1. Son of Hermon, a Syracusan, and one of the most eminent citizens of that state at the time of the Athenian invasion. We have no account of his early life or rise, but his family must have been illustrious, for, according to Timaeus (apud Longin.
4.3; comp. also Plut. Nic. 1
), it claimed descent from the god Hermes, and it is evident that he was a person of consideration and influence in the state as early as B. C. 424, as he was one of the deputies sent by the Syracusans to the general congress of the Greek cities of Sicily, held at Gela in the summer of that year. Thucydides, who puts a long speech into his mouth on that occasion, ascribes mainly to his influence the resolution adopted by the assembled deputies to terminate the troubles of Sicily by a general peace. (Thuc. 4.58
; Timaeus, apud Polyb.
xii. Frag. Vat.
22.) In 415, when the news of the impending invasion from Athens came to be generally rife, though still discredited by many, Hermocrates again came forward to urge the truth of the rumour, and the necessity of immediate preparations for defence. (Thuc. 6.32
It does not appear that he at this time held any public situation or command; but in the following winter, after the first defeat of the Syracusans by the Athenians, he represented this disaster as owing to the too great number as well as insufficient authority of their generals, and thus induced them to appoint himself, together with Heracleides and Sicanus, to be commanders-inchief, with full powers. (Thuc. 6.72
; Plut. Nic. 16
; Diod. 13.4
; who, however, places their appointment too early.)
He was soon after sent to Camarina, to counteract the influence of the Athenian envoys, and gain the Camarinaeans to the alliance of Syracuse, but he only succeeded in inducing them to remain neutral. (Thuc. 6.75
According to Thucydides, Hermocrates had already given proofs of valour and ability in war, before his elevation to the command; but his first proceedings as a general were unsuccessful: his great object was to prevent the Athenians from making themselves masters of the heights of Epipolae, above the town, but they landed suddenly from Catana, carried the Epipolae by surprise, and commenced their lines of circumvallation. The Syracusans next, by the advice of Hermocrates, began to construct a cross wall, to interrupt the Athenian lines; but they were foiled in this project too: the Athenians attacked their counterwork, and destroyed it, while they themselves were repulsed in all their attacks upon the Athenian lines. Dispirited by their ill success, they laid the blame upon their generals, whom they deposed, and appointed three others in their stead. (Thuc. 6.96
The arrival of Gylippus soon after superseded the new generals, and gave a fresh turn to affairs; but Hermocrates, though now in a private situation, was not less active in the service of his country: we hear of his heading a chosen band of warriors in resisting the great night attack on the Epipolae, immediately after the arrival of Demosthenes (Diod. 13.11
): he is also mentioned as joining with Gylippus in urging the Syracusans to try their fortune again by sea, as well as by land: and when, after the final defeat and destruction of their fleets, the Athenian generals were preparing to retreat by land, it was Hermocrates who anticipated their purpose, and finding it impossible to induce his countrymen to march forth at once and occupy the passes, nevertheless succeeded, by an ingenious stratagem, in causing the Athenians themselves to defer their departure for two days, a delay which proved fatal to the whole army. (Thuc. 7.21
; Diod. 13.18
; Plut. Nic. 26
.) Thucydides makes no mention of the part taken by Hermocrates in regard to the Athenian prisoners, but both Diodorus and Plutarch represent him as exerting all his influence with his countrymen, though unsuccessfully, to save the lives of Nicias and Demosthenes.
According to a statement of Timaeus, preserved by the latter author, when he found all his efforts fruitless, he gave a private intimation to the two generals that they might anticipate the ignominy of a public execution by a voluntary death. (Diod. 13.19
; Plut. Nic. 28
After the destruction of the Athenian armament in Sicily, Hermocrates employed all his influence with his countrymen to induce them to support with vigour their allies the Lacedaemonians in the war in Greece itself.
But he only succeeded in prevailing upon them to send a squadron of twenty triremes (to which the Selinuntians added two more); and with this small force he himself, with two colleagues in the command, joined the Lacedaemonian fleet under Astyochus, before the close of the summer of 412. (Thuc. 8.26
; Diodorus, however, raises the number of the ships to thirty-five, 13.34.)
But, trifling as this succour appears, the Syracusan squadron bore an important part in many of the subsequent operations, and particularly in the action off Cynossema, in which it formed the right wing of the Lacedaemonian fleet; and though unable to prevent the defeat of its allies, escaped with the loss of only one ship. (Thuc. 8.104
; Diod. 13.39
It is probably of this action that Polybius was thinking, when he states (Frag. Vat.
12.23) that Hermocrates was present at the battle of Aegos Potamoi, which is clearly erroneous. During these services Hermocrates, we are told, conciliated in the highest degree the favour both of the allies and of his own troops; and acquired such popularity with the latter, that when (in 409 B. C.) news arrived that he as well as his colleagues had been sentenced to banishment by a decree of the Syracusan people, and new commanders appointed to replace them, the officers and crews of the squadron not only insisted on their retaining the command until the actual arrival of their successors, but many of them offered their services to Hermocrates to effect his restoration to his country.
He however urged the duty of obedience to the laws; and, after handing over the squadron to the new generals, repaired to Lacedaemon to counteract the intrigues of Tissaphernes, to whom he had given personal offence. From thence he returned to Asia, to the court of Pharnabazus, who furnished him with money to build ships and raise mercenary troops, for the purpose of effecting his return to Syracuse. (Xen. Hell. 1.1.27
; Thuc. 8.85
; Diod. 13.63
With a force of five triremes and 1000 soldiers, he sailed to Messana, and from thence in conjunction with the refugees from Himera, and, with the co-operation of his own party in Syracuse, attempted to bring about a revolution in that city.
But failing in that scheme, he hastened to Selinus, at this time still in ruins, after its destruction by the Carthaginians, rebuilt a part of the city, and collected thither its refugees from all parts of Sicily.
He thus converted it into a stroughold, from whence he carried on hostilities against the Carthaginian allies, laid waste the territories of Motya and Panormus, and defeated the Panormitans in a battle.
By these means he acquired great fame and popularity, which were still increased when in the following year (B. C. 407) he repaired to Himera, and finding that the bones of the Syracusans who had been slain in battle against the Carthaginians two years before still lay there unburied, caused them to be gathered up, and removed with all due funeral honours to Syracuse.
But, though the revulsion of feeling thus excited led to the banishment of Diocles, and other leaders of the opposite party yet the sentence of exile against Hermocrates still remained unreversed. Not long afterwards he appreached Syracuse with a considerable force, and was admitted by some of his friends into the city ; but was followed in the first instance only by a band, which the Syracusans no sooner discovered than they took up arms, and attacked and slew him, together with the greater part of his followers, before his troops could come to their assistance. (Diod. 13.63
The character of Hermocrates is one of the brightest and purest in the history of Syracuse; and the ancient republics present few more striking instances of moderation and wisdom, combined with the most steady patriotism; while his abilities, both as a statesman and a warrior, were such as to earn for him the praise of being ranked in after ages as on a level in these respects with Timoleon and Pyrrhus. (Polyb. Frag. Vat.
12.22.) We do not learn that Hermocrates left a son; his daughter was married, after his death, to the tyrant Dionysius. (Diod. 13.96
; Plut. Dion.