Wikipedia:Featured article candidates/Third Servile War

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Third Servile War[edit]


I am "self-nominating" the article.

Third Servile War has undergone extensive research, editing, and rewriting over the last 6 months. It has undergone a general peer review, a project peer review under the Military History Wikiproject, two rounds of the A-class status review process under the Military History Wikiproject (see here and here), a call for general comment in the Classical Greece and Rome WikiProject, and third party copy editing for grammar, spelling, and style.

I think the article is ready to be subject to the peer-review and evaluation of a Featured Article Candidate nomination. Even if consensus finds that the article is not yet ready for Featured Article status, I hope this process will find other ways in which the article can be improved. Thank you - Vedexent 20:53, 22 September 2006 (UTC)

Potential Issues[edit]

Given the feedback of the reviews to date, I understand there are several issues which may raise comment. I would like to preemptively address them and explain why they have not been "fixed", and why they should stand in the article "as is".

  1. Functionalist/Structuralist Style: While many readers and authors prefer a simple narrative style in historical articles (A happened, then B happened because of C, etc.), the sketchy and sometimes irreconcilable accounts of the war have made this impossible. To render the article as a simple narrative would require interpretation of the sources, and the imposition of a particular viewpoint on the reader; there does not even seem to be an unambiguous consensus as to events among modern historians. Instead, I have opted for a more detailed "Historian X says A happened, while historian Y writes the B happened, but it is generally agreed that C happened the following spring". While this is a less "user friendly" approach, and requires a little more effort on behalf of readers, I think that it is more accurate and neutral than trying to impose a personal point-of-view on the reader. The casual reader who does not want to expend the time and energy to follow this approach is still served by the article's infoboxes, and the lengthy and detailed summary lead.
  2. Weak Time Line: The timing of events in the article is relatively vague for a historical article: there are no precise dates for events and battles. Given the antiquity of the events and the sources in question this is simply not avoidable. While the order of events is explicitly detailed, exact times are not given other than vague comments such as "the war was now in its third year". The chronology in the article is already a reconstruction based on what is known about Roman politics and the Roman calender: e.g. Consuls were elected at the beginning of the year, for one year, so consular command of the armies would last throughout 72BC. Pinning down events to more precise times is simply not possible with the available sources for this war.
  3. Completeness: While I believe the section of the aftermath of the war can stand some expansion - especially by detailing the effects the war had on the Roman approach to the institution of slavery (if there were any) - this is beyond my current research materials, and I believe that the history of the Third Servile War is rigorously detailed in the article as it stands. In short, the article might have room for improvement, but its current treatment of its subject matter is extensive "as is".
  4. Complex Footnotes: The footnotes are sometimes complex, citing multiple sources for each general point, and even containing commentary on what aspects of the point a source will talk about. Some might view this as "overkill", but I think it presents the supporting evidence more completely. The inclusion of external hyperlinks to the actual referenced text, where possible, was not something done by me, but something I think is a good idea, so long as the linked sites remain active.
  5. Use of primary sources: Some might object that an encyclopedic article should reflect the current historical consensus in a narrative form, rather than reach "back" to the primary sources. However, see point #1 - there doesn't seem to be much in the way of consensus even in modern scholars. If the article was trying to present a particular point-of-view I would agree; I am not a professional historian, and therefore using primary sources to promote my own original research would be wrong. Instead, the article simply reports and contrasts what is said by the primary historians, rather than trying to interpret for the reader. As such, I don't think that use of primary sources is incorrect in this case.


  • Abstain: Much of the article is my work, I'm hardly going to have an objective opinion here :) - Vedexent 20:53, 22 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Strong Support The article is very clear, to the point and well worded. I can not find anything wrong with the article and if there were issues I'm sure all the extensive peer review processes (per your nomination text) you undertook fixed them. Hopefully this won't be the last article you work on. - Tutmosis 22:02, 22 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Support, excellent article; all the issues brought up during various the WP:MILHIST reviews have been resolved. Kirill Lokshin 22:30, 22 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Support: Very well written, comprehensive, article.—Abraham Lure 00:12, 23 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Support very interesting read, though disappointingly short. Rama's arrow 03:48, 23 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Comment. I am reluctant to support this excellent article for two main reasons:
  • The lead seems a bit long to me. Longer than recommended. After all this is not a huge article for such a long lead.
  • The "Aftermath" section seems to me a bit under-developped. I don't think that the analysis is as thorough as it should be and I donot think that it gives the full impact of this war.--Yannismarou 11:29, 23 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Comment: The text of the lead is about 15% of the total length of the article (not counting references and links). I think that's fine. Andrew Levine 17:26, 23 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Response: I would agree with you with regards to detailing the effects of the war (see point #3 above). Unfortunately, I'm not sure that can be corrected without great and expert input. The historians of the time don't concern themselves much with the changes in the institution of slavery, but go on to deal with "little" events such as the First Triumvirate, the war between Pompey and Julius Caesar, and the collapse of the Roman Republic. The only "evidence" that I can find for the effects of the Third Servile War is the fact that the Romans never allowed such a rebellion again, and a handful of changes to Roman law instigated by the early Julio-Claudian Dynasty which may have been the legal codification of changes of Roman attitude towards slaves, which might have been influenced by the Third Servile War. The connection seemed too tenuous and uncertain to put in as fact, and it seemed downright wishy-washy to put in the way it is. If anyone can find more concrete evidence for the changes in the institution of slavery that the Third Servile War created, I would be most interested to hear of it - Vedexent 19:03, 23 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Response Addendum: Alternatively, if people think that the circumstantial evidence for effects detailed above is worthy of inclusion, I'll happily put it in. - Vedexent 19:40, 23 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Support Kyriakos 21:52, 23 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Support A terrific article, thoroughly reviewed and assessed. Deserves FA in every way.UberCryxic 22:59, 23 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Weak Support and that's only because I think it can be improved. The lead could be cut to the first paragraph without loss. This may raise formatting issues with the large infobox; but do we really need such a large box? Septentrionalis 23:32, 23 September 2006 (UTC)
    • Response: I agree the lead is long. However, this is a stylistic choice which ties into my "philosophy of wikipedia". Since Wikipedia is not divided into Macropedia and Micropedia volumes like Britannica is, an article must fulfill both aspects. It must provide a "quick fix" to someone looking for a short entry ("What the heck is the Third Servile War? Ah, ok - slave rebellion in Rome which went that way. Got it"), and the interested reader who wants more information. I view the lead and infoboxes as the micropedia aspect of the article, and the "main" article as the macropedia aspect. Thus, leads - in my opinion - should be a brief summary of the entire article; leads should be "mini-articles" in themselves. Now, that isn't a universally held view of how Wikipedia articles should be. You might not agree. But I made a conscious choice to structure the lead and the article that way. - Vedexent 00:08, 24 September 2006 (UTC)
      • I agree with the philosophy; I would apply it differently. The first paragraph is an adequate summary of 90% of the article. The other 10% may require a sentence or two to cover. Septentrionalis 03:36, 25 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Comment: In response to the comments about the Aftermath section, I've expanded it detailing the changes in the institution of slavery that followed the war - although I've been careful to stress that there is no unambiguous connection between the war and changes that followed. I hope this addresses what many people seemed to have thought was the article's "weak point". - Vedexent 00:08, 24 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Support, although I still have some reservations about the lead. But it is really a great article.--Yannismarou 07:12, 24 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Comment: A note of thanks to those who copy edited the newer sections. I know my limits when it comes to spelling, grammar, and literary polish - the help is appreciated :) - Vedexent 09:27, 24 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Object. The pre-emptive arguments are comendable, but they don't solve the problems involved in the referencing of the article. I should point out that I tried to bring this issue up before this nomination in the peer review, but that there was no proper explanation for the use of sources.
    • Most of the article relies entirely on works by ancient writers without any comments on how credible they are to modern historians. Half of the "Modern Works" are more than a 100 years old and the three books on history that have been written after 1968 (including Fagan's TTC lecture) are only referenced to in 7 out of 58 notes, and then often right next to one or several primary sources, which is very problematic. I tried to bring up the problem of referring to primary sources in a way that makes them seem equally credible to modern day sources in the peer review, but without receiving any answer. The PR is in fact still not closed. The argument that there is no consensus among modern historians is not an excuse to simply circvumvent the problem by reverting to the ancient historians. I don't know the fine details of the Servile Wars or how their figures are interpreted, but I believe it is very misleading to present ancient writers alongside modern (and not-so-modern) historians though they were equally valid and relevant interpretations. I would in fact claim that using primary sources in this fashion is a form of original reserach, albeit rather unknowingly. I would also like to quote WP:RS:
      In general, Wikipedia articles should not depend on primary sources but rather on reliable secondary sources who have made careful use of the primary-source material. Most primary-source material requires training to use correctly, especially on historical topics. Wikipedia articles may use primary sources only if they have been published by a reliable publisher e.g. trial transcripts published by a court stenographer, or historic documents that appear in edited collections.
    • The complex footnotes are indeed very complex and the pre-emptive retort above doesn't solve that problem either. And we're still talking about mostly ancient sources that do not necessarily give an accurate account of what modern historical consensus is. It's also unclear whether all the sources presented (sometimes up to 4 in one note) are actually required or if they're just added as a "reference bonus", which seems very gratuitious to me. Using too many notes and citations is just as bad as using too few. Citations, just like pictures and other requirements are not immune to overusage.
    • There are also a few problematic fact statements:
      • "As the Third Servile War was ultimately an unsuccessful rebellion, no first hand account of the slaves' motives and goals exists, and both Roman and modern historians propose contradictory theories." However, the section does not tell of any of these modern historical intepretations except for that of Stanley Kubrick and the only references in the article are to the ancient sources.
      • "The two most comprehensive (extant) histories of the war by Appian and Plutarch detail very different events, although it is possible that both are abridgements of earlier (and presumably more complete) histories of Livy and Sallust that are lost to modern scholars." Who's guesswork is this? Why is not referenced?
    • Though I am objecting, the overall impression I get from the article is a good one. The prose is good, the article is concise and to the point and it doesn't trail off into tedious military trivia. It's pretty much only the usage of sources that troubles me and especially that the modern historical discussion seems to be entirely ignored in favor of going back to the "true sources" of the ancients.
/ Peter Isotalo 20:14, 24 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Response: Yours was primarily the opinion in mind when I commented "Some might prefer a simple narrative style....". Some "corrections" to your objection as your objection distorts facts, and makes some out and out false claims.
    • Both the General peer review, and The Military History Wikiproject peer review are closed. Please check the article talk page for their status. Your claim that "The PR is in fact still not closed" is, at best, an accidental error due to you not checking facts before you respond.
    • Despite your claim that "I tried to bring this issue up before this nomination in the peer review, but that there was no proper explanation for the use of sources.", you received a response about both the compound footnotes, and the use of primary sources here. Just because you might not agree with the explanation doesn't make it "improper". Again, your claim - which is phrased in a manner that might imply that I was presented with article problems which I then ignored and attempted to rush into FAC, especially when compounded with your above erroneous claim - can, at best, be explained as an accidental error on your part. Your "rejoinder" was phrased in manner that could be interpreted as pejorative and dismissive. Since it seemed obvious that there were differences in opinion about how Wikipedia articles should be structured, and that it is not my task to try and "convince" you that I was right (I rather thought we'd just agree to disagree on that point), I declined to get into a debate about the matter; I had given my point, you had given yours, and both opinions are a matter of record and in the peer reivew. The peer review was linked into the nomination text for everyone to see, and to make that a factor in their own support/object choice. I even made explicit mention (and admittedly, defense against) the fact that there were "issues" raised in the review processes. Again, anyone could have - and I hope did - review them, and decide both your and my arguments on those topics.
    • With regards to the footnotes: it is interesting that you invoke Wikipedia:Reliable sources. I would refer you to the section labeled "Check multiple sources". It seems that the use of multiple sources to support a given point is actually recommended in Wikipedia policy, despite your personal opinion reflected in the statement "If you can't reference a single sentence with less than two or three sources then you to find better references or rewrite the sentence. Seriously."[1]
    • Again, on the footnotes: you said "It's also unclear whether all the sources presented (sometimes up to 4 in one note) are actually required or if they're just added as a "reference bonus". Given that the majority of them are directly linked to online versions of the reference texts, perhaps you might check some of them to see whether or not they are "reference bonus" before raising an objection. This totally ignores the whole issue of what constitutes "reference bonus" as it is explicit Wikipedia policy to use multiple supporting references for points if possible.
    • Again on Wikipedia:Reliable sources, your own quoted section reads (with different emphasis):
In general, Wikipedia articles should not depend on primary sources but rather on reliable secondary sources who have made careful use of the primary-source material. Most primary-source material requires training to use correctly, especially on historical topics. Wikipedia articles may use primary sources only if they have been published by a reliable publisher e.g. trial transcripts published by a court stenographer, or historic documents that appear in edited collections.
Are you claiming that the editions used are unreliable publishers? Are you suggesting that the Strachan-Davidson commentaries on Appian were unedited? Are you suggesting that the errors in a primary source are not compensated for my presenting as many alternative views as there seem to be in the sources?
    • "I don't know the fine details of the Servile Wars or how their figures are interpreted, but I believe..." - If you are truly worried that the use of primary sources is a horrific distortion, I would recommend that you look into secondary sources (The Enemies of Rome is a good one, see the articles reference section for details on that book) to see if this is the case, rather than basing objections on "might have beens" that you haven't even looked into yet. Then you would know and not have to rely on vague belief. NO point in the article is beyond being challenged, provided that there is evidence and references which support a contending view. Please provide them, rather than basing objections on personal fears and vague notions.
    • It is quite clear that you have strong opinions on the use of sources, footnoting and other issues. Your views may even have merit. However, your objections seem based on the fact that the selection of research materials, and style of referencing does not match your own personal style. While there is not unambiguous support within the Wikipedia guidelines for article creation that supports the style and materials incorporated in the article, neither does there seem to be explicit policy to reject them either, and thus I conclude that the style of the article falls within the acceptable range of research and presentation. Despite the article being submitted to as many peer review and commentary processes as I could find on Wikipedia, your objections are unique to you. I can only conclude that your objections are not widely shared, and therefore not part of the consensus view. - Vedexent (talkcontribs) - 21:40, 24 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Support - Unlike the objector, I think referrencing both ancient historians and modern ones next to each other is perfect. Yes, there are problems inherant in using ancient sources, but that is completely compensated for by showing the differences in the sources, and why, rather than taking them as nothing but fact. - PresN 21:38, 25 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Support. Thoroughly engaging, it manages the seemingly impossible: to weave historical narrative and historiography together into a coherent narrative. Referencing is extensive and comprehensive. Use of images, sectioning and maps is outstanding. Well done to all editors. Batmanand | Talk 19:41, 27 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Support, and Hail Crassus! You may wish to add a reference to Spartacus (film) in a section detailing the war in "pop culture" (i.e. books, films, tv shows, etc.). Either way, I still support this article as an FA. Good work. Goiter McWilliostein, P. I. You can't control me! I'm a P. I.! Save Stargate SG-1! 00:56, 28 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Response Thanks :) This was part of an earlier draft, and was removed. The rationale was that the literary phenomenom centers mostly around the person of Spartacus and his "valiant struggle against the powers-that-be", and thus more appropriate in the Spartacus article, which is evolving a section like you mentioned. Therefore, I focused the article on the actual history and historiography rather than the cultural relevance which was part of material elsewhere. - Vedexent (talkcontribs) - 03:29, 28 September 2006 (UTC)
  • Comment—Needs a copy-edit; see my run through the top bit. Good otherwise. Tony 12:31, 1 October 2006 (UTC)
  • Response: The last six editors for the article (since Sept 24th) have done nothing but copy edit the article - and since it went to review at least two people have done full-article copy edits. Feel free to correct any other grammatical or structural errors you find, however. - Vedexent (talk) - 12:50, 1 October 2006 (UTC)