The History of the Peloponnesian War
Page: 128Meanwhile the Ambraciots (who are the best soldiers in those countries) and the troops upon the right wing, defeated the division opposed to them and pursued it to Argos. Returning from the pursuit, they found their main body defeated; and hard pressed by the Acarnanians, with difficulty made good their passage to Olpae, suffering heavy loss on the way, as they dashed on without discipline or order, the Mantineans excepted, who kept their ranks best of any in the army during the retreat.
The battle did not end until the evening. The next day Menedaius, who on the death of Eurylochus and Macarius had succeeded to the sole command, being at a loss after so signal a defeat how to stay and sustain a siege, cut off as he was by land and by the Athenian fleet by sea, and equally so how to retreat in safety, opened a parley with Demosthenes and the Acarnanian generals for a truce and permission to retreat, and at the same time for the recovery of the dead. The dead they gave back to him, and setting up a trophy took up their own also to the number of about three hundred. The retreat demanded they refused publicly to the army; but permission to depart without delay was secretly granted to the Mantineans and to Menedaius and the other commanders and principal men of the Peloponnesians by Demosthenes and his Acarnanian colleagues; who desired to strip the Ambraciots and the mercenary host of foreigners of their supporters; and, above all, to discredit the Lacedaemonians and Peloponnesians with the Hellenes in those parts, as traitors and self-seekers.
While the enemy was taking up his dead and hastily burying them as he could, and those who obtained permission were secretly planning their retreat, word was brought to Demosthenes and the Acarnanians that the Ambraciots from the city, in compliance with the first message from Olpae, were on the march with their whole levy through Amphilochia to join their countrymen at Olpae, knowing nothing of what had occurred. Demosthenes prepared to march with his army against them, and meanwhile sent on at once a strong division to beset the roads and occupy the strong positions. In the meantime the Mantineans and others included in the agreement went out under the pretence of gathering herbs and firewood, and stole off by twos and threes, picking on the way the things which they professed to have come out for, until they had gone some distance from Olpae, when they quickened their pace. The Ambraciots and such of the rest as had accompanied them in larger parties, seeing them going on, pushed on in their turn, and began running in order to catch them up. The Acarnanians at first thought that all alike were departing without permission, and began to pursue the Peloponnesians; and believing that they were being betrayed, even threw a dart or two at some of their generals who tried to stop them and told them that leave had been given. Eventually, however, they let pass the Mantineans and Peloponnesians, and slew only the Ambraciots, there being much dispute and difficulty in distinguishing whether a man was an Ambraciot or a Peloponnesian. The number thus slain was about two hundred; the rest escaped into the bordering territory of Agraea, and found refuge with Salynthius, the friendly king of the Agraeans.
Meanwhile the Ambraciots from the city arrived at Idomene. Idomene consists of two lofty hills, the higher of which the troops sent on by Demosthenes succeeded in occupying after nightfall, unobserved by the Ambraciots, who had meanwhile ascended the smaller and bivouacked under it. After supper Demosthenes set out with the rest of the army, as soon as it was evening; himself with half his force making for the pass, and the remainder going by the Amphilochian hills. At dawn he fell upon the Ambraciots while they were still abed, ignorant of what had passed, and fully thinking that it was their own countrymen—Demosthenes having purposely put the Messenians in front with orders to address them in the Doric dialect, and thus to inspire confidence in the sentinels, who would not be able to see them as it was still night. In this way he routed their army as soon as he attacked it, slaying most of them where they were, the rest breaking away in flight over the hills. The roads, however, were already occupied, and while the Amphilochians knew their own country, the Ambraciots were ignorant of it and could not tell which way to turn, and had also heavy armour as against a light-armed enemy, and so fell into ravines and into the ambushes which had been set for them, and perished there. In their manifold efforts to escape some even turned to the sea, which was not far off, and seeing the Athenian ships coasting alongshore just while the action was going on, swam off to them, thinking it better in the panic they were in, to perish, if perish they must, by the hands of the Athenians, than by those of the barbarous and detested Amphilochians. Of the large Ambraciot force destroyed in this manner, a few only reached the city in safety; while the Acarnanians, after stripping the dead and setting up a trophy, returned to Argos.
The next day arrived a herald from the Ambraciots who had fled from Olpae to the Agraeans, to ask leave to take up the dead that had fallen after the first engagement, when they left the camp with the Mantineans and their companions, without, like them, having had permission to do so. At the sight of the arms of the Ambraciots from the city, the herald was astonished at their number, knowing nothing of the disaster and fancying that they were those of their own party. Some one asked him what he was so astonished at, and how many of them had been killed, fancying in his turn that this was the herald from the troops at Idomene. He replied: "About two hundred"; upon which his interrogator took him up, saying: "Why, the arms you see here are of more than a thousand." The herald replied: "Then they are not the arms of those who fought with us?" The other answered: "Yes, they are, if at least you fought at Idomene yesterday." "But we fought with no one yesterday; but the day before in the retreat." "However that may be, we fought yesterday with those who came to reinforce you from the city of the Ambraciots." When the herald heard this and knew that the reinforcement from the city had been destroyed, he broke into wailing and, stunned at the magnitude of the present evils, went away at once without having performed his errand, or again asking for the dead bodies. Indeed, this was by far the greatest disaster that befell any one Hellenic city in an equal number of days during this war; and I have not set down the number of the dead, because the amount stated seems so out of proportion to the size of the city as to be incredible. In any case I know that if the Acarnanians and Amphilochians had wished to take Ambracia as the Athenians and Demosthenes advised, they would have done so without a blow; as it was, they feared that if the Athenians had it they would be worse neighbours to them than the present.