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Slavery and Rebellion in the Roman World, 140 B.C.70 B.C.

Slavery and Rebellion in the Roman World, 140-70 BC - Keith R. Bradley The Roman Empire contained literally millions of slaves during its roughly seven-hundred year history. There were three significant uprisings of the Roman survile population against their shackles, two of which occured in Sicily. The third, led by Sparticus, was the largest, and after Stanley Kubrik's movie, is probably the best-known. Author Keith Bradley dissects the three uprisings and identifies some common strings among them. In all three cases, the uprisings started as small skirmishes, with the slaves intending only revenge against their cruel masters, not society-wide insurrection. Furthermore, the three slave rebellions eventually selected natural leaders to direct military actions and lead the slaves. Finally, the three slave wars each met with early success which overwhelmed the local authorities, and were only put down after imperial troops were called in from Rome. I have no doubts about the scholarship of this book, but give it only three stars since the reading can be arduous at times. It is sad but probably true that the slave uprisings never had a chance at sustained success. Manumission of slaves was known under Roman law, but never as a condition of negotiation with rebelling forces. Individual cases of successful escape of slaves are known, but any mass uprising of slaves, especially during the time period discussed (140BC to 70BC; when the Republic was in decline and the Empire was emerging), was fated to failure. The only silver lining (for readers sympathetic to the slaves) is that the three uprisings seem to cautioned the authorities about the potential of an angry survile population, and seems to have resulted in more humane laws regarding the handling and care of slaves.