Before he attacked Epipolae, Demosthenes wished to try what could be done with engines1
against the counter-wall. But the engines which he brought up were burnt by the enemy, who fought from the wall, and, after making assaults at several points, the Athenian forces were repulsed. He now determined to delay no longer, and persuaded Nicias and his colleagues to carry out the plan of attacking Epipolae.
To approach during the daytime and ascend the heights undetected appeared to be impossible; so he resolved to attack by night. He ordered provisions for five days, and took with him all the masons and carpenters in the army; also a supply of arrows and of the various implements which would be required for siege-works if he were victorious. About the first watch he, Eurymedon, and Menander led out the whole army and marched towards Epipolae.
Nicias was left in the Athenian fortifications. Reaching Epipolae at the Euryelus, where their first army had originally ascended2
, and advancing undiscovered by the garrison to the fort which the Syracusans had there erected, they took it and killed some of the guards.
But the greater number made good their escape and carried the news to the three fortified camps, one of the Syracusans, one of the other Sicilian Greeks, and one of the allies, which had been formed on Epipolae; they also gave the alarm to the six hundred who were an advanced guard stationed on this part of Epipolae3
. They hastened to meet the enemy, but Demosthenes and the Athenians came upon them and, in spite of a vigorous resistance, drove them back.
The Athenians immediately pressed forward; they were determined not to lose a moment or to slacken their onset until they had accomplished their purpose. Others captured the first part of the Syracusan counter-wall and, the guards taking to flight, began to drag off the battlements. Meanwhile the Syracusans, the allies, and Gylippus with his own troops, were hurrying from the outworks.
The boldness of this night attack quite amazed them. They had not recovered from their terror when they met the Athenians, who were at first too strong for them and drove them back. But now the conquerors, in the confidence of victory, began to fall into disorder as they advanced;
they wanted to force their way as quickly as they could through all that part of the enemy which had not yet fought, and they were afraid that if they relaxed their efforts the Syracusans might rally. The Boeotians were the first to make a stand: they attacked the Athenians, turned, and put them to flight.