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Roman Republic's Civil Wars and End

Slavery and Rome's First Servile War | Violence against the Gracchi Bothers | Reformers, Conservatives and Bloodshed | Sulla to Julius Caesar | Caesar 's Reforms and Assassination | The Assassination Fails Politically | Antony and Cleopatra Offend | Octavian becomes Augustus Caesar

Roman Senate

Rome's senate – against reforms. The rule of law is replaced by civil wars. (The above work is of a Roman consul, Cicero, denouncing Lucius Sergius Catilina, in the foreground on the right. Senators actually sat in straight and parallel lines.)

Slavery and Rome's First Servile (slave) War

With a growing supply of slaves, on some days in Rome thousands of them might be put on the market. They were forced to stand naked with a placard around their neck to advertise their qualities, and their flesh was inspected and felt. For a pretty boy or girl a Roman might have to pay more, but a Sardinian, Gaul or Spaniard cost very little – far less than it cost to breed a slave.

Plantation owners placed male slaves in barracks or housed them in underground dungeons, leaving them separated from their families they might never see again. These slaves worked in gangs ordered about by men with lashes. They were chained at night. They could be killed by their master without the master suffering any punishment, but if a slave killed a master a number of them could be held accountable and put to death.

To appear affluent, a Roman family had to have at least ten slaves. Families had slaves for just about every task. And the power that a master and his family had over their domestic slaves encouraged some slaves to wheedle their way into favor through flattery or sexual favors.

Most Romans saw slavery as a natural part of life, a result of their being favored by the gods and defeat and slavery as the fate of inferior peoples. For some Romans, looking at a creature more wretched than they bolstered their pride, and many Romans made slaves the objects of their ridicule.

Runaway slaves roamed the countryside, surviving by banditry and making travel dangerous. Slaves sometimes revolted in groups, one of the larger of such revolts coming in 196 BCE, a revolt that ended with the Romans executing approximately 7,000 of them. A generation later the Romans crushed another rebellion, involving around 4,000.

In 135 BCE, about 400 slaves in Sicily revolted after being encouraged to do so by a slave-priest from Syria named Eunus, who had announced favor from the gods. Historians call this the First Servile War. The slaves massacred most of their masters, sparing only a few who had been most humane to them. This uprising encouraged other slaves in Sicily, and as many as 60,000 joined the revolt. They seized a number of Sicilian towns, and they defeated the first of the armies that Rome sent against them.

Slave unrest intensified on the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea. There, in Pergamum, slave unrest was accompanied by a wider social unrest. The king, Attalus III, near death and childless, willed his empire to Rome, believing perhaps that only Rome would be able to maintain law and order there. And when Attalus died in 133, Rome accepted Pergamum as its inheritance. Before Rome established its rule there, someone claimed the throne as the legitimate successor to Attalus. This was Aristonicus, who took the name Eumenes III. He appealed to slaves and serfs in a common cause against Roman authority. Eumenes III warred against Rome's allies to his northeast and east in Asia Minor – the rulers of Pontus, neighboring Bithynia, Paphlagonia, and Cappadocia – and he easily defeated them.

In Sicily, after three years of struggle, the Romans finally broke the back of the slave uprising there, leaving them only mopping up operations. Roman legions went to Asia Minor where they defeated Eumenes and isolated him in Caria. Eumenes surrendered, and, in the year 129, the Romans took him and the treasure of Pergamum's ruling family to Rome, where Eumenes III was paraded through the streets, thrown into prison and executed by strangulation.


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