(c. 109 BC-71 BC), according to Roman historians
, was a slave
and a gladiator
became a leader (or possibly one of several leaders) in the major
slave uprising against the Roman
known as the Third
. 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.
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
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
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 Bulgaria).Plutarch
also writes that Spartacus's wife, a prophetess of the same tribe,
was enslaved with him. The name Spartacus is otherwise attested in
Sea 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
Third Servile War
Revolt leading to the Third Servile War
was trained at the gladiatorial school (ludus) near
Capua, belonging to Lentulus
Finally in 73 BC, Spartacus and some seventy
followers escaped from the gladiator school of Lentulus Batiatus.
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. 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
while at the same time the consul Lucius Licinius Lucullus
committed the rest of Rome's available legions to fighting Mithridates VI of Pontus
Third Mithridatic War
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
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
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
out in the caldera on Mount Vesuvius which at that time was dormant and heavily wooded,
and this enabled them to train properly for the fight with the
Following the defeat of Glaber, two legions of militia under the
command of the praetor Publius
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 Herculaneum which was similarly defeated.
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
By spring the rebel march turned north towards Gaul
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 Apulia
Finally taking the revolt seriously, the consuls
Lucius Gellius Publicola
and Gnaeus Cornelius
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.
Mutina 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
Belgium, Switzerland, and France) 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.
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
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
Calabria), near the
Spartacus arranged a deal with Cilician
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
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
(now Brindisi). With the
rebels now free again Rome panicked and the senate authorized the
return of Pompey
; and Marcus Terentius Varro
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
. 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 Silarus, where Spartacus sought to overwhelm the Romans by
The rebels were routed with the survivors
fleeing. It is believed that Spartacus himself was killed during
the rout. According to Plutarch
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 Rome.
Crassus never gave orders for the bodies to be taken down, thus
travelers were forced to see the bodies for years after the final
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
Film and Television
- Most famously, Stanley Kubrick's
adaptation of Howard Fast's novel, as Spartacus, in 1960. The catchphrase
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
- 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
- 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
- In the anime Dinosaur
King Spartacus is the older brother of Sophia and the
owner of the Yellow Cosmo Stone.
- Howard Fast wrote the historical
novel Spartacus, the
basis of the Kirk Douglas film.
- Arthur Koestler wrote a novel
about Spartacus called The
- The Scottish writer Lewis
Grassic Gibbon wrote a novel Spartacus.
- Spartacus is a prominent character in the novel Fortune's Favorites by Colleen McCullough.
- The Italian writer Rafaello
Giovagnoli wrote his historical novel, Spartacus, in
1874. His novel has been subsequently translated and published in
many European countries.
- There is also a novel Uczniowie Spartakusa (The Students of
Spartacus) by the Polish writer Halina Rudnicka.
- The Reverend Elijah Kellogg's
the Gladiators at Capua has been used effectively by
schoolboys to practice their oratory skills for ages.
- Spartacus also appears in Conn
Iggulden's 'Emperor' series in the book The Death of Kings.
- Spartacus and His Glorious Gladiators, by Toby Brown,
is part of the Dead Famous
series of children's history books.
- In the Bolo novel Bolo
Rising by William H. Keith, the character HCT "Hector" is based
- In the novel Flip by David
Lubar, one of the legends Ryan becomes is Spartacus,
specifically when he is challenged to a fight by the school
- Amal Donkol, the Egyptian modern
poet wrote his masterpiece "The Last Words of Spartacus".
- Steven Saylor's novel Arms of
Nemesis, part of his Roma Sub
Rosa series, is set during the Third Servile War.
- Appian, Civil
- Florus, Epitome of
Roman History 2.8
- The Histories, Sallust, Patrick McGushin, Oxford
University Press, 1992, ISBN 0198721439, p. 112.
- Balkan history, Thracian tribes, Maedi.
- Diodorus Siculus, Historical
Library Book 12
- Diodorus Siculus, Historical Library Book 16
History of the Peloponnesian War 2.101
- Tribes, Dynasts and Kingdoms of Northern Greece:
History and Numismatics
- 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".
- Spartacus and the Slave Rebellion
- Plutarch • Life of Crassus
- Appian • The Civil Wars — Book I
- Karl Marx's "Confession"
- Letter from Marx to Engels In Manchester
- History of Spartak, fcspartak.ru
- Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd
edition, volume 24 (part 1), p. 286, Moscow, Sovetskaya
Entsiklopediya publisher, 1976
- 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)
- 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,
- Rubinsohn, Wolfgang Zeev. Spartacus' Uprising and Soviet
Historical Writing. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 1987 (paperback, ISBN
- 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
- 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