The Slave King
By Matthew Bissonnette
The island of Sicily in the year 135 BC which is now part of the republic of Rome after the Roman Legions annexed this land during the first Punic War. It is a land of grassy fields and rolling hills which by this time has become a major agricultural center which produced vast amounts of wheat to feed a hungry republic. But it was not free men who toiled in the fields, but countless slaves who had either been born into slavery or had been captured during one of Rome’s conquests in far off lands. In some regions of Sicily slaves far outnumbered their masters and this situation was about to erupt into a war. Our story begins on the estate of a wealthy Roman nobleman just a few days before a slave revolt would rock all of Rome.
To the eastern region of Sicily was the estate of Celsus, a wealthy Roman who owned vast tracks of land as well as many slaves. He lived in an opulent home made of the finest marble at it was surrounded by fields of wheat which seemed to stretch out to the horizon. It was a chilly November morning as a male slave named Morcant worked a field not far from the home of his master.
Morcant was a man in his early thirties who had a muscular build and copper hair. He was wearing a simply cloth tunic and had flimsy sandals upon his feet. He had not been born a slave but once was what a Roman would call a barbarian, a title that any people without a written language had placed upon them. Morcant had once been a warrior from a tribe from Gaul, which would become modern day France. But then the Roman legions came and conquered his people, Morcant and many of his kin had been forced into slavery. He had been a slave for almost five years.
Morcant, holding a blade to cut the wheat, stopped his laboring to wipe the sweat from his brow. He looked around then let out a deep sigh and continued to work. As he worked, he did not notice someone run towards him from behind.
“Morcant!” called out a man’s voice.
Morcant turned to see fellow slave and friend, Drest, quickly approach. Drest was also a captured warrior from Gaul and their common heritage had forged a friendship. Drest was a large man in his late twenties with dark hair and weary eyes. He seemed to be upset. Drest the stood before Morcant and they exchanged glances.
Morcant said, “Drest, it our master finds you not tending the fields, he will surely flog both of us.”
Drest, out of breath and panting, explained, “You have to come quickly, it is Boadicea!”
Morcant dropped his blade and his concern was betrayed in his eyes. Boadicea was a woman who had once come from Gaul as well; she had been forced into bondage like Morcant and served as a house servant for Celsus. He and Boadicea and fallen in love a few months before.
Morcant firmly asked, “What is it?”
Drest replied, “Just come with me.”
Morcant and Drest then ran through the fields towards the home of Celsus. The large marble home was home to their master and some of Celsus’s family. When the two men arrived they found a group of fellow slaves gathered in the courtyard of the estate. In the center of the courtyard was Celsus standing over the crying Boadicea, the slave master held a whip in his hand.
Celsus, a balding man in his forties wearing a white toga, looked towards the crowd of slaves. He angrily said, “I want you all to witness this, it should provide you with a lesson for the penalty of defiance. This barbarian whore has failed to please me. Now she must pay the price for upsetting me.”
Boadicea was kneeling on the ground as tears ran down her cheeks. She was a slim, young woman with handsome features and red hair. She weakly replied, “You wish to punish me for rejecting your advances. I will never be yours.”
Morcant and Drest stood at the back of the crowd. Morcant went to aid her but Drest stopped him.
Drest said, “Don’t, he will have you put to death.”
Morcant then watched as Celsus continued to speak.
“You, my slaves, must know that you are beast of burden and fit for nothing but labor. I want you all to see what happens when you show insolence.”
Celsus then began to savagely whip Boadicea as Morcant watched. She let out a yell as she cried but Celsus just whipped her harder. Drest held Morcant back.
Drest whispered, “There is nothing you can do.”
Morcant bit his lip and watched.
Celsus stopped whipping her as she moaned weakly in pain. The master looked at his slaves and frowned. He threatened, “The same fate awaits you all if you displease me.”
Celsus then walked through the crowd of his slaves and went into his manor. Morcant then ran to Boadicea who lay upon the ground. He cradled her in his arms as she looked into his eyes.
She softly said, “I love you Morcant.”
He nodded. “Don’t speak, you will be alright.”
She then looked towards the horizon. “I am not afraid of dying, seems a kinder fate then being a slave. I will wait for you my love in the world after his one.”
Then her breathing began to slow and eventually stopped altogether. She closed her eyes and quietly died in Morcant’s arms. He began to sob slightly.
He said, “We will be reunited someday. I will always love you.”
Drest then approached and put his hand on Morcant’s shoulder. Drest said, “sorry, but there was nothing we can do.”
Morcant then became angered and started to breath heavily. “But there is. I am going to consult Eunus.”
It was noon. Miles away from the lands of Celsus was a grassy hill. A large, portly man with grey hair and piercing eyes stood at the top. He was also a slave by the name of Eunus. Once he had been from Syria but was captured by Romans and forced into slavery. He was almost forty yet still seemed younger than his years. Rumors circulated amongst the slaves that Eunus, beyond being wise in all things, was also capable of miracles. This day, Eunus stood on the top of the hill and looked peacefully at the sky. He did not notice that Morcant and Drest stood at the base of the hill.
Drest asked, “Why do you wish to consult Eunus for?”
Morcant replied, “He is said to have great wisdom. If anyone knows what to do it would be Eunus.”
Morcant then walked to the top of the hill as Drest followed behind. Eunus did not turn to face them but asked, “And how may I assist my brothers in bondage?”
Drest whispered to Morcant, “How did he know it was us?”
Eunus let out a deep laugh and replied, “You smell like a slave since we slaves are denied the luxury of bathing.”
Morcant then said, “Eunus. It is said that you are wise as well as powerful.”
Eunus shrugged. “Wise, maybe. But as for powerful, the rumors of my powers are much more interesting than the reality. What is it you want from me?”
Morcant explained, “My master is both cruel and merciless. Today I watched him whip the woman I loved to death.”
Eunus turned and looked sympathetically at Morcant. “I am sorry for your loss. Hopefully she is in a better place.”
Morcant, angry, then asked, “I ask you wise Eunus this. Is it wrong to kill a master who cruelty knows no ends?”
Drest shook his head. “Enough of this talk. I would surely all be put to death for talking like this.”
Eunus seemed to ponder the question then said, “You want retribution for the death of this woman?”
Morcant nodded. “I would rather die as a free man then spend the rest of my life as a slave.”
Eunus seemed moved. “There is nothing more powerful than love. But hate, hate is almost as powerful. I sense that hatred now fills your heart.”
Morcant explained, “I, you, we all once where free men. But Rome has made us into slaves, our torment and toil only making our masters richer. People have shed blood for lesser reasons.”
Eunus stepped towards Morcant and asked, “You want to kill your master?”
Morcant replied, “Yes. I need you, oh wise Eunus, to tell me if I should.”
Eunus then looked off into the distance. “I once believed that being merciful towards those that may show no mercy to you is a noble trait in a man. But I have endured much as a slave, seen many die. I understand your hate. But one man alone cannot fight our enslavers.”
Morcant told him, “I just wish to kill my master for what he cost me today.”
Eunus frowned then sighed deeply. “Your pain is known by many upon the island of Sicily. We where all abducted from our homelands and brought here, we are treated like oxen and cattle.”
Morcant firmly said, “I would give my life to strike just one blow against our oppressors.”
Eunus then looked towards Morcant again and began to speak. “Countless thousands feel as you do upon the lands of Sicily. More slaves dwell in these lands then Roman’s. I have heard your story many times before, many of our fellow slaves tell similar tales. Alone we are powerless, together we may be able to fight the entire Roman Republic.”
Drest then said, “You are talking about open revolt.”
Morcant asked, “If other slaves agree to join us, then will you lead us Eunus? Every slave in Sicily speaks well of you and would surely follow you.”
Eunus replied, “I once thought killing a man was wrong no matter who he was. But our masters have become arrogant since we do not resist. I will consider leading this revolt, but you must know that even if we achieve victory at first we will surely we defeated when Rome sends the entire might of the legions against us.”
Morcant said, “Better to die fighting our oppressor then living under his thumb. Will you lead us Eunus?”
Eunus then told him, “I will lead you. Tell as many slaves as you can about this revolt.”
“If you are our leader, they will join the revolt,” Morcant said.
Drest then muttered, “So Eunus is to be our king, the slave king.”
Eunus looked at him. “I know not your name, but I do know your tale. You have suffered much, would you prefer a long life of torment or a short life as a man who is free.”
Morcant turned to Drest and said, “We are friends Drest. Fight with us.”
Drest shrugged then replied, “I don’t want to Morcant, but I guess I must.”
Eunus said, “The slaves of this land are going to shake the very foundations of the Roman Republic. I cannot promise you victory, but I will give you the chance to strike a blow against those who forced us all into bondage. Now go, inform every slave you can about the revolt.”
“I will,” Morcant said, “but I will do something first.”
Eunus then joyfully stated, “OK my brothers, we will fight even if it will lead to our deaths.”
Morcant then began to walk away from them but said before parting, “Thank you Eunus.”
It was later in the evening when Morcant snuck into the home of Celsus, a small blade in his hand. Its inhabitants where all asleep so he easily was able to enter his masters bed chamber. He found Celsus asleep in a massive bed. Morcant then stood at the foot of the bed.
“Wake up master.”
Celsus slowly was woken and he looked at Morcant. Celsus seemed to become afraid when he saw the blade in the slave’s hand.
Celsus, seeming scared, asked, “What is this insolence slave? You will surely be killed for harming me.”
Morcant replied, “You killed the woman I loved today. You are incapable of mercy.”
Morcant then plunged the blade into the bed and left it there. “But I would like to think that unlike you, I can be merciful.”
Then the sounds of things being overturned and bellowed from somewhere in the house.
Celsus said, “What is that?”
Morcant explained, “Your former slaves are revolting. Right know they are arming themselves with any weapon then can find.”
“You cannot think you slaves can stand against the might of the Rome.”
Morcant told him, “Maybe not. But we will die trying.”
Then some slaves came into the bedroom and grabbed Celsus. They dragged him out into the courtyard as Morcant followed. They threw their master to the ground and stood around him. All the slaves where armed with knives, shovels and hammers.
Celsus, seeming afraid, said, “You said you would let me live.”
All the slaves raised their weapons as Morcant said, “I may be merciful, but my fellow slaves are not I’m afraid.”
Morcant began to walk away as the slaves killed Celsus. The master’s dying screams did little to comfort Morcant’s grief. He just walked off into the night knowing that war was in the future. And even though they would lose in the end, at least he and his fellow slaves would taste freedom again.
In the following weeks, word of the slave revolt spread across Sicily. In a month, Eunus led an army of hundreds of thousands and this army went about killing every master they could. Soon the slaves controlled all of Sicily but soon Rome sent her armies to stop the rebellion. For a few years the slaves fought off the legions of Rome, but eventually the republic mustered a force that eventually crushed the slave revolt. Most of the slaves perished, but Rome had a crueler fate in store of Eunus. He was captured and thrown into a small dungeon where he lived for many months, slowly being devoured by lice. But an example had been made that all Roman slaves knew. Together, even they could stand up to Rome. Many other slave revolts occurred in the following centuries which led to a Roman saying.
“Every slave we have is an enemy in our home.”