almost man to man. the bows in contact could not detach themselves, the sterns were swung about by the efforts of the enemy's
oarsmen. so closely massed together were the ships that hardly a missile fell without effect between them into the sea. forming each a front, like a battle —line on land, they tried to push each other back, and the ships were a highway for the
combatants. conspicuous, however, among all the rest was the battle between the two ships which had encountered each other at the head of the
columns. on the Roman ship was Quinctius himself, on the Tarentine was Nico, surnamed Perco, who hated the Romans and was hated by them with a hatred that was not only national but also personal, because he was of the party which had betrayed Tarentum to Hannibal. as Quinctius was fighting and at the same time encouraging his men, Nico ran him through with a spear while off his
guard. when Quinctius with his weapons fell forward over the bow, the victorious Tarentine boldly crossed over on to the ship thrown into confusion by the loss of its
commander; and when he had driven the enemy back, and the bow was now in the hands of the Tarentines, while the Romans, massed together, were vainly defending the stern, suddenly another trireme of the enemy also appeared
astern. Thus the Roman ship was caught between them and captured. [p. 151]
consequently alarm was inspired on the rest of the ships8
when they saw the flagship captured. and as they fled in all directions, some were sunk in open water, others were quickly rowed to the shore and presently fell a prey to the men of Thurii9
Metapontum. of the transports, which were following with the supplies, very few fell into the power of the enemy. the rest shifted their sails obliquely, now this way, now that, according to the variable winds, and put out to sea.
by no means so successful10
was the fighting at Tarentum during those
days. for while about four thousand men who had gone out to get grain were roaming
about the country, Livius, who was in command of the citadel and the Roman garrison, was alert for every opportunity of an engagement. he sent out from the citadel Gaius Persius, an active man, with two thousand five hundred armed
men. after Persius, attacking men widely dispersed over the farms and wandering about, had for a long time been slaying them everywhere, he drove the few survivors into the city, as in their excited flight they dashed into the half —opened gates. and by that same onslaught the city was all but taken. Thus were issues balanced near Tarentum, the Romans being victors on land, the Tarentines on the
sea. the hope of grain —a hope which had been very real —was equally illusory for both sides.