While Marcellus was serving as consul for the fourth time,1
his enemies induced the Syracusans to come to Rome and accuse and denounce him before the senate for terrible wrongs which they had suffered contrary to the terms of surrender. It chanced, then, that Marcellus was performing a sacrifice on the Capitol, but, the senate being still in session, the Syracusans hurried before it and begged that they might have a hearing and justice.
The colleague of Marcellus tried to have them expelled, angrily explaining that Marcellus was not present; but Marcellus, when he heard of it, came at once. And first, sitting as consul in his curule chair, he transacted the routine business; then, when this was all ended, coming down from his curule chair and taking his stand as a private citizen in the place where men under accusation usually plead their cause, he gave the Syracusans opportunity to press their charge.
But they were terribly confounded by his dignity and confidence, and thought him yet more formidable and hard to confront in his robe of purple than he had been irresistible in arms. However, being encouraged by the rivals of Marcellus, they began their denunciation and rehearsed their demands for justice, which were mingled with much lamentation.
The gist of their plea was that, although they were allies and friends of the Romans, they had suffered at the hands of Marcellus what other generals allowed many of their enemies to escape. To this Marcellus made answer that in return for many injuries which they had done to the Romans, they had suffered nothing except what men whose city has been taken by storm in war cannot possibly be prevented from suffering; and that their city had been so taken was their own fault, because they had refused to listen to his many exhortations and persuasions.
For it was not by their tyrants that they had been forced into war, nay, they had elected those very tyrants for the purpose of going to war.
When the speeches were ended, and the Syracusans, as the custom was, withdrew from the senate, Marcellus went forth with them, after giving to his colleague the presidency of the senate, and lingered before the doors of the senate-house, allowing no change in his accustomed demeanour either because he feared the sentence, or was angry with the Syracusans, but with complete gentleness and decorum awaiting the issue of the case.
And when the votes had been cast, and he was proclaimed not guilty, the Syracusans fell at his feet, begging him with tears to remit his wrath against the embassy there present, and to take pity on the rest of the city, which always was mindful of favours conferred upon it and grateful for them. Marcellus, accordingly, relented, and was reconciled with the embassy, and to the rest of the Syracusans was ever afterwards constant in doing good.
The freedom, also, which he had restored to them, as well as their laws and what was left of their possessions, the senate confirmed to them. Wherefore Marcellus received many surpassing honours from them, and particularly they made a law that whenever he or any one of his descendants should set foot in Sicily, the Syracusans should wear garlands and sacrifice to the gods.