After the return of Gaius Laelius from Africa Scipio was spurred on by Masinissa's encouragement, and the soldiers seeing booty from the land of the enemy being brought ashore from an entire fleet, were likewise fired with a desire to cross over as soon as possible. The greater design, however, was interrupted by a lesser, that of recovering the city of Locri, which in the rebellion of Italy had also gone over to the Carthaginians.1
Bright hopes of accomplishing that purpose, moreover, arose from a petty circumstance. There was brigandage rather than normal war operations in the country of the Bruttii, where a beginning had been made by the Numidians, and the Bruttians fell in with that practice not more on account of their Punic alliance than of their own nature.
Finally the Roman soldiers also from a kind of infection now delighted in plunder, making raids upon the enemy's farms just as far as their commanders permitted.
They had overpowered certain Locrians straying from the city and had carried them off to Regium. In the number of these captives were some artisans who, as it happened, were in the habit of plying their trade for hire among the Carthaginians in the citadel of Locri.
These men were recognized by leading Locrians who, on being driven out by the opposing party, which had surrendered Locri to Hannibal, had retired to Regium. On being asked the questions usually put by men long absent, the artisans first [p. 231]
told them what was going on at home, and then2
inspired the hope that, if ransomed and sent back, they would betray the citadel to them.
It was there, they said, that they dwelt and among the Carthaginians were trusted in everything.
Accordingly the leading men, being tormented by home-sickness and at the same time fired with a desire for vengeance on their enemies, at once ransomed the artisans and sent them back after agreeing upon a plan of action and signals for the display of which in the distance they should be on the watch.
They themselves went to Scipio at Syracuse, with whom were some of the exiles. There they reported the promises of the captives and inspired in the consul a hope which gave good prospect of success.
Consequently Marcus Sergius and Publius Matienus, tribunes of the soldiers, were sent with them and ordered to take three thousand soldiers from Regium to Locri. And a written order was sent to the propraetor3
Quintus Pleminius to assist in carrying out the project.
Setting out from Regium, carrying ladders constructed for the height of the citadel as reported, about midnight they set a signal4
for the betrayers of the citadel from the place agreed upon.
These men were ready and alert, and after they on their part also had lowered ladders made for that very purpose and at several different places at the same time had admitted scaling parties, before any outcry could arise came the attack upon the Carthaginian guards, who in the absence of any such fear naturally were asleep.
At first it was the groans of the dying indistinctly heard; then sudden terror on awaking, and confused action, since the reason was unknown; finally greater certainty as they awakened [p. 233]
By this time every man was shouting5
his loudest “To arms!” that enemies were on the citadel and guards being cut down. And the Romans, who were by no means equal in numbers, would have been overpowered, had not an outcry raised by the men who were outside the citadel made it uncertain from what quarter the sounds came, while everything they imagined was intensified by the uproar in the dark.
Accordingly the Carthaginians, supposing the citadel to be already filled with the enemy, were terrified, gave up fighting and fled to the other citadel; for there are two not far apart.
The inhabitants were holding the city, set between combatants as a prize for the victors. From the two citadels came slight engagements every day.
Quintus Pleminius commanded the Roman, Hamilcar the Carthaginian garrison. Summoning reinforcements from neighbouring places they kept increasing their numbers.
Finally Hannibal himself was on the way, and the Romans would not have held out if the mass of the Locrians, embittered by the arrogance and greed of the Carthaginians, had not taken the side of the Romans.