Second Servile War

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Second Servile War
Part of the Roman Servile Wars
Date104–100 BC
Result Roman victory
Roman Republic Slaves of Sicily
Commanders and leaders
Publius Licinius Nerva
Lucius Licinius Lucullus
Gaius Servilius
Manius Aquilius

The Second Servile War was an unsuccessful slave uprising against the Roman Republic on the island of Sicily. The war lasted from 104 BC until 100 BC.


The Consul Gaius Marius was recruiting soldiers for the war against the Cimbri and Teutones in the North. He requested support from King Nicomedes III of Bithynia near the Roman province of Asia, and was refused, on the grounds that every able-bodied man in Bithynia had been enslaved by Roman tax-gatherers for being unable to pay their dues. The Senate replied by issuing orders that no slaves were to be taken from among allies of Rome, and that all such slaves should be immediately freed.[1]

The propraetor Publius Licinius Nerva, in obedience to the edict, at once freed around 800 slaves in his province of Sicily; aside from awakening discontent among slaves from other nationalities who were not freed, this had the effect of alienating the rich Sicilian plantation owners who saw their human chattel unceremoniously being taken out of their hands. Alarmed, Nerva revoked the sentence of manumission, which provoked the slave population into revolt.[1] Nerva failed to react with decision; by false promises he was able to return one body of the rebels to slavery, while neglecting to address a more serious outbreak near Heraclea. Eventually, Nerva dispatched a detachment of 600 soldiers to take care of the rebels near Heraclea but they were beaten and slaughtered; the slaves now gained confidence, having won a large supply of armaments and a strong leader, a former slave called Salvius. Taking the previous slave-leader Eunus for his example, who had proclaimed himself an Antiochus of the Seleucid line, he assumed the name Tryphon, from Diodotus Tryphon, a Seleucid ruler.[1]

After his victory, Salvius besieged the city of Morgantia. Nerva now marched against him with Sicily's militia but he was also defeated. The slaves then managed to take the city. After Morgantia, Salvius' slave army swelled to 2,000 horsemen and 20,000 foot. Meanwhile, another revolt had broken out in western Sicily; there Athenion, a Cilician slave with a career analogous to Cleon's, rose in revolt. He marched his slave army to join with Salvius upon hearing of the Morgantia victory.[1]

In 103 BC the Senate sent the praetor Lucullus, who had just put down a revolt in Campania (the Vettian Revolt), to quell the rebelion. Lucullus, at the head of a 17,000 men strong Roman and Allied army, landed in western Sicily marched his army and marched on the rebel stronghold of Triocala.[2] Salvius was at first anxious to face Lucullus in battle, but Anthion persuaded him to face the Roman army in the field.[2] At Scirthaea the two sides met and fought a highly contested battle which, eventually, the Romans won.[2] After the battle, Lucullus slowly but surely worked his way to Triocala where the rebels had dug in; Lucullus started a siege while waiting for his command to be prorogued, but when he heard that instead he had been replaced he spitefully ended the siege, burned his camp and provisions, retreated and disbanded his army.[3] All this to render the task harder for his successor, Gaius Servilius the Augur (he intended, by ensuring the failure of his successor, to prove his own innocence from any alleged incompetence.[4]

In 102 BC Athenion, who had succeeded as slave-king after Salvius' death, was able to take Gaius Servilus's camp by surprise; Servilius' army was routed and dispersed, undoing all of Lucullus' previous success.[5]

Finally in 101 BC the Roman consul Manius Aquillius succeeded in defeating Athenion, supposedly killing him by his own hand. The revolt was quelled, and 1,000 slaves who surrendered were sent to fight against beasts in the arena back at Rome for the amusement of the populace. It is a point in their favor that they refused to fight, but killed each other quietly with their swords, until the last flung himself on his own blade.[5] It was the second of a series of three slave revolts in the Roman Republic, but fueled by the same slave abuse in Sicily and Southern Italy.

Second Servile War in Literature[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d A. H. Beesely, The Gracchi, Marius, and Sulla Epochs of Ancient History, (Kindle edition), ch. VI., p. 57
  2. ^ a b c Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, 36.8.
  3. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Bibliotheca Historica, 36.9.
  4. ^ Mike Ducan, The Storm before the Storm, p. 140.
  5. ^ a b A. H. Beesely, The Gracchi, Marius, and Sulla Epochs of Ancient History, VI, p. 58.
  • Shaw, Brent (2001). Spartacus and the Slave Wars: a brief history with documents. pp. 107–129.(at google books)