When news of this success reached Rome it caused great rejoicing, not so much because of the enemy being weakened by the loss of their elephants as because of the confidence which the capture of these gave to their own troops. They were consequently encouraged to revert to their original plan of sending out the Consuls to the campaign with a fleet of naval force; for they were eager by all means in their power to put an end to the war. When all that was required for the expedition was ready, the Consuls set sail for Sicily with two hundred ships. This was in the fourteenth year of the war. Anchoring off Lilybaeum, where they were joined by their land forces, they undertook its siege, thinking that if it fell into their possession it would be easy for them to transfer the war to Libya. On this matter at least the Carthaginian Government agreed more or less with the Romans, sharing their estimate of the place's value; so that, shelving all other projects, they devoted their whole attention to the relief of this city and were ready to undertake every risk and burden for this purpose; for if it fell, no base was left for them, as the Romans were masters of all the rest of Sicily except Drepana.
To prevent my narrative from being obscure to readers owing to their ignorance of the geography, I will try to convey briefly to them an idea of the natural advantages and exact position of the places referred to. Sicily, then, as a whole occupies the same position with regard to Italy and its extremity that the Peloponnese occupies with regard to Greece and its extremity, the difference lying in this, that the Peloponnese is a peninsula whereas Sicily is an island, the communication being in the one case by land and in the other by sea. Sicily is triangular in shape, the apices of all three angles being formed by capes. The cape that looks to the south and stretches out into the Sicilian Sea is called Pachynus, that on the north forms the extremity of the western coast of the Strait; it is about twelve stades distant from Italy and is called Pelorias. The third looks towards Libya itself, and is favourably situated as a base for attacking the promontories in front of Carthage, from which it is distant about one thousand stades. It is turned to the south-west, separating the Libyan from the Sardinian Sea, and its name is Lilybaeum. On the cape stands the city of the same name, of which the Romans were now opening the siege. It is excellently defended both by walls and by a deep moat all round, and on the side facing the sea by shoaly water, the passage through which into the harbour requires great skill and practice.
The Romans encamped by this city on either side, fortifying the space between their camps with a trench, a stockade, and a wall. They then began to throw up works against the tower that lay nearest the sea on the Libyan side, and, gradually advancing from the base thus acquired and extending their works, they succeeded at last in knocking down the six adjacent towers, and attacked all the others at once with battering rams. The siege was now so vigorously pursued and so terrifying, each day seeing some of the towers shaken or demolished and the enemy's works advancing further and further into the city, that the besieged were thrown into a state of utter confusion and panic, although, besides the civil population, there were nearly ten thousand mercenaries in the town. Their general, Himilico, however, omitted no means of resistance in his power, and by counter-building and counter-mining caused the enemy no little difficulty. Every day he would advance and make attempts on the siege works, trying to succeed in setting them on fire, and with this object was indeed engaged by night and day in combats of so desperate a character, that at times more men fell in these encounters than usually fell in a pitched battle.
About this time some of the superior officers in the mercenary force, after talking the matter over among themselves and in the full conviction that their subordinates would obey them, sallied from the town by night to the Roman camp and made proposals to the Consul for the surrender of the city. But the Achaean Alexon, who had on a former occasion saved the Agrigentines, when the Syracusan mercenaries had formed a project of breaking faith with them, was now too the first to get wind of what was going on and informed the Carthaginian general. Himilco on hearing of it at once summoned the remaining officers and urgently implored their aid, promising them lavish gifts and favours if they remained loyal to him and refused to participate in the plot of those who had left the city. On their readily consenting, he bade them return at once to their troops, sending with them to the Celts Hannibal, the son of that Hannibal who had died in Sardinia, as they had served under him and were well acquainted with him, while to the other mercenaries he sent Alexon, owing to his popularity and credit with them. They called a meeting of the soldiery and partly by entreating them, partly moreover by assuring them that each man would receive the bounty the general had offered, easily persuaded them to bide by their engagements. So, afterwards, when the officers who had quitted the city advanced openly to the walls and attempted to entreat them and tell them of the promises made by the Romans, not only did they pay no attention but would not lend ear to them at all, and chased them away from the wall with stones and other missiles. The Carthaginians, then, for the above reasons very narrowly escaped a complete disaster due to the treachery of their mercenaries, and Alexon, who had previously saved by his loyalty not only the city and district but the laws and liberties of Agrigentum, now was the cause of the Carthaginians being saved from total ruin.
The Carthaginian government knew nothing of all this, but calculating the requirements of a besieged town, they filled fifty ships with troops. After addressing the soldiers in terms befitting the enterprise, they sent them off at once under the command of Hannibal, the son of Hamilcar, trierarch and most intimate friend of Adherbal, with orders not to delay, but at the first opportunity to make a bold attempt to relieve the besieged. Setting sail with ten thousand troops on board, he came to anchor off the islands called Aegusae, which lie between Lilybaeum and Carthage, and there awaited favourable weather. As soon as he had a fine stern breeze he hoisted all sail and running before the wind sailed straight for the mouth of the harbour, his men drawn up on deck armed ready for action. The Romans, partly owing to the suddenness of the fleet's appearance and partly because they feared being carried into the hostile harbour by the force of the wind together with their enemies, made no effort to prevent the entrance of the relieving force, but stood out at sea amazed at the audacity of the Carthaginians. The whole population had assembled on the walls in an agony of suspense on the one hand as to what would happen, and at the same time so overjoyed at the unexpected prospect of succour that they kept on encouraging the fleet as it sailed in by cheers and clapping of hands. Hannibal, having entered the harbour in this hazardous and daring manner, anchored and disembarked his troops in security. All those in the city were delighted not so much at the arrival of the relief, although their prospects were much improved and their force increased thereby, as at the fact that the Romans had not ventured to try to prevent the Carthaginians from sailing in.
Himilco, the commander of the garrison, seeing that all were full of spirit and confidence, the original garrison owing to the arrival of relief, and the newcomers owing to their ignorance as yet of the perilous situation, desired to avail himself of this fresh spirit in both parties and make another attempt to fire the enemy's works. He therefore summoned the soldiers to a general assembly, and addressing them at some length in words suitable to the occasion, roused them to great enthusiasm by his lavish promises of reward to those who distinguished themselves personally, and his assurance that the force as a whole would be duly recompensed by the Government. On their all applauding him and shouting to him not to delay but to lead them on at once, he dismissed them for the present after praising them and expressing his pleasure at their eagerness, ordering them to retire to rest early and obey their officers. Soon afterwards he summoned the commanding officers and assigned to each his proper place in the assault, giving them the watchword and informing them of the hour. He ordered all the commanders with the whole of their forces to be on the spot at the morning watch, and his orders having been executed, he led the whole force out as it was getting light and attacked the works in several places. The Romans, who had foreseen what was coming, were not idle or unprepared, but promptly ran to defend the threatened points and opposed a vigorous resistance to the enemy. Soon the whole of both forces were engaged, and a desperate fight was going on all round the walls, the salliers numbering not less than twenty thousand and the force outside being rather more numerous. Inasmuch as they were fighting confusedly and in no order, each man as he thought best, the battle was all the more fierce, such a large force being engaged man to man and company to company, so that there was something of the keenness of single combat in the whole contest. It was, however, particularly at the siege-works themselves that there was most shouting and pressure. For those on both sides whose task from the outset was on the one hand to drive the defenders from the works, and on the other not to abandon them, exhibited such emulation and resolution, the assailants doing their very best to turn the Romans out, and the latter refusing to give way, that at last owing to this resolute spirit the men remained and fell on the spot where they had first stood. Yet, in spite of all, the bearers of pine-brands, tow, and fire intermingled with the combatants, attacked the engines from every side, hurling the burning matter at them with such pluck that the Romans were in the utmost peril, being unable to master the onset of the enemy. But the Carthaginian general, observing that many were falling in the battle, and that his object of taking the works was not being attained, ordered his trumpeters to sound the retreat. Thus the Romans who had come very near losing all their siege-material, at length were masters of their works, and remained in secure possession of them.
As for Hannibal he sailed out with his ships after the affair while it was still night, unobserved by the enemy, and proceeded to Drepana to meet the Carthaginian commander there, Adherbal. Owing to the convenient situation of Drepana and the excellency of its harbour, the Carthaginians had always given great attention to its protection. The place lies at a distance of about a hundred and twenty stades from Lilybaeum.
The Carthaginians at home wishing to know what was happening at Lilybaeum, but being unable to do so as their own forces were shut up in the town and the Romans were active in their vigilance, one of their leading citizens, Hannibal, surnamed the Rhodian, offered to sail into Lilybaeum and make a full report from personal observation. They listened to his offer eagerly, but did not believe he could do this, as the Romans were anchored outside the mouth of the port. But after fitting out his own ship, he set sail, and crossed to one of the islands that lie before Lilybaeum, and next day finding the wind happily favourable, sailed in at about ten o'clock in the morning in full sight of the enemy who were thunderstruck by his audacity. Next day he at once made preparations for departure, but the Roman general, with the view of guarding the entrance more carefully, had fitted out in the night ten of his fastest ships, and now he himself and his whole army stood by the harbour waiting to see what would happen. The ships were waiting on either side of the entrance as near as the shoals would allow them to approach, their oars out and ready to charge and capture the ship that was about to sail out. But the "Rhodian," getting under weigh in the sight of all, so far outbraved the Romans by his audacity and speed that not only did he bring his ship and her whole crew out unhurt, passing the enemy's ships just as if they were motionless, but after sailing on a short way, he pulled up without shipping his oars as if to challenge the enemy, and no one venturing to come out against him owing to the speed of his rowing, he sailed off, after thus having with one ship successfully defied the whole Roman fleet. After this he several times performed the same feat and was of great service by continuing to report at Carthage the news of most urgent importance, while at the same time he kept up the spirits of the besieged and struck terror into the Romans by his venturesomeness. What tended most to give him confidence was that from experience he had accurately noted the course to be followed through the shoals in entering. For as soon as he had crossed and come into view, he would get the sea-tower on the Italian side on his bows so that it covered the whole line of towers turned towards Africa; and this is the only way that a vessel running before the wind can hit the mouth of the harbour in entering. Several others who had local knowledge, gaining confidence from the "Rhodian's" audacity, undertook to do the same, and in consequence the Romans, to whom this was a great annoyance, tried to fill up the mouth of the harbour. For the most part indeed their attempt was resultless, both owing to the depth of the sea, and because none of the stuff that they threw in would remain in its place or hold together in the least, but all they shot in used to be at once shifted and scattered as it was sinking to the bottm, by the surge and the force of the current. However, in one place where there were shoals a solid bank was formed at the cost of infinite pains, and on this a four-banked ship which was coming out at night grounded and fell into the hands of the enemy. This ship was of remarkably fine build, and the Romans, after capturing it and manning it with a select crew, kept watch for all the blockade-runners and especially for the "Rhodian." It so happened that he had sailed in that very night, and was afterwards sailing out quite openly, but, on seeing the four-banked vessel putting out to sea again together with himself and recognizing it, he was alarmed. At first he made a spurt to get away from it, but finding himself overhauled owing to the good oarsmanship of its crew he had at length to turn and engage the enemy. Being no match for the boarders, who were numerous and all picked men, he fell into the enemy's hands. His ship was, like the other, very well built, and the Romans when they were in possession of her fitted her out too for this special service and so put a stop to all this venturesome blockade-running at Lilybaeum.
The besieged were still counterbuilding energetically though they had renounced their effort to spoil or destroy the enemy's works, when there arose a turbulent storm of wind, blowing with such violence and fury on the actual apparatus for advancing the engines, that it shook the protecting pent-houses from their foundations and carried away the wooden towers in front of these by its force. During the gale it struck some of the Greek mercenaries that here was an admirable opportunity for destroying the works, and they communicated their notion to the general, who approved it and made all suitable preparations for the enterprise. The soldiers in several bodies threw fire on the works at three separate points. The whole apparatus being old and readily inflammable, and the wind blowing very strongly on the actual towers and engines, the action of the flames as they spread was most effective, whereas the efforts of the Romans to succour and save the works were quite the reverse, the task being most difficult. The defenders were indeed so terrified by the outbreak that they could neither realize nor understand what was happening, but half blinded by the flames and sparks that flew in their faces and by the dense smoke, many of them succumbed and fell, unable even to get near enough to combat the actual conflagration. The difficulties that the enemy encountered for these various reasons were immense, while the exertions of the incendiaries were correspondingly facilitated. Everything that could blind or injure the enemy was blown into flame and pushed at them, missiles and other objects hurled or discharged to wound the rescuers or to destroy the works being easily aimed because the throwers could see in front of them, while the blows were most effective as the strong wind gave them additional force. At the end the completeness of the destruction was such that the bases of the towers and the posts that supported the battering-rams were rendered useless by the fire. After this the Romans gave up the attempt to conduct the siege by works, and digging a trench and erecting a stockade all round the city, at the same time building a wall round their own encampment, they left the result to time. But the garrison of Lilybaeum rebuilt the fallen portions of the wall and now confidently awaited the issue of the siege.