Do you know why we love the story of Spartacus? And why it is told and retold over and over again in television, movies, and literature? I bet you do, but I’m going to say it anyway because I absolutely have to. Spartacus is the ultimate underdog. It’s like a militant rags to riches fairytale where everyone dies in the end… or really, just a fairytale as written, y’know prior to the rigorous Disney sanitizing.
What was that? Some people don’t KNOW the Spartacus story? Well that is just plain silly. Gather ’round friends, Romans, and countrymen. I am gonna tell you a story.
Once upon a time there was this guy from Thrace (which is today a little country known as Bulgaria) who was captured and enslaved by the Romans. No one really knows what this guy was all about prior to his capture. Some say he was a mercenary turned Roman soldier who deserted his post, some say he fought against the Romans and was captured. Whatever he was, his destiny was hijacked by the Roman Empire.
Being a slave in the Roman Empire was no cakewalk, but worse yet, that Spartacus was sold to a gladiator school near Capua. Building friendships as a gladiator was difficult, especially seeing as you may have to stick a sword in your “friend” at any given time, depending on the whim of your owner. Despite this a group of about 70 gladiatorial slaves rose up in rebellion against the school, breaking free of their captivity and, using kitchen implements as weapons, overcame their Roman guards. The group fled to Mount Vesuvius (sound familiar?) to regroup. They were deep inside Roman territory and knew they would be pursued the width and breadth of the empire. They needed someone with leadership qualities and skill at the art of war to be in charge. Who do they select? DUH!
Spartacus and two Gaelic slaves, Crixus and Oenomaus were put in charge. Due to his military background, Spartacus immediately organized his group of erstwhile freemen into military hierarchy. Folks speculate that this was, perhaps, the secret to their later successes: When the Roman legions came upon them they were expecting a ragtag group of misanthropes, not an organized cabal of elite soldiery.
Over and over again, Spartacus and his forces beat back the Roman soldiers, first their raw recruits, but then full armies of Roman Legions led by veteran generals. Despite what you might have read or seen, there is no evidence to support the idea that Spartacus was fighting to abolish slavery or emancipate the slaves in Rome. By all accounts, he seemed to be fighting to free himself and his followers and send them to their homeland…..
The iconic scene in the movie Spartacus with Kirk Douglas never happened of course. In the final battle, Spartacus was presumed killed in the fighting, but there are many accounts that state his body was never found. Either way, the Romans were not merciful. The remnants of the rebellion, which started with 70 slaves and grew to a massive size, were crucified along the Appian way from Capua to Rome.
Now I could cite specific battles in specific places, but then I would lose a lot of folks, so let’s stick to the basics, and save the deep stuff for other posts. The point is, here is a guy who came from nothing and rose up to be one of the greatest rebel leaders in the annals of Roman history. A brilliant tactician and leader of men, it took two full armies to take this guy down. Even then, there is every possibility that he survived. I mean: How evocative can you get? That is why there have been stories written about him for the last 2100 years. That is why his name is remembered still.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is the stuff of legends.
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