Ancient Rome

 

Spartacus

Gary Edward Forsythe: Assistant Professor of Classical Languages and Literatures, University of Chicago. Author of The Historian L. Calpurnius Piso Frugi and the Roman Annalistic Tradition.  Robert A. Guisepi:  Author of Ancient Voices

(Re-printed by permission)

 

"Remember, Roman, that it is for thee to rule the nations. This shall be thy task, to impose the ways of peace, to spare the vanquished, and to tame the proud by war." 

Spartacus was a Roman slave and gladiator, born in Thrace. He is thought to have been a deserter from the Roman army, and he was sold as a slave to a trainer of gladiators at Capua. In 73BC he escaped with other runaway gladiators and took refuge on Mount Vesuvius, where he was joined by large numbers of escaped slaves. As leader of the historic insurrection of Roman slaves known as the Third Servile War, or Gladiators' War, he defeated two Roman armies, and his forces overran southern Italy. In 72BC he defeated three more Roman armies and reached Cisalpine Gaul, where he planned to disperse his followers to their homes. They decided to remain in Italy for the sake of plunder, and Spartacus marched south again. In 71BC the Roman commander Marcus Licinius Crassus forced Spartacus and his followers into the narrow peninsula of Rhegium (now Reggio di Calabria), from which, however, they escaped through the Roman lines. Crassus then pursued Spartacus to Lucania, where the rebel army was destroyed and Spartacus was killed in battle. Upon his death the insurrection came to an end, and the captured rebels were crucified. A few who escaped to the north were killed by Pompey the Great, who was returning from Spain.

A Thracian by birth, Spartacus served in the Roman Army, perhaps deserted, led bandit raids, and was caught and sold as a slave. With about 70 fellow gladiators he escaped a gladiatorial training school at Capua in 73 and took refuge on Mount Vesuvius, where other runaway slaves joined the band. After defeating two Roman forces in succession, the rebels overran most of southern Italy. Ultimately their numbers grew to at least 90,000. Spartacus defeated the two consuls for the year 72 and fought his way northward toward the Alps, hoping to be able to disperse his soldiers to their homelands once they were outside Italy. When his men refused to leave Italy, he returned to Lucania and sought to cross his forces over to Sicily but was thwarted by the new Roman commander sent against him, Marcus Licinius Crassus. Hemmed in by Crassus' eight legions, Spartacus' army divided; the Gauls and Germans were defeated first, and Spartacus himself ultimately fell fighting in pitched battle. Pompey's army intercepted and killed many slaves who were escaping northward, and 6,000 prisoners were crucified by Crassus along the Appian Way.

Spartacus was apparently both competent and humane, although the revolt he led inspired terror throughout Italy. Although his uprising was not an attempt at social revolution, his name has frequently been invoked by revolutionaries such as Adam Weishaupt in the late 18th century and Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, and the other members of the German Spartacus League of 1916-19

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* Because we believe primary sources of history far surpass secondary sources, most of the lives of the following individuals are taken from ancient historians such as Plutarch, Pliny, Suetonius and Tacitus