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Spartacus (c. 109 BC-71 BC), according to Roman historians, was a slave and a gladiator who became a leader (or possibly one of several leaders) in the major slave uprising against the Roman Republic known as the Third Servile War. Little is known about Spartacus beyond the events of the war, and surviving historical accounts are sometimes contradictory and may not always be reliable.

Spartacus' struggle, often seen as the fight 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 rebellion of Spartacus has proven inspirational to many modern literary and political writers, making Spartacus a folk hero among cultures both ancient and modern.

Spartacus's origins

The Roman Republic at 100 BC
The ancient sources agree on Spartacus's origins. Plutarch describes him as "a Thracian of Nomadic stock" and "more Hellenic than Thracian" when referring to his character. 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". Florus (2.8.8) described him as one "who from Thracian mercenary, had become a Roman soldier, of a soldier a deserter and robber, and afterwards, from consideration of his strength, a gladiator". Some authors refer to the Thracian tribe of the Maedi, which in historic times occupied the area on the southwestern fringes of Thrace (present-day north-eastern Greece, south-western Bulgariamarker).Plutarch also writes that Spartacus's wife, a prophetess of the same tribe, was enslaved with him. The name Spartacus is otherwise attested in the Black Seamarker region: kings of the Thracian dynasty of the 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.

Third Servile War

Revolt leading to the Third Servile War

Spartacus was trained at the gladiatorial school (ludus) near Capuamarker, belonging to Lentulus Batiatus. Finally in 73 BC, Spartacus and some seventy 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 Vesuviusmarker, near modern day Naplesmarker. There they were joined by other rural slaves.

The group overran the region, plundering and pillaging. Spartacus's intention was to leave Italy and return home.
  His chief aides were gladiators from Gaul and Germania, named Crixus, Castus, Gannicus, and Oenomaus. Other runaway slaves joined, increasing the numbers to several hundred.


While the slave-to-Roman citizen ratio at that time was very high, a larger problem was that at the time of the uprising Pompey was fighting a revolt led by Quintus Sertorius in Hispania while at the same time the consul Lucius Licinius Lucullus had committed the rest of Rome's available legions to fighting Mithridates VI of Pontus in the Third Mithridatic War. While the dispersal of Rome's legions on two distant fronts made this slave rebellion a very serious threat, Rome failed to take adequate action. With Rome's experienced legions away, and believing slaves could not defeat their legions, the Senate sent a 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 volcano, 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. After this success, many runaway slaves joined Spartacus until the group grew into an army of allegedly 100,000 escaped slaves.

Military success continues

The Fall of Spartacus.
Spartacus is credited as an excellent 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. They hid out in the caldera on Mount Vesuviusmarker which at that time was dormant and heavily wooded, and this enabled them to train properly for the fight with the Romans.

Following the defeat of Glaber, two legions of militia under the command of the praetor Publius Varinius set out to confront the rebels. Spartacus intercepted an advance force of 2,000 men under Varinius’ lieutenant Lucius Furius and annihilated it. Leaving Vesuvius he discovered another force of Romans under Cossinius at a camp near Herculaneummarker which was similarly defeated. Moving further south into Lucania the rebels deployed in battle formation to face the 4,000 legionairies led by Varinius. Some legionaires refused to advance, while others fled but Varinius attacked and was badly defeated, Varinius escaped but the legions standards and insignia were lost. Four hundred Roman prisoners were forced to fight each other as gladiators or were crucified in celebration.

By spring the rebel march turned north towards Gaul occupying Campania and destroying a Roman corps under Gaius Thoranius. Spartacus wanted to continue north but Crixus wanted to attack Rome and taking 30,000 men with him moved to the Apuliamarker region. Finally taking the revolt seriously, the consuls Lucius Gellius Publicola and Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus led four veteran Roman legions who had been recalled from Spain, Gaul and Germany to crush the rebellion. Lentulus blocked Spartacus in the north while two legions under praetor Quintus Arrius attacked Crixus near Apulia, soundly defeating the rebels and killing Crixus. The two legions then moved behind Spartacus intending to trap him between the two armies. Spartacus attacked Lentulus destroying his army, he then turned and defeated the oncoming legions of Gellius.

At Mutinamarker in the Cisalpine Gaul region of northern Italy governor Caius Cassius attempted to block the rebels with 10,000 men but was quickly defeated leaving no more obstacles between Spartacus and Gaul. More importantly, no more legions were available to defend Rome.

Choice to remain in Italy

Apparently, Spartacus had intended to march his army out of Italy and into Gaul (now Belgiummarker, Switzerlandmarker, and Francemarker) or maybe even to Hispania, where Roman soldiers were fighting, to join the rebellion of Quintus Sertorius as it is known that Sertorius was in communication with the rebels. However, he changed his mind and turned back south, the sources say under pressure from his followers for they wanted more plunder. Although it is not known for certain why they turned back when they were on the brink of escaping into Gaul, it is regarded as their greatest mistake. 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 Roman Senate gave supreme military command to the praetor Marcus Licinius Crassus who at that time was the wealthiest man in Rome and was also the only volunteer for the position. Crassus now collected the remnants of the defeated legions and integrated them with several legions newly raised from militia. When news reached Rome that Spartacus was marching through Picenum, Crassus ordered his legate Mummius to lead two of the new legions behind Spartacus but to avoid contact. Mummius, believing he had the element of surprise on his side, attacked. In the resulting battle the legions broke rank and fled. Crassus ordered that 500 legionaires accused of cowardice be decimated (one in ten executed after drawing lots) and began re-arming and training the troops. Finally, with 40,000 men in eight legions now under his command, Crassus engaged Spartacus in a running battle forcing him further south through Lucania as Crassus gained the upper hand. By the end of 72 BC, Spartacus was encamped in Rhegium (Reggio Calabriamarker), near the Strait of Messinamarker.

Spartacus arranged a deal with Cilician pirates to get them to Sicily but after accepting payment they failed to take their fleet to the approved rendezvous. Crassus now constructed a 32 mile long wood and stone wall with a 15 foot deep ditch completely across the peninsula to cut the rebels off and starve them into submission. With winter setting in and supplies running low Spartacus had no choice but to try to break through the encirclement. During a snowstorm he managed to break through Crassus's lines and escape towards Brundisium (now Brindisi). With the rebels now free again Rome panicked and the senate authorized the return of Pompey from Hispania; and Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus from Macedonia.

Ganicus and Cestus with their followers broke away from Spartacus' army to plunder the villages and estates but were surprised by Crassus. Camped on the shores of a lake with no retreat possible more than 12,000 were killed before Spartacus arrived to rescue them. Pursued by the Romans, the rebels fled to the mountains of Petelia. With several legions under the legates Scrophas and Quintus attacking their rear Spartacus wheeled about and routed them. Word arrived that Lucullus had landed at Brundisium and Spartacus decided to attack Crassus as the weaker of the two forces. Crassus' forces faced Spartacus in Lucania near the river Silarusmarker, where Spartacus sought to overwhelm the Romans by sheer numbers. The rebels were routed with the survivors fleeing. It is believed that Spartacus himself was killed during the rout. According to Plutarch, "Finally, after his companions had taken to flight, he (Spartacus) stood alone, surrounded by a multitude of foes, and was still defending himself when he was cut down". According to Appian, "Spartacus was wounded in the thigh with a spear and sank upon his knee, holding his shield in front of him and contending in this way against his assailants until he and the great mass of those with him were surrounded and slain"; The body of Spartacus was not found. After the battle, legionaries found and rescued 3,000 unharmed Roman prisoners in their camp and 6,600 of Spartacus's followers were crucified along the via Appia (or the Appian Way) from Brundisium to Romemarker. Crassus never gave orders for the bodies to be taken down, thus travelers were forced to see the bodies for years after the final battle.

Around 5,000 slaves, however, escaped the capture. Although Crassus had won, his own legions were so badly depleted in the battle that he was unable to chase the fugitive slaves who had escaped. They fled north and were later destroyed by Pompey, who had arrived from Hispania and hunted the rebels without mercy throughout Italy. 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.

Modern depictions of Spartacus

Politics



Artistic

Film and Television

  • Most famously, Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Howard Fast's novel, as Spartacus, in 1960. The catchphrase "I am Spartacus!" from this film has been referenced in a number of other films, television programs, and commercials.
  • An unofficial sequel to Kubrick's film was made in Italy under the title Il Figlio di Spartacus (The Son of Spartacus) in 1963. The titular character (performed by Steve Reeves), first appearing as a Roman centurion, eventually learns of his true identity and takes revenge against Crassus, the murderer of his father.
  • In the 1995 film Clueless, Christian uses Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of the film as part of a subtle campaign to reveal his homosexuality.
  • Just before The Wonders are about to play the biggest show of their career during one of the final scenes of Tom Hanks' 1996 film That Thing You Do! the band's lead guitarist Lenny Haise asks, "Skitch, how did we get here?" Drummer Guy Patterson replies, "I led you here, sir, for I am Spartacus."
  • In 2004, Fast's novel was adapted as Spartacus, a made-for-TV movie, by the USA Network, with Goran Višnjić in the main role.
  • Sam Raimi has confirmed that he is producing a 13 episode television series based on Spartacus. Filming has begun in New Zealand in 2009 and will be aired on Starz in January 2010.
  • In the Nicktoons Network series Kappa Mikey, Spartacus is a frequent character that randomly inserts short, opinionated quips. He is depicted as bald and wields a sword.
  • In the 2003 movie The Recruit, James Clayton (played by Colin Farrell), creates a software program called Spartacus that can hijack all webcast devices in a particular area. The students who created the program in the film say it was named for "the slave revolt."
  • The title character of the cartoon series Spartakus and the Sun Beneath the Sea is loosely based on Spartacus.
  • The name of the character Sportacus in the children's television program LazyTown is a pun on Spartacus.
  • In "The Histories of Pliny the Elder" - a 1957 episode of the British radio comedy The Goon Show parodying epic films - Spartacus is used as a pseudonym for Bloodnok after he has an affair with Caesar's wife and has to escape from Caesar; "You know that saying, 'Caesar's wife is above suspicion'? Well I put an end to all that rubbish!".
  • In the episode "Massage Chair" of Newsradio when the workers stage a revolt, Dave retorts, "So Spartacus here speaks for everyone?" Bill replies, "Yes, Dave, I am Spartacus. And so is Matthew, right, Matthew? Matthew!" Matthew affirms this and Bill continues, "Beth!" Beth hesitantly mumbles, "I am Spark-tis too..."
  • In the anime Persona: Trinity Soul, Spartacus is a persona of Takuro Sakakbiba.
  • In the anime Dinosaur King Spartacus is the older brother of Sophia and the owner of the Yellow Cosmo Stone.


Literature



Music



Games



Sports



Places



References

  1. Plutarch, Crassus 8
  2. Appian, Civil Wars 1.116
  3. Florus, Epitome of Roman History 2.8
  4. The Histories, Sallust, Patrick McGushin, Oxford University Press, 1992, ISBN 0198721439, p. 112.
  5. Balkan history, Thracian tribes, Maedi.
  6. Diodorus Siculus, Historical Library Book 12
  7. Diodorus Siculus, Historical Library Book 16
  8. Theucidides, History of the Peloponnesian War 2.101
  9. Tribes, Dynasts and Kingdoms of Northern Greece: History and Numismatics
  10. Plutarch, Crassus, 8:1–2; Appian, Civil Wars, 1:116; Livy, Periochae, 95:2; Florus, Epitome of Roman History, 2.8; Plutarch claims 78 escaped, Livy claims 74, Appian "about seventy", and Florus says "thirty or rather more men".
  11. Spartacus and the Slave Rebellion
  12. Plutarch • Life of Crassus
  13. Appian • The Civil Wars — Book I
  14. Karl Marx's "Confession"[1]
  15. Letter from Marx to Engels In Manchester
  16. http://tvblog.ugo.com/tv/spartacus-comic-con-2009
  17. http://spartacus.ausxip.com/2009/06/
  18. History of Spartak, fcspartak.ru
  19. Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd edition, volume 24 (part 1), p. 286, Moscow, Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya publisher, 1976


Bibliography

Classical authors

  • 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, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1964).
  • Plutarch. Fall of the Roman Republic. Translated by R. Warner. (London: Penguin Books, 1972), with special emphasis placed on "The Life of Crassus" and "The Life of Pompey".
  • Sallust. Conspiracy of Catiline and the War of Jugurtha. (London: Constable, 1924)


Modern historiography

  • Bradley, Keith R. Slavery and Rebellion in the Roman World, 140 B.C.–70 B.C. Bloomington; Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1989 (hardcover, ISBN 0-253-31259-0); 1998 (paperback, ISBN 0-253-21169-7). [Chapter V] The Slave War of Spartacus, pp. 83–101.
  • Rubinsohn, Wolfgang Zeev. Spartacus' Uprising and Soviet Historical Writing. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 1987 (paperback, ISBN 0-9511243-1-5).
  • Spartacus: Film and History, edited by Martin M. Winkler. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2007 (hardcover, ISBN 1405131802; paperback, ISBN 1405131810).
  • Trow, M.J. Spartacus: The Myth and the Man. Stroud, United Kingdom: Sutton Publishing, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 0-7509-3907-9).
  • Genner, Michael. "Spartakus. Eine Gegengeschichte des Altertums nach den Legenden der Zigeuner". Two volumes. Paperback. Trikont Verlag, Munchen 1979/1980. Vol 1 ISBN 3-88167-053-X Vol 2 ISBN 3-88167-0


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