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3. Son of Hanno, commander, together with Hannibal, the son of Gisco, in the great Carthaginian expedition to Sicily, B. C. 406. His father is probably the same Hanno mentioned by Justin (19.2) among the sons of Hamilcar, in which case Himilco and Hannibal were first cousins. Diodorus (13.80) expressly states them to have been of the same family. It was probably this relationship that induced the Carthaginians, when Hannibal manifested some reluctance to undertake the command of a new expedition, to associate Himilco with him. The forces placed under their joint command amounted, according to Timaeus and Xenophon, to 120,000 men: Ephorus, with his usual exaggeration, stated them at 300,000. (Diod. 13.80; Xen. Hell. 1.5.21.) With this great army the two generals formed the siege of Agrigentum, and directed their attacks against it on several points at once. In the course of the works they constructed for this purpose, they destroyed many sepulchres, a circumstance to which the superstitious fears of the multitude attributed a pestilence that broke out in the camp soon afterwards, and which carried off many victims, Hannibal among the rest. Himilco, now left sole general, after attempting to relieve the religious apprehensions of his soldiers by propitiatory sacrifices, continued to press the siege with vigour. The arrival of Daphnaeus with a body of Syracusan and other auxiliaries for a time changed the face of affairs, and Himilco was even blockaded in his camp, and reduced to great straits for want of provisions; but having, with the assistance of his fleet, intercepted a Syracusan convoy, he was relieved from this difficulty, and soon recovered the advantage. The famine, which now made itself felt in its turn in the besieged city, the dissensions of the Sicilian generals, and the incapacity or treachery of some among them, at length led to the abandonment of Agrigentum, of which Himilco thus became master, after a siege protracted for nearly eight months. (Diod. 13.80-89; Xen. Hell. 1.5.21, 2.2.24.) Here he took up his quarters for the winter, and in the spring of 405 advanced against Gela, to which he laid siege. Dionysius, then just established as tyrant of Syracuse, led a large force to its relief, but was defeated in the first encounter, on which he at once withdrew, taking with him the whole population, not only of Gela, but of Camarina also. The cities, thus abandoned, naturally fell, without a struggle, into the hands of Himilco; but of his farther operations we know nothing, except that a pestilence broke out in his army, which led him to make offers of peace to the Syracusans. These were gladly accepted, and the terms of the treaty were highly advantageous to Carthage, which retained, in addition to its former possessions, Selinus, Himera, and Agrigentum, besides which Gela and Camarina were to pay her tribute, and remain unfortified. (Diod. 13.91, 108-114.)

Himilco now returned to Africa, but his army carried with it the seeds of pestilence, which quickly spread from the soldiers to the inhabitants, and committed dreadful ravages, which appear to have extended through a period of several years. Carthage was thus sorely weakened, and wholly unprepared for war, when, in 397, Dionysius, who had spent several years in preparations, sent a herald to declare war in form against the Carthaginians. They were thus unable to prevent his victorious progress from one end of the island to the other, or even to avert the fall of Motya, their chief, and almost their last, strong-hold in Sicily. All that Himilco, who still held the chief command, and who was about this time advanced to the voluntary dignity of king or suffete (Diod. 14.54), could do, was to attempt the destruction of Dionysius's fleet, by attacking it suddenly with 100 triremes, when most of the ships were drawn up on shore ; but foiled in this, he was obliged to return to Africa. Meanwhile, however, he had been actively engaged in preparations, and by the following spring (B. C. 396), he had assembled a numerous fleet and' a army of 100,000 men, with which he landed at Panormus, though not without heavy loss, having been attacked on the voyage by Leptines, and many of his ships sunk. But once arrived in Sicily, he quickly regained the advantage, recovered possession of Eryx and Motya, and corpelled Dionysius to fall back towards the eastern side of the island, on which the Sicanians immediately declared in favour of Carthage.

Thus again master of the western part of Sicily, Himilco advanced along the north coast both with his fleet and army; and having effected his march without opposition as far as Messana, surprised that city during the absence of most of the inhabitants, and levelled it to the ground; after which he directed his march southwards, against Syracuse itself. Dionysius had advanced with a large army to meet him, but the defection of his Sicilian allies, and the total defeat of his fleet by that of the Carthaginians under Mago, excited his apprehensions for the safety of Syracuse, and he hastened to shut himself up with his army within the walls of that city. Himilco, thus finding no enemy to oppose him in the field, advanced at once with his army to the very gates of Syracuse, and encamped on the same ground previously occupied by the Athenians under Nicias, while his fleet of 208 triremes, besides a countless swarm of transports, occupied, and almost filled, the great port. For 30 days Himilco ravaged the neighbouring country unopposed, and repeatedly offered battle to the Syracusans; but though he made himself master of one of the suburbs, he does not appear to have made any vigorous attacks on the city itself. Meanwhile, a fever, caused by the marshy nature of the ground in which he was encamped and the great heat of the summer, broke out in his army, and soon assumed the character of a malignant pestilence. This visitation was attributed by the Greeks to the profanation of their temples; and Dionysius took advantage of the confidence thus inspired to make a sudden attack upon the Carthaginian camp both by sea and land, which proved completely successful; a great part of their fleet was either sunk, burnt, or captured; and Himilco, despairing of retrieving his fortune, immediately sent proposals to Dionysius for a secret capitulation, by which he himself, together with the native Carthaginians under his command, should be permitted to depart unmolested, on payment of a sum of 300 talents. These terms were gladly accepted by the Syracusans, and Himilco made his escape under cover of the night, leaving all the forces of his allies and mercenary troops at the mercy of Dionysius. But though lie thus secured his personal safety, as well as that of the Carthaginian citizens in his army, a termination at once so ignominions and so disastrous to a campaign that had promised so much, caused him, on his return to Carthage, to be overwhelmed with obloquy, until at length unable to bear the weight of odium that he had incurred, he put an end to his life by abstinence. (Diod. 14.41, 47-76; Just. 19.2.)

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hide References (11 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (11):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.108
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.80
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.89
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.91
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.47
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.76
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 13.114
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.41
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.54
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 1.5.21
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 2.2.24
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