previous next


by birth a Thracian, was successively a shepherd, a soldier, and a chief of banditti. On one of his predatory expeditions he was taken prisoner, and sold to a trainer of gladiators. In B. C. 73 he was a member of the company of Cn. Lentulus Batiatus, and was detained in his school at Capua, in readiness for the games at Rome. Among his fellow prisoners, principally Gauls and Thracians, were two Gaulish swordsmen, Crixus and Oenomaus, who joined with Spartacus in urging their comrades rather to die attempting freedom, than to be "butchered for a Roman holiday." Of 200 gladiators about 70 broke out of the school of Lentulus, plundered a cook's-shop of its spits and cleavers, and, thus armed, passed through the gates of Capua. On the high road they met some waggons laden with gladiators' armour, and, seizing it, took refuge in the crater of Vesuvius, where a number of runaway slaves joined them. Spartacus was chosen leader ; Crixus and Oenomaus were his lieutenants; and their ravages soon excited the alarm of the Capuan people. They were blockaded by C. Claudius Pulcher [No. 36], at the head of 3000 men. A wild vine covered the sides of the old and extinguished crater, and on ladders twisted from its stems, the fugitives descended the least accessible and therefore unguarded side of their place of refuge, attacked their besiegers in the rear, and supplied themselves with better weapons from the slain. Spartacus now proclaimed freedom to slaves, and the numbers that flocked to him proved the impolicy of the Roman land-owners in preferring slave-labour to free, the desolation of Sulla's wars, and the weakness and depopulation of Italy. The eruption of a handful of half-armed men devastated Italy, from the foot of the Alps to the southern-most corner of the peninsula, and was little less dangerous to the empire than the Hannibalic war itself. Spartacus was triumphant for upwards of two years, B. C. 73-71. In 73 he defeated Cossinius, a legatus of the praetor Varinius Glaber ; next Glaber himself repeatedly, capturing in one action his war-horse, lictors, and fasces. From this time forward Spartacus was attended with the accompaniments of a Roman proconsul. He ravaged Campania and stacked Cora, Nuceria, and Nola, and perhaps Compsa, in the territory of the Hirpinians. He was absolute master of Lucania and Bruttium, and placed garrisons and magazines in Thurii and Metapontum. Spartacus was as discreet as he was valiant. In the midst of his successes, and with 40,000 men under his command, he saw that in the end Rome would prevail, and he knew that victory, while it swelled, disorganised his bands. His Gaulish followers were jealous of their Thracian comrades, and Crixus and Oenomaus aspired to separate commands. Spartacus, therefore, proposed to his army to make their way to the north of Italy, and, forcing the passes of the Alps, to disperse severally to their respective homes. In B. C. 72 his ranks contained 70,000 men. The senate, now awakened to its danger, sent two consular armies against him, and the praetor Q. Arrius co-operated with a third. Crixus had already separated himself from Spartacus, and was routed and slain by Arrius, near Mount Garganus, in Apulia. Oenomaus had fallen previously. Spartacus, bent on escape rather than victory, pressed northward through Picenum. One consular army, however, under Cn. Cornelius Lentulus [LENTULUS CLODIANUS, No. 24], awaited him north of the Po; another, under Gellius Poplicola, pressed upon his rear. He attacked and defeated both separately, and, with a bitter irony, forced his Roman captives to fight as gladiators at the funeral games which he celebrated to the manes of Crixus. He had now 100,000 men in arms, and meditated an attack on Rome itself. The consuls of 72 sustained a second defeat in the territory of Picenum. But success was in the end fatal to Spartacus. His victorious bands refused to evacuate Italy, and forced him to return to the south. His winter-quarters at Thurii exhibited the spectacle of a great fair, whither merchants resorted to buy the plunder of the peninsula. Spartacus, it is said, interdicted gold and silver from his camp, but purchased brass and iron, and established armouries on a large scale. At the comitia of B. C. 71, there were at first no candidates for the praetorship. To the praetors was assigned the Servile War, and the name of Spartacus intimidated all ranks. M. Licinius Crassus [No. 17] at length offered himself. He was unanimously elected, and numerous volunteers enrolled themselves. Eight legions were sent into the field. But for a while victory remained with Spartacus. In the north, whither he seems to have moved early in the spring of 71, he defeated, near Mutina, the proconsul C. Cassius Longinus [No. 10] , and the propraetor Cn. Manlius. In the territory of Picenum he routed Mummius [No. 7], a legatus of Crassus. But this was the term of his unbroken success. The Roman legions had been disheartened and disorganised by defeat. Crassus decimated the soldiers of Mummius, and restored discipline. The slaves again divided themselves, were twice defeated by Crassus, and Spartacus was driven to the extreme point of Bruttium. Crassus drew strong lines of circumvallation around Rhegium, and by his superior numbers prevented the escape of the slaves. The next design of Spartacus was stamped with his usual genius. Sicily had recently been the theatre of a fierce and desolating Servile War. It was suppressed but not extinguished. Had Spartacus once crossed the straits he would have been welcomed by thousands of followers and been master of the granary of Rome. ' The seas were at that time swept by Cilician pirates, little less formidable than the slaves by land. With them Spartacus negotiated a passage to Sicily, but they impoliticly, as well as treacherously, received their hire and abandoned him. He failed in an attempt to pass over to Sicily on rafts and wicker-boats, and the works of Crassus were daily rendering escape less practicable. To stop the desertion which was beginning to thin his ranks, Spartacus crucified a Roman prisoner as a token of the mercy his followers might expect from the besiegers. In two efforts to force his way out, Spartacus lost 12.000 men; but he finally succeeded on a tempestnous winter night, in throwing fascines over the Roman trenches, and getting beyond the lines of Crassus. Rome was once more panic-struck, and even Crassus, although eager to finish the war unaided, summoned Cn. Pompey from Spain and L. Licinius Lucullus from Thrace. The jealousy of the slaves themselves terminated the contest. The Gauls severed themselves from Spartacus and chose two of their countrymen for leaders, Granicus and Castus. Apart from their great chief they were powerless. Granicus and Castus, with 30,000 of their followers, were slain in the neighbourhood of Croto, and the disgrace of Rome was in part wiped out by the recovery of its eagles and fasces. Crassus now repented of his application to Pompey and Lucullus, and hastened to bring the war to an end. Near Petelia Spartacus was once more victorious, and defeated L. Quintius and Tremellius Scrofa, the quaestor of Crassus. His followers, instead of hastening to the Alps and escaping to Gaul and Thrace, compelled Spartacus to march southward and engage Crassus. Spartacus offered to negotiate. His terms were contemptuously rejected. He then attempted to seize the shipping in the harbour of Brundisium, but Lucullus had just landed there from Epirus. Near the head of the river Silarus Spartacus encountered the Romans for the last time. A skirmish between the pioneers of Crassus and the slaves, brought on a general engagement. Like Warwick at Barnet, Spartacus slew his warhorse in front of his army, and prepared for death. Long after victory was hopeless he was traced by heaps of slain; but in the carnage that closed the day, his body was irreparably lost. About 5000 of his men, under one Publipor, made their way into the north of Lucania, where they were met and slain by Cn. Pompey, who boasted that Crassus had routed the slaves, but that he himself had cut up the war by the roots. Six thousand fugitives impaled on each side of the Appian road between Capua and Rome, attested the fears and the cruelty of the conquerors, and contrasted with the humanity of Spartacus, in whose camp at Rhegium were found surviving three thousand Roman prisoners.

The character of Spartacus, like that of Hannibal, has been maligned by the Roman writers. Cicero compares the vilest of his contemporaries to him : Horace (Hor. Carm. 3.14. 19) speaks of him as a common robber : none recognise his greatness, but the terror of his name survived to a late period of the empire (Sidon. Apollin. Carm. 9.253; Themist. Or. ix.). Accident made Spartacus a shepherd, a freebooter, and a gladiator; nature formed him a hero. The excesses of his followers he could not always repress, and his efforts to restrain them often cost him his popularity. But he was in himself not less mild and just than he was able and valiant. He preferred his Thracian cottage and freedom to the throne of Italy. Of all contemporary characters the mind dwells with most complacency one those of Sertorius and Spartacus. But the one, nobly born and belittingly trained, sullied his name by the murder of the Spanish hostages at Huesca; the other, a peasant by birth, a slave by compulsion, saved the lives of his captives. The most terrible guerilla chieftain recorded in history was unstained by the vices of his conquerors, and, had circumstances favoured him, would have rivalled the fame of Viriarathus and Wallace. (Plut. Crass. 8-12, Pomp. 21, Cat Min. 8 ; Liv. Epit. xcv. xcvi. xcvii.; Vell. 2.30 ; Flor. 3.20; Eutrop. 6.7; Oros. 5.24, 35 ; Appian. B. C. 1.116-121, B. Mithr. 109 ; Frontin. Strat. 1.5. §§ 20-23. 7.6, 2.4.7, 5.34 : Sall. Fragm. Hist. iii. No. 167, p. 254, ed. Gerlach ; Cic. pro Leg. Man. 11. § 50, Verr. 5.2.5, ad Att. 6.2, Philipp. 4.6, Parad. 4.2, Har. Resp. 12 ; Varr. Fragm. p. 250, Bip. ed.; Lucan. Phars. 2.554; Themist. Or. ix.; Hor. Carm. 3.14. 19, Epod. 16. 5 ; Augustin. C. Dei, 3.26; Paneg. Vet.; Sidon. Apollin. Carm. 9.253; Plin. Nat. 33.14; Diod. 38.21.)


hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
73 BC (2)
71 BC (2)
72 BC (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: