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578

UNIVERSAL HISTORY-THE ANCIENT WORLD.

attempt to take Epipolae, but was repulsed. He then urged Nicias to

withdraw from his dangerous position in Great Harbor and retire to

Thapsus; but just as this movement was about to begin an eclipse of the

moon occurred, and the seers declared that the fleet must not leave its

moorings for a lunar month. (1) Their decision was complied with, and the

Syracusans, learning how matters stood, determined to make a league with

superstition and destroy the foe before the next full moon. They

accordingly blocked up the mouth of Great Harbor with a cordon of

galleys. So the Athenian squadron of one hundred and ten triremes was

cooped up, with no opportunity of escape except by battle.

It was, however, resolved to break through at all hazards. Accordingly,

on an appointed morning, the fleet of Nicias loosed its moorings and

proceeded to the attack. Nearly the whole population of the city lined

the shores of the bay. The larger part of the Athenian land-forces were

put on board of the ships, and the remainder looked on from the

fortifications. The attack was directed first against the line of galleys

by which the mouth of the harbor was blockaded. But the latter held their

position. Presently the whole armament on both sides was engaged, and for

some time the battle hung dubiously between the combatants. Then the

Athenians began to give way. Nearly a half of their vessels were

destroyed, and the rest driven back to the protection of the shore. The

victory was in every respect complete and overwhelming.

The Athenians were still about forty thousand strong. As soon as the

battle was decided, they determined, if possible, to escape from their

perilous position. The only course remaining was a retreat overland to

the shelter of some friendly town, where they might defend themselves

until succored by reinforcements. But instead of taking advantage of the

confusion of the first night after his defeat, Nicias waited till the

next; and the Syracusans thus found time to gather and fall upon the

retreating column. In the attempt to reach the coast, Demosthenes, who

commanded the rear division, was cut off, and after fighting until his

forces were greatly reduced, was obliged to surrender. Finally, Gylippus

overtook Nicias, who, with the army, now numbering no more than ten

thousand men, was still struggling to gain the coast. Arriving at the

river Erineus, they attempted to cross, but the enemy crowded them down

the banks and into the stream. All hope was abandoned. The army became a

disorganized mass and was forced to surrender at discretion. The

remainder of the fleet had been given up at the beginning of the retreat.

Not a vestige remained. No such complete destruction of an army and

squadron had ever been known. The prisoners were sent to work in the

stone-quarries, where, huddled together, driven to their tasks without

sufficient food, and exposed to the elements, they soon began to die of

exhaustion and pestilence, until the survivors sickened and fell over the

bodies of the dead. All were enslaved except the Athenians and the

Sicilian Greeks. Among these were many men of culture and refinement; and

a tradition recites that not a few of these gained the esteem of their

masters by enacting for them the plays of the Greek dramatists.

Demosthenes and Nicias were both condemned to death, the only favor shown

them being the concession of suicide instead of a public execution.

Soon after the appalling disaster just recorded, the news was carried

into Athens by a barber of Piraeus. So incredible appeared his story that

the authorities put him to the torture. Presently, however, straggling

fugitives began to arrive with confirmation of the awful intelligence.

The Athenians were first furious and then gave themselves up to despair.

It was seen at a glance that no power could much longer prevent the

capture of the city by the Lacedaemonians. Nevertheless the authorities

began to bestir themselves for the public defense. It was, however, the

misfortune of the city of Athens that military success was constantly

necessary to preserve the loyalty of her dependent cities and islands.

Whenever the tide turned against her, these dependencies would not only

abandon her interests, but enter into leagues for her destruction.

___________________ 1 This eclipse occurred August 27, B. C. 413.