Drimakos: The Spartacus of Pityus!

The first successful slave’s revolt in Ancient Greece, led by Messenian Drimakos and the first autonomous republic of freed slaves, seems to be taking place in Pityos!

According to Nymphodorus the Sicilian

During the 3rd century BC, some Chians who left the island and immigrated to Lower Italy, carried the story of a great slave revolt on the island of Chios. The rebellion took place a few decades earlier. According to these testimonies, the slaves were indignant at the miserable conditions of their lives and led by the Messenian Drimakos, they managed to defeat the guards of the lords and settle in Northern Chios, in the natural fortified position defined by the Aipus plateau and Pellinaio with its high peaks. There they created an autonomous community of equal and free citizens with its own political, judicial, economic and military system.

The lords from the plains could no longer subjugate them and for this reason they negotiated with their leader Drimakos, a mundus vivendi of peaceful coexistence, between the two “worlds”, that is, the landlords and their ex-slaves. Based on this agreement, the lords would not send an army against them again and would respect their autonomy, and the freed former slaves would no longer accept new slaves into their ranks and turn back those who broke it, unless they bore obvious signs of abuse by their bosses.

However, the lords continued to have Drimakos himself rewarded. Drimakos, knowing about the proclamation, when he fell seriously ill and was about to die, asked his most faithful companion – according to some versions his lover himself – to take his head and take it to the city to collect the reward of the proclamation and share it with the community.

But with the death of Drimakos, the stability in the relations between lords and slaves was disturbed and new rebellions and defections of slaves continued without anyone to stop them. Chios again plunged into social chaos. The lords believed that this was God’s punishment upon them, for the execution of Drimakos. In order to propitiate him they built temples and altars in his honor, worshiping him as a semi-god, equal to Hercules. So Drimakos went down in history for many reasons.

This is reported by the historian of Lower Italy, Nymphodorus the Sicilian. The authenticity of the above story is questionable, as apart from Nymphodorus it has not been verified by any other historian of the time.

Drimakos inspires the Deipnosophistae

However, a few years after Nymphodorus, the Deipnosophistae with Athenaeus of Naucratis came to reflect on this case. In his 228 BC records their relevant dialogue in which they compare the up to then, failed slave revolts with the successful model of Drimakos’ leadership.

According to Athenaeus, Drimakos’ success is endorsed by the fact that he set a model of sober and brave political governance for the rebellious slave community and practiced “realpolitik” against the former masters. On the one hand, that is, he sought to maintain a political vision and the integrity of a small and still weak new community. On the other hand, he faced the real situation in which this community remained surrounded by a hostile environment and tried to turn it in the desired direction.

The Deipnosophistae, in fact, claim that the success of the slave revolt in Chios – until then all others had failed – constitutes a kind of Nemesis of the Gods because the Chians had committed an Hubris, that is an Immoral crime: they were the first in the ancient Greek world, who bought slaves from others, without before they have been subdued in some battle.

Modern scholars

Newer studies, such as that of the Soviet Archaeologist – specializing in Ancient Chios – Irina Alexandrovna Shishova, estimate that the history of Drimakos as presented in the writings of Nymphodorus is full of internal contradictions: the worship of Drimakos by the Chian lords is not consistent with his role as leader of the rebellion. An additional detail in his writings, that Drimakos appeared posthumously in a dream to the Chian slave owners (whom they thought were responsible for his death) and warned them of the slavers’ plans, seems completely improbable.

According to the German historian Richard Laqueur, Nymphodorus’ text combines two different legends about different slave revolts: one is the Chian legend about the leader of the slave revolt Drimakos, the other about the unnamed “Kalokomos Hero” (Ἥρος ὐμενης). This heterogeneous material was subsequently compiled on the occasion of similar slave revolts in Sicily.

The social context in which the story of Drimakos is born.

In the historical literature there are various dates for the revolt of the slaves of Chios, with a range from the 6th to the 2nd century BC. Irina Alexandrovna Shishova considers the period between the 4th-3rd century BC as the most correct dating, when in Chios a political struggle between the democratic forces and the aristocracy took place. That struggle weakened the united front of the slaves’ owners and therefore most likely that was the era of the story written by Nymphodorus.

Peloponnesian civil war – The alliance between Chios and Sparta

But the most prevailing version of the weakening of the Chios’ landlords seemed to be a slaves’ revolt during the Peloponnesian civil war. That was during a crucial moment of the war, between 412 and 407 BC, when the tide turned in favor of Sparta. Chios, even if it was a distinguished Athens commercial colony of Athens, after the weakening of the metropolitan ally, took the opportunity to change sides and move towards an alliance with Sparta. The Spartans of course accepted the unexpected gift, but were not in position to send enough naval forces so far to secure it.

Athen’s invasion against Chios

The Athenians send an expeditionary force, to punish the Chians renegades and to occupy some strategic ports of the island, such as Fana in the south and Delfini at Lagadas’ bay in the north. From these points manage to stop the so crucial for the survival of the island, sea trade routes.

The landlords escape to the mountains.

The Chians landlords will escape to the mountains, where in order to survive, they will take with them some slaves. They will put them working in the mountainous land and transform it to arable land. Stationed in Fana and Delfini the Athenians will call the slaves to revolt and join them. This will indeed happen to some extent.

Athenians losing the war and retreat.

In the end the Athenians were defeated, and they were forced to break the siege, withdraw from the island, and leave the slaves on their own. The Chian landlords restore order, but they cannot totally control the slaves’ population, who have gained confidence and learned to live free.

In our days there are still visible the signs of the big, fortified places of Athenians’ siege, in the port of Delfini and in 3 important sites with ruins of fortifications in the northeast border of Pityos community, at Koila, at Paleopyrgos of Skafi and at Rimokastro.

Drimakos’ Related toponyms

At the forest of Pityos towards the west border of the community’s land with the neighboring one of Katavasi, a dry stream that connects the ancient farming village of “Fardy Pigadi” with the ancient village of “Aria” – two of the villages that formed the modern era Pityos when its residents moved to it – carries the name “Drimakos’ river”.

Near Pityos, there are two locations carrying the names “Sklavos” (Slave) and “Sklavospita” (Slaves’ houses). On the west and just a few kilometres away, between Katavasi and Volissos, a smaller dry stream, is called “Tou Drimi to nero” (Drimakos’ water). At 14th kilometer  of the road Chios-Pityos, on Aipos, a passable dirt road leads to the excavation of Rimokastro. This place is being considered  by many historians as an ancient temple in which Drimakos was worshiped  as semi-God, by the Chians.

Even if we still don’t have enough scientific proof  that could take Drimakos’ story from the sphere of mythology and place it definitely in the historical context, later on writings, toponyms and more recent historical research, shows that the first successful revolutionary slave leader must  have passed  through this land. What would be  his real story?


Russian: Shishova I. A. Ancient tradition on Drimakos, Antique Society – Proceedıngs of Conference on the study of Antiquinty, Μoscow, 1967, pp. 85-91.

Russian: Shishova I. A. Slavery on Chios, Kallistov D. P. et al, Slavery at the whereabouts of the Ancinet world, Leningrand, 1968, pp. 149-192.

English: Langerwerf, Lydia (2009), Sparta: Comparative Approaches: Chapter 9 «ARISTOMENES AND DRIMAKOS: THE MESSENIAN REVOLT IN PAUSANIAS’ PERIEGESIS IN COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE», pp 331-360, a study upon the original ancient Greek texts of Νυμφόδωρος ο Συρακούσιος, Ένα Ταξίδι στις Ακτές της Ασίας & Αθήναιος ο Ναυκρατής, Δειπνοσοφιστές.

English: Theresa Urbainczyk . Slave’s revolt in Antiquety, Berkeley/Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2008, p. 30.

Greek: Δέσποινα Τσαρδάκα, Η Αρχαία Οχυρωματική Εγκατάσταση στον «Παλαιόπυργο» του Πιτυός, Περιοδικό Πελλιναίο, τεύχος 48, Χίος 2009, σελ. 38-42.