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The Slave Wars

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The several serious slave wars that began their course at this time were provoked, first, by the sheer scale of the arrival of slaves, to start with mostly prisoners of war, and then purchased in markets like that of Delos. Estimates of the number of slaves in Italy during the second- first centuries BC stand at somewhere between 32 and 50 per cent of the total population. Secondly, by the harshness of some masters, mainly in the rural areas where in some parts slaves represented as much as 70 per cent of the population – their situation seems to have been especially painful in Sicily, under the iron mle of Greek masters; and thirdly, by the activities of ringleaders, most often of eastern origin.

The first of these slave wars was in Latium, where slaves employed as shepherds gladly and easily turned brigands, and the consuls of 143 and 141 had to use military force to quell them. But it was in Sicily, between 135 and 132, that the most serious revolts broke out, serious not only because of the number of rebels involved, but because of the strength of their organization, which took on the lineaments of a state. The first began in the region of Henna, under the influence of a slave of Syrian origin from Apamea, one Eunous, who claimed to be a sooth-sayer and devotee of the Syrian goddess Atargatis, but who also, and perhaps more usefully, called upon Demeter of Henna. There he had himself proclaimed king under the name Antiochus and set up his capital. A certain Achaeus (no doubt deriving his name from his Achaean origin) took a seat in his royal council. Another slave, a Cllician named Cleon, and his brother Comanus gained mastery of Agrigentum and placed themselves under the authority of Eunous. The rebels soon seized Tauromenium (Taormina), Catana, and Messina.

Sustained by the name of possession, home, and territory, and with religious backing, these collective revolts were difficult to suppress. It was not until 134 that Calpurnius Piso succeeded in recapturing Messina and was able, in 133, to begin the siege of Henna, and not until 132 that that town fell, with Cleon killed, and then funous, taken by surprise in a cave. It had been such a close shave that the Senate deemed it necessary to send a commission often senators to Sicily, with the task of reorganizing the province.

In 103, there was a rising of slaves in Campania, initially the individual undertaking of a Roman knight from Capua who was in love with a slave girl. The disturbances, however, reached Sicily. And at this point came the intervention of the Roman – or Italian – plebeians Varius and Salvius. The former had two rich landowners assassinated by their 30 slaves, while the latter, who claimed to be a seer, became king under the name of Tryphon, and was succeeded by a Cilician, Athenion, who claimed to be an astrologer. Mter several failures, the consul Aquillius managed to put down the insurrection in 101.

In Italy, the last and most famous of the slave revolts was that of Spartacus in 73. This was different from the others: because of its proximity to Rome, which felt the threat all the more keenly; because of its origin, the actions of a Thracian gladiator which influenced the schools of gladiators in Capua; because of the personality of its leader, Spartacus, a man more Greek than barbarian; and because of the spontaneous nature of the movement.

The revolt opened with the occupation of the crater of Vesuvius and a victory over the praetor ordered to dislodge the rebels. Rein forced by the shepherd slaves of the Apennines, they then formed two groups, one commanded by Spartacus and the other by the Gaul Crixus. And the whole of southern Italy was pillaged.

Another difference from the Sicilian movements was that this one did not put on the mantle of a state. Spartacus’ objective was to bring the slaves back to their home countries. On this point he differed from Crixus, who intended to remain in Italy.

In 72, both consuls were dispatched against the rebels. Crixus was killed. Spartacus then began to march north, as if he wanted to cross the Alps and take the Gaulish slaves home. After crossing Picenum, he vanquished the Cisalpine governor at Modena. Changing his tactics, he turned south toward Lucania, perhaps with the idea of taking the mantime route. A terrified Rome gave M. Licinius Crassus extraordi nary command and six legions. Spartacus, seemingly cornered at the tip of Bruttium, managed none the less to escape in the winter of 72~71. Finally, with the help of Pompey, Crassus was able to defeat the rebels. Spartacus was killed, and 6,000 rebel slaves crucified along the Appian Way, between Capua and Rome. The remainder of Spartacus’ army was cmshed by Pompey on his return from Spain.

The revolt of Spartacus did not produce the same effects as the Sicilian wars. It brought no new legislation; the assurance of its total repression was enough. But the fear had been all the greater because fed by the memory and consequences of the Social War.


For three years Rome witnessed “the whole of Italy rise up against [it]” (Velleius Paterculus 2.15), the “great war” (as Diodoms Siculus called it). And for an apparently surprising reason: Rome’s refusal to grant Italians the Roman citizenship they desired. In fact, the question had first been raised after the conquests in the third century. Since that time Italy had been a confused tangle of territories, with the privileges and rewards, rights and duties of the triumphant Roman state lying unevenly upon them.

In first place, ofcourse, came Roman citizens. Full members of the civic body, they participated in all the state’s activities; they enjoyed the benefit of civil and legal rights; since 167 (after Pydna) they had been free of thetributum, that is, direct taxation; and they were entitled to a share in booty, to agrarian allocations, and to distributions of corn. Next came the “Latins,” who held a status half-way between that of citizens and that ofsoeji, the third category. Inhabitants of Latin cities and colonies, the Latins shared the civil and legal rights of citizens (rights of contract, commercial and matrimonial), and were liable for certain fiscal and military dues (serving in auxiliary units). But these “allies with a Latin name” did not have all the political rights of citizens in order to vote, they had to come to Rome and vote in a tribe drawn at random for each ballot. They aspired to full citizens’ rights.

The soeji or “allies” were peoples connected with Rome by a treaty that laid down their relations with the capital, which, in most cases, exerted close control over them. Although in general they had re mained loyal during the Second Punic War, they had received no reward. Quite the reverse: since 177 they had been excluded from the possession of land which they had helped to win for or restore to the Romans. They continued to supply the Roman army with contingents that were indispensable to its wars of conquest.

In 123, Gaius Gracchus raised the possibility of granting citizenship to the Latins and Latin rights to the “allies.” Not only did the Senate reject this proposal, but it was decided to expel from the capital those Latins and “allies” who had no voting rights. The matter resurfaced between 95 and 91, when new measures were taken to counter the infiltration of Latins and Italian “allies” into the city.

In 91, M. Livius Drusus, a “noble” demagogue, tabled a rogatio recommending, principally, a law that would grant citizenship to the Italians, as well as a new grain law. Immense hopes were raised among the Italians, but the senatorial oligarchy loosed their fury on Drusus. To support him, a commando group of 10,000 Marsi set off for Rome, intent on sacking the city. They were successfully persuaded to turn back. At the same time, the Senate rejected Drusus’ rogatio, and in October 91 he was murdered in his own home. That gave rise to the revolt of the Marsi, and then of the Samnites, and soon of the whole of central and southern Italy. Thus began the Social War or war of the allies (Soeji).

This long and bitter struggle has sometimes been compared to the American Civil War. Great hatreds were unleashed: at Asculum (Ascoli) in Picenum, Roman women were scalped before being put to death; at Grumentum in Lucania, the small Roman garrison was put to the sword and the civilian population massacred. The Marsi and Samnites, most ardent of the rebels, precipitantly issued their own currency (a sign of sovereignty): among the Marsi this coinage bore the word Italia, and among the Samnites, in Oscan, Vitalia.Italian state institutions were set up and a capital, Corfinium, rechristened Italica. Faced with this secession and a “federal” contingent of some 100,000 men, Rome took fright. It decided on a very repressive measure (thelex Varia), and then dispatched its two best generals, C. Marius and L. Cornelius Sulla.

At the same time, by means of three laws, Rome gave evidence of its generosity by granting the essence of the Italian demands, notably by the lexjulia of 90: Roman citizenship was awarded to all the Latins and to the “allies” who had not taken up arms, or were willing to lay them down at that time. In December 89, the war seemed to have ended – though in a few places it was prolonged until 80.

On the face of it the “allies” had thereby won. But one vital question remained to be settled: how to integrate the new citizens (novi cives) into the civic body. Given the way voting proceeded in the comitia, and given the numbers of new citizens involved, their impor tance therein would be the greater the greater the number of the Roman tribes among which they were distributed. Seeing the danger of their presence in all or many of the 35 tribes upsetting the accustomed political arrangements, the Senate wanted to enrol them in only a few. Hence arose difficult disputes between populares and optimates . It was not until a senatorial decree of 84 that the principle of their enrolment in the 35 tribes was conceded. And it was not until 70/ 69 that, under pressure from the populares; the related census-taking operations were completed – revealing that the adult male citizens at that time numbered 910,000, twice as many as before the war.

Apart from the coming about of those institutional changes that realized the hopes or fears of the advocates and opponents of this expansion, the main consequences of the Social War and of the enlarge ment of the citizen body (itself such a consequence) were, firstly, the wide diftiasion of Roman law and the quickening of the process of Romanization in the peninsula that the Italians’ access to Roman citizenship brought in its wake. Only the Cisalpine region remained a little apart, being still a province and administered as such until the time of Caesar. Secondly, as a result of the war, enormous “clienteles” were formed in Italy, for instance, that of Pompeius Strabo (father of Pompey the Great) in Picenum, where he owned vast properties. And finally, with the entry into the ruling classes of Rome of citizens from the Italian cities and colonies, a new society was in the making: moving gradually but relentlessly into the magistracies and the Senate, these new Italian Romans would eventually take over from the old Roman families.

As may be seen, the conquests had decisive effects on Rome’s political, economic, and social development. Their consequences were no less important in the cultural and spiritual life of the Romans.


Direct contact with Magna Graecia and the Hellenistic world, the influx of foreigners, primarily slaves, into Rome and Italy, the increase in travel and trade throughout the Mediterranean, all these resulted in a transformation of the way of lifr on the peninsula, but chiefly in Rome, where in the second and first centuries BC a startling develop ment is evident in its material culture as well as in the moral, intellec tual, and spiritual life of its citizens.


All aspects of the material culture of the peninsula at this time were affected by a trend toward grandiosity, luxury, and refinement.

In Rome, a town where architecture had largely remained simple and traditional, exotic stone temples were now being built, their bearing and manner announcing the sway of Greece, and conveying even the temptations of the East. Between 200 and 175, no frwer than fifteen temples were constructed. And between 146 and 121, a new series was built, featuring the Greek marble of Mount Pentelicus and the use of the portico. Other buildings began to give the city the look of a real capital; aqueducts, bridges, and roads enriched the urban plan. A new type of edifice, the basilica, appeared in Rome. The highly decorative Corinthian column became popular. And private houses became larger and more sumptuous, the number of great dorn us (private mansions), decorated with marble columns and possessing airy and ornate reception rooms, spurting at the end of the second century. In the Hellenized south of Italy at first, and then in central southern Italy, temples were built with vast sacred courtyards (areae) surrounded by colonnades – the temple of Apollo at Pompeii is a fine example. The most grandiose was the temple of Fortuna Primigenia at Praeneste.