A practical commentary on this state of things was once more furnished by the servile insurrections, which during the first years of the Cimbrian war broke out annually in Italy, e. g. at Nuceria, at Capua, and in the territory of Thurii. This last conspiracy was so important that the urban praetor had to march with a legion against it and yet overcame the insurrection not by force of arms, but only by insidious treachery. It was moreover a suspicious circumstance, that the insurrection was headed not by a slave, but by the Roman knight Titus Vettius, whom his debts had driven to the insane step of manumitting his slaves and declaring himself their king (650). The apprehensions of the government with reference to the accumulation of masses of slaves in Italy are shown by the measures of precaution respecting the gold- washings of Victumulae, which were carried on after 611 on account of the Roman government: the lessees were at first bound not to employ more than 5000 labourers, and subsequently the workings were totally stopped by decree of the senate. Under such a government as the present there was every reason in fact for fear, if, as was very possible, a Transalpine host should penetrate into Italy and summon the slaves, who were in great part of kindred lineage, to arms.

The Provinces Occupation Of Cilicia

The provinces suffered still more in comparison. We shall have an idea of the condition of Sicily and Asia, if we endeavour to realize what would be the aspect of matters in the East Indies provided the English aristocracy were similar to the Roman aristocracy of that day. The legislation, which entrusted the mercantile class with control over the magistrates, compelled the latter to make common cause to a certain extent with the former, and to purchase for themselves unlimited liberty of plundering and protection from impeachment by unconditional indulgence towards the capitalists in the provinces. In addition to these official and semi-official robbers, freebooters and pirates pillaged all the countries of the Mediterranean. In the Asiatic waters more especially the buccaneers carried their outrages so far that even the Roman government found itself under the necessity in 652 of despatching to Cilicia a fleet, mainly composed of the vessels of the dependent mercantile cities, under the praetor Marcus Antonius, who was invested with proconsular powers. This fleet captured a number of corsair-vessels and destroyed some rock-strongholds and not only so, but the Romans even settled themselves permanently there, and in order to the suppression of piracy in its chief seat, the Rugged or western Cilicia occupied strong military positions--the first step towards the establishment of the province of Cilicia, which thenceforth appears among the Roman magistracies.(7) The design was commendable, and the scheme in itself was suitable for its purpose; only, the continuance and the increase of the evil of piracy in the Asiatic waters, and especiallyin Cilicia, unhappily showed with how inadequate means the pirates were combated from the newly-acquired position.

Revolt Of The Slaves

But nowhere did the impotence and perversity of the Roman provincial administration come to light so conspicuously as in the insurrections of the slave proletariate, which seemed to have revived on their former footing simultaneously with the restoration of the aristocracy. These insurrections of the slaves swelling from revolts into wars-- which had emerged just about 620 as one, and that perhaps the proximate, cause of the Gracchan revolution--were renewed and repeated with dreary uniformity. Again, as thirty years before, a ferment pervaded the body of slaves throughout the Roman empire. We have already mentioned the Italian conspiracies. The miners in the Attic silver-mines rose in revolt, occupied the promontory of Sunium, and issuing thence pillaged for a length of time the surrounding country. Similar movements appeared at other places.

The Second Sicilian Slave-War

But the chief seat of these fearful commotions was once more Sicily with its plantations and its hordes of slaves brought thither from Asia Minor. It is significant of the greatness of the evil, that an attempt of the government to check the worst iniquities of the slaveholders was the immediate cause of the new insurrection. That the free proletarians in Sicily were little better than the slaves, had been shown by their attitude in the first insurrection;(8) after it was subdued, the Roman speculators took their revenge and reduced numbers of the free provincials into slavery. In consequence of a sharp enactment issued against this by the senate in 650, Publius Licinius Nerva, the governor of Sicily at the time, appointed a court for deciding on claims of freedom to sit in Syracuse. The court went earnestly to work; in a short time decision was given in eight hundred processes against the slave-owners, and the number of causes in dependence was daily on the increase. The terrified planters hastened to Syracuse, to compel the Roman governor to suspend such unparalleled administration of justice; Nerva was weak enough to let himself be terrified, and in harsh language informed the non-free persons requesting trial that they should forgo their troublesome demand for right and justice and should instantly return to those who called themselves their masters. Those who were thus dismissed, instead of doing as he bade them, formed a conspiracy and went to the mountains.

The governor was not prepared for military measures, and even the wretched militia of the island was not immediately at hand; so that he concluded an alliance with one of the best known captains of banditti in the island, and induced him by the promise of personal pardon to betray the revolted slaves into the hands of the Romans. He thus gained the mastery over this band. But another band of runaway slaves succeeded in defeating a division of the garrison of Enna (Castrogiovanni); and this first success procured for the insurgents-- what they especially needed--arms and a conflux of associates. The armour of their fallen or fugitive opponents furnished the first basis of their military organization, and the number of the insurgents soon swelled to many thousands.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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