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First Servile War

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Title: First Servile War  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: 130s BC, Servile Wars, Perusine War, Sicilian revolt, Sulla's first civil war
Collection: 130S Bc, 2Nd-Century Bc Conflicts, Ancient Sicily, Military History of Sicily, Roman Servile Wars
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

First Servile War

First Servile War
Part of the Servile Wars
Date 135–132 BC
Location Sicily, Achaea
Result Roman victory
Roman Republic Slaves of Sicily
Commanders and leaders
Lucius Calpurnius Piso, consul
Publius Rupilius, consul
Scipio Aemilianus

The First Servile War of 135–132 BC was an unsuccessful rebellion of slaves against the Roman Republic. The war was prompted by slave revolts in Enna on the island of Sicily. It was 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 defeated the rebels.


Following the final expulsion of the Carthaginians during the Second Punic War, there were great changes in land ownership in Sicily. Speculators from Italy rushed onto the island, buying up large tracts of land at low prices, or occupied estates which had belonged to Sicilians of the Carthaginian party. These were forfeited to Rome after the execution or flight of their owners.

The Sicilians of the Roman party also became rich out of the distress of their countrymen. According to Diodorus Siculus, politically influential slave-owners, often Roman equites,[1] did not provide enough food and clothing for their slaves. The slaves turned to banditry to survive.[2] The poorer Sicilians were the sufferers. Several decades of increasing tension finally broke out into war as the slaves revolted.

Servile War

The chief of the slaves was a Syrian named Eunus, considered an influential prophet and conjurer among the slaves.

While he was still a slave, his master employed him as an entertainer at symposia. He could perform a sleight-of-hand magic show that included breathing fire. During the performance he kept up a patter—thought humorous by his listeners—saying that Sicilian society would experience a role-reversal, in which his aristocratic audience would be killed or enslaved, and he would become king. To those who gave him tips, Eunus promised that they would be spared once he came into his kingdom. During the revolt, he spared the lives of at least some of those individuals.

According to Diodorus Siculus, some 200,000 people joined the rebellion,[3] including men and women and possibly counting children. According to Titus Livius, and Orosius following him, an estimated 70,000 people joined the rebellion.[4]

Little is known about Eunus's actual participation in the war. Only his enemies left accounts of him, and they gave credit for his victories to his general, a Morgantina, but he died before he could be punished.

The war lasted from 135 until 132 BC. It was the first of three large-scale slave revolts against the Roman Republic; the last and the most famous was led by Spartacus.


  • Arnold, History of Rome, Vol. III. pp. 317–318, London edition.
  • Shaw, Brent (2001). Spartacus and the Slave Wars: a brief history with documents. pp. 79–106.(at google books)
  • David Engels, Ein syrisches Sizilien? Seleukidische Aspekte des Ersten Sizilischen Sklavenkriegs und der Herrschaft des Eunus-Antiochos, in: Polifemo 11, 2011, p. 233-251.
  1. ^ Photius' and Constantine Porphyrogennetos' summaries of Diodorus, quoted by Brent D. Shaw, Spartacus and the Slave Wars, pp. 80-81 and 88-89.
  2. ^ Photius' and Constantine Porphyrogennetos' summaries of Diodorus, quoted by Brent D. Shaw, Spartacus and the Slave Wars, pp. 80-81 and 88-89.
  3. ^ Photius' summary of Diodorus, quoted by Brent D. Shaw, Spartacus and the Slave Wars, p. 85.
  4. ^ The Periochae and Orosius, quoted by Brent D. Shaw, Spartacus and the Slave Wars, pp. 95 and 97.
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