These Syrians in a foreign land already, like their predecessors, seemed to themselves not unworthy to be governed by kings, as were their countrymen at home; and-- parodying the trumpery king of their native land down to the very name--they placed the slave Salvius at their head as king Tryphon. In the district between Enna and Leontini (Lentini) where these bands had their head-quarters, the open country was wholly in the hands of the insurgents and Morgantia and other walled towns were already besieged by them, when the Roman governor with his hastily-collected Sicilian and Italian troops fell upon the slave-army in front of Morgantia. He occupied the undefended camp; but the slaves, although surprised, made a stand. In the combat that ensued the levy of the island not only gave way at the first onset, but, as the slaves allowed every one who threw down his arms to escape unhindered, the militia almost without exception embraced the good opportunity of taking their departure, and the Roman army completely dispersed. Had the slaves in Morgantia been willing to make common cause with their comrades before the gates, the town was lost; but they preferred to accept the gift of freedom in legal form from their masters, and by their valour helped them to save the town--whereupon the Roman governor declared the promise of liberty solemnly given to the slaves by the masters to be void in law, as having been illegally extorted.


While the revolt thus spread after an alarming manner in the interior of the island, a second broke out on the west coast. It was headed by Athenion. He had formerly been, just like Cleon, a dreaded captain of banditti in his native country of Cilicia, and had been carried thence as a slave to Sicily. He secured, just as his predecessors had done, the adherence of the Greeks and Syrians especially by prophesyings and other edifying impostures; but skilled in war and sagacious as he was, he did not, like the other leaders, arm the whole mass that flocked to him, but formed out of the men able for warfare an organized army, while he assigned the remainder to peaceful employment. In consequence of his strict discipline, which repressed all vacillation and all insubordinate movement in his troops, and his gentle treatment of the peaceful inhabitants of the country and even of the captives, he gained rapid and great successes. The Romans were on this occasion disappointed in the hope that the two leaders would fall out; Athenion voluntarily submitted to the far less capable king Tryphon, and thus preserved unity among the insurgents. These soon ruled with virtually absolute power over the flat country, where the free proletarians again took part more or less openly with the slaves; the Roman authorities were not in a position to take the field against them, and had to rest content with protecting the towns, which were in the most lamentable plight, by means of the militia of Sicily and that of Africa brought over in all haste. The administration of justice was suspended over the whole island, and force was the only law. As no cultivator living in town ventured any longer beyond the gates, and no countryman ventured into the towns, the most fearful famine set in, and the town-population of this island which formerly fed Italy had to be supported by the Roman authorities sending supplies of grain. Moreover, conspiracies of the town- slaves everywhere threatened to break out within, while the insurgent armies lay before, the walls; even Messana was within a hair's breadth of being conquered by Athenion.


Difficult as it was for the government during the serious war with the Cimbri to place a second army in the field, it could not avoid sending in 651 an army of 14,000 Romans and Italians, not including the transmarine militia, under the praetor Lucius Lucullus to the island. The united slave-army was stationed in the mountains above Sciacca, and accepted the battle which Lucullus offered. The better military organization of the Romans gave them the victory; Athenion was left for dead on the field, Tryphon had to throw himself into the mountain-fortress of Triocala; the insurgents deliberated earnestly whether it was possible to continue the struggle longer. But the party, which was resolved to hold out to the last man, retained the upper hand; Athenion, who had been saved in a marvellous manner, reappeared among his troops and revived their sunken courage; above all Lucullus with incredible negligence took not the smallest step to follow up his victory; in fact, he is said to have intentionally disorganized the army and to have burned his field baggage, with a view to screen the total inefficacy of his administration and not to be cast into the shade by his successor. Whether this was true or not, his successor Gaius Servilius (652) obtained no better results; and both generals were afterwards criminally impeached and condemned for their conduct in office--which, however, was not at all a certain proof of their guilt. Athenion, who after the death of Tryphon (652) was invested with the sole command, stood victorious at the head of a considerable army, when in 653 Manius Aquillius, who had during the previous year distinguished himself under Marius in the war with the Teutones, was as consul and governor entrusted with the conduct of the war. After two years of hard conflicts--Aquillius is said to have fought in person with Athenion, and to have killed him in single combat--the Roman general at length put down the desperate resistance, and vanquished the insurgents in their last retreats by famine. The slaves on the island were prohibited from bearing arms and peace was again restored to it, or, in other words, its recent tormentors were relieved by those of former use and wont; in fact, the victor himself occupied a prominent place among the numerous and energetic robber-magistrates of this period. Any one who still required a proof of the internal quality of the government of the restored aristocracy might be referred to the origin and to the conduct of this second Sicilian slave-war, which, lasted for five years.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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