The History of Sicily

Roman Sicily: The Servile Wars

Most of Sicily was taken from Carthaginian control in the First Punic War (264-241), with Siracusa, Agrigento, and some other cities remaining independent but allied to Rome. In the Second Punic War (218-201), the Siracusans showed signs that they might ally with Carthage, prompting the Romans to conquer that part of the island as well.

Sicily was the first territory outside mainland Italy that the Romans acquired at the end of the First Punic War in 241, with Siracusa remaining independent until 212. During their approximately 600-year rule, the Romans extracted harsh tribute from the Sicilians, especially in the form of wheat, which Sicily grew in abundance. Indeed, in time, the island became known as the “granary of Europe.”

Several Sicilian cities including Panormus (Palermo). Lilybaeum, Siracusa, and Catania were essentially self-governing, and they prospered under Rome. The most common languages were Greek and Latin, but Hebrew and Punic were also spoken.

Slavery was common in the Roman world, and it contributed much to the Sicilian economy. During the Roman Republic, there were two slave revolts on the island (a third was fought on the mainland). The First Servile War (139-132 B.C.) was led by Eunus, a Syrian slave, who established his capital at Enna. After having defeated several Roman armies, he was defeated near Messina and killed along with 20,000 followers. The Second Servile War (104-100 B.C.) ended in a Roman victory as well. The former Roman consul, Manius Aquillius, who led the victorious army, promised the captured rebels that they would not be killed, but they were sent to Rome to be sacrificed in the arena. Refusing to be humiliated, they committed mass suicide before the spectacle began.


Tombs in Siracusa. One Is Said to Be Archimedes’ Burial Chamber