Diodorus of Sicily, Library of History XXXIV/XXXV.2.1-26:


When Sicily, after Carthaginian collapse, had enjoyed sixty years of good fortune in all respects, the Servile War broke out for the following reason. The Sicilians, having shot up in prosperity and acquired great wealth, began to purchase a vast number of slaves, to whose bodies, as they were brought in droves from the slave markets, they at once applied marks and brands. The young men they used as cowherds, the others in such ways as they happened to be useful. But they treated them with a heavy hand in their service, and granted them the most meager care, the bare minimum for food and clothing. As a result most of them made their livelihood by brigandage, and there was bloodshed everywhere, since the brigands were like scattered bands of soldiers. The governors attempted to repress them, but since they did not dare to punish them because of the power and prestige of the gentry who owned the brigands, they were forced to connive at the pillaging of the province. For most of the landowners were Roman knights, and since it was the knights who acted as judges when charges arising from provincial affairs were brought against the governors, the magistrates stood in awe of them.

The slaves, distressed by their hardships, and frequently outraged and beaten beyond all reason, could not endure their treatment. Getting together as opportunity offered, they discussed the possibility of revolt, until at last they put their plans into action. There was a certain Syrian slave, belonging to Antigenes of Enna; he was an Apamean by birth and had an aptitude for magic and the working of wonders. He claimed to foretell the future, by divine command, through dreams, and because of his talent along these lines deceived many. Going on from there he not only gave oracles by means of dreams, but even made a pretense of having waking visions of the gods and of hearing the future from their own lips. Of his many improvisations some by chance turned out true, and since those which failed to do so were left unchallenged, while those that were fulfilled attracted attention, his reputation advanced apace. Finally, through some device, while in a state of divine possession, he would produce fire and flame from his mouth, and thus rave oracularly about things to come. For he would place fire, and fuel to maintain it, in a nut -- or something similar -- that was pierced on both sides; then, placing it in his mouth and blowing on it, he kindled now sparks, and now a flame. Prior to the revolt he used to say that the Syrian goddess appeared to him, saying that he should be king, and he repeated this, not only to others, but even to his own master. Since his claims were treated as a joke, Antigenes, taken by his hocus-pocus, would introduce Eunus (for that was the wonder-worker's name) at his dinner parties, and cross-question him about his kingship and how he would treat each of the men present. And since he gave a full account of everything without hesitation, explaining with what moderation he would treat the masters and in sum making a colorful tale of his quackery, the guests were always stirred to laughter, and some of them, picking up a nice tidbit from the table, would present it to him, adding, as they did so, that when he became king, he should remember the favor. But, as it happened, his charlatanism did in fact result in kingship, and for the favors received in jest at the banquets he made a return of thanks in good earnest. The beginning of the whole revolt took place as follows.

There was a certain Damophilus of Enna, a man of great wealth but insolent of manner; he had abused his slaves to excess, and his wife Megallis vied even with her husband in punishing the slaves and in her general inhumanity to them. The slaves, reduced by this degrading treatment to the level of brutes, conspired to revolt and to murder their masters. Going to Eunus they asked him whether their resolve had the favor of the gods. He, resorting to his usual mummery, promised them the favor of the gods. He, resorting to his usual mummery, promised them the favor of the gods, and soon persuaded them to act at once. Immediately, therefore, they brought together four hundred of their fellow slaves and, having armed themselves in such ways as opportunity permitted, they fell upon the city of Enna, with Eunus at their head and working his miracle of the flames of fire for their benefit. When they found their way into the houses they shed much blood, sparing not even suckling babes. Rather they tore them from the breast and dashed them to the ground, while as for the women--and under their husbands' very eyes--but words cannot tell the extent of their outrages and acts of lewdness! By now a great multitude of slaves from the city had joined them, who, after first demonstrating against their own masters their utter ruthlessness, then turned to the slaughter of others. When Eunus and his men learned that Damophilus and his wife were in the garden that lay near the city, they sent some of their band and dragged them off, both the man and his wife, fettered and with hands bound behind their backs, subjecting them to many outrages along the way.... The men appointed to the task, having dragged Damophilus and Megallis into the city, as we said, brought them to the theater, where the crowd of rebels had assembled. But when Damophilus attempted to devise a plea to get them off safe and was winning over many of the crowd with his words, Hermeias and Zeuxis, men bitterly disposed towards him, denounced him as a cheat, and without waiting for a formal trial by the assembly the one ran him through the chest with a sword, the other chopped off his head with an ax. Thereupon Eunus was chosen king, not for his manly courage or his ability as a military leader, but solely for his marvels and his setting of the revolt in motion, and because his name seemed to contain a favorable omen that suggested good will towards his subjects.

Established as the rebels' supreme commander, he called an assembly and put to death all the citizenry of Enna except for those who were skilled in the manufacture of arms: these he put in chains and assigned them to this task. He gave Megallis to the maidservants to deal with as they might wish; they subjected her to torture and threw her over a precipice. He himself murdered his own masters, Antigenes and Pytho. Having set a diadem upon his head, and arrayed himself in full royal style, he proclaimed his wife queen (she was a fellow Syrian and of the same city), and appointed to the royal council such men as seemed to be gifted with superior intelligence, among them one Achaeus (Achaeus by name and an Achaean by birth), a man who excelled both at planning and in action. In three days Eunus had armed, as best he could, more than six thousand men, besides others in his train who had only axes and hatchets, or slings, or sickles, or fire-hardened stakes, or even kitchen spits; and he went about ravaging the countryside. Then, since he kept recruiting untold numbers of slaves, he ventured even to do battle with Roman generals, and on joining combat repeatedly overcame them with his superior numbers, for he now had more than ten thousand soldiers.

Meanwhile a man named Cleon, a Cilician, began a revolt of still other slaves. And though there were high hopes everywhere that the revolutionary groups would come into conflict one with the other, and that the rebels, by destroying themselves, would free Sicily of strife, contrary to expectations the two groups joined forces, Cleon having subordinated himself to Eunus at his mere command, and discharging, as it were, the function of a general serving a king; his particular band numbered five thousand men. It was now about thirty days since the outbreak.

Soon after, engaging in battle with a general arrived from Rome, Lucius Hypsaeus, who had eight thousand Sicilian troops, the rebels were victorious, since they now numbered 20,000. Before long their band reached a total of 200,000, and in numerous battles with the Romans they acquitted themselves well, and failed but seldom. As word of this was bruited about, a revolt of one hundred and fifty slaves, banded together, flared up in Rome, of more than a thousand in Attica, and of yet others in Delos and many other places. But thanks to the speed with which forces were brought up and to the severity of their punitive measures, the magistrates of these communities at once disposed of the rebels and brought to their senses any who were wavering on the verge of revolt. In Sicily, however, the trouble grew. Cities were captured with all their inhabitants, and many armies were cut to pieces by the rebels, until Rupilius, the Roman commander, recovered Tauromenium for the Romans by placing it under strict siege and confining the rebels under conditions of unspeakable duress and famine: conditions such that, beginning by eating the children, they progressed to the women, and did not altogether abstain even from eating one another. It was on this occasion that Rupilius captured Comanus, the brother of Cleon, as he was attempting to escape from the beleaguered city. Finally, after Serapion, a Syrian, had betrayed the citadel, the general laid hands on all the runaway slaves in the city, whom, after torture, he threw over a cliff. From there he advanced to Enna, which he put under siege in much the same manner, bringing the rebels into extreme straits and frustrating their hopes. Cleon came forth from the city with a few men, but after an heroic struggle, covered with wounds, he was displayed dead, and Rupilius captured this city also by betrayal, since its strength was impregnable to force of arms. Eunus, taking with him his bodyguards, a thousand strong, fled in unmanly fashion to a certain precipitous region. The men with him, however, aware that their dreaded fate was inevitable, inasmuch as the general, Rupilius, was already marching against them, killed one another with the sword, by beheading. Eunus, the wonder-worker and king, who through cowardice had sought refuge in certain caves, was dragged out with four others, a cook, a baker, the man who massaged him at his bath, and a fourth, whose duty it had been to amuse him at drinking parties. Remanded to prison, where his flesh disintegrated into a mass of lice, he met such an end as befitted his knavery, and died at Morgantina. Thereupon Rupilius, traversing the whole of Sicily with a few picked troops, sooner than had been expected rid it of every nest of robbers.

Eunus, king of the rebels, called himself Antiochus, and his horde of rebels Syrians.

There was never a sedition of slaves so great as that which occurred in Sicily, whereby many cities met with grave calamities, innumerable men and women, together with their children, experienced the greatest misfortunes, and all the island was in danger of falling into the power of fugitive slaves, who measured their authority only by the excessive suffering of the freeborn. To most people these events came as an unexpected and sudden surprise, but to those who were capable of judging affairs realistically they did not seem to happen without reason. Because of the superabundant prosperity of those who exploited the products of this mighty island, nearly all who had risen in wealth affected first a luxurious mode of living, then arrogance and insolence. As a result of all this, since both the maltreatment of the slaves and their estrangement from their masters increased at an equal rate, there was at last, when occasion offered, a violent outburst of hared. So without a word of summons tens of thousands of slaves joined forces to destroy their masters. (Loeb trans.)



L. Annaeus Florus, Epitome II.7.1-12:

It is difficult to believe that, at a later date, while the forces of the empire were engaged in various parts of the world, Sicily was far more cruelly laid waste in a war against slaves than during the Punic War. This land, so rich in corn, a province lying, as it were, at our very doors, was occupied by large estates in the possession of Roman citizens. The numerous prisons for slaves employed in tilling the soil and gangs of cultivators who worked in chains provided the forces for the war. A certain Syrian named Eunus (the seriousness of our defeats causes his name to be remembered), counterfeiting an inspired frenzy and waving his disheveled hair in honor of the Syrian goddess, incited the slaves to arms and liberty on the pretense of a command from the gods. In order to prove that he was acting under divine inspiration, he secreted in his mouth a nut which he had filled with sulfur and fire, and, by breathing gently, sent forth a flame as he spoke. This miracle first of all collected 2,000 men from those whom he encountered, but presently, when the prisons had been broken open by force of arms, he formed an army of more than 60,000 men. Adorning himself--in order to fill up the cup of his wickedness--with the insignia of royalty, he laid waste fortresses, villages and towns with pitiable destruction. Nay, even the camps of the praetors were captured--the most disgraceful thing than can occur in war. Thus those who ought to have been hauled away by the overseers, themselves pursued praetorian generals in flight from the battle-field. At last punishment was inflicted upon them under the leadership of Perperna, who, after defeating them and finally besieging them at Enna, reduced them by famine as effectually as by a plague and requited the surviving marauders with fetters, chains and the cross. He was content with an ovation for his victory over them, so that he might not sully the dignity of a triumph by the mention of slaves.

Scarcely had the island recovered itself, when, in the praetorship of Servilius, the command suddenly passed from the hands of a Syrian into those of a Cilician. A shepherd, Athenio, having murdered his master, released the slaves from their prison and formed them into an organized force. Himself arrayed in a purple robe, carrying a silver scepter and crowned like a king, he collected an army quite as large as that of his fanatical predecessor, and with even greater energy, on the pretext of avenging him, plundering villages, towns and fortresses, vented his fury with even greater violence upon the slaves than upon their masters, treating them as renegades. He too routed praetorian armies and captured the camps of Servilius and Lucullus. But Titus Aquilius following the example of Perperna, reduced the enemy to extremities by cutting off their supplies and easily destroyed their forces in battle when they were reduced by starvation. They would have surrendered, had they not, in their fear of punishment, preferred voluntary death. The penalty could not be inflicted upon their leader, although he fell alive into their hands; for, while the crowd was quarreling about his apprehension, the prey was torn to pieces in the hands of the disputants. (Loeb trans.)