Battle of the Silarus river
Location Near Silarus River, Italy
Date April 71 BC
  • Roman Victory
  • End of the Third Servile War
  • Death of Spartacus
  • 30,000 rebels
  • 30,000 Romans
  • 30,000 rebels
  • Thousands of Romans
previous battle Battle of Brundisium
following battle Battle outside Etruria

The Battle of the Silarus River was the final main battle of the Third Servile War.


Crassus trapped Spartacus at the toe of the Italian peninsula by building a 40 mile long system of ditches and walls. After a failed truce, Spartacus gathered his army together for battle. He ordered his horse to be brought to him, drew his sword, and slew the animal. He proclaimed to his troops that if he should win the day, he would have many horses to choose from, but if he should lose the upcoming battle and the Romans should win the day, he would not need one. After launching several skirmishing attacks on the Romans' defenses, Spartacus and about 50,000 gladiators were able to break through and escape from Crassus' legions.

On the banks of the Silarus River, Spartacus' army finally met up with the Roman legions of Crassus on the open battlefield. Crassus surely had a plan. Apparently, he intended to neutralise the enemy cavalry and thereby ensure the light infantry to rain missiles on the rebels. Light javelins, sling-shot missiles, scorpion bolts and arrows, perhaps even fire arrows were the likeliest projectiles. Meanwhile, his legions would beat back an anticipated charge by the enemy. Then they would counter with a much more disciplined and formidable charge of their own, and thereby win the battle.

In the absence of evidence, it can be imagined that the legions were drawn up in the standard triple-line pattern. The rear line would serve as reinforcements, if needed. On the rebel side, preparations are less likely to have been less regimented. Spartacus' lieutenants kept things on a tighter rein than the Romans would have wished. The rebels still had poorer weapons and armour that was makeshift, made from armour they had taken from fallen Roman soldiers. Their makeshift armour would certainly make Crassus' troops angry, and so would the rebels holding up the Roman standards they had taken from defeated Roman armies, some looking old, others new.

For a last chance to encourage his men, Spartacus gathered a horse, and slew the animal. Spartacus told his men that "should we win the battle, we will have many horsed to choose from. Should we lose the battle, we will have no need of them". This served not only as a sacrifice to the gods, but as encouragement for his men in their final battle against Marcus Licinius Crassus.

With no horse to ride on, Spartacus had sealed his fate. He would not be able to escape from battle if things went badly for the rebel's side. However, his men may have seen only his courage and determination, true encouragement. On either side, commanders signaled, trumpets blared with sound, battle cries and taunts were heard. The battle, had begun.

The rebels charged at the Roman ranks, colliding with a wall of shields and swords. Though Spartacus and his men fought hard and took down many Roman soldiers, they were slowly being slaughtered one by one. During the battle, Spartacus tried to reach Crassus, who was watching him from a distance on his horse, killing two centurion's in the struggle.The Romans first forced rebels to fight to the death as gladiators to honor the soldiers who fell against them. It was only when Crassus gave the order that the survivors became prisoners, and to this day the body of Spartacus has never been found.


See: Crucifixions along the Appian Way

The number of dead soldiers and rebels were extremely high and impossible to count. The number of rebel casualties were somewhere around 30,000, while only a reported 1,000 of Crassus' men were killed, though more were killed but limited to boost Crassus professionalism as a general. Crassus had captured 6,000 rebels as prisoners and had them crucified. Pompeius Magnus had later kill 5,000 somewhere in Etruria.

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