First Servile War

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First Servile War
Part of the Servile Wars
Date 135–132 BC
Location Sicily, Achaea
Result Roman victory
Roman Republic Slaves of Sicily
Commanders and leaders
Lucius Calpurnius Piso, consul
Publius Rupilius, consul
Scipio Aemilianus

The First Servile War of 135–132 BC was an unsuccessful rebellion of slaves against the Roman Republic. The war was prompted by slave revolts in Enna on the island of Sicily. It was led by Eunus, a former slave claiming to be a prophet, and Cleon, a Cilician who became Eunus's military commander. After some minor battles won by the slaves, a larger Roman army arrived in Sicily and defeated the rebels.


The uprising was mostly caused by great changes in the ownership of land in Sicily following the final expulsion of the Carthaginians during the Second Punic War. Speculators from Italy rushed into the island and bought up large tracts of land at a low price, or became the occupiers of estates which had belonged to Sicilians of the Carthaginian party and had been forfeited to Rome after the execution or flight of their owners.

The Sicilians of the Roman party also became rich out of the distress of their countrymen. An over-abundance of slaves caused them to be ill-fed by their masters, and they soon began to provide for themselves by robbery. The poorer Sicilians were the sufferers. Several decades of increasing tension finally broke out into war.

Servile War[edit]

The chief of the slaves had at one time two hundred thousand men and women as his followers, probably including children. He was a Syrian named Eunus, and he had been a prophet and conjurer among the slaves.

Still a slave his master employed him as an entertainer at symposia. He would put on a sleight-of-hand magic show that included breathing fire. During the performance he kept up a patter—thought humorous by his listeners—saying that Sicilian society would experience a role-reversal, in which his aristocratic audience would be killed or enslaved and he would become king. To those who gave him tips he promised that they would be spared once he came into his kingdom. During the revolt he did spare the lives of at least some of those individuals.

Little is known about Eunus's actual participation in the war. Only his enemies left accounts of him, and they gave credit for his victories to his general, a Cilician named Cleon. But Eunus must have been a man of considerable ability to have maintained his leadership position throughout the war and to have commanded the services of those said to have been his superiors. Cleon fell in battle, and Eunus was captured and taken to the city of Morgantina, but he died before he could be punished.

The war lasted from 135 until 132 BC. It was the first of a series of three slave revolts against the Roman Republic; the last and the most famous was led by Spartacus.


  • Arnold, History of Rome, Vol. III. pp. 317–318, London edition.
  • Shaw, Brent (2001). Spartacus and the Slave Wars: a brief history with documents. pp. 79–106.(at google books)
  • David Engels, Ein syrisches Sizilien? Seleukidische Aspekte des Ersten Sizilischen Sklavenkriegs und der Herrschaft des Eunus-Antiochos, in: Polifemo 11, 2011, p. 233-251.