War and Social Upheaval: Roman Servile Wars (134-71 BC)


Figure 1.--

Rome experienced three major slave revolts which are known colectively as the Servile Wars. The first two occurred in Sicily, but documebntation is limited. They were supresed with considerable brutality. The third occurred in southern Italy and was kled by the gladiator Spatacus. It was eventually supresed by Crassus and Pompey with great cruety. The Spatacus Revolt was much larger and posed a real danger to Rome. It is better document than the other two slave revolts.

Roman Slavery

In our modern world there are few human practices that inspire such profound outrage as the practice of one human being enslaving another. This is, however, a very modern sentiment. The institution of slavery probably predates civilization itself. Slavery was an accepted institution and central to the economies of most major world civilization. This was certainly the case of ancient Rome. Slaves were were often war captives, both captured wariors and the women and children of conquered populations. The offspring of these enslaved people provided a vast slave work force. The victors in battle might enslave the losers rather than killing them. Slavery in Rome were major components of the work force. Slaves were drawn from widly differing peoples and there was no association with race. Slaves might be blond, blue eyed Anglo-Saxons from Britania or blacks from Sahara as well as evry other racial type. Slavery in Rome had no racial basis. Even those of Italian stock were enslaved. It was thus impossible to tell from one's physical appearance if one was a slave. This complicated control. The Romn Senate debated establishiung a destinctive dress for slaves. In the end, the Senate decided against a slave attire, partly because they decided it was dangerous because it would show the slaves just how numerous they were. As in the Americn South, slavery was justified on the basis of the natural inferiority of certain individuals.

First Servile War (about 134-132 BC)


Second Servile War (104-101 BC)


Third Servile War: The Spartacus Revolt (73-71 BC)

A Roman slave from Thrace launched a slave revoly (73 BC). Spatacus was forced to train as a gladiator, but convinced other slaves at the gladiatorial school in Capua to revolt rather than fight as gladiators. Thousands of slaves ran away to join him. His revolt proved to be the last, but most important of the Servile Wars. Rome not appreciating the danger sent small, inexperienced forces to supress the slaves. The more important Roman armies were stationed on the frontiers of the Republic. After a series of battles throughout the Italian peninsula, the Roman general Crassus pinned him in the toe of Italy and built a wall to keep him there, hoping to starve him army. Spartacus manages to break out, but with only a part of his army. Spatacus took his army north again and Crassus persued him. Again the Gauls and Germans separated from he main army and were almost defeated by Crassus until Spartacus came to their rescue. Spartacus achieved one more minor victory against part of Crassus' forces. Then Spartucus turned on Crassus' persuing legins. Spartacus fought is last battle near the headwaters of the Siler river in southern Italy. Here the more disciplined Roman legions destroyed the depleted slave army. Spartacus appears to have been killed in the battle, but his body was never found among the huge number of corpses. Crassus reportedly crucified 6,000 of the priosoners along the Appian Way from Capua to Rome. Pompey leading another army converging on Spartacus' force is believed to have killed another 5,000 slaves.







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Created: 2:43 AM 8/21/2004
Last updated: 2:43 AM 8/21/2004