But at this juncture, as it is said, certain soldiers in the Cerameicus1
overheard some old men talking with one another, and abusing the tyrant because he did not guard the approaches to the wall at the Heptachalcum,2
at which point alone it was possible and easy for the enemy to get over. When this was reported to Sulla, he did not make light of it, but went thither by night, and after seeing that the place could be taken, set himself to the work.
And Sulla himself says, in his Memoirs, that Marcus Ateius was the first man to mount the wall, and that when an enemy confronted him, he gave him a downward cut on the helmet with his sword, and shattered the weapon; he did not, however, yield ground, but remained and held his own. At any rate, the city was taken at this point, as the oldest Athenians used to testify.3
And Sulla himself, after he had thrown down and levelled with the ground the wall between the Pira[iuml ]c and the Sacred Gate, led his army into the city at midnight. The sight of him was made terrible by blasts of many trumpets and bugles, and by the cries and yells of the soldiery now let loose by him for plunder and slaughter, and rushing through the narrow streets with drawn swords. There was therefore no counting of the slain, but their numbers are to this day determined only by the space that was covered with blood.
For without mention of those who were killed in the rest of the city, the blood that was shed in the market-place covered all the Cerameicus inside the Dipylon gate; nay, many say that it flowed through the gate and deluged the suburb. But although those who were thus slain were so many, there were yet more who slew themselves, out of yearning pity for their native city, which they thought was going to be destroyed. For this conviction made the best of them give up in despair and fear to survive, since they expected no humanity or moderation in Sulla.
However, partly at the instance of the exiles Meidias and Calliphon, who threw themselves at his feet in supplication, and partly because all the Roman senators who were in his following interceded for the city, being himself also by this time sated with vengeance, after some words in praise of the ancient Athenians, he said that he forgave a few for the sake of many, the living for the sake of the dead.
He took Athens, as he says himself in his Memoirs, on the Calends of March,4
a day which corresponds very nearly with the first of the month Anthesterion. In this month, as it happens, the Athenians perform many rites commemorating the destruction and devastation caused by the flood, believing that the ancient deluge5
occurred at about this time.
On the capture of the town, the tyrant took refuge in the acropolis, and was besieged there by Curio, who was appointed to this task. He held out for a considerable time, but was driven by the pangs of thirst to give himself up. And the Deity at once gave a manifest token in the matter; for at the very hour of the day when Curio brought his prisoner down, clouds gathered in an open sky, and a quantity of rain fell and filled the acropolis with water. Not long after, Sulla took the Piraeus also, and burnt most of it, including the arsenal of Philo,6
a marvellous work.