This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
During this period the privations of the Roman garrison in the citadel of Tarentum had become almost insupportable; the men and their commandant M. Livius placed all their hopes in the arrival of supplies sent from Sicily.  To secure a safe passage for these along the coast of Italy, a squadron of about twenty vessels was stationed at Regium. The fleet and the transports were under the command of D. Quinctius.  He was a man of humble birth, but his many deeds of gallantry had gained him a high military reputation.  He had only five ships to begin with, the largest of these-two triremes-had been assigned to him by Marcellus; subsequently, owing to the effective use he made of these, three quinqueremes were [5??] added to his command, and at last, by compelling the allied cities, Regium, Velliea and Paestum to furnish the ships which they were bound by treaty to supply, he made up the above-mentioned squadron of twenty vessels.  As this fleet was setting out from Regium, and was opposite Sapriportis, a place about fifteen miles from Tarentum, it fell in with a Tarentine fleet, also of twenty ships, under the command of Democrates.  The Roman commander, not anticipating a fight, had all sail set; he had, however, got together his full complement of rowers while he was in the neighbourhood of Croton and Sybaris, and his fleet was excellently equipped and manned, considering the size of the vessels.  It so happened that the wind completely died down just as the enemy came into sight, and there was ample time to lower the sails and get the rowers and soldiers into readiness for the approaching conflict.  Seldom have two regular fleets gone into action with such determination as these small flotillas, for they were fighting for larger issues than their own success.  The Tarentines hoped that as they had already recovered their city from the Romans after the lapse of nearly a century, so they might now rescue their citadel, by cutting off the enemy's supplies after they had deprived them of the mastery of the sea.  The Romans were eager to show, by retaining their hold on the citadel, that Tarentum had not been lost in fair fight.  but by a foul and treacherous stroke. So, when the signal was given on each side, they rowed with their prows straight at each other; there was no backing or maneuvering, nor did they let go of any ship when once they had grappled and boarded. They fought at such close quarters that they not only discharged missiles, but even used their swords in hand-to-hand fighting.  The prows were locked together and remained so while the hinder part of the vessel was pushed about by the oars of hostile ships. The vessels were so crowded together that hardly any missile failed to reach its aim or fell into the water.  They pressed forward front to front like a line of infantry, and the combatants made their way from ship to ship.  Conspicuous amongst all was the fight between the two ships which had led their respective lines and were the first to engage. Quinctius himself was in the Roman ship, and in the Tarentine vessel was a man named Nico Perco, who hated the Romans for private as well as public grounds, and who was equally hated by them, for he was one of the party who betrayed Tarentum to Hannibal.  Whilst Quinctius was fighting and encouraging his men, Nico took him unawares and ran him through with his spear.  He fell headlong over the prow, and the victorious Tarentine springing on to the ship dislodged the enemy, who were thrown into confusion by the loss of their leader.  The foreship was now in the hands of the Tarentines, and the Romans in a compact body were with difficulty defending the hinder part of the vessel, when another of the hostile triremes suddenly appeared astern. Between the two the Roman ship was captured.  The sight of the admiral's ship in the enemy's hands created a panic, and the remainder of the fleet fled in all directions; some were sunk, others were hurriedly rowed to land and were seized by the people of Thurium and Metapontum. Very few of the transports which were following with supplies fell into the enemy's hands; the rest, shifting their sails to meet the changing winds, were carried out to sea.  An affair took place at Tarentum during this time which led to a very different result.  A foraging force of 4000 Tarentines were dispersed through the fields, and Livius, the Roman commandant, who was always looking out for a chance of striking a blow, sent C. Persius, an able and energetic officer, with 2500 men from the citadel to attack them.  He fell upon them while they were dispersed in scattered groups all through the fields, and after inflicting great and widespread slaughter, drove the few who escaped in headlong flight through their half-opened gates into the town. So matters were equalised as far as Tarentum was concerned; the Romans were victorious by land, and the Tarentines by sea.  Both were alike disappointed in their hopes of obtaining the corn which had been within their view.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.
An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.