The most important source for the career of the Syrian slave leader Eunus is that of Publius Annius Florus, the author of an epitome of the History of Rome since its foundation of the great Roman historian Titus Livy (59 BCE - 17 CE). Here, we find his story (Epitome, 2.7) in the translation by Edward Forster.
Although we fought with allies -in itself an impious act- yet we fought with men who enjoyed liberty and were of free birth;note[Florus has just described a conflict between Rome and its allies.] but who could tolerate with equanimity wars waged by a sovereign people against slaves?
The first attempt at war on the part of slaves took place in the city itself in the early days of its history under the leadership of Herdonius the Sabine.note[The story has been told by Livy in the History of Rome since its foundation 3.15. It took place in the year 460, according to the Varronian chronology.] On this occasion, while the State was taken up with the troubles caused by the tribunes, the Capitol was besieged and afterwards rescued by the consul; but it was a local rising rather than a war.
It is difficult to believe that, at a later date, while the forces of the empire were engaged in various parts of the world, Sicily was far more cruelly laid waste in a war against slaves than during the Punic War.note[Roman name of the three wars against Carthage (264-241; 218-201; 149-146). The Second Punic war is famous because the Romans had to fight against the Carthagian military genius Hannibal.] This land, so rich in corn, a province lying, as it were, at our very doors, was occupied by large estates in the possession of Roman citizens. The numerous prisons for slaves employed in tilling the soil and gangs of cultivators who worked in chains provided the forces for the war.
A certain Syrian named Eunus (the seriousness of our defeats causes his name to be remembered), counterfeiting an inspired frenzy and waving his disheveled hair in honor of the Syrian goddess,note[The real name of this mother goddess was Atargatis; her sanctuary was at Bambyce, which was often called Hierapolis, "Holy city". She was the equivalent of the Greek goddess Demeter, who was venerated in Henna on Sicily.] incited the slaves to arms and liberty on the pretense of a command from the gods. In order to prove that he was acting under divine inspiration, he secreted in his mouth a nut which he had filled with sulfur and fire, and, by breathing gently, sent forth a flame as he spoke. This miracle first of all collected 2,000 men from those whom he encountered, but presently, when the prisons had been broken open by force of arms, he formed an army of more than 60,000 men.note[20,000 seems to be a more accurate estimate.]
Adorning himself -in order to fill up the cup of his wickedness- with the insignia of royalty,note[Diadem, scepter, purple robe.] he laid waste fortresses, villages and towns with pitiable destruction. Nay, even the camps of the praetors were captured - the most disgraceful thing than can occur in war; nor will I shrink from mentioning the names of these commanders, who were Manlius, Lentulus, Piso and Hypsaeus.
Thus those who ought to have been hauled away by the overseers, themselves pursued praetorian generals in flight from the battle-field. At last punishment was inflicted upon them under the leadership of Perperna, who, after defeating them and finally besieging them at Hennanote[A city in the center of Sicily, situated on a high mountain; modern Enna.] reduced them by famine as effectually as by a plague and requited the surviving marauders with fetters, chains and the cross. He was content with an ovation for his victory over them, so that he might not sully the dignity of a triumph by the mention of slaves.note[An ovation was a small triumphal entry.]
Scarcely had the island recovered itself, when, in the praetorship of Servilius, the command suddenly passed from the hands of a Syrian into those of a Cilician. A shepherd, Athenio, having murdered his master, released the slaves from their prison and formed them into an organized force.note[This revolt took place in 104-101. Athenio had been caretaker of a large estate in the west of Sicily. At the same time, eastern Sicily was revolting as well, under a man named Salvius Trypho. After his death, Athenio united the slaves of the entire island.] Himself arrayed in a purple robe, carrying a silver scepter and crowned like a king, he collected an army quite as large as that of his fanatical predecessor, and with even greater energy, on the pretext of avenging him, plundering villages, towns and fortresses, vented his fury with even greater violence upon the slaves than upon their masters, treating them as renegades.
He too routed praetorian armies and captured the camps of Servilius and Lucullus. But Titus Aquilius following the example of Perperna, reduced the enemy to extremities by cutting off their supplies and easily destroyed their forces in battle when they were reduced by starvation. They would have surrendered, had they not, in their fear of punishment, preferred voluntary death. The penalty could not be inflicted upon their leader, although he fell alive into their hands; for, while the crowd was quarreling about his apprehension, the prey was torn to pieces in the hands of the disputants.note[Florus continues his book with a description of the slave revolt led by Spartacus (73-71).]