This was done to such an extent, that about 650 the king of Bithynia declared himself unable to furnish the required contingent, because all the people capable of labour had been dragged off from his kingdom by the revenue-farmers. At the great slave-market in Delos, where the slave-dealers of Asia Minor disposed of their wares to Italian speculators, on one day as many as 10,000 slaves are said to have been disembarked in the morning and to have been all sold before evening--a proof at once how enormous was the number of slaves delivered, and how, notwithstanding, the demand still exceeded the supply. It was no wonder. Already in describing the Roman economy of the sixth century we have explained that it was based, like all the large undertakings of antiquity generally, on the employment of slaves.(8) In whatever direction speculation applied itself, its instrument was without exception man reduced in law to a beast of burden. Trades were in great part carried on by slaves, so that the proceeds fell to the master. The levying of the public revenues in the lower grades was regularly conducted by the slaves of the associations that leased them. Servile hands performed the operations of mining, making pitch, and others of a similar kind; it became early the custom to send herds of slaves to the Spanish mines, whose superintendents readily received them and paid a high rent for them. The vine and olive harvest in Italy was not conducted by the people on the estate, but was contracted for by a slave-owner. The tending of cattle was universally performed by slaves. We have already mentioned the armed, and frequently mounted, slave-herdsmen in the great pastoral ranges of Italy;(9) and the same sort of pastoral husbandry soon became in the provinces also a favourite object of Roman speculation--Dalmatia, for instance, was hardly acquired (599) when the Roman capitalists began to prosecute the rearing of cattle there on a great scale after the Italian fashion. But far worse in every respect was the plantation-system proper--the cultivation of the fields by a band of slaves not unfrequently branded with iron, who with shackles on their legs performed the labours of the field under overseers during the day, and were locked up together by night in the common, frequently subterranean, labourers' prison. This plantation-system had migrated from the east to Carthage,(10) and seems to have been brought by the Carthaginians to Sicily, where, probably for this reason, it appears developed earlier and more completely than in any other part of the Roman dominions.(11) We find the territory of Leontini, about 30,000 -jugera- of arable land, which was let on lease as Roman domain(12) by the censors, divided some decades after the time of the Gracchi among not more than 84 lessees, to each of whom there thus fell on an average 360 jugera, and among whom only one was a Leontine; the rest were foreign, mostly Roman, speculators. We see from this instance with what zeal the Roman speculators there walked in the footsteps of their predecessors, and what extensive dealings in Sicilian cattle and Sicilian slave-corn must have been carried on by the Roman and Non-Roman speculators who covered the fair island with their pastures and plantations. Italy however still remained for the present substantially exempt from this worst form of slave-husbandry. Although in Etruria, where the plantation-system seems to have first emerged in Italy, and where it existed most extensively at least forty years afterwards, it is extremely probable that even now -ergastula- were not wanting; yet Italian agriculture at this epoch was still chiefly carried on by free persons or at any rate by non-fettered slaves, while the greater tasks were frequently let out to contractors. The difference between Italian and Sicilian slavery is very clearly apparent from the fact, that the slaves of the Mamertine community, which lived after the Italian fashion, were the only slaves who did not take part in the Sicilian servile revolt of 619-622.

The abyss of misery and woe, which opens before our eyes in this most miserable of all proletariates, may be fathomed by those who venture to gaze into such depths; it is very possible that, compared with the sufferings of the Roman slaves, the sum of all Negro sufferings is but a drop. Here we are not so much concerned with the hardships of the slaves themselves as with the perils which they brought upon the Roman state, and with the conduct of the government in confronting them. It is plain that this proletariate was not called into existence by the government and could not be directly set aside by it; this could only have been accomplished by remedies which would have been still worse than the disease. The duty of the government was simply, on the one hand, to avert the direct danger to property and life, with which the slave-proletariate threatened the members of the state, by an earnest system of police for securing order; and on the other hand, to aim at the restriction of the proletariate, as far as possible, by the elevation of free labour. Let us see how the Roman aristocracy executed these two tasks.

Insurrection Of The Slaves The First Sicilian Slave War

The servile conspiracies and servile wars, breaking out everywhere, illustrate their management as respects police. In Italy the scenes of disorder, which were among the immediate painful consequences of the Hannibalic war,(13) seemed now to be renewed; all at once the Romans were obliged to seize and execute in the capital 150, in Minturnae 450, in Sinuessa even 4000 slaves (621). Still worse, as may be conceived, was the state of the provinces. At the great slave-market at Delos and in the Attic silver-mines about the same period the revolted slaves had to be put down by force of arms. The war against Aristonicus and his "Heliopolites" in Asia Minor was in substance a war of the landholders against the revolted slaves.(14) But worst of all, naturally, was the condition of Sicily, the chosen land of the plantation system.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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