Ἐν δὲ τούτῳ λέγεταί τινας ἐν Κεραμεικῷ πρεσβυτῶν ἀκούσαντας διαλεγομένων πρὸς ἀλλήλους καὶ κακιζόντων τὸν τύραννον, ὡς μὴ φυλάττοντα τοῦ τείχους τὴν περὶ τὸ Ἑπτάχαλκον ἔφοδον καὶ προσβολήν, ᾗ μόνῃ δυνατὸν εἶναι καὶ ῥᾴδιον ὑπερβῆναι τοὺς πολεμίους, ἀπαγγεῖλαι ταῦτα πρὸς τὸν Σύλλαν. ὁ δὲ οὐ κατεφρόνησεν, ἀλλὰ ἐπελθὼν νυκτὸς καὶ θεασάμενος τὸν τόπον ἁλώσιμον εἴχετο τοῦ ἔργου, λέγει δὲ αὐτός ὁ Σύλλας ἐν τοῖς ὑπομνήμασι τὸν πρῶτον ἐπιβάντα τοῦ τείχους Μάρκον Ἀτήϊον ἀντιστάντος αὐτῷ πολεμίου δόντα πληγὴν ἐκ καταφορᾶς τῷ κράνει περικλάσαι τὸ ξίφος, οὐ μὴν ὑφέσθαι τῆς χώρας, ἀλλὰ μεῖναι καὶ κατασχεῖν. κατελήφθη μὲν οὖν ἡ πόλις ἐκεῖθεν, ὡς Ἀθηναίων οἱ πρεσβύτατοι διεμνημόνευον. αὐτός δὲ Σύλλας τὸ μεταξὺ τῆς Πειραϊκῆς πύλης καὶ τῆς ἱερᾶς κατασκάψας καὶ συνομαλύνας, περὶ μέσας νύκτας εἰσήλαυνε, φρικώδης ὑπό τε σάλπιγξι καὶ κέρασι πολλοῖς, ἀλαλαγμῷ καὶ κραυγῇ τῆς δυνάμεως ἐφ’ ἁρπαγὴν καὶ φόνον ἀφειμένης ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ, καὶ φερομένης διὰ τῶν στενωπῶν ἐσπασμένοις τοῖς ξίφεσιν, ὥστε ἀριθμὸν μηδένα γενέσθαι τῶν ἀποσφαγέντων, ἀλλὰ τῷ τόπῳ τοῦ ῥυέντος αἵματος ἔτι νῦν μετρεῖσθαι τὸ πλῆθος. ἄνευ γὰρ τῶν κατὰ τὴν ἄλλην πόλιν ἀναιρεθέντων ὁ περὶ τὴν ἀγορὰν φόνος ἐπέσχε πάντα τὸν ἐντὸς τοῦ Διπύλου Κεραμεικόν πολλοῖς δὲ λέγεται καὶ διὰ πυλῶν κατακλύσαι τὸ προάστειον. ἀλλὰ τῶν οὕτως ἀποθανόντων, τοσούτων γενομένων, οὐκ ἐλάσσονες ἦσαν οἱ σφᾶς αὐτοὺς διαφθείροντες οἴκτῳ καὶ πόθῳ τῆς πατρίδος ὡς ἀναιρεθησομένης. τοῦτο γὰρ ἀπογνῶναι καὶ φοβηθῆναι τὴν σωτηρίαν ἐποίησε τοὺς βελτίστους, οὐδὲν ἐν τῷ Σύλλᾳ φιλάνθρωπον οὐδὲ μέτριον ἐλπίσαντας. ἀλλὰ γὰρ τοῦτο μὲν Μειδίου καὶ Καλλιφῶντος τῶν φυγάδων δεομένων καὶ προκυλινδουμένων αὐτοῦ, τοῦτο δὲ τῶν συγκλητικῶν, ὅσοι συνεστράτευον, ἐξαιτουμένων τὴν πόλιν, αὐτός τε μεστὸς ὢν ἤδη τῆς τιμωρίας, ἐγκώμιόν τι τῶν παλαιῶν Ἀθηναίων ὑπειπὼν ἔφη χαρίζεσθαι πολλοῖς μὲν ὀλίγους, ζῶντας δὲ τεθνηκόσιν.
(Plutarch, Bios Sullou 14.1-5)
Shortly afterwards, it is said, Sulla was told about a conversation some old men were overheard having in Cerameicus, in the course of which they cursed the tyrant for failing to protect the approaches to the wall near the Heptachalcum, which made it the only place where it was still both possible and easy for the enemy to scale the walls. Sulla took the report seriously enough to go there at night, and when he saw that the place was vulnerable, he got right down to business. In his Memoirs Sulla himself tells how Marcus Ateius, who was the first to mount the wall, did not give way, but stayed put and stood his ground when his sword broke as he brought it down on the helmet of an enemy soldier who had confronted him. In any case, as aged Athenians used to recall, the city’s fall began at that point. After demolishing and razing the wall between Piraeus and the Sacred Gates, Sulla himself marched into the city at midnight. He was a figure to inspire terror, accompanied as he was by the blasts of numerous trumpets and horns, and the cries and shouts of his men, who now had his permission to turn to plunder and slaughter and were pouring through the streets with drawn swords. There was no telling how many people were slaughtered; even now people estimate the numbers by means of how much ground was covered with blood. Leaving aside those who were killed elsewhere in the city, the blood of the dead in the main square spread throughout the part of Cerameicus that lies on the city side of the Double Gate, and a lot is said to have flooded into the suburb outside the gates as well. But although huge numbers of people died like this at the hands of Sulla’s soldiers, just as many killed themselves out of grief, unable to face the future without the city of their birth, which they were certain was going to be destroyed. The best men of Athens could see no point in staying alive and facing an uncertain future with their city lost, since they had no reason to hope for the slightest spark of human decency or moderation from Sulla. But partly because of the appeals of Midias and Calliphon, Athenian exiles who threw themselves on the ground at his feet, partly bemuse all the senators who had accompanied him on the expedition begged him to have mercy, and also bemuse he himself had drunk his fill of vengeance, after a few words in praise of the Athenians of old he told them that he would spare the few for the sake of the many, the living for the sake of the dead. (tr. Robin Waterfield)