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Spartacus
(ca. 120 BC ca. 70 BC)

Spartacus(ca. 120 BC  ca. 70 BC)

Spartacus, according to Roman historians, was a gladiator-slave who became the leader (or possibly one of several) in the unsuccessful slave uprising against the Roman Republic known as the Third Servile War. Little is known about Spartacus beyond the events of the war, and the surviving historical accounts are sketchy and often contradictory. Spartacus' struggle, often perceived as the struggle of an oppressed people fighting for their freedom against a slave-owning aristocracy, has found new meaning for modern writers since the 19th century. The figure of Spartacus, and his rebellion, has become an inspiration to many modern literary and political writers, who have made the character of Spartacus an ancient/modern folk hero.

The ancient sources agree that Spartacus was a native Thracian who had served as an auxiliary in the Roman army. Plutarch describes him as "a Thracian of nomadic tribe" (however, the word "nomadic" does not appear in the Greek original, this is why the editor Konrad Ziegler argues that the Greek word Maidikou is referring to the Thracian tribe of the Maidi), and says his wife, a prophetess of the same tribe, was enslaved with him; Appian says he was "a Thracian by birth, who had once served as a soldier with the Romans, but had since been a prisoner and sold for a gladiator"; and Florus says he was "a mercenary Thracian [who] had become a Roman soldier, of a soldier a deserter and robber, and afterwards, from consideration of his strength, a gladiator"; However, "Thracian" was a is otherwise attested in the Black Sea region: kings of Cimmerian Bosporus and Pontus are known to have borne it, and a Thracian "Spardacus" or "Sparadokos", father of Seuthes I of the Odrysae, is also known.

Spartacus was trained at the gladiatorial school (ludo) near Capua, belonging to Lentulus Batiatus. In 73 BC, Spartacus and some 70 followers escaped from the gladiator school of Lentulus Batiatus. Seizing the knives in the cook's shop and a wagon full of weapons, the slaves fled to the caldera of Mount Vesuvius, near modern day Naples. There they were joined by other rural slaves.

The group overran the region, plundering and pillaging, although Spartacus apparently tried to restrain them as his main intention was to leave Italy and return home.] His chief aides were gladiators from Gaul, named Crixus, Castus, Gannicus and Oenomaus. Other runaway slaves joined, increasing the numbers to several hundred.

The slave-to-Roman citizen ratio at that time was very high, making this slave rebellion a very serious threat to Rome. However Rome did not believe slaves could defeat their legions so failed to take adequate action. All of Rome's experienced legions were away so the Senate sent an inexperienced praetor, Claudius Glaber (his nomen may have been Clodius; his praenomen is unknown), against the rebels, with a militia of about 3,000. They besieged the rebels on Vesuvius blocking their escape, but Spartacus had ropes made from vines and with his men climbed down a cliff on the other side of the mountain, to the rear of the Roman soldiers, and staged a surprise attack. Not expecting trouble from a handful of slaves the Romans had not fortified their camp or posted adequate sentries. As a result, most of the Roman soldiers were still sleeping and killed in this attack, including Claudius Glaber. After this success many runaway slaves joined Spartacus until the group grew into an army of allegedly 120,000 escaped slaves.

Spartacus is credited as a brilliant military tactician and his experience as a former auxiliary soldier made him a formidable enemy but his men were mostly former slave labourers who lacked military training. Due to the short time expected before needing to face battle, Spartacus delegated training to the Gladiators who trained small groups who then trained other small groups themselves and so on leading to a basically trained army in only a few weeks. Spartacus' forces then defeated two more Roman legions sent to crush them, then settled down for the winter on the south coast, making weapons. By now, Spartacus' many followers included women, children, and elderly men who tagged along. By spring they marched north towards Gaul.

The Senate, alarmed, sent two consuls, Gellius Publicola and Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus, each with a legion, against the rebels. Crixus wanted to stay in Italy and plunder but Spartacus wanted to continue North so, along with around 30,000 Gaul and Germanic supporters Crixus separated from Spartacus and was later defeated by Publicola with Crixus being killed. Spartacus first defeated Lentulus, and then Publicola. At Picenum in central Italy, Spartacus defeated the consular armies, then pushed north. At Mutina (now Modena) they defeated yet another legion under Gaius Cassius Longinus, the Governor of Cisalpine Gaul ("Gaul this side of the Alps").

Apparently, Spartacus had intended to march his army out of Italy and into Gaul (now Belgium, Switzerland and France) or maybe even to Hispania to join the rebellion of Quintus Sertorius. There are theories that some of the non-fighting followers (some 10,000 or so) did, in fact, cross the Alps and return to their homelands.]

The rest marched back south, and defeated two more legions under Marcus Licinius Crassus, who at that time was the wealthiest man in Rome. At the end of 72 BC, Spartacus was encamped in Rhegium (Reggio Calabria), near the Strait of Messina (the "toe of the Italian boot").

Spartacus' deal with Cilician pirates to get them to Sicily fell through. In the beginning of 71 BC, eight legions of Crassus isolated Spartacus's army in Calabria. With the assassination of Quintus Sertorius, the Roman Senate also recalled Pompey from Hispania; and Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus from Macedonia.

Spartacus managed to break through Crassus's lines, and escaped towards Brundisium (now Brindisi), but Pompey's forces intercepted them in Lucania, and the slaves were routed in a subsequent battle at the river Silarus. Spartacus is believed to have fallen at Silarus, but his body was never identified. After the battle, legionaries found and rescued 3,000 unharmed Roman prisoners in their camp.

6,600 of Spartacus's followers were crucified along the via Appia (or the Appian Way) from Brundisium to Rome. Crassus never gave orders for the bodies to be taken down, thus travelers were forced to see the bodies for years, perhaps decades, after the final battle.

Around 5,000 slaves, however, escaped the capture. They fled north and were later destroyed by Pompey, who was coming back from Roman Iberia. This enabled him also to claim credit for ending this war. Pompey was greeted as a hero in Rome while Crassus received little credit or celebration.


Grenada Grenadines, 1999, Kirk Douglas as Spartacus

Grenada Grenadines, 1999, Kirk Douglas as Spartacus

Mali, 1994, Kirk Douglas in The Vikings

Russia, 2003, Aram Khachaturyan and ballet Spartakus

Tanzania, 1999, Spartacus

Russia, 2001, Scene from ballet Spartakus

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