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Slave Revolts or Servile Wars in Italy

The Sicilian Slave Wars and Spartacus

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Image ID: 1624734  Spartacus' death. (1882)

Image ID: 1624734 Spartacus' death. (1882)

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Spartacus > Revolt of Spartacus

According to Barry Strauss in Makers of Ancient Strategy* prisoners of war enslaved at the end of the Second Punic War rebelled in 198 B.C. [For context, see Roman Republic Timeline - 2nd Century.] This slave uprising in central Italy is the first reliable report of one, although it was surely not the first actual slave uprising. There were other slave uprisings in the 180s. These were small; however, there were 3 major slave revolts in Italy between 140 and 70 B.C. These 3 uprisings are called the Servile Wars, since the Latin for 'slave' is servus.

First (Sicilian) Slave Revolt 135-132 B.C.

One leader of the slave revolt in 135 B.C., was a freeborn slave named Eunus, who adopted a name familiar from the region of his birth -- Syria. Styling himself "King Antiochus," Eunus was reputed to be a magician, and led the slaves of the eastern section of Sicily. His followers wielded farm implements until they could capture decent Roman weapons. At the same time, in the western part of Sicily, a slave manager or vilicus named Kleon, also credited with religious and mystical powers, gathered slave troops under him. It was only when a slow-moving Roman senate dispatched the Roman army, that it was able to end the long slave war. The Roman consul who succeeded against the slaves was Publius Rupilius.

By the 1st century B.C., roughly 20% of the people in Italy were slaves -- mostly agricultural and rural, according to Barry Strauss. The sources for such a large number of slaves were military conquest, slave traders, and pirates who were particularly active in the Greek-speaking Mediterranean from c. 100 B.C.

Second (Sicilian) Slave Revolt 104-100 B.C.

A slave named Salvius led slaves in the east of Sicily; while Athenion led the western slaves. Strauss says a source on this revolt claims the slaves were joined in their lawlessness by impoverished freeman. Slow action on the part of Rome again permitted the movement to last four years.

The Revolt of Spartacus 73-71 B.C.

While Spartacus was a slave, as were the other leaders of the earlier slave revolts, he was also a gladiator, and while the revolt centered in Campania, in southern Italy, rather than Sicily, many of the slaves who joined the movement were much like the slaves of the Sicilian revolts. Most of the southern Italian and Sicilian slaves worked in the latifundia 'plantations' as agricultural and pastoral slaves. Again, local government was inadequate to handle the revolt. Strauss says Spartacus defeated nine Roman armies before Crassus defeated him.

See The Spartacan War

* Review: Makers of Ancient Strategy, edited by Victor Davis Hanson.

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