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Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Timoleon

TIMOLEON.The life of Timoleon, one of the noblest and most interesting of the men of old Greece, is closely bound up with the history of Sicily (q.v.), and more particularly of Syracuse (q.v.), in the latter half of the 4th century B.C. It is as the champion of Greece against Carthage, and of constitutional government against violence and oppression, that he stands out as such a grand figure. His early career in his native Corinth was shaped by a tragic incident. Timoleon had saved the life of his brother, Timophanes, on the field of battle; but, when that same brother, at the head of a band of mercenary soldiers, took possession of the acropolis and made himself practically a military despot and master of the city, Timoleon, after an ineffectual protest, let him be struck down by his brother-in-law and one or two other friends who had joined in his remonstrance. By the public opinion of Corinth generally his conduct was approved as patriotic; but the curses of his mother and the cold looks of some of his kinsfolk and acquaintances drove him from the city into the solitude of the fields, and there, it would seem, for some years he pined away, hating life and even bent on ending it by voluntary starvation. He must have reached middle life when, in 344 B.C., envoys came from Syracuse to Corinth to appeal to the mother-city for relief from the intestine feuds and foreign mercenaries under which the Syracusans, and all the Greeks of Sicily, suffered. Carthage too, their old and bitter foe, after some years of quiet, was again bestirring herself and intriguing with the local des pots. Corinth could not refuse her help, though her chief citizens declined the responsibility of attempting to establish a settled government in the factious and turbulent Syracuse. By a sort of Divine inspiration, says Plutarch (Tim., 3), Timoleon, being named by an unknown voice in the popular assembly, was chosen by a unanimous vote to undertake the mission. He sailed for Sicily with a few of the leading citizens of Corinth and a small troop of Greek mercenaries. On arriving at Rhegium he found that his movements were watched by a Carthaginian squadron, acting under the advice of a Syracusan, Hicetas, who had made himself master of Leontini and aimed at supplanting with Carthaginian aid the younger Dionysius, still nominally tyrant of Syracuse, but actually in possession only of the island citadel. Hicetas, whilst seeming to favour Corinthian intervention, was really working with Carthage on behalf of the tyrants. Timoleon, however, slipped away from the Carthaginian watch and landed at Tauromenium (Taormina), where he had a very friendly reception. At Adranum, an inland town, to which he came by invitation from a party among the citizens, he surprised Hicetas, and drove him back, with his troops utterly defeated, to Syracuse. The Sicilian Greeks now rallied round him, and the following year (343) saw the surrender of Dionysius and Timoleon master of the entire city. Hailed by the citizens as a heaven-sent deliverer, he at once began the work of restoration, bringing in a multitude of new settlers from the mother-city and from Greece generally, and establishing a popular government on the basis of the laws of Diocles, which had been forgotten under the Dionysian regime. The impress of Timoleon's reforms seems to have lasted to the days of Augustus. The tyrants, too, in the other Sicilian cities were put down, and his old enemy Hicetas went back to Leontini, where he lived as a private though powerful citizen. He made one more attempt to overthrow Timoleon, and induced Carthage to send (340-339) a great army, which landed at Lilybaeum (Marsala). The Syracusans could hardly be brought to face the invader; but with a miscellaneous levy of about 12,000 men, most of them mercenaries, Timoleon marched westwards across the island into the neighbourhood of Selinus and won a great and decisive victory on the Crimisus. The Carthaginian host is said to have outnumbered Timoleon's army in the proportion of seven to one. The general himself led on his infantry in person (Plut., Tim., 27), and their enemy's dis comfiture was completed by a blinding storm of rain and hail driven straight in their faces (Diod., xvi. 79). This victory gave the Greeks of Sicily many years of peace and safety from Carthage. Carthage made, however, one more effort and despatched some mercenaries to prolong the conflict between Timoleon and the tyrants. But it soon ended (338 B.C.) in the defeat of Hicetas, who was taken prisoner and put to death, and in a treaty which confined the dominion of Carthage in Sicily to the west of the Halycus (Platani). Timoleon, having put down the despots and given freedom to the Greek cities of Sicily, retired into private life, though he remained practically supreme not only at Syracuse but throughout Sicily. This island, not withstanding the many elements of discord which political revolution, with the return of exiles and the influx of new settlers, must have brought in, seems to have been during Timoleon's lifetime tranquil and contented. There are some characteristic stories told of his last days. Although blind, he used to come in his car into the assembly in the theatre and give his opinion, which was commonly accepted by a unanimous vote. An officious person once insisted on his giving the ordinary bail in a lawsuit; but he replied that he had himself always been the consistent champion of law and of legal rights for them all. Again, when his military strategy was unfavourably criticized, he expressed his gratitude to heaven that he had won for the Syracusans the privilege of liberty of speech. He died in 337, and was buried at the cost of the citizens of Syracuse, who erected a grand monument to his memory in their market-place.

Plutarch's Life of Timoleon and portions of Diodorus Siculus are our chief sources of original information. There is an admirable and most interesting account of his life and work in chap. Ixxxv. of Grote's History of Greece.