Story of Carthage - Alfred J. Church

The Last Struggle with Dionysius

The power of Carthage was now limited to a small region in the western part of the island. But she was not content to remain within these borders; and she seized the first opportunity of seeking to extend them. Dionysius had set himself to reduce the native tribes—always hostile to the Greeks, and always ready to swell the forces of an invader. The Sikels (there were two tribes of the natives, Sikels and Sikanians) had established a new settlement at Tauromenium. Dionysius did his utmost to capture this place, but was repulsed with much loss, and was himself wounded. Some of the Greek cities now threw off their allegiance; and the Sikels generally rose against him. The general in command of the Carthaginian districts—Mago by name—who had been doing his best to make himself popular among subjects and neighbours, at once took the field, and ventured to march as far eastward as Messana. Dionysius encountered him on his way back, and after a fierce battle defeated him, Mago losing as many as 8000 in the struggle. Carthage, however, was now beginning to recover her strength; and was resolved to make another effort to regain, at least, part of the island. She drew from her usual recruiting grounds—Africa, Sardinia, and Italy—a force of 80,000 men, and sent it into Sicily, with Mago again in command. Mago marched through the country of the native tribes, calling them all to take up arms against Dionysius, but failed with one at least of the most powerful chiefs. Receiving this check he halted. Meanwhile, Dionysius had collected a force of 20,000; with this he marched against the invaders, and making common cause with the Sikel chiefs, soon reduced them to extremities. The battle which Mago wished to force on him, and which some of his own followers desired, he declined. The Carthaginians, encamped as they were in their enemies' country, found their supplies fall short, and were obliged to sue for peace. It was granted; but one of the conditions was that the Sikels, valuable allies in past time to Carthage, should now be subjects of Syracuse. So far the war ended in a distinct loss to the Phoenician power.

The next war seems to have been provoked by Dionysius. His position at Syracuse was now firmly established, and his power had steadily increased. He was now desirous to consolidate it by finally expelling his remaining rivals from the island. The dependencies of Carthage were, as usual, disaffected. Dionysius listened to their complaints, encouraged them to revolt, and received them into alliance with himself. Carthage sent embassies to complain of these proceedings, and receiving no redress, resolved upon war. Foreseeing that it would be a formidable undertaking, they made more than ordinary preparations. Besides hiring, as usual, a large force of mercenaries, they also raised a body of troops of their own citizens, a most uncommon circumstance, and indicating their sense that it was a critical time to which they had come. The war seems to have been carried on—why and how we do not very clearly know—both in Italy and Sicily. Of the operations in Italy we know little or nothing. In Sicily two great battles were fought. The first was at Cabala. In this Dionysius inflicted a severe defeat on his opponents, killing, it is said, more than 10,000, and taking as many as 5,000 prisoners. The survivors were compelled to take refuge on a height where there was no supply of water. Mago, the general, had fallen in the engagement. The Carthaginians began negotiations for peace. Dionysius replied that he would grant it only on these conditions, that they should evacuate all the towns in Sicily, and should pay an indemnity for the expenses of the war. The terms seemed harsh beyond endurance; but it was necessary to temporize. The generals in command replied that they were not competent to make so important a treaty on their own authority, especially as the surrender of Carthaginian towns was concerned. They must refer the matter to the authorities at home, and they begged for a few days' truce. This Dionysius readily granted. Meanwhile the Carthaginians prepared for resistance. They gave a magnificent funeral to the remains of Mago, and appointed his son, a mere youth in years but singularly able and brave, to take the command. Every hour of the time was spent in drilling the troops and making them ready to renew the war. When the truce expired, they marched out of their camp and offered battle to Dionysius. The engagement took place at Cronium, and ended in disaster to the Greeks. Dionysius commanded one wing, and his brother Leptines, of whom we have heard as admiral of the Syracusan fleet more than once before, led the other. Dionysius, who had the best troops of the army under him, was for a time successful; Leptines was defeated and slain. When his death became known throughout the army there was a general panic. The Carthaginians gave no quarter, and by the time that the darkness put an end to the pursuit, 14,000 Greeks, it is said, had perished. The Carthaginians, however, did not pursue their victory, but retired to Panormus. Anxious to secure what they could before fortune turned against them, they sent an embassy to Syracuse offering peace. Dionysius was glad to accept their terms. These were, that a thousand talents should be paid by way of indemnity, and that Carthage should have, besides their own towns, Selinus and its territory, and all that had belonged to Agrigentum west of the Halycus.

This treaty was kept for fifteen years. Then Dionysius saw another opportunity of attacking his old enemy, Carthage was again suffering from the evils which seem to have troubled her over and over again—pestilence, and revolt among her African subjects. On the ground that the Carthaginians had trespassed beyond their boundaries, he marched into their territory with an army of 38,000 infantry and 3,000 horse. Selinus, Entellus, and Eryx, either were conquered or capitulated; and he then laid siege to Lilybaeum, a flourishing port near the promontory of that name. At first he pressed the siege with vigour, but found that the place was too strongly garrisoned to be soon taken. Then came news that the docks at Carthage had been burnt. Thinking that all the enemy's fleet must have perished, he sent many of his own ships home, keeping a squadron of 130 at Eryx. The Carthaginians, who seem not to have suffered so much as had been thought, manned two hundred ships and sent them to Sicily. The Greek admiral was taken by surprise, and lost more than half his squadron. As winter was now approaching a truce was concluded. Before the time for another campaign had come, Dionysius was dead.

He died, it was said, from the effects of a banquet which he had given to celebrate the success of one of his tragedies in a competition at Athens. An oracle had told him that he should die when he got the better of them that were better than he. He had understood this to mean the Carthaginians, and, says the historian, somewhat absurdly, had always been careful not to push too far his victories over them. But the real meaning of the prophecy was quite different. He was a bad poet, and yet, by the verdict of flattering judges, was judged to be better than poets who were really better than he. When his tragedy was successful, the oracle was fulfilled, and he died.

The war was not finished by his death, but nothing more of much consequence seems to have happened About a year afterwards peace was concluded, and for the next twenty years the "story of Carthage" is almost a blank.