RESISTING SLAVERY IN ANCIENT ROME
Keith Bradley of the University of Notre Dame wrote for the BBC: “ A Roman senator named Pupius Piso once ordered his slaves not to speak unless spoken to. He had no time for idle talk. He also arranged an elegant dinner-party at which the guest of honour was to be a dignitary named Clodius. “At the appropriate time all the guests arrived except Clodius. So Piso sent the slave responsible for having invited the guest of honour to see where he was - several times - but still Clodius did not appear. In despair Piso finally questioned the slave: 'Did you send Clodius an invitation?' 'Yes.' 'So why hasn't he come?' 'Because he declined'. 'Then why didn't you tell me earlier? 'Because you didn't ask.' [Source: Professor Keith Bradley, BBC, February 17, 2011. Bradley is the Eli J Shaheen Professor of Classics, Concurrent Professor of History, and Chair of the Department of Classics at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana. His special interests are in Roman social and cultural history, particularly the history of slavery and of the family. |::|
“This anecdote was recorded, about A.D. 100, by the Greek moralist Plutarch. It is a story that presupposes a constant tension between slave and master in the ancient Roman world, and is a striking illustration of how a lowly Roman slave could outwit his superior master. |::|
“Technically Roman slaves were the property, the chattels, of their owners, held in a state of total subjection. But to outwit an owner as Piso's slave did was to win a victory in the game of psychological warfare that always existed between master and slave. |::|
“For unlike other forms of property, slaves were human beings with minds of their own, and they didn't always obey their owners as unthinkingly as they were supposed to. They had the capacity to resist the absolute authority their owners formally exercised, and when Piso's slave crushingly embarrassed his master by obeying his instructions to the letter, for a moment (at least) he placed Piso in the inferior position that he normally occupied himself. He found, in other words, a way to assert himself, to exert power against the powerful, so that the asymmetrical roles of master and slave were suddenly inverted.” |::|
Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ;
“Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu;
The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans;
The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ;
Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu;
De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org;
British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ;
Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art;
The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ;
Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu;
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com
Slave Rebellions in Ancient Rome
Keith Bradley of the University of Notre Dame told the BBC: “The most obvious way was through open rebellion. In 73-71 B.C. the gladiator Spartacus famously led an uprising of thousands of slaves in central Italy, formed an army that defeated several Roman legions, and at one point threatened Rome itself. [Source: Keith Bradley, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]
“Earlier there had been similar large-scale rebellions on the island of Sicily. But open rebellion was also the most dangerous form of resistance, because the stakes were enormously high. The greater the size of the rebellion, the greater the likelihood was of betrayal from within, and the greater the threat was of serious retaliation, re-enslavement or death. |::|
“Spartacus himself died in battle, and thousands of his captured followers were crucified. The slave rebels in Sicily were likewise thoroughly suppressed. It isn't surprising that they had no successors, or that their rebellions achieved nothing of lasting value for Roman slaves. |::|
“Still, the Romans always feared another Spartacus. The philosopher Seneca tells of a proposal that was once made in the Roman senate requiring slaves to wear distinctive clothing so that they could be easily recognised. But once the senators realised that the slaves might then become conscious of their strength, and make common cause against their masters, they abandoned the idea. |::|
Alternatives to Slave Rebellions in the Roman Era
Keith Bradley of the University of Notre Dame told the BBC: “ Many slaves probably internalised their social inferiority, and accommodated themselves to servitude without thinking in terms of resistance. Others responded more violently, and sometimes tragically. Those who fought against Rome knew that they could be sent to the slave-market if taken as a prisoner-of-war. They are often said to have killed themselves rather than face the prospect of enslavement - a clear indictment of the horrors involved in the sudden transition from freedom to slavery. Images of the vanquished committing suicide are still visible on the Column of Trajan in Rome. [Source: Professor Keith Bradley, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]
“At other times, slaves who were unable to tolerate their conditions assaulted their owners. In the mid-first century A.D. an anonymous slave murdered his master, a high official in the imperial administration, either because the master had reneged on a promise to set the slave free or because the two were rivals in a sexual intrigue. The aftermath was disastrous. Roman law required a man's slaves to come to his aid if he were attacked, under penalty of death. The law was enforced against those slaves who had not come to the victim's aid in this case, and all the slaves in the household - allegedly 400 of them - were executed, even though most of them could not possibly have known anything about the murder. |::|
“There were other ways to alleviate the burdens of slavery. One was to try to escape, either to return to an original homeland or simply to find safe refuge somewhere. Romans labelled runaway slaves 'fugitives', and as the greatest modern historian of ancient slavery, Moses Finley, has remarked, 'fugitive slaves are almost an obsession in the sources'. This suggests that the incidence of running away was always high.” See Runaway Slaves |::|
Day-to Day Resistance by Roman Slaves
Keith Bradley of the University of Notre Dame told the BBC:“Running away was less dangerous than rebellion, but it was still a hazardous enterprise. Slave-catchers apart, Roman law forbade the harbouring of fugitives, so slaves on the run were always in danger and if caught could be savagely punished. To many therefore it must have made sense not to risk life and limb by running away, but to carry out acts of wilful obstruction or sabotage that harmed slave-owners' interests at minimal risk to themselves. [Source: Professor Keith Bradley, BBC, February 17, 2011 |::|]
“Slaves, for example, might steal food or other supplies from the household. Those in positions of responsibility might falsify record books, and embezzle money from their owners, or arrange for their own manumission (setting free). Ordinary farm labourers might deliberately go slow on the job, or injure the animals they worked with to avoid work - or they might pretend to be ill, destroy equipment, or damage buildings. If your job was to make wine and you had to produce a certain quota, why not add in some sea-water to help things along? Almost any slave could play truant or simply waste time. |::|
“All these petty forms of day-to-day resistance appealed to Roman slaves. They allowed slaves to frustrate and annoy their owners, and offered the satisfaction of knowing that their owners' powers were not absolute - that even the most humble of human beings could take action to empower themselves. |Owners complained that their slaves were lazy and troublesome - instead of working they were always pilfering food or clothing or valuables (even the silverware), setting fire to property (villas included), or wandering around the city's art galleries and public entertainments. |::|
“But it was in the decisions they made to cause vexation that slaves most forcefully expressed their humanity, and their opposition to the institution that oppressed them. Their sporadic acts of defiance created a permanent undercurrent of low-level resistance to slavery that was deeply embedded in Roman society. The slaves were motivated not by a sense of class solidarity - Rome's slave population was far too heterogeneous for that - but by the desire to find ways in which, as individuals, they could find relief from their subject status, if only tempor “The relationship between slaves and masters at Rome was a contest fought in the arena of the mind. Masters could draw on all the weapons of law, status and established authority - there was never in Roman history any movement to abolish slavery - whereas slaves had little more to fight with than their wits. But as Plutarch's story symbolically shows, the lines of battle had to be constantly redrawn, as slaves matched their will against the will of those who owned them. And it was not always the masters who won.” |::|
Slave Revolts Between 134 and 71 B.C.
The Christian historian Orosius (A.D. 385-420) wrote in “Histories” 5.9 and 5.24: Under the year 134 B.C.: “In Sicily Piso, the consul, captured the town of Mamertium, where he killed 8,000 runaway slaves; and those whom he was able to capture alive he crucified.” Under the year 131 B.C.: “When Rutilius succeeded him as consul, he recaptured in war Tauromenium and Henna, the strongholds of the fugitive slaves; it is reported that more than 20,000 slaves were slaughtered at that time.
“In the year 73 BC, in the consulships of Lucullus and Cassius, 74 gladiators escaped from the games of Gnaeus Lentulus at Capua. Under their leaders Crixus and Oenomaeus, Gauls, and Spartacus, a Thracian, they immediately occupied Mount Vesuvius. Thence they burst forth and stormed the camp of the praetor Clodius, who had surrounded them in a siege, and with him driven into flight they plundered the entire camp. From there, after marching through Consentia and Metapontum, they gathered a huge force in a short time. It is reported that Crixus had a crowd of 10,000, and Spartacus three times that number. But Oenomaeus had already been killed in the previous fighting.”
Under the Year 71: As soon as Crassus began the fighting against the runaways, he killed 6,000 of them, and captured 900 alive. Then before taking on Spartacus himself, who was menacing the camp at the head of the Silaris river, he defeated his Gallic and German auxiliaries, of whom he killed 30,000 together with their leaders. Finally he smashed Spartacus himself, who had come against him in a pitched battle, together with the majority of his army of runaway slaves ... the remainder, who had gotten away from this battle and were wandering around, were wiped out thanks to constant hunting parties under various leaders.
Slave Revolt: Sicily 136-132 B.C.
A slave revolt in Sicily in 135-132 B.C., sometimes called the First Servile War, was an unsuccessful slave rebellion against the Roman Republic in Enna on the island of Sicily led by Eunus, a former slave claiming to be a prophet, and Cleon, a Cilician (from present-day Turkey) who became Eunus's military commander. After some minor battles won by the slaves, a larger Roman army arrived in Sicily and crushed the rebels. [Source: Wikipedia]
Florus (A.D. c. 74 - c. 130) wrote in “Epitome of Roman History” 7. 1-8: “Though, in the preceding war, we fought with our allies, (which was bad enough,) yet we contended with free men, and men of good birth: but who can with patience hear of a war against slaves on the part of a people at the head of all nations? The first war with slaves occurred in the infancy of Rome, in the heart of the city, when Herdonius Sabinus was their leader, and when, while the state was distracted with the seditions of the tribunes, the Capitol was besieged and wrested by the consul from the servile multitude. But this was an insurrection rather than a war. At a subsequent period, when the forces of the empire were engaged in different parts of the world, who would believe that Sicily was much more cruelly devastated by a war with slaves than in that with the Carthaginians? This country, fruitful in grain, and, in a manner, a suburban province, was covered with large estates of many Roman citizens; and the numerous slave-houses, and fettered tillers of the ground, supplied force enough for a war.” [Source: Florus (A.D. c. 74 - c. 130 ), “Epitome of Roman History,” 7. 1-8]
The Christian historian Orosius (A.D. 385-420) wrote in “Histories” 5.6:“In the consulship of Servius Fulvius Flaccus and Q. Calpurnius Piso, there was born at Rome of a maid servant a boy with four feet, four eyes, a like number of ears, twice as many as in the nature of man. In Sicily, Mount Etna cast forth and spread vast fires which, like torrents flowing precipitously down the neighboring slopes, burned up everything with their consuming fire and scorched more distant places with glowing ashes which flew far and wide with a heavy vapor. This kind of portent, ever native to Sicily, customarily does not foretell evil, but brings it on. In the land of Bononia, the products of the field came forth on trees.
And in Sicily, the slave war broke out, which was so serious and fierce, because of the number of the slaves, the equipment of the troops, and the strength of its forces, that, not to mention the Roman praetors whom it thoroughly routed, it terrified even consuls. For seventy thousand slaves are reported to have been among the conspirators at that time, not including the city of Messana which kept its slaves in peace by treating them kindly. But Sicily was more wretched also in this respect, in that it was an island and never with respect to its own status had a law of its own and thus, at one time, was subject to tyrants and, at another, to slaves, or when the former exacted slavery by their wicked domination or the latter effected an interchange of liberty by a perverse presumption, especially because it was hemmed in on all sides by sea, its internal evils could not easily pass out. Indeed, Sicily nourished a viperous growth to its own destruction, increased by its own lust and destined to live with its death. But in this respect, the emotions of a slave tumult, insofar as it is of rarer occurrence among others, to this extent is more ferocious, because a mob of free men is moved by the urge to advance the fatherland; a mob of slaves to destroy it.”
Orosius wrote in “Histories” 9. 4-8: “In addition, the contagion of the Slave War in Sicily infected many provinces far and wide. For at Minturnae, four hundred and fifty slaves were crucified, and at Sinuessa, four thousand slaves were crushed by Q. Metellus and Cn. Servilius Caepio; in the mines of the Athenians also, a like uprising of the slaves was dispersed by Heraclitus; at Delos also, the slaves, rising in another revolt, were crushed by the citizens who anticipated the movement without that first fire of the evil in Sicily, from which the sparks flaring forth fostered these various fires. For in Sicily, after Fulvius, the consul, Piso, the consul, captured the town of Mamertium, where he killed eight thousand fugitives, but those whom he was able to capture he crucified. When Rupilius, the consul, succeeded him, he regained by war Tauromenium and Enna, the strongest places of refuge for fugitive slaves; more than twenty thousand slaves are reported to have been slaughtered at that time. Surely, the cause of such an inextricable war was pitiable. Undoubtedly, the masters would have had to perish had they not met the haughty slaves with the sword. But yet in the very losses of battle, which were most unfortunate, and in the more unfortunate gains of victory, the victors lost as many as perished among the conquered.”
Strabo on Enna, the Site of the Sicilian Slave Revolt
Strabo (63 B.C. - A.D. 23) wrote in “Geography”: In the interior is Enna, where is the temple of Demeter, with only a few inhabitants; it is situated on a hill, and is wholly surrounded by broad plateaus that are tillable. It suffered most at the hands of Eunus and his runaway slaves, who were besieged there and only with difficulty were dislodged by the Romans. The inhabitants of Catana and Tauromenium and also several other peoples suffered this same fate. [Source: Strabo, “Geography”, “Book 6. 2. 6-7]
“Eryx, a lofty hill, is also inhabited. It has a temple of Aphrodite that is held in exceptional honour, and in early times was full of female temple-slaves, who had been dedicated in fulfilment of vows not only by the people of Sicily but also by many people from abroad; but at the present time, just as the settlement itself, so the temple is in want of men, and the multitude of temple-slaves has disappeared. In Rome, also, there is a reproduction of this goddess, I mean the temple before the Colline Gate which is called that of Venus Erycina and is remarkable for its shrine and surrounding colonnade.
“But the rest of the settlements as well as most of the interior have come into the possession of shepherds; for I do not know of any settled population still living in either Himera, or Gela, or Callipolis or Selinus or Euboea or several other places. Of these cities Himera was founded by the Zanclaeans of Mylae, Callipolis by the Naxians, Selinus by the Megarians of the Sicilian Megara, and Euboea by the Leontines. Many of the barbarian cities, also, have been wiped out; for example Camici, the royal residence of Cocalus, at which Minos is said to have been murdered by treachery. The Romans, therefore, taking notice that the country was deserted, took possession of the mountains and most of the plains and then gave them over to horseherds, cowherds, and shepherds; and by these herdsmen the island was many times put in great danger, because, although at first they only turned to brigandage in a sporadic way, later they both assembled in great numbers and plundered the settlements, as, for example, when Eunus and his men took possession of Enna. And recently, in my own time, a certain Selurus, called the son of Aetna," was sent up to Rome because he had put himself at the head of an army and for a long time had overrun the regions round about Aetna with frequent raids; I saw him torn to pieces by wild beasts at an appointed combat of gladiators in the Forum; for he was placed on a lofty scaffold, as though on Aetna, and the scaffold was made suddenly to break up and collapse, and he himself was carried down with it into cages of wild beasts -- fragile cages that had been prepared beneath the scaffold for that purpose.
“As for the fertility of the country, why should I speak of it, since it is on the lips of all men, who declare that it is no whit inferior to that of Italy? And in the matter of grain, honey, saffron, and certain other products, one might call it even superior. There is, furthermore, its propinquity; for the island is a part of Italy, as it were, and readily and without great labour supplies Rome with everything it has, as though from the fields of Italy. And in fact it is called the storehouse of Rome, for everything it produces is brought hither except a few things that are consumed at home, and not the fruits only, but also cattle, hides, wool, and the like. Poseidonius says that Syracuse and Eryx are each situated like an acropolis by the sea, whereas Enna lies midway between the two above the encircling plains.”
Slave Resentment in Sicily
Diodorus Siculus wrote: “Because of the superabundant prosperity of those who exploited the products of this mighty island, nearly all who had risen in wealth affected first a luxurious mode of living, then arrogance and insolence. As a result of all this, since both the maltreatment of the slaves and their estrangement from their masters increased at an equal rate, there was at last, when occasion offered, a violent outburst of hatred. So without a word of summons tens of thousands of slaves joined forces to destroy their masters. Similar events took place throughout Asia at the same period, after Aristonicus laid claim to a kingdom that was not rightfully his, and the slaves, because of their owners' maltreatment of them, joined him in his mad venture and involved many cities in great misfortunes. [Source: Diodorus Siculus (wrote 60-30 B.C.), Bibliotheke Books 34/35. 2. 1-48]
“In like fashion a each of the large landowners bought up whole slave marts to work their lands; . . . to bind some in fetters, to wear out others by the severity of their tasks; and they marked all with their arrogant brands. In consequence, so great a multitude of slaves inundated all Sicily that those who heard tell of the immense number were incredulous. For in fact the Sicilians who had acquired much wealth were now rivalling the Italians in arrogance, greed, and villainy. And the Italians who owned large numbers of slaves had made crime so familiar to their herdsmen that they provided them no food, but permitted them to plunder.
“The Italians who were engaged in agriculture purchased great numbers of slaves, all of whom they marked with brands, but failed to provide them sufficient food, and by oppressive toil wore them out .. . their distress. Not only in the exercise of political power should men of prominence be considerate towards those of low estate, but so also in private life they should -- if they are sensible -- treat their slaves gently. For heavy-handed arrogance leads states into civil strife and factionalism between citizens, and in individual households it paves the way for plots of slaves against masters and for terrible uprisings in concert against the whole state. The more power is perverted to cruelty and lawlessness, the more the character of those subject to that power is brutalized to the point of desperation. Anyone whom fortune has set in low estate willingly yields place to his superiors in point of gentility and esteem, but if he is deprived of due consideration, he comes to regard those who harshly lord it over him with bitter enmity.”
Slave Lawlessness in Sicily
Diodorus Siculus wrote: “With such licence given to men who had the physical strength to accomplish their every resolve, who had scope and leisure to seize the opportunity, and who for want of food were constrained to embark on perilous enterprises, there was soon an increase in lawlessness. They began by murdering men who were travelling singly or in pairs, in the most conspicuous areas. Then they took to assaulting in a body, by night, the homesteads of the less well protected, which they destroyed, seizing the property and killing all who resisted. [Source: Diodorus Siculus (wrote 60-30 B.C.), Bibliotheke Books 34/35. 2. 1-48]
“As their boldness grew steadily greater, Sicily became impassable to travellers by night; those who normally lived in the country found it no longer safe to stay there; and there was violence, robbery, and all manner of bloodshed on every side. The herdsmen, however, because of their experience of life in the open and their military accoutrements, were naturally all brimming with high spirits and audacity; and since they carried clubs or spears or stout staves, while their bodies were protected by the skins of wolves or wild boars, they presented a terrifying appearance that was little short of actual belligerence.
“Moreover, each had at his heels a pack of valiant dogs, while the plentiful diet of milk and meat available to the men rendered them savage in temper and in physique. So every region was filled with what were practically scattered bands of soldiers, since with the permission of their masters the reckless daring of the slaves had been furnished with arms.
“The praetors attempted to hold the raging slaves in check, but not daring to punish them because of the power and influence of the masters were forced to wink at the plundering of their province. For most of the landowners were Roman knights in full standing, and since it was the knights who acted as judges when charges arising from provincial affairs were brought against the governors, the magistrates stood in awe of them.”
Diodorus Siculus wrote in “Book 34/35. 3. 8, 11: “The runaway "Syrian slaves cut off the hands of their captives, but not content with amputation at the wrist included arms and all in the mutilation.There was a certain Gorgus of Morgantina, surnamed Cambalus, a man of wealth and good standing, who, having gone out hunting, happened upon a robber-nest of fugitive slaves, and tried to escape on foot to the city. His father, Gorgus, chancing to meet him on horseback, jumped down and offered him the horse that he might mount and ride off to the city. But the son did not choose to save himself at his father's expense, nor was the father willing to make good his escape from danger by letting his son die. While they were still pleading with one another, both in tears, and were engaged in a contest of piety and affection, as paternal devotion vied with a son's love for his father, the bandits appeared on the scene and killed them both.”
Roots of the Sicilian Slave Revolt of 135- 132 B.C.
Diodorus Siculus wrote: “When Sicily, after the Carthaginian collapse, had enjoyed sixty years of good fortune in all respects, the Servile War broke out for the following reason. The Sicilians, having shot up in prosperity and acquired great wealth, began to purchase a vast number of slaves, to whose bodies, as they were brought in droves from the slave markets, they at once applied marks and brands. [Source: Diodorus Siculus (wrote 60-30 B.C.), Bibliotheke Books 34/35. 2. 1-48]
“The young men they used as cowherds, the others in such ways as they happened to be useful. But they treated them with a heavy hand in their service, and granted them the most meagre care, the bare minimum for food and clothing. As a result most of them made their livelihood by brigandage, and there was bloodshed everywhere, since the brigands were like scattered bands of “The governors (praetores) attempted to repress them, but since they did not dare to punish them because of the power and prestige of the gentry who owned the brigands, they were forced to connive at the pillaging of the province. For most of the landowners were Roman knights (equites), and since it was the knights who acted as judges when charges arising from provincial affairs were brought against the governors, the magistrates stood in awe of them.
“The slaves, distressed by their hardships, and frequently outraged and beaten beyond all reason, could not endure their treatment. Getting together as opportunity offered, they discussed the possibility of revolt, until at last they put their plans into action.
Eunus, the Leader of the Sicilian Slave Revolt
Diodorus Siculus wrote: “There was a certain Syrian slave, belonging to Antigenes of Enna; he was an Apamean by birth and had an aptitude for magic and the working of wonders. He claimed to foretell the future, by divine command, through dreams, and because of his talent along these lines deceived many. Going on from there he not only gave oracles by means of dreams, but even made a pretence of having waking visions of the gods and of hearing the future from their own lips. [Source: Diodorus Siculus (wrote 60-30 B.C.), Bibliotheke Books 34/35. 2. 1-48]
“Of his many improvisations some by chance turned out true, and since those which failed to do so were left unchallenged, while those that were fulfilled attracted attention, his reputation advanced apace. Finally, through some device, while in a state of divine possession, he would produce fire and flame from his mouth, and thus rave oracularly about things to come.
“For he would place fire, and fuel to maintain it, in a nut -- or something similar -- that was pierced on both sides; then, placing it in his mouth and blowing on it, he kindled now sparks, and now a flame. Prior to the revolt he used to say that the Syrian goddess appeared to him, saying that he should be king, and he repeated this, not only to others, but even to his own master.
“Since his claims were treated as a joke, Antigenes, taken by his hocus-pocus, would introduce Eunus (for that was the wonder-worker's name) at his dinner parties, and cross-question him about his kingship and how he would treat each of the men present. And since he gave a full account of everything without hesitation, explaining with what moderation he would treat the masters and in sum making a colourful tale of his quackery, the guests were always stirred to laughter, and some of them, picking up a nice tidbit from the table, would present it to him, adding, as they did so, that when he became king, he should remember the favour. But, as it happened, his charlatanism did in fact result in kingship, and for the favours received in jest at the banquets he made a return of thanks in good earnest.”
Eunus Organizes a Band of Runaway Slaves
Florus (A.D. c. 74 - c. 130) wrote in “Epitome of Roman History” 7. 1-8: “A certain Syrian, by name Eunus, (the greatness of our defeats from him makes us remember it,) counterfeiting a fanatical inspiration, and tossing his hair in honour of the Syrian goddess, excited the slaves, by command of heave as it were, to claim their liberty and take up arms. And that he might prove this to be done by supernatural direction, he concealed a nut in his mouth, which he had filled with brimstone and fire, and breathing gently, sent forth flame together with his words.” [Source: Florus (A.D. c. 74 - c. 130 ), “Epitome of Roman History,” 7. 1-8]
“This prodigy at first attracted two thousand of such as came in his way; but in a short time, by breaking open the slavehouses, he collected a force of above sixty thousand, and being adorned with ensigns of royalty, that nothing might be wanting to his audacity, he laid waste, with lamentable desolation, fortresses, towns, and villages. The camps even of praetors (the utmost disgrace of war) were taken by him nor will I shrink from giving their names, they were the camps of Manilius, Lentulus, Piso, and Hypsaeus. Thus those, who ought to have been dragged home by slavetakers, pursued praetorian generals routed in battle.”
Diodorus Siculus wrote: “Eunus, king of the rebels, called himself Antiochus, and his horde of rebels Syrians. Approaching Eunus, who lived not far away, they asked whether their project had the approval of the gods. He put on a display of divine transports, and when he learned why they had come, stated clearly that the gods favoured their revolt, provided they made no delay but applied themselves to the enterprise at once; for it was decreed by Fate that Enna, the citadel of the whole island, should be their land. Having heard this, and believing that Providence was assisting them in their project, they were so keenly wrought up for revolt that there was no delay in executing their resolve. [Source: Diodorus Siculus (wrote 60-30 B.C.), Bibliotheke Books 34/35. 2. 1-48]
“At once, therefore, they set free those in bonds, and collecting such as lived near by they assembled some 400 men in a certain field not far from Enna. After making a compact and exchanging pledges sworn by night over sacrificial victims, they armed themselves in such fashion as the occasion allowed; but all were equipped with the best of weapons, fury, which was bent on the destruction of their arrogant masters. Their leader was Eunus. With cries of encouragement to one another they broke into the city about midnight and put many to the sword.
“There was never a sedition of slaves so great as that which occurred in Sicily, whereby many cities met with grave calamities, innumerable men and women, together with their children, experienced the greatest misfortunes, and all the island was in danger of falling into the power of fugitive slaves, who measured their authority only by the excessive suffering of the freeborn. To most people these events came as an unexpected and sudden surprise, but to those who were capable of judging affairs realistically they did not seem to happen without reason.
Damophilus, the Cruel Slave Owner Who Sparked for the Revolt
Diodorus Siculus wrote: “There was a certain Damophilus, a native of Enna, a man of great wealth but arrogant in manner, who, since he had under cultivation a great circuit of land and owned many herds of cattle, emulated not only the luxury affected by the Italian landowners in Sicily, but also their troops of slaves and their inhumanity and severity towards them. He drove about the countryside with expensive horses, four-wheeled carriages, and a bodyguard of slaves, and prided himself, in addition, on his great train of handsome serving-boys and ill-mannered parasites. [Source: Diodorus Siculus (wrote 60-30 B.C.), Bibliotheke Books 34/35. 2. 1-48]
“Both in town and at his villas he took pains to provide a veritable exhibition of embossed silver and costly crimson spreads, and had himself served sumptuous and regally lavish dinners, in which he surpassed even the luxury of the Persians in outlay and extravagance, as indeed he outdid them also in arrogance. His uncouth and boorish nature, in fact, being set in possession of irresponsible power and in control of a vast fortune, first of all engendered satiety, then overweening pride, and, at last, destruction for him and great calamities for his country.
“Purchasing a large number of slaves, he treated them outrageously, marking with branding irons the bodies of men who in their own countries had been free, but who through capture in war had come to know the fate of a slave. Some of these he put in fetters and thrust into slave pens; others he designated to act as his herdsmen, but neglected to provide them with suitable clothing or food.
“Because of his arbitrary and savage humour not a day passed that this same Damophilus did not torment some of his slaves without just cause. His wife Metallis, who delighted no less in these arrogant punishments, treated her maidservants cruelly, as well as any other slaves who fell into her clutches. And because of the despiteful punishments received from them both, the slaves were filled with rage against their masters, and conceiving that they could encounter nothing worse than their present misfortunes began to form conspiracies to revolt and to murder their masters.
“On one occasion when approached by a group of naked domestics with a request for clothing, Damophilus of Enna impatiently refused to listen. "What!" he said, "do those who travel through the country go naked? Do they not offer a ready source of supply for anyone who needs garments?" Having said this, he ordered them bound to pillars, piled blows on them, and arrogantly dismissed them.
“There was in Sicily a daughter of Damophilus, a girl of marriageable age, remarkable for her simplicity of manner and her kindness of heart. It was always her practice to do all she could to comfort the slaves who were beaten by her parents, and since she also took the part of any who had been put in bonds, she was wondrously loved by one and all for her kindness. So now at this time, since her past favours enlisted in her service the mercy of those to whom she had shown kindness, no one was so bold as to lay violent hands upon the girl, but all maintained her fresh young beauty inviolate. And selecting suitable men from their number, among them Hermeias, her warmest champion, they escorted her to the home of certain kinsmen in Catana.
“Although the rebellious slaves were enraged against the whole household of their masters, and resorted to unrelenting abuse and vengeance, there were yet some indications that it was not from innate savagery but rather because of the arrogant treatment they had themselves received that they now ran amuck when they turned to avenge themselves on their persecutors. Even among slaves human nature needs no instructor in regard to a just repayment, whether of gratitude or of revenge.”
Beginning of the Revolt: Mon Attack on a Cruel Slaveowner
Diodorus Siculus wrote: “The beginning of the whole revolt took place as follows. Damophilus had abused his slaves to excess, and his wife Megallis vied even with her husband in punishing the slaves and in her general inhumanity towards them. The slaves, reduced by this degrading treatment to the level of brutes, conspired to revolt and to murder their masters. Going to Eunus they asked him whether their resolve had the favour of the gods. He, resorting to his usual mummery, promised them the favour of the gods, and soon persuaded them to act at once. [Source: Diodorus Siculus (wrote 60-30 B.C.), Bibliotheke Books 34/35. 2. 1-48]
“Immediately, therefore, they brought together four hundred of their fellow slaves and, having armed themselves in such ways as opportunity permitted, they fell upon the city of Enna, with Eunus at their head and working his miracle of the flames of fire for their benefit. When they found their way into the houses they shed much blood, sparing not even suckling babes.
“They tore them from the breast and dashed them to the ground, while as for the women -- and under their husbands' very eyes -- but words cannot tell the extent of their outrages and acts of lewdness! By now a great multitude of slaves from the city had joined them, who, after first demonstrating against their own masters their utter ruthlessness, then turned to the slaughter of others.
“When Eunus and his men learned that Damophilus and his wife were in the garden that lay near the city, they sent some of their band and dragged them off, both the man and his wife, fettered and with hands bound behind their backs, subjecting them to many outrages along the way. Only in the case of the couple's daughter were the slaves seen to show consideration throughout, and this was because of her kindly nature, in that to the extent of her power she was always compassionate and ready to succour the slaves. Thereby it was demonstrated that the others were treated as they were, not because of some "natural savagery of slaves," but rather in revenge for wrongs previously received.
“The men appointed to the task, having dragged Damophilus and Megallis into the city, as we said, brought them to the theatre, where the crowd of rebels had assembled. But when Damophilus attempted to devise a plea to get them off safe and was winning over many of the crowd with his words, Hermeias and Zeuxis, men bitterly disposed towards him, denounced him as a cheat, and without waiting for a formal trial by the assembly the one ran him through the chest with a sword, the other chopped off his head with an axe. Thereupon Eunus was chosen king, not for his manly courage or his ability as a military leader, but solely for his marvels and his setting of the revolt in motion, and because his name seemed to contain a favourable omen that suggested good will towards his subjects.
Eunus as King of the Slaves
Diodorus Siculus wrote: “Established as the rebels' supreme commander,” Eunus “called an assembly and put to death all the citizenry of Enna except for those who were skilled in the manufacture of arms: these he put in chains and assigned them to this task. He gave Megallis to the maidservants to deal with as they might wish; they subjected her to torture and threw her over a precipice. He himself murdered his own masters, Antigenes and Pytho. [Source: Diodorus Siculus (wrote 60-30 B.C.), Bibliotheke Books 34/35. 2. 1-48]
“Having set a diadem upon his head, and arrayed himself in full royal style, he proclaimed his wife queen (she was a fellow Syrian and of the same city), and appointed to the royal council such men as seemed to be gifted with superior intelligence, among them one Achaeus (Achaeus by name and an Achaean by birth), a man who excelled both at planning and in action. In three days Eunus had armed, as best he could, more than six thousand men, besides others in his train who had only axes and hatchets, or slings, or sickles, or fire-hardened stakes, or even kitchen spits; and he went about ravaging the countryside. Then, since he kept recruiting untold numbers of slaves, he ventured even to do battle with Roman generals, and on joining combat repeatedly overcame them with his superior numbers, for he now had more than ten thousand soldiers.
“Eunus, after being proclaimed king, put them all to death, except for the men who in times past had, when his master indulged him, admitted him to their banquets, and had shown him courtesy both in respect of his prophecies and in their gifts of good things from the table; these men he spirited away and set free. Here indeed was cause for astonishment: that their fortunes should be so dramatically reversed, and that a kindness in such trivial matters should be requited so opportunely and with so great a boon.
“Achaeus, the counsellor of King Antiochus [Eunus], being far from pleased at the conduct of the runaway slaves, censured them for their recklessness and boldly warned them that they would meet with speedy punishment. So far from putting him to death for his outspokenness, Eunus not only presented him with the house of his former masters but made him a royal counsellor.
Sicily Under Eunus and the Rebellious Slaves
Diodorus Siculus wrote: “Eunus, having stationed his army out of range of their missiles, taunted the Romans by declaring that it was they, and not his men, who were runaways from battle. For the inhabitants of the city, at a safe distance (?), he staged a production of mimes, in which the slaves acted out scenes of revolt from their individual masters, heaping abuse on their arrogance and the inordinate insolence that had led to their destruction. [Source: Diodorus Siculus (wrote 60-30 B.C.), Bibliotheke Books 34/35. 2. 1-48]
“As for unusual strokes of ill fortune, even though some persons may be convinced that Providence has no concern with anything of the sort, yet surely it is to the interest of society that the fear of the gods should be deeply embedded in the hearts of the people. For those who act honestly because they are themselves virtuous are but few, and the great mass of humanity abstain from evil-doing only because of the penalties of the law and the retribution that comes from the gods.
“When these many great troubles fell upon the Sicilians, the common people were not only unsympathetic, but actually gloated over their plight, being envious because of the inequality in their respective lots, and the disparity in their modes of life. Their envy, from being a gnawing canker, now turned to joy, as it beheld the once resplendent lot of the rich changed and fallen into a condition such as was formerly beneath their very notice. Worst of all, though the rebels, making prudent provision for the future, did not set fire to the country estates nor damage the stock or the stored harvests, and abstained from harming anyone whose pursuit was agriculture, the populace, making the runaway slaves a pretext, made sallies into the country and with the malice of envy not only plundered the estates but set fire to the buildings as well.
Cleon Leads Another Slave Revolt and Defeats the Romans
Diodorus Siculus wrote: “There was, in addition, another revolt of fugitive slaves who banded together in considerable numbers. A certain Cleon, a Cilician from the region about Taurus, who was accustomed from childhood to a life of brigandage and had become in Sicily a herder of horses, constantly waylaid travellers and perpetrated murders of all kinds. On hearing the news of Eunus' success and of the victories of the fugitives serving with him, he rose in revolt, and persuading some of the slaves near by to join him in his mad venture overran the city of Acragas and all the surrounding country. [Source: Diodorus Siculus (wrote 60-30 B.C.), Bibliotheke Books 34/35. 2. 1-48]
“Their pressing needs and their poverty forced the rebel slaves to regard everyone as acceptable, giving them no opportunity to pick and choose. It needed no portent from the heavens to realize how easily the city could be captured. For it was evident even to the most simple-minded that because of the long period of peace the walls had crumbled, and that now, when many of its soldiers had been killed, the siege of the city would bring an easy success.
“And though there were high hopes everywhere that the revolutionary groups would come into conflict one with the other, and that the rebels, by destroying themselves, would free Sicily of strife, contrary to expectations the two groups joined forces, Cleon having subordinated himself to Eunus at his mere command, and discharging, as it were, the function of a general serving a king; his particular band numbered five thousand men. It was now about thirty days since the outbreak.
“Soon after, engaging in battle with a general arrived from Rome, Lucius Hypsaeus, who had eight thousand Sicilian troops, the rebels were victorious, since they now numbered twenty thousand. Before long their band reached a total of two hundred thousand, and in numerous battles with the Romans they acquitted themselves well, and failed but seldom.
“As word of this was bruited about, a revolt of one hundred and fifty slaves, banded together, flared up in Rome, of more than a thousand in Attica, and of yet others in Delos and many other places. But thanks to the speed with which forces were brought up and to the severity of their punitive measures, the magistrates of these communities at once disposed of the rebels and brought to their senses any who were wavering on the verge of revolt. In Sicily, however, the trouble grew.
Romans Put Down the Revolt and Punish the Revolting Slaves
Florus (A.D. c. 74 - c. 130) wrote in “Epitome of Roman History” 7. 1-8: “At last vengeance was taken on them by our general Perperna for having conquered them, and at last besieged them in Enna, and reduced them with famine as with a pestilence, he threw the remainder of the marauders into chains, and then crucified them. But over such enemies he was content with an ovation, that he might not sully the dignity of a triumph with the name of slaves.”
Diodorus Siculus wrote: “Cities were captured with all their inhabitants, and many armies were cut to pieces by the rebels, until Rupilius, the Roman commander, recovered Tauromenium for the Romans by placing it under strict siege and confining the rebels under conditions of unspeakable duress and famine: conditions such that, beginning by eating the children, they progressed to the women, and did not altogether abstain even from eating one another. It was on this occasion that Rupilius captured Comanus, the brother of Cleon, as he was attempting to escape from the beleaguered city. [Source: Diodorus Siculus (wrote 60-30 B.C.), Bibliotheke Books 34/35. 2. 1-48]
“Finally, after Sarapion, a Syrian, had betrayed the citadel, the general laid hands on all the runaway slaves in the city, whom, after torture, he threw over a cliff. From there he advanced to Enna, which he put under siege in much the same manner, bringing the rebels into extreme straits and frustrating their hopes. Cleon came forth from the city with a few men, but after an heroic struggle, covered with wounds, he was displayed dead, and Rupilius captured this city also by betrayal, since its strength was impregnable to force of arms.
“Eunus, taking with him his bodyguards, a thousand strong, fled in unmanly fashion to a certain precipitous region. The men with him, however, aware that their dreaded fate was inevitable, inasmuch as the general, Rupilius, was already marching against them, killed one another with the sword, by beheading. Eunus, the wonder-worker and king, who through cowardice had sought refuge in certain caves, was dragged out with four others, a cook, a baker, the man who massaged him at his bath, and a fourth, whose duty it had been to amuse him at drinking parties.
“Remanded to prison, where his flesh disintegrated into a mass of lice, he met such an end as befitted his knavery, and died at Morgantina. Thereupon Rupilius, traversing the whole of Sicily with a few picked troops, sooner than had been expected rid it of every nest of robbers.”
Slave Revolt in Sicily in 104-100 B.C.
The Slave Revolt in Sicily in 104-100 B.C., called the Second Servile War, was an unsuccessful slave uprising against the Roman Republic on Sicily. In 104 B.C., the Consul Gaius Marius — the leader of the Roman Republic — decreed that any allied/friendly Italian should be released if they were in Roman slavery as part of an effort to recruit soldiers for a battle. Around 800 Italian slaves were released in Sicily, angering many non-Italians who thought they would be released as well. Many of these abandoned their masters, incorrectly believing they had been freed. A rebellion broke out when they were ordered back to servitude by the Governor. The rebellion was led a slave named Salvius, who after being elected leader of the rebellion assumed the name Tryphon, from Diodotus Tryphon, a Seleucid ruler. He amassed an army containing thousands of trained and equipped slaves, including 2,000 cavalry and 20,000 infantry, and was joined by a Cilician named Athenion and his men from the west of Sicily. The Roman consul Manius Aquillius quelled the revolt only after great effort. It was the second of a series of three slave revolts in the Roman Republic, all fueled by same slave abuse in Sicily and Southern Italy. [Source: Wikipedia]
Florus (A.D. c. 74 - c. 130) wrote in “Epitome of Roman History”: “Scarcely had the island recovered itself; when it passed from the hands of a Syrian slave to those of a Cilician. Athenio, a shepherd, having killed his master, formed his slaves, whom he had released from the slave-house, into a regular troop. Then, equipped with a purple robe and a silver sceptre, and with a crown on his head like a king, he drew together no less an army than the fanatic his predecessor, and laying waste, with even greater fury, (as if taking vengeance for his fate,) villages, fortresses, and towns, he vented his rage upon the masters, but still more violently on the slaves, whom he treated as renegades. By him, too, some armies of praetors were overthrown, and the camps of Servilius and Lucullus taken. But Aquilius, following the example of Perperna, reduced the enemy to extremities by cutting off his supplies, and easily destroyed by famine forces which were well defended by arms. They would have surrendered, had they not, from dread of punishment, preferred a voluntary death. Not even on their leader could chastisement be inflicted, though he fell alive into our hands, for while the people were disputing who should secure him, the prey was torn to pieces between the contending parties. [Source: Florus (A.D. c. 74 - c. 130 ), “Epitome of Roman History,” 2. 7. 9-12]
Dio Cassius (c.155-235 A.D.) wrote: “Publius Licinius Nerva, who was praetor in the island, on learning that the slaves were not being justly treated in some respects, or else because he sought an occasion for profit -- for he was not inaccessible to bribes -- sent round a notice that all who had any charges to bring against their masters should come to him and he would assist them. Accordingly, many of them banded together, and some declared they were being wronged and others made known other grievances against their masters, thinking they had secured an opportunity for accomplishing all that they wished against them without bloodshed. The freemen, after consultation, resisted them and would not make any concessions. Therefore Licinius, inspired with fear by the united front of both sides and dreading that some great mischief might be done by the defeated party, would not receive any of the slaves, but sent them away, thinking that they would suffer no harm or that at any rate they would be scattered and so could cause no further disturbance. But the slaves, fearing their masters because they had dared to raise their voices at all against them, organized a band and by common consent turned to robbery. [Source: Dio Cassius (c.155-235 A.D.), “Roman History,” Book 27 fragment 101]
“The people of Messana, not expecting to meet with any harm, had deposited in that place for safe-keeping all their most valuable and precious possessions. Athenio, a Cilician who held the chief command of the robbers, on learning this, attacked them while they were celebrating a public festival in the suburbs, killed many of them as they were scattered about, and almost took the city by storm. After building a wall to fortify Macella, a strong position, he proceeded to do great injury to the country.”
Slave Uprising in Sicily Sparked by a Lovesick Roman Knight
Diodorus Siculus wrote: “In Rome, at about the same time that Marius defeated the Libyan kings Bocchus and Jugurtha in a great battle and slew many tens of thousands of Libyans, and, later, took thence and held captive Jugurtha himself (after he had been seized by Bocchus who thereby won pardon from the Romans for the offences that had brought him into war with them), at the time, furthermore, that the Romans, at war with the Cimbri, were disheartened, having met with very serious reverses in Gaul -- at about this time, I repeat, men arrived in Rome from Sicily bearing news of an uprising of slaves, their numbers running into many tens of thousands. With the advent of this fresh news the whole Roman state found itself in a crisis, inasmuch as nearly sixty thousand allied troops had perished in the war in Gaul against the Cimbri and there were no legionary forces available to send out. [Source: Diodorus Siculus (wrote 60-30 B.C.), “Bibliotheke” Book 36. 1-11]
“Even before the new uprising of the slaves in Sicily there had occurred in Italy a number of short-lived and minor revolts, as though the supernatural was indicating in advance the magnitude of the impending Sicilian rebellion. The first was at Nuceria, where thirty slaves formed a conspiracy and were promptly punished; the second at Capua, where two hundred rose in insurrection and were promptly put down.
“The third was surprising in character. There was a certain Titus Minucius, a Roman knight and the son of a very wealthy father. This man fell in love with a servant girl of outstanding beauty who belonged to another. Having lain with her and fallen unbelievably in love, he purchased her freedom for seven Attic talents (his infatuation being so compelling, and the girl's master having consented to the sale only reluctantly), and fixed a time by which he was to pay off the debt, for his father's abundant means obtained him credit. When the appointed day came and he was unable to pay, he set a new deadline of thirty days. When this day too was at hand and the sellers put in a claim for payment, while he, though his passion was in full tide, was no better able than before to carry out his bargain, he then embarked on an enterprise that passes all comprehension: he made designs on the life of those who were dunning him, and arrogated to himself autocratic powers. He bought up five hundred suits of armour, and contracting for a delay in payment, which he was granted, he secretly conveyed them to a certain field and stirred up his own slaves, four hundred in number, to rise in revolt.
Then, having assumed the diadem and a purple cloak, together with lictors and the other appurtenances of office, and having with the co-operation of the slaves proclaimed himself king, he flogged and beheaded the persons who were demanding payment for the girl. Arming his slaves, he marched on the neighbouring farmsteads and gave arms to those who eagerly joined his revolt, but slew anyone who opposed him. Soon he had more than seven hundred soldiers, and having enrolled them by centuries he constructed a palisade and welcomed all who revolted. When word of the uprising was reported at home the senate took prudent measures and remedied the situation. Of the praetors then in the city they appointed one, Lucius Lucullus, to apprehend the fugitives.
“That very day he selected six hundred soldiers in Rome itself, and by the time he reached Capua had mustered four thousand infantry and four hundred cavalry. Vettius, on learning that Lucullus was on his way, occupied a strong hill with an army that now totalled more than thirty-five hundred men. The forces engaged, and at first the fugitives had the advantage, since they were fighting from higher ground; but later Lucullus, by suborning Apollonius, the general of Vettius, and guaranteeing him in the name of the state immunity from punishment, persuaded him to turn traitor against his fellow rebels. Since he was now cooperating with the Romans and turning his forces against Vettius, the latter, fearing the punishment that would await him if he were captured, slew himself, and was presently joined in death by all who had taken part in the insurrection, save only the traitor Apollonius.”
Sicilian Slaves Revolt After Marius Frees Italian Slaves
Diodorus Siculus wrote: “Now these events, forming as it were a prelude, preceded the major revolt in Sicily, which began in the following manner. There were many new uprisings of slaves, the first at Nuceria, where thirty slaves formed a conspiracy and were promptly punished, and the second at Capua, where two hundred slaves rose in insurrection and also were promptly punished. A third revolt was extraordinary and quite out of the usual pattern. There was a certain Titus Vettius, a Roman knight, whose father was a person of great wealth. Being a very young man, he was attracted by a servant girl of outstanding beauty who belonged to another. Having lain with her, and even lived with her for a certain length of time, he fell marvellously in love and into a state bordering, in fact, on madness. Wishing because of his affection for her to purchase the girl's freedom, he at first encountered her master's opposition, but later, having won his consent by the magnitude of the offer, he purchased her for seven Attic talents, and agreed to pay the purchase price at a stipulated time. His father's wealth obtaining him credit for the sum, he carried the girl off, and hiding away at one of his father's country estates sated his private lusts. But when the stipulated time for the debt came round he was visited by men sent to demand payment. He put off the settlement till thirty days later, and when he was still unable to furnish the money, but was now a very slave to love, he embarked on an enterprise that passes all comprehension. Indeed, the extreme severity of his affliction and the embarrassment that accompanied his failure to pay promptly caused his mind to turn to childish and utterly foolish calculations. Faced by impending separation from his mistress, he formed a desperate plot against those who were demanding payment.... [Source: Diodorus Siculus (wrote 60-30 B.C.), “Bibliotheke” Book 36. 1-11]
“In the course of Marius' campaign against the Cimbri the senate granted Marius permission to summon military aid from the nations situated beyond the seas. Accordingly Marius sent to Nicomedes, the king of Bithynia, requesting assistance. The king replied that the majority of the Bithynians had been seized by tax farmers and were now in slavery in the Roman provinces. The senate then issued a decree that no citizen of an allied state should be held in slavery in a Roman province, and that the praetors should provide for their liberation. In compliance with the decree Licinius Nerva, who was at this time governor of Sicily, appointed hearings and set free a number of slaves, with the result that in a few days more than eight hundred persons obtained their freedom. And all who were in slavery throughout the island were agog with hopes of freedom. The notables, however, assembled in haste and entreated the praetor to desist from this course.
“Whether he was won over by their bribes or weakly succumbed in his desire to favour them, in any case he ceased to show interest in these tribunals, and when men approached him to obtain freedom he rebuked them and ordered them to return to their masters. The slaves, banding together, departed from Syracuse, and taking refuge in the sanctuary of the Palici canvassed the question of revolution. From this point on the audacity of the slaves was made manifest in many places, but the first to make a bid for freedom were the thirty slaves of two very wealthy brothers in the region of Halicyae, led by a man named Varius. They first murdered their own masters by night as they lay sleeping, then proceeded to the neighbouring villas and summoned the slaves to freedom. In this one night more than a hundred and twenty gathered together. Seizing a position that was naturally strong, they strengthened it even further, having received in the meantime an increment of eighty armed slaves. Licinius Nerva, the governor of the province, marched against them in haste, but though he placed them under siege his efforts were in vain. When he saw that their fortress could not be taken by force, he set his hopes on treason. As the instrument for his purpose he had one Gaius Titinius, surnamed Gadaeus, whom he won over with promises of immunity. This man had been condemned to death two years before, but had escaped punishment, and living as a brigand had murdered many of the free men of the region, while abstaining from harm to any of the slaves.
“Now, taking with him a sufficient body of loyal slaves, he approached the fortress of the rebels, as though intending to join them in the war against the Romans. Welcomed with open arms as a friend, he was even chosen, because of his valour, to be general, whereupon he betrayed the fortress. Of the rebels some were cut down in battle, and others, fearing the punishment that would follow on their capture, cast themselves down from the heights. Thus was the first uprising of the fugitives quelled.”
Rebel Sicilian Slaves Launch a Full-Scale Revolt
Diodorus Siculus wrote: “After the soldiers had disbanded and returned to their usual abodes, word was brought that eighty slaves had risen in rebellion and murdered Publius Clonius, who had been a Roman knight, and, further, that they were now engaged in gathering a large band. The praetor, distracted by the advice of others and by the fact that most of his forces had been disbanded, failed to act promptly and so provided the rebels an opportunity to make their position more secure. But he set out with the soldiers that were available, and after crossing the river Alba passed by the rebels who were quartered on Mount Caprianus and reached the city of Heracleia. By spreading the report that the praetor was a coward, since he had not attacked them, they aroused a large number of slaves to revolt, and with an influx of many recruits, who were equipped for battle in such fashion as was possible, within the first seven days the had more than eight hundred men under arms, and soon thereafter numbered not less than two thousand. [Source: Diodorus Siculus (wrote 60-30 B.C.), “Bibliotheke” Book 36. 1-11]
“When the praetor learned at Heracleia of their growing numbers he appointed Marcus Titinius as commander, giving him a force of six hundred men from the garrison at Enna. Titinius launched an attack on the rebels, but since they held the advantage both in numbers and by reason of the difficult terrain, he and his men were routed, many of them being killed, while the rest threw down their arms and barely made good their escape by flight. The rebels, having gained both a victory and so many arms all at once, maintained their efforts all the more boldly, and all slaves everywhere were now keyed up to revolt. Since there were many who revolted each day, their numbers received a sudden and marvellous increase, and in a few days there were more than six thousand. Thereupon they held an assembly, and when the question was laid before them first of all chose as their king a man named Salvius, who was reputed to be skilled in divination and was a flute-player of frenetic music at performances for women. When he became king he avoided the cities, regarding them as the source of sloth and self-indulgence, and dividing the rebels into three groups, over whom he set a like number of commanders, he ordered them to scour the country and then assemble in full force at a stated time and place. Having provided themselves by their raids with an abundance of horses and other beasts, they soon had more than two thousand cavalry and no fewer than twenty thousand infantry, and were by now making a good showing in military exercises.
“So, descending suddenly on the strong city of Morgantina, they subjected it to vigorous and constant assaults. The praetor, with about ten thousand Italian and Sicilian troops, set out to bring aid to the city, marching by night; discovering on his arrival that the rebels were occupied with the siege, he attacked their camp, and finding that it was guarded by a mere handful of men, but was filled with captive women and other booty of all sorts, he captured the place with ease. After plundering the camp he moved on Morgantina. The rebels made a sudden counterattack and, since they held a commanding position and struck with might and main at once gained the ascendant, and the praetor's forces were routed. When the king of the rebels made proclamation that no one who threw down his arms should be killed, the majority dropped them and ran. Having outwitted the enemy in this manner, Salvius recovered his camp, and by his resounding victory got possession of many arms. Not more than six hundred of the Italians and Sicilians perished in the battle, thanks to the king's humane proclamation, but about four thousand were taken prisoner. Having doubled his forces, since there were many who flocked to him as a result of his success, Salvius was now undisputed master of the open country, and again attempted to take Morgantina by siege. By proclamation he offered the slaves in the city their freedom, but when their masters countered with a like offer if they would join in the defence of the city, they chose rather the side of their masters, and by stout resistance repelled the siege. Later, however, the praetor, by rescinding their emancipation, caused the majority of them to desert to the rebels.”
Athenion Becomes Leader of the Sicilian Slave Revolt of 104-100 B.C.
Diodorus Siculus wrote: “In the territory of Segesta and Lilybaeum, and of the other neighbouring cities, the fever of insurrection was also raging among the masses of slaves. Here the leader was a certain Athenion, a man of outstanding courage, a Cilician by birth. He was the bailiff of two very wealthy brothers, and having great skill in astrology he won over first the slaves who were under him, some two hundred, and then those in the vicinity, so that in five days he had gathered together more than a thousand men. When he was chosen as king and had put on the diadem, he adopted an attitude just the opposite to that of all the other rebels: he did not admit all who revolted, but making the best ones soldiers, he required the rest to remain at their former labours and to busy themselves each with his domestic affairs and his appointed task; thus Athenion was enabled to provide food in abundance for his soldiers. [Source: Diodorus Siculus (wrote 60-30 B.C.), “Bibliotheke” Book 36. 1-11]
“He pretended, moreover, that the gods forecasted for him, by the stars, that he would be king of all Sicily; consequently, he must needs conserve the land and all its cattle and crops, as being his own property. Finally, when he had assembled a force of more than ten thousand men, he ventured to lay siege to Lilybaeum, an impregnable city. Having failed to achieve anything, he departed thence, saying that this was by order of the gods, and that if they persisted in the siege they would meet with misfortune. While he was yet making ready to withdraw from the city, ships arrived in the harbour bringing a contingent of Mauretanian auxiliaries, who had been sent to reinforce the city of Lilybaeum and had as their commander a man named Gomon. He and his men made an unexpected attack by night on Athenion's forces as they were on the march, and after felling many and wounding quite a few others returned to the city. As a result the rebels marvelled at his prediction of the event by reading the stars.
“Turmoil and a very Iliad of woes possessed all Sicily. Not only slaves but also impoverished freemen were guilty of every sort of rapine and lawlessness, and ruthlessly murdered anyone they met, slave or free, so that no one should report their frenzied conduct. As a result all city-dwellers considered what was within the city walls scarcely their own, and whatever was outside as lost to them and subject only to the lawless rule of force. And many besides were the strange deeds perpetrated in Sicily, and many were the perpetrators.”
Slaves and Poor Freemen Ravage Sicily
Diodorus Siculus wrote: “Not only did the multitude of slaves who had plunged into revolt ravage the country, but even those freemen who possessed no holdings on the land resorted to rapine and lawlessness. Those without means, impelled alike by poverty and lawlessness, streamed out into the country in swarms, drove off the herds of cattle, plundered the crops stored in the barns, and murdered without more ado all who fell in their way, slave or free alike, so that no one should be able to carry back news of their frantic and lawless conduct. Since no Roman officials were dispensing justice and anarchy prevailed, there was irresponsible licence, and men everywhere were wreaking havoc far and wide. [Source: Diodorus Siculus (wrote 60-30 B.C.), “Bibliotheke” Book 36. 1-11]
“Hence every region was filled with violence and rapine, which ran riot and enjoyed full licence to pillage the property of the well-to-do. Men who aforetime had stood first in their cities in reputation and wealth, now through this unexpected turn of fortune were not only losing their property by violence at the hands of the fugitives, but were forced to put up with insolent treatment even from the free born. Consequently they all considered whatever was within the gates scarcely their own, and whatever was without the walls as lost to them and subject only to the lawless rule of force. In general there was turmoil in the cities, and a confounding of all justice under law. For the rebels, supreme in the open country, made the land impassable to travellers, since they were implacable in their hatred for their masters and never got enough of their unexpected good fortune. Meanwhile the slaves in the cities, who were contracting the infection and were poised for revolt, were a source of great fear to their masters.
“After the siege of Morgantina, Salvius, having overrun the country as far as the plain of Leontini, assembled his whole army there, no fewer than thirty thousand picked men, and after sacrificing to the heroes, the Palici, dedicated to them in thank offering for his victory a robe bordered with a strip of sea-dyed purple. At the same time he proclaimed himself king and was henceforth addressed by the rebels as Tryphon. As it was his intention to seize Triocala and build a palace there, he sent to Athenion, summoning him as a king might summon a general. Everyone supposed that Athenion would dispute the primacy with him and that in the resulting strife between the rebels the war would easily be brought to an end.
“But Fortune, as though intentionally increasing the power of the fugitives, caused their leaders to be of one mind. Tryphon came promptly to Triocala with his army, and thither also came Athenion with three thousand men, obedient to Tryphon as a general is obedient to his king; the rest of his army he had sent out to cover the countryside and rouse the slaves to rebellion. Later on, suspecting that Athenion would attack him, given the opportunity, Tryphon placed him under detention. The fortress, which was already very strong, he equipped with lavish constructions, and strengthened it even more. This place, Triocala, is said to be so named because it possesses three fine advantages: first, an abundance of flowing springs, whose waters are exceptionally sweet; second, an adjacent countryside yielding vines and olives, and wonderfully amenable to cultivation; and third, surpassing strength, for it is a large and impregnable ridge of rock. This place, which he surrounded with a city wall eight stades in length, and with a deep moat, he used as his royal capital, and saw that it was abundantly supplied with all the necessities of life. He constructed also a royal palace, and a market place that could accommodate a large multitude. Moreover, he picked out a sufficient number of men endowed with superior intelligence, whom he appointed counsellors and employed as his cabinet. When holding audience he put on a toga bordered in purple and wore a wide-bordered tunic, and had lictors with axes to precede him; and in general he affected all the trappings that go to make up and embellish the dignity of a king.”
Roman Army of 17,000 Sent to Sicily to Fight the Rebels
Diodorus Siculus wrote: “To oppose the rebels the Roman senate assigned Lucius Licinius Lucullus, with an army of fourteen thousand Romans and Italians, eight hundred Bithynians, Thessalians, and Acarnanians, six hundred Lucanians (commanded by Cleptius, a skilled general and a man renowned for valour), besides six hundred others, for a total of seventeen thousand. With these forces he occupied Sicily. Now Tryphon, having dropped the charges against Athenion, was making plans for the impending war with the Romans. His choice was to fight at Triocala, but it was Athenion's advice that they ought not to shut themselves up to undergo siege, but should fight in the open. This plan prevailed, and they encamped near Scirthaea, no fewer than forty thousand strong; the Roman camp was at a distance of twelve stades. There was constant skirmishing at first, then the two armies met face to face. The battle swayed now this way, now that, with many casualties on both sides. [Source: Diodorus Siculus (wrote 60-30 B.C.), “Bibliotheke” Book 36. 1-11]
“Athenion, who had a fighting force of two hundred horse, was victorious and covered the whole area about him with corpses, but after being wounded in both knees and receiving a third blow as well, he was of no service in fighting, whereupon the runagate slaves lost spirit and were routed. Athenion was taken for dead and so was not detected. By thus feigning death he made good his escape during the coming night. The Romans won a brilliant victory, for Tryphon's army and Tryphon himself turned and fled. Many were cut down in flight, and no fewer than twenty thousand were finally slain. Under cover of night the rest escaped to Triocala, though it would have been an easy matter to dispatch them also if only the praetor had followed in pursuit. The slave party was now so dejected that they even considered returning to their masters and placing themselves in their hands. But it was the sentiment of those who had pledged themselves to fight to the end and not to yield themselves abjectly to the enemy that at last prevailed. On the ninth day following, the praetor arrived to lay siege to Triocala. After inflicting and suffering some casualties he retired worsted, and the rebels once more held their heads high. The praetor, whether through indolence or because he had been bribed, accomplished nothing of what needed doing, and in consequence he was later haled to judgement by the Romans and punished.
“Gaius Servilius, sent out as praetor to succeed Lucullus, likewise achieved nothing worthy of note. Hence he, like Lucullus, was later condemned and sent into exile. On the death of Tryphon, Athenion succeeded to the command, and, since Servilius did nothing to hinder him, he laid cities under siege, overran the country with impunity, and brought many places under his sway.
Sicilian Slave Revolt of 104-100 B.C. Finally Quelled by Romans
Diodorus Siculus wrote: “The praetor Lucullus, on learning that Gaius Servilius, the praetor appointed to succeed him in the war, had crossed the Strait, disbanded his army, and set fire to the camp and the constructions, for he did not wish his successor in the command to have any significant resources for waging war. Since he himself was being denounced for his supposed desire to enlarge the scope of the war, he assumed that by ensuring the humiliation and disgrace of his successor he was also dispelling the charge brought against himself. [Source: Diodorus Siculus (wrote 60-30 B.C.), “Bibliotheke” Book 36. 1-11]
“At the end of the year Gaius Marius was elected consul at Rome for the fifth time, with Gaius Aquillius as his colleague. It was Aquillius who was sent against the rebels, and by his personal valour won a resounding victory over them. Meeting Athenion, the king of the rebels, face to face, he put up an heroic struggle; he slew Athenion, and was himself wounded in the head but recovered after treatment. Then he continued the campaign against the surviving rebels, who now numbered ten thousand. When they did not abide his approach, but sought refuge in their strongholds, Aquillius unrelentingly employed every means till he had captured their forts and mastered them.
But a thousand were still left, with Satyrus at their head. Aquillius at first intended to subdue them by force of arms, but when later, after an exchange of envoys, they surrendered, he released them from immediate punishment and took them to Rome to do combat with wild beasts. There, as some report, they brought their lives to a most glorious end; for they avoided combat with the beasts and cut one another down at the public altars, Satyrus himself slaying the last man. Then he, as the final survivor, died heroically by his own hand. Such was the dramatic conclusion of the Sicilian Slave War, a war that lasted about four years.”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, the BBC and various books and other publications.
Last updated October 2018