November 01, 2017

Two Sides of a Coin: Slavery and Religion in the First Servile War

eunus coin










Coin of Eunus (King Antiochus). © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Obverse: Head of Demeter right, veiled with grain-wreath.

Reverse: Ear of grain; ΒΑΣΙ(λέως) upwards on left, ΑΝΤΙΟ(χου) downwards on right.

The late Republic was rocked by three major slave revolts which were unique in their size and extent. The first, and largest, was the First Servile War from c.135 to 132 BC. The extent was such that rebel slaves began to mint coinage and a large portion of eastern and central Sicily was under their control including Enna, Tauromenium, Agrigentum, and possibly Morgantina, Catana, and Syracuse. However, it was a doomed effort and the revolt was finally put down 132 BC as the last cities, Enna and Tauromenium were captured by the consul Publius Rupilius.

robinson 1920
Robinson 1920, 175

The revolt began when the slave Eunus led a band of slaves and captured the city of Enna. This city was famous and renowned in antiquity for its cult of Demeter. Cicero stated the people seemed, “not to be citizens of that city, but to be all priests, to be all ministers and officers of Ceres” and when going to the city’s temple one was “going not to a temple of Ceres, but to Ceres herself” (Cicero, Against Verres 2.4.108, 2.4.111). Eunus was then crowned King Antiochus at Enna and minted four issues of coins. These coins are exceptionally rare and only 18 specimens are known. The rarity combined with a poor state of conservation has left the imagery on three of the coins uncertain but local gods and religious imagery are among the possibilities. These coins also included the legend Basileus Antiochou ([coin] of King Antiochus) which advertised Eunus’ newly assumed name and title as well as his legitimacy as King. This month’s coin (with a drawing of the type reproduced here) is the only of these four issues to bear imagery which has been identified with certainty. It depicts Demeter, the goddess of Antiochus’ capital Enna on the obverse with an ear of grain, a symbol associated with the goddess, on the reverse.

The literary sources on Antiochus’ revolt are universally hostile and interpret the role of religion in the revolt differently than what is suggested through the coinage. Instead of Demeter or any of the other local gods which may have been depicted on his coinage, the literary sources emphasize Eunus’ status as a charlatan, a magician, and a follower of the foreign goddess Atargatis which manipulated and deceived his fellow rebels. This served to not only dissociate the revolt from Demeter, the goddess of Enna who was also revered and respected by the Romans, but also to support an account filled with negative slave stereotypes.

Gordon stated, “slave was synonymous with gullible in the Roman mind” [Gordon 1999, 194]. Roman slave owners were specifically warned against allowing slaves to consult fortune tellers, prophets, diviners, and astrologers “who incite ignorant minds through false superstition to spending and then to villanies (flagitia)” (Cato, On Agriculture 5.4).

Antiochus is depicted as exactly the type of fortune teller, prophet, and diviner that Roman slave owners had been warned about.

There was a certain Syrian slave (King Antiochus)… and [he] 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, and while in a state of divine possession, he would produce fire and flame from his mouth, and thus rave oracularly about things to come. (Diodorus Siculus 34/35.2.5-9).

Coinage helps to provide a voice for those who do not have their own. The slaves of the revolt have only their coinage to provide their side of the story. This coinage directly contradicts the stereotyped accounts in the literary history and instead depicts a king who represented himself not with a foreign goddess Atargatis but instead with Demeter and traditional iconography.

james currie

This month's coin of the month was written by James Currie. James is a PhD candidate in the department, researching The Transformation of the Sacred Landscape of Republican and Early Imperial Sicily. His research aims to better understand the province of Sicily’s transition from the Republican to early Imperial period through the sacred landscape by investigating the transformation and continuity of “public” religion through the temples and sanctuaries. It also seeks to better understand the province’s political and social changes and how these were both impacted by and influenced the sacred landscape.


Bibliography

Bradley, K. 1989. Slavery and Rebellion in the Roman World 140 BC-70 BC. London: Batsford.

Dickie, M. 2001. Magic and Magicians in the Greco-Roman World. Routledge.

David, E. 2011, "Ein syrisches Sizilien? Seleukidische Aspekte des Ersten Sizilischen Sklavenkriegs und der Herrschaft des Eunus-Antiochos." Polifemo 11: 233–251.

Gordon, R. 1999. "Imagining Greek and Roman Magic". in Ankarloo, B. and Clark, S. (eds) Witchcraft and Magic in Europe: Ancient Greece and Rome. 159-275. London.

Hinz, V. 1998. Der Kult von Demeter und Kore auf Sizilien und der Magna Graecia. Wiesbaden.

Manganaro, G. 1982. “Monete e ghiande inscritte degli schiavi ribelli in Sicilia”. Chiron. 12: 237-244.

Manganaro, G. 1983. “Ancora sulle rivolte servili in Sicilia.” Chiron. 13: 405-409.

Manganaro, G. 1990. "Due studi di numismatica greca". Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. Classe di Lettere e Filosofia 20: 409-27.

McKeown, N. 2012. "Magic, Religion, and the Roman Slave: Resistance, Control and Community". in Hodkinson, S. and Geary, D. (eds) Slaves and Religions in Graeco-Roman Antiquity and Modern Brazil. 279-308. Cambridge.

Morton, P. 2013. “Eunus: The Cowardly King”. Classical Quarterly: 63: 237-252.

Robinson, E.S.G. 1920. “Antiochus, King of Slaves” Numismatic Chronicle 4.20: 175-6.

Sánchez León, M.L. “La amonedación del basileus Antíoco en Sicilia: (Siglo II AC.)” in Chaves Tristán, F and García Fernández, F.J. (eds) Moneta qua scripta: la moneda como soporte de escritura: actas del III Encuentro peninsular de numísmatica antigua, Osuna (Sevilla), Febrero-Marzo 2003. 223-8. Sevilla.


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  • Hi Tom If you are talking about what the imagery is, most Republican coins are now online at http://… by Clare Rowan on this entry
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