Refiguring the Sicilian Slave Wars : from servile unrest to civic disquiet and social disorder
Morton, Peter Charles Francis
This study argues that the so-called Sicilian Slave Wars are best understood as two differing instances of civic disquiet, social disorder and provincial revolt in Sicily, rather than as slave wars. Both events are reconnected to their Sicilian context geographically, politically and socially, and shown to have arisen from those contexts. This thesis is demonstrated in seven chapters. Chapter I reassesses the principle evidence for the kingdom established by the rebels in the first war: their numismatic issues. This evidence is best understood in the context of contemporary Sicilian numismatics and emphasises the Sicilian nature of the uprising. It is argued that the insurgency was contingent on the support of certain parts of the (free) Sicilian populace. Chapter II presents a reinterpretation of Diodorus’ text from a narratological point of view. The text is shown to be highly rhetorical and constructed with a view to demonise the leaders of the first war, Eunus and Cleon, through reference to Hellenistic stereotypes of femininity, cowardliness, magic and banditry. Chapter III argues that Diodorus’ explanation of the origin of the war is anachronistic and shows evidence of narratorial intervention and invention, thereby rendering his interpretation unreliable. Chapter IV considers Cicero’s Verrine Orations and shows that his engagement with the two wars in the text cannot be used as a reliable indicator of historical fact because of the text’s continual engagement with history. Chapter V argues that the two leaders of the so-called Second Slave War, Salvius/Tryphon and Athenion, were described using the same matrix of ideas that were present for Eunus and Kleon, for the same rhetorical and narratological effect. Chapter VI analyses Diodorus’ narrative of the origin of the war, and shows that Diodorus only provides a chronology of coincidental events, and beyond a single connective narrative line, demonstrates no connection between these events. Finally, Chapter VII suggests that the best context in which to understand this war is that of a general breakdown of social order on Sicily at the end of the second century B.C. caused by internal political problems in the cities of Sicily. Further, the insurgency led by Salvius/Tryphon and Athenion is shown to be only part of a broader crisis on Sicily that stretched from 106-93 B.C., part of an extended stasis for the island. In sum, I argue that the events typically referred to as the Sicilian Slave Wars are better understood through a focus on the historical contexts provided by the Hellenistic milieu in which the wars arose and the development of the Roman provincial system – rather than through the (preconceived) lens of slavery: instead of servile unrest, there was civic disquiet, social disorder and provincial revolt on Sicily in the 2nd century BC.