Geographical sites:

  • Syracuse (click here to focus in map) (see also Pleiades #462503)
    Pleiades_icon Syracusae/Syrakousai settlement, temple Geocontext: Siracusa/Syracuse
    Description: An important ancient city on the island of Sicily (BAtlas 47 G4 Syracusae)


Text #8652

Diodorus Siculus. The Library of History. Vol. 6
[Diod. 14.70--14.71. Translated by C. H. Oldfather. Harvard University Press. 1935. (12 Vols.) pp. 203--207]

After the Carthaginians had seized the suburb and pillaged the temple of Demeter and Corê, a plague struck the army. Over and above the disaster sent by influence of the city, there were contributing causes: that myriads of people were gathered together, that it was the time of year which is most productive of plagues, and that the particular summer had brought unusually hot weather. It also seems likely that the place itself was responsible for the excessive extent of the disaster; for on a former occasion the Athenians too, who occupied the same camp, had perished in great numbers from the plague, since the terrain was marshy and in a hollow. First, before sunrise, because of the cold from the breeze over the waters, their bodies were struck with chills, but in the middle of the day the heat was stifling, as must be the case when so great a multitude is gathered together in a narrow place.

Now the plague first attacked the Libyans, and, as many of them perished, at first they buried the dead, but later, both because of the multitude of corpses and because those who tended the sick were seized by the plague, no one dared approach the suffering. When even nursing was thus omitted, there was no remedy for the disaster. For by reason of the stench of the unburied and the miasma from the marshes, the plague began with a catarrh; then came a swelling in the throat; gradually burning sensations ensued, pains in the sinews of the back, and a heavy feeling in the limbs; then dysentery supervened and pustules upon the whole surface of the body.

In most cases this was the course of the disease; but some became mad and totally lost their memory; they circulated through the camp, out of their mind, and struck at anyone they met. In general, as it turned out, even help by physicians was of no avail both because of the severity of the disease and the swiftness of the death; for death came on the fifth day or on the sixth at the latest, amidst such terrible tortures that all looked upon those who had fallen in the war as blessed. In fact all who watched beside the sick were struck by the plague, and thus the lot of the ill was miserable, since no one was willing to minister to the unfortunate. For not only did any not akin abandon one another, but even brothers were forced to desert brothers, friends to sacrifice friends out of fear for their own lives.1

  1. The symptoms listed by Diodorus — inflammation and mucus in the throat; burning, pain, and fatigue throughout the body; diarrhea; pustules on the skin; and delirium — led several scholars to propose that this plague was part of the same epidemic that struck Athens in 430-426, i.e. smallpox. The US epidemiologist Hans Zinsser was the first to think that both epidemics were caused by a severe type of smallpox that led to death on the fifth or sixth day: see Zinsser H., Rats, Lice and History, 2008, p. 124‑127. See also R. J. Littman, “The Plague at Syracuse: 396 B.C.”, Mnemosyne Fourth Series, Vol. 37, Fasc. 1/2 (1984), p. 110-116; Kohn G.C. (ed), Encyclopedia of Plague and Pestilence, p. 65-66

Text #3999

Justin. Epitome of the Phillippic History of Pompeius Trogus
[Bk. 19 Ch. 2 ]


In Sicily, Himilco succeeded as general in the room of Hamilcar, but, after fighting several successful battles, both by land and sea, and taking many towns, he suddenly lost his army by the influence of a pestilential constellation.1

When the news of this arrived at Carthage, the country was overwhelmed with grief, and all places rung with lamentations, as if the city had been taken by an enemy; private houses were closed, the temples of the gods were shut, all religious ceremonies were intermitted, and all private business suspended. They all then crowded to the harbour, and inquired of the few that came out of their ships, survivors of the calamity, respecting their relatives. But when, after wavering hope, dread attended with suspense, and uncertain apprehensions of bereavement, the loss of their relatives became known to the unhappy inquirers, the groans of mourners, and the cries and sorrowful lamentations of unhappy mothers, were heard along the whole shore.

  1. Himilco was a member of the Magonids, a Carthaginian family of hereditary generals, and had command over the Carthaginian forces between 406 and 396 BC. Elected king in 398, Himilco crosses to Sicily from Carthage conquers the north coast and besieges Syracuse in 397 . In the Spring of 396, the Carthaginians captured the unwalled suburbs of the city and destroyed the temple of Demeter. Diodorus records that during the summer a plague swept through the Carthaginian army, with such devastating effects that Dionysius of Syracuse was able to lead an attack against the weakened Carthaginians and decisively defeat them. Himilco escaped back to Carthage where he committed suicide.

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