Brigandage had long been a standing evil there, especially in the interior; it began to swell into insurrection. Damophilus, a wealthy planter of Enna (Castrogiovanni), who vied with the Italian lords in the industrial investment of his living capital, was attacked and murdered by his exasperated rural slaves; whereupon the savage band flocked into the town of Enna, and there repeated the same process on a greater scale. The slaves rose in a body against their masters, killed or enslaved them, and summoned to the head of the already considerable insurgent army a juggler from Apamea in Syria who knew how to vomit fire and utter oracles, formerly as a slave named Eunus, now as chief of the insurgents styled Antiochus king of the Syrians. And why not? A few years before another Syrian slave, who was not even a prophet, had in Antioch itself worn the royal diadem of the Seleucids.(15) The Greek slave Achaeus, the brave "general" of the new king, traversed the island, and not only did the wild herdsmen flock from far and near to the strange standards, but the free labourers also, who bore no goodwill to the planters, made common cause with the revolted slaves. In another district of Sicily Cleon, a Cilician slave, formerly in his native land a daring bandit, followed the example which had been set and occupied Agrigentum; and, when the leaders came to a mutual understanding, after gaining various minor advantages they succeeded in at last totally defeating the praetor Lucius Hypsaeus in person and his army, consisting mostly of Sicilian militia, and in capturing his camp. By this means almost the whole island came into the power of the insurgents, whose numbers, according to the most moderate estimates, are alleged to have amounted to 70,000 men capable of bearing arms. The Romans found themselves compelled for three successive years (620-622) to despatch consuls and consular armies to Sicily, till, after several undecided and even some unfavourable conflicts, the revolt was at length subdued by the capture of Tauromenium and of Enna. The most resolute men of the insurgents threw themselves into the latter town, in order to hold their ground in that impregnable position with the determination of men who despair of deliverance or of pnrdon; the consuls Lucius Calpurnius Piso and Publius Rupilius lay before it for two years, and reduced it at last more by famine than by arms.(16)

These were the results of the police system for securing order, as it was handled by the Roman senate and its officials in Italy and the provinces. While the task of getting quit of the proletariate demands and only too often transcends the whole power and wisdom of a government, its repression by measures of police on the other hand is for any larger commonwealth comparatively easy. It would be well with states, if the unpropertied masses threatened them with no other danger than that with which they are menaced by bears and wolves; only the timid and those who trade upon the silly fears of the multitude prophesy the destruction of civil order through servile revolts or insurrections of the proletariate. But even to this easier task of restraining the oppressed masses the Roman government was by no means equal, notwithstanding the profound peace and the inexhaustible resources of the state. This was a sign of its weakness; but not of its weakness alone. By law the Roman governor was bound to keep the public roads clear and to have the robbers who were caught, if they were slaves, crucified; and naturally, for slavery is not possible without a reign of terror. At this period in Sicily a razzia was occasionally doubtless set on foot by the governor, when the roads became too insecure; but, in order not to disoblige the Italian planters, the captured robbers were ordinarily given up by the authorities to their masters to be punished at their discretion; and those masters were frugal people who, if their slave-herdsmen asked clothes, replied with stripes and with the inquiry whether travellers journeyed through the land naked. The consequence of such connivance accordingly was, that OH the subjugation of the slave-revolt the consul Publius Rupilius ordered all that came into his hands alive--it is said upwards of 20,000 men--to be crucified. It was in truth no longer possible to spare capital.

The Italian Farmers

The care of the government for the elevation of free labour, and by consequence for the restriction of the slave-proletariate, promised fruits far more difficult to be gained but also far richer. Unfortunately, in this respect there was nothing done at all. In the first social crisis the landlord had been enjoined by law to employ a number of free labourers proportioned to the number of his slave labourers.(17) Now at the suggestion of the government a Punic treatise on agriculture,(18) doubtless giving instructions in the system of plantation after the Carthaginian mode, was translated into Latin for the use and benefit of Italian speculators--the first and only instance of a literary undertaking suggested by the Roman senate! The same tendency showed itself in a more important matter, or to speak more correctly in the vital question for Rome--the system of colonization. It needed no special wisdom, but merely a recollection of the course of the first social crisis in Rome, to perceive that the only real remedy against an agricultural proletariate consisted in a comprehensive and duly-regulated system of emigration;(19) for which the external relations of Rome offered the most favourable opportunity. Until nearly the close of the sixth century, in fact, the continuous diminution of the small landholders of Italy was counteracted by the continuous establishment of new farm-allotments.(20) This, it is true, was by no means done to the extent to which it might and should have been done; not only was the domain-land occupied from ancient times by private persons(21) not recalled, but further occupations of newly-won land were permitted; and other very important acquisitions, such as the territory of Capua, while not abandoned to occupation, were yet not brought into distribution, but were let on lease as usufructuary domains. Nevertheless the assignation of land had operated beneficially--giving help to many of the sufferers and hope to all.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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