The severity of this punishment exasperated the inhabitants of two of the most distinguished Greek states in Italy, not only publicly as communities, but privately
as individuals, according as each was connected, either by relationship or friendship, with those who had been so disgracefully put to death.
Of these about thirteen noble Tarentine youths formed [p. 967]
a conspiracy, the chief of whom were Nico and Philemenus.
Concluding that it would be right to confer with Hannibal before they took any step, they went to him, having been allowed to go out of the city by night on pretence of hunting.
When they were now not far from the camp, all the rest hid themselves in a wood by the road side; but Nico and Philemenus, proceeding to the advanced guard, were seized, and at their own request brought before Hannibal. Having laid before him the motives of their plan, and the object they had in view, they received the highest commendation, and were loaded with promises; and that their countrymen might believe that they had gone out of the city to obtain plunder, they were desired to drive to the city some cattle of the Carthaginians which had been sent out to graze. A promise was given them that they might do this without danger or interruption.
The booty of the young men attracted notice, and less astonishment was therefore felt that they should frequently repeat the attempt.
At a second meeting with Hannibal they entered into a solemn engagement, that the Tarentines should be free, enjoying their own laws, and all their rights uninterfered with;
that they should neither pay any tribute to the Carthaginians, nor receive a garrison against their will; that their present garrison should be delivered up to the Carthaginians.
These points being agreed upon, Philemenus then began to repeat more frequently his customary practice of going out and returning to the city followed by his dogs, and furnished with the other requisites for hunting; for he was remarkable for his fondness of hunting; and generally bringing home something which he had captured or taken away from the enemy, who had purposely placed it in his way, he presented it to the commander or the guards of the gates.
They supposed that he preferred going and returning by night through fear of the enemy.
After this practice had become so familiar, that at whatever time of the night he gave a signal, by whistling, the gate was opened, Hannibal thought that it was now time to put the plan in execution.
He was at the distance of three days' journey, and to diminish the wonder which would be felt at his keeping his camp fixed in one and the same place so long, he feigned himself ill.
Even to the Romans who formed the garrison of Tarentum, his protracted inactivity had ceased to be an object of suspicion. [p. 968]