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Spartacus by Denis Foyatier, 1830

Spartacus (ca. 120 BC[1] – ca. 70 BC), according to Roman historians, was a gladiator-slave who became the leader (or possibly one of several) in the unsuccessful slave uprising against the Roman Republic known as the Third Servile War. Little is known about Spartacus beyond the events of the war, and the surviving historical accounts are sketchy and often contradictory. Spartacus' struggle, often perceived as the struggle 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 figure of Spartacus, and his rebellion, has become an inspiration to many modern literary and political writers, who have made the character of Spartacus an ancient/modern folk hero.

Ancient depictions of Spartacus

Spartacus' origins

The ancient sources agree that Spartacus was a native Thracian who had served as an auxiliary in the Roman army. Plutarch describes him as "a Thracian of nomadic tribe," and says his wife, a prophetess of the same tribe, was enslaved with him;[2] 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";[3] and Florus says he was "a mercenary Thracian [who] had become a Roman soldier, of a soldier a deserter and robber, and afterwards, from consideration of his strength, a gladiator";[4] However, "Thracian" was a style of gladiatorial combat in which the gladiator fought with a round shield and a short sword or dagger,[5] and it has been argued that this may have confused the sources about his geographical origins, although no alternative origin is attested.

The name "Spartacus" is otherwise attested in the Black Sea region: kings of Cimmerian Bosporus[6] and Pontus[7] are known to have borne it, and a Thracian "Spardacus"[8] or "Sparadokos",[9] father of Seuthes I of the Odrysae, is also known.


Third Servile War

For more details on this topic, see Third Servile War.

Capuan revolt

Spartacus was trained at the gladiatorial school (ludo) near Capua, belonging to Lentulus Batiatus. In 73 BC, Spartacus and some 70[10] 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 Vesuvius, near modern day Naples. There they were joined by other rural slaves.

The group overran the region, plundering and pillaging, although Spartacus apparently tried to restrain them as his main intention was to leave Italy and return home. His chief aides were gladiators from Gaul, named Crixus, Castus, Gannicus and Oenomaus. Other runaway slaves joined, increasing the numbers to several hundred.

The slave-to-Roman citizen ratio at that time was very high, making this slave rebellion a very serious threat to Rome. However Rome did not believe slaves could defeat their legions so failed to take adequate action. All of Rome's experienced legions were away so the Senate sent an inexperienced 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 mountain, 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, including Claudius Glaber. After this success many runaway slaves joined Spartacus until the group grew into an army of allegedly 120,000 escaped slaves.

Military success continues

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The Fall of Spartacus.
Spartacus is credited as a brilliant 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. Due to the short time expected before needing to face battle, Spartacus delegated training to the Gladiators who trained small groups who then trained other small groups themselves and so on leading to a basically trained army in only a few weeks. Spartacus' forces then defeated two more Roman legions sent to crush them, then settled down for the winter on the south coast, making weapons. By now, Spartacus' many followers included women, children, and elderly men who tagged along. By spring they marched north towards Gaul.

The Senate, alarmed, sent two consuls, Gellius Publicola and Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus, each with a legion, against the rebels. Crixus wanted to stay in Italy and plunder but Spartacus wanted to continue North and so, along with around 30,000 Gaul and Germanic supporters, Crixus left Spartacus and was later defeated by Publicola. Crixus was killed in battle. Spartacus first defeated Lentulus, and then Publicola. At Picenum in central Italy, Spartacus defeated the consular armies, then pushed north. At Mutina (now Modena) they defeated yet another legion under Gaius Cassius Longinus, the Governor of Cisalpine Gaul ("Gaul this side of the Alps").

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 to join the rebellion of Quintus Sertorius. 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 rest marched back south, and defeated two more legions under Marcus Licinius Crassus, who at that time was the wealthiest man in Rome. At the end of 72 BC, Spartacus was encamped in Rhegium (Reggio Calabria), near the Strait of Messina (the "toe of the Italian boot").

Spartacus' deal with Cilician pirates to get them to Sicily fell through. In the beginning of 71 BC, eight legions of Crassus isolated Spartacus's army in Calabria. With the assassination of Quintus Sertorius, the Roman Senate also recalled Pompey from Hispania; and Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus from Macedonia.

Spartacus managed to break through Crassus's lines and escape towards Brundisium (now Brindisi), but Pompey's forces intercepted them in Lucania, and the slaves were routed in a subsequent battle at the river Silarus. Spartacus is believed to have fallen at Silarus, but his body was never identified. After the battle, legionaries found and rescued 3,000 unharmed Roman prisoners in their camp.

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, perhaps decades, after the final battle.

Around 5,000 slaves, however, escaped the capture. They fled north and were later destroyed by Pompey, who was coming back from Roman Iberia. 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




  • Most famously, Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Howard Fast's novel, as Spartacus, in 1960. The catchphrase "I'm Spartacus!" from this film has been referenced in a number of other films, television programs, and commercials.
  • In 2004, Fast's novel was adapted as Spartacus, a made-for-TV movie or miniseries by the USA Network, with Goran Višnjić in the main role.


  • Howard Fast wrote the historical novel Spartacus.
  • Arthur Koestler wrote a novel about Spartacus called The Gladiators.
  • There is a novel Spartacus by the Scottish writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon.
  • Spartacus is a prominent character in the novel Fortune's Favorites by Colleen McCullough. McCullough subscribes to the theory that Spartacus was a renegade Roman soldier, but sticks to the historical account that his body was never found.
  • 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 The students of Spartacus (Uczniowie Spartakusa) by the Polish writer Halina Rudnicka.
  • The Reverend Elijah Kellogg's Spartacus to the Gladiators at Capua has been used effectively by schoolboys to practise 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 on Spartacus.



  • Spartacus was featured in the game Heroscape in the wave known as Thora's Vengeance.
  • In the popular real-time strategy game , Spartacus can be unlocked and fought against. If a player builds a colosseum or arena in a conquered city, then let the city revolt Spartacus will be the general of the revolted city. The rebel army led by Spartacus is extremely difficult and the player will have to use superior tactics to defeat it and reclaim the city. Others contradict this by saying that those with superior troop types such as archers, elephants, or ballistae make the fight against Spartacus rather easy.




1. ^ (Russian) Валентин Лесков. Спартак. М.: Молодая гвардия, 1987
2. ^ Plutarch, Crassus 8; the word "nomadic", however, does not appear in the Greek original, leading Konrad Ziegler to argue in his edition of Plutarch that the Greek word Maidikou referred to the Thracian tribe of the Maidi.
3. ^ Appian, Civil Wars 1.116
4. ^ Florus, Epitome of Roman History
5. ^ William Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities: "Gladiatores"
6. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Historical Library Book 12
7. ^ Diodorus Siculus, Historical Library Book 16
8. ^ Theucidides, History of the Peloponnesian War
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, ; Plutarch claims 78 escaped, Livy claims 74, Appian "about seventy", and Florus says "thirty or rather more men".
11. ^ History of Spartak, (Russian)
12. ^ Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd edition, volume 24 (part 1), p. 286, Moscow, Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya publisher, 1976


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 3-88167-060-2


Spartacus Peak on Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica is named for Spartacus.

External links

Spartacus, and its derivations and translations such as "Spartacist", "Spartak" or "Espartaco" may refer to:
  • Spartacus, the Thracian who led a slave uprising against Roman slavery.

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Circa (often abbreviated c., ca., ca or cca. and sometimes italicized to show it is Latin) literally means "about" or "around". It is widely used in genealogy and historical writing, when the dates of events are approximately known.
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Ancient Rome was a civilization that grew from a small agricultural community founded on the Italian Peninsula circa the 9th century BC to a massive empire straddling the Mediterranean Sea.
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Roman Republic was the phase of the ancient Roman civilization characterized by a republican form of government. The republican period began with the overthrow of the Monarchy c.
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Thracians were a group of ancient Indo-European tribes who spoke the Thracian language - a scarcely attested branch of the Indo-European language family. Those peoples inhabited the Eastern, Central and Southern part of the Balkan peninsula, as well as the adjacent parts of Eastern
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Auxiliaries (from Latin: auxilia = supports) formed the standing non-citizen corps of the Roman army of the Principate (30 BC - 284 AD), alongside the citizen legions.
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The Roman army was a set of land-based military forces employed by the Roman Kingdom, Roman Republic and later Roman Empire as part of the Roman military. For its main infantry constituent and for much of its history, see Roman legion; for a catalogue of individual legions, dates
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Mestrius Plutarchus

Parallel Lives, Amyot translation, 1565
Born: Circa 46 AD
Chaeronea, Boeotia
Died: Circa 120 AD
Delphi, Phocis
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Appian (Greek: Αππιανος)(c. 95 – c. 165), of Alexandria was a Greek historian with Roman citizenship who flourished during the reigns of Trajan, Hadrian and Antoninus
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Florus, Roman historian, lived in the time of Trajan and Hadrian.

He compiled, chiefly from Livy, a brief sketch of the history of Rome from the foundation of the city to the closing of the temple of Janus by Augustus (25 BC). The work, which is called Epitome de T.
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The Bosporan kingdom or the Kingdom of the Cimmerian Bosporus was an ancient state, located in eastern Crimea and the Taman peninsula on the shores of the Cimmerian Bosporus.
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Pontus (Greek: Πόντος) is a region on the southern coast of the Black Sea. Pontos (the main) following the exploration and the colonization of the Anatolian and other Black Sea cities by the
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Seuthes I was king of the Odrysian Thracians from 424 BC until 410 BC. He was the nephew of Sitalces. He is infamous for the fact that he was bribed by Perdiccas II of Macedon, which directly lead to the end of Sitalces' campaign in Macedon.
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The Odrysian kingdom was a union of Thracian tribes that endured between the 5th century BC and the 3rd century BC. It consisted largely of present-day Bulgaria, spreading to parts of Romania, northern Greece and Turkey.
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^]]  a:  Presumed dead, body never found

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Country Italy
Region Campania
Province Caserta (CE)

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Lentulus Batiatus was the owner of the Roman gladiatorial school in Capua (near Mount Vesuvius) who owned Spartacus, the leader of the slave rebellion during the Third Servile War.
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caldera is a volcanic feature formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption. They are often confused with volcanic craters. The word 'caldera' comes from the Spanish language, meaning "cauldron".
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Mount Vesuvius (Italian: Monte Vesuvio, Latin: Mons Vesuvius) is a volcano east of Naples, Italy. It is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years, although it is not currently erupting.
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Comune di Napoli

Location of the city of Naples (red dot) within Italy.
Region Campania
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Gaul (Latin: Gallia) was the name given, in ancient times, to the region of Western Europe comprising present-day northern Italy, France, Belgium, western Switzerland and the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the west bank of
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Crixus (d. 72 BCE) was a leader of the slave rebellion in the Third Servile War, along with Spartacus and Oenomaus.

He was a Gaul (his name means "one with curly hair" in Gaulish), and had been a slave for several years before the revolt.
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Oenomaus, was a gladiator from Gaul,[1] escaped from the gladiatorial school of Lentulus Batiatus in Capua.
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In the naming convention of ancient Rome the archetypical name of a male citizen consisted of three parts (tria nomina): praenomen (given name), nomen gentile or gentilicium (name of the gens or clan) and cognomen
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In the naming convention of ancient Rome the archetypical name of a male citizen consisted of three parts (tria nomina): praenomen (given name), nomen gentile or gentilicium (name of the gens or clan) and cognomen
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Military tactics (Greek: Taktikē, the art of organizing an army) are the collective name for methods for engaging and defeating an enemy in battle. Changes in philosophy and technology over time have been reflected in changes to military tactics.
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Roman Legion (from Latin legio "military levy, conscription", from lego — "to collect") is a term that can apply both as a transliteration of legio
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