After the return of Caius Laelius from Africa, though Scipio was goaded on by the exhortations of Masinissa; and the soldiers, on seeing the booty which was taken from the enemy's country landed from the whole fleet, were inflamed with the strongest desire to cross over as soon as possible; this important object was interrupted by one of minor consideration, namely, that of regaining the town of Locri, which at the time of the general defection of Italy had itself also gone over to the Carthaginians.
The hope of accomplishing this object beamed forth from a very trifling circumstance. The war was carried on in Bruttium rather in a predatory than a regular manner, the Numidians having set the example, and the Bruttians falling in with that practice, not more in consequence of their connexion with the Carthaginians, than from their natural inclination.
At last the Romans also, who now took delight in plunder by a sort of infection, made excursions into the lands of their enemies so far as their leaders would permit it.
Some Locrians who had gone out of the town were surrounded by them and carried off to Rhegium. Among the number of the prisoners were certain artisans, who, as it happened, had been accustomed to work for the Carthaginians in the city of Locri for hire.
They were recognised by some of the Locrian nobles, who having been driven out by the opposite faction, which had delivered up Locri to Hannibal, had retired to Rhegium; and having answered their other questions relative to what was going on at home, questions which are usually put by such as have been long absent, they gave them hopes that, if ransomed and sent back, they might be able to deliver up the citadel to them;
for there they resided, and among the Carthaginians they enjoyed unlimited confidence.
Accordingly, as these nobles [p. 1240]
were at once tormented with a longing for their country, and inflamed with a desire to be revenged on their enemies, they immediately ransomed the prisoners and sent them back, after having settled the plan of operation, and agreed upon the signals which were to be given at a distance and observed by them.
They then went themselves to Scipio to Syracuse, with whom some of the exiles were;
and having, by relating to him the promises made by the prisoners, inspired the consul with hopes which seemed likely to be realized, Marcus Sergius and Publius Matienus, military tribunes, were sent with them, and ordered to lead three thousand soldiers from Rhegium to Locri. A letter was also written to Quintus Pleminius, the proprietor, with directions that he should assist in the business.
The troops, setting out from Rhegium and carrying with them ladders to suit the alleged height of the citadel, about midnight gave a signal to those who were to betray it from the place agreed upon.
The latter were ready and on the watch, and having themselves also lowered down ladders made for the purpose, and received the Romans as they climbed up in several places at once, an attack was made upon the Carthaginian sentinels, who were fast asleep, as they were not afraid of any thing of the kind before any noise was made.
Their dying groans were the first sound that was heard; then, awaking from their sleep, a sudden consternation and confusion followed, the cause of the alarm being unknown.
At length, one rousing another, the fact became more certain, and now every one shouted “To arms” with all his might; “that the enemy were in the citadel and the sentinels slain;” and the Romans, who were far inferior in numbers, would have been overpowered, had not a shout raised by those who were outside of the citadel rendered it uncertain whence the noise proceeded, while the terror of an alarm by night magnified all fears, however groundless.
The Carthaginians, therefore, terrified and supposing that the citadel was already filled with the enemy, gave up all thoughts of opposition and fled to the other citadel; for there were two at no great distance from each other.
The townsmen held the city, which lay between the two fortresses, as the prize of the victors.
Slight engagements took place daily from the two citadels. Quintus Pleminius commanded the Roman, Hamilcar the Carthaginian garrison. They augmented their [p. 1241]
forces by calling in aids from the neighbouring places.
At last Hannibal himself came; nor would the Romans have held out, had not the general body of the Locrians, exasperated by the pride and rapacity of the Carthaginians, leaned towards the Romans.