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A fictionalised account of a slave rebellion in Roman Sicilia more than sixty years before Spartacus, it tells the story of the slave Younis from Afamia (now in Syria), a mystic and seer who led a great uprising sustained much longer than Spartacus’s. As with Messinian rebellion against Spartan oppression centuries earlier, the West has been slow to take such events seriously and reinstate their presence in popular culture as expressions of human spirituality and resistance. The role of seers as leaders is reminiscent of Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Healers on ancient Africa. This book is a fascinating and brilliant telling of popular struggle. It is a minor classic.
— Michael Neocosmos, Emeritus Professor in Humanities, Rhodes University, South Africa, author of Thinking Freedom; Towards a theory of emancipatory politics
I highly recommend Basem Ra’ad’s compelling and deeply researched historical novel about the fire-breathing Syrian slave who challenged Roman might in the second century BCE, seeking independence for his thousands of followers. This little-known story of resistance deserves wide attention … an amazing and important story.
— Adrienne Mayor, Department of Classics, Stanford University, author, The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy
What Basem L. Ra’ad has done in this remarkable novel about slave uprisings is to demonstrate how ‘the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.’ He shows why the dominant discourse needs to be revised. A moving story that casts light on many strifes in our times.
— Tariq Mehmood, author, Song of Gulzarina, Associate Professor, American University of Beirut
Slave King disrupts two millennia of malign stories about one of antiquity’s original slave revolts. Not cannibals, not demons, but slaves, farmers and herdsmen created a kingdom of equality and compassion. In vivid prose and deep knowledge, Ra’ad re-imagines freedom emerging from Mediterranean multicultural shores. It is a profound re-creation of history in thrilling fiction.
—Hilton Obenzinger, author of Witness 2017-2020 and American Palestine: Melville, Twain, and the Holy Land Mania
Slave King recreates a major slave revolt in Sicily led by a Syrian magus turned leader, circa 140-132 BCE, decades before Spartacus. He forges a coalition of slaves, farmers and herders to defeat Roman legions and establish an egalitarian entity. The novel uses biased ancient sources but challenges them to speak for the oppressed and provide alternative cultural-historical perspectives relevant to the present. Among its chapters are scenes of exorcism, crucifixion, ancient marriage customs, a play, and several battles.