Rise Up!

Jean-Marie Pailler, Dionysos against Rome? The Bacchanalian affair: a matter of power(s) 
The common religious aspects of three slave revolts
At intervals of approximately 30 years, between the Gracchi and Pompey, three slave revolts erupted in Sicily and Southern Italy. In spite of their differences, they present a striking common feature: the religious inspiration followed and exhibited by their leaders. In 132,the slaves chose Eunus as their chief. After his first successes as their king, under the Hellenistic royal name of Antiochus, because of his qualities of magos and teratourgos (‘a magician and a maker of miracles’) ‘he pretended to foretell future events, revealed to him (as he said) by the gods in his dreams,’ (Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 35.2.5)

The slaves passed a mutual pact with an exchange of oaths, at night, on the corpses of sacrificed victims. In another version, the end of the revolt came from sacrilegious acts committed by the slaves: the Roman senate ordered that their shrines be closed, accessible only to members of a city whose traditional duty involved a sacrifice to be accomplished inside. On this basis, the similarities with important aspects of the Bacchanalian story are obvious.The revolt of 102 in Campania and Sicily is also known through the account by Diodorus (36.11.7), who is probably still following Posidonius at this point. The main protagonist of the episode is Salvius, who demonstrates a characteristically polyvalent capacity as a political leader enthroned as a king by his troops under the Oriental name of Tryphon: he was an empeiros (‘expert’) in both fields of divination, hieroskopeia (‘deducing the future from the entrails of victims’) and astromantikes, finally a devotee sacrificing publicly to the twin Sicilian heroes, the Palikoi, themselves a guarantee for the oaths. Salvius is also said to have played flute in feminine orgiastic feasts.
Spartacus, the Thracian instigator and head of the slave revolt which began at Capua in 73 and had a wife ‘of the same tribe’. In his Life of Crassus (8.4), Plutarch writes:
It is said that when [Spartacus] was first brought to Rome to be sold, serpent was seen coiled about his face as he slept, and his wife, who was of the same tribe as Spartacus, a prophetess, and subject to visitations of the Dionysiac frenzy, declared it the sign of a great and formidable power which would attend him to a fortunate issue.

We have no other indications about Spartacus’ behaviour in this field, but what we learn here is sufficient to put the slave leader in the same category as Eunus and Salvius, with an important Dionysiac and feminine accentuation: Spartacus’ wife reminds us more specifically of the Bacchanals, due to her double empeiria in prophecy and in frenzy. To sum up, the slave wars bear witness to the importance of the religious element in the launching of such revolts. Some of their features are reminiscent of those of the Bacchanals: an experience of frenzy, the role of women, the taking of collective oaths and so on.