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Encyclopedia > Spartakus

Spartacus was a Roman slave who led a large slave uprising in what is now Italy, then the Italian Peninsula, in 73 - 71 BC. His army of escaped gladiators and slaves defeated several Roman legions in what is known as the Third Servile War, one of the three slave rebellions of ancient Rome. Other names for the war include the Gladiator War.



Different sources claim that Spartacus was either a captured Thracian soldier or a deserter who had served in the Roman Army. One of the most common theories is that Spartacus fought in the Roman Army as an auxiliary. The auxilary forces were made up entirely of men from captured lands who willingly fought for the Romans.

He took his ideas from Blossius of Cumae which can be summarized as: "the last will be the first (and vice versa)."

In 73 BC he broke out of a gladiator school, owned by Lentulus Batiatus at Capua with between 70 and 80 followers and fled to the caldera of Mount Vesuvius (near Naples). There he raised a rebel army allegedly composed of 70,000 escaped slaves.

Spartacus's forces defeated two Roman legions sent to crush them. They spent the winter on the south coast manufacturing weapons. At this point, Spartacus's many followers were not all able-bodied males; some of them were women, children, and elderly men who tagged along. By spring they marched towards the north and Gaul. They defeated two more legions on the way. At Mutina (modern-day Modena) they defeated yet another legion of Cassius Longinus, the Governor of Cisalpine Gaul.

Spartacus had apparently intended to march his army out of Italy and into Gaul. However, he changed his mind, possibly under the pressure of his followers who wanted more plunder. There are theories that say that some of the non-fighting followers did, in fact, cross the Alps and go home. 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 camped in Rhegium (Reggio Calabria) near the Straits of Messina.

Spartacus's deal with Cilician pirates to get them to Sicily fell through. In the beginning of 71 BC, eight legions of Marcus Licinius Crassus isolated Spartacus's army in Calabria. The Roman Senate also recalled Pompey from Iberia and Lucullus from northern Turkey.

Spartacus managed to break through Crassus's lines and escape towards Brundisium (modern-day Brindisi). Crassus's forces intercepted then in Lucania and Spartacus was killed in subsequent battle of the river Silarus. The last survivors fled north but were killed by Pompey, coming back from Roman Iberia.

Approximately six thousand of the captured slaves were crucified along the Via Appia from Capua 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 five thousand slaves, however, escaped the capture. They were later destroyed by Pompey, which enabled him also to claim credit for ending this war.

Legionnaires found 3000 unharmed Roman prisoners from his camp. Spartacus's body was never identified.

Our original sources about the Spartacus' revolt are works of historians Plutarch, Appian, Florus, Orosius, and Sallust.

Spartacus in modern times

Spartacus has been a great inspiration to revolutionaries in modern times, most notably the Spartacist League of Weimar Republic Germany.

  • Howard Fast wrote the historical novel Spartacus. He was hired to adapt his novel as a screenplay, but experienced difficulty working in a screenplay format. Dalton Trumbo (working under the pseudonym "Sam Jackson" due to being on the Hollywood blacklist) was hired to replace Fast. In 2004, Fast's novel was adapted as a made-for-TV movie by the USA Network.
  • In Trumbo's screenplay, Spartacus is depicted as a sort of early communist who fights against the wealthy Roman establishment by liberating the slaves. Stanley Kubrick directed the film Spartacus in 1960 starring executive producer Kirk Douglas in the title role.
  • The movie was re-released in 1967 and again in 1991, with "restored" scenes that had been cut for being too racy in 1960.

Further reading

  • Appian. Civil Wars. Translated by J. Carter. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1996.
  • Florus. Epitome of Roman History. London: W. Heinemann, 1947.
  • Orosius. The Seven Books of History Against the Pagans. Translated by Roy J. Deferrari Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1964.
  • Plutarch. Fall of the Roman Republic. Translated by R. Warner. London: Penguin Books,1972.
  • Sallust. Conspiracy of Catiline and the War of Jugurtha. London: Constable, 1924.

External links

  • Spartacus' Revolt (http://nefer-seba.net/essays/Spartacus/) - An article and excerpts from the original Roman sources.
  • "Spartacus"- Movie staring Kirk Douglas (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0783226039/superstorelin-20?creative=327641&camp=14573&link_code=as1/)

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