Second Servile War

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Second Servile War
Part of the Roman Servile Wars
Date104–100 BC
Result Roman victory
Roman Republic Slaves of Sicily
Commanders and leaders
  • Salvius,
  • The Second Servile War was an unsuccessful slave uprising against the Roman Republic on the island of Sicily. The war lasted from 104 BC until 100 BC.


    The Consul Gaius Marius was recruiting for his eventually successful war against the Cimbri in Cisalpine Gaul. He requested support from King Nicomedes III of Bithynia near the Roman province of Asia, and was refused, on the grounds that every able-bodied man in Bithynia had been enslaved by Roman tax-gatherers for being unable to pay their dues. The Senate replied by issuing orders that no slaves were to be taken from among allies of Rome, and that all such slaves should be immediately freed.[1]

    The Propraetor Publius Licinius Nerva, in obedience to the edict, at once freed around 800 slaves in his province of Sicily; aside from awakening discontent among slaves from other nationalities who were not freed, this had the effect of alienating the rich Sicilian plantation owners who saw their human chattel unceremoniously being taken out of their hands. Alarmed, Nerva revoked the sentence of manumission, which provoked the slave population into revolt.[2] Nerva failed to react with decision; by false promises he was able to return one body of the rebels to submission, while neglecting to address a more serious outbreak near Heraclea. A troop of 600 men which he finally dispatched to quell this revolt was beaten and slaughtered; the slaves now gained confidence, having won a large supply of armaments and a strong leader, a former slave called Salvius. Taking the previous slave-leader Eunus for his example, who had proclaimed himself an Antiochus of the Seleucid line, he assumed the name Tryphon, from Diodotus Tryphon, a Seleucid ruler.[3]

    Having achieved one victory, Salvius turned to besiege the city of Morgantia, which he carried after beating the governor himself with his best forces when he marched to relieve the city. By this time Salvius had rallied to his banner quite a large force of revolting slaves, including 2,000 cavalry and 20,000 infantry; Athenion, a Cilician slave with a career analogous to Cleon's, rose meanwhile in the west of Sicily, and marched to join with Salvius upon hearing of his victory.[4] The Senate sent Lucullus in the following year, with some 1,700 soldiers, to extirpate the insurrection; a battle was fought at Scirthaea, where the slaves were badly beaten; but Lucullus heard then that he had been recalled and it is alleged, spitefully cut short his campaign, retreating and burning provisions to render the task harder for his successor, C. Servilius. In 102 the latter proved his unfitness for the command by allowing his camp to be surprised by Athenion, who had succeeded as slave-king after Salvius' death; Servilius' army was routed and dispersed, undoing all of Lucullus' previous success.[5] Finally in 101 the Roman consul Manius Aquillius succeeded in defeating Athenion, supposedly killing him by his own hand. The revolt was quelled, and 1,000 slaves who surrendered were sent to fight against beasts in the arena back at Rome for the amusement of the populace. It is a point in their favor that they refused to fight, but killed each other quietly with their swords, until the last flung himself on his own blade.[6] It was the second of a series of three slave revolts in the Roman Republic, but fueled by the same slave abuse in Sicily and Southern Italy.

    Second Servile War in Literature[edit]

    • F. L. Lucas's short story "The Boar" (Athenaeum, 10 September 1920) is set in Sicily in the aftermath of the Slave War.


    1. ^ A. H. Beesely, The Gracchi, Marius, and Sulla Epochs of Ancient History, (Kindle edition), ch. VI., p. 57
    2. ^ Beesely, ibid
    3. ^ Beesely, ibid
    4. ^ Beesely, ibid.
    5. ^ Beesely, p. 58
    6. ^ Beesely, ibid
    • Shaw, Brent (2001). Spartacus and the Slave Wars: a brief history with documents. pp. 107–129.(at google books)