Greek culture flowered in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. through its contacts with the various other cultures of the Mediterranean, giving rise to thinkers such as Pythagoras of Samos, Thales and Anaximander of Miletus, and Heraclitus of Ephesus. These ideas of these thinkers, living on the periphery of Greek culture in their day, suffused the Greek homeland through the discussion and study of their writings at the training centres of Greek culture, the gymnasia, which developed both mind and body. This growing sense of cultural unity was seized upon by the city-state of Athens to create an anti-Persian alliance known as the Delian League, which united most of the eastern Greek city-states in a trading and political alliance. The Delian League was resisted by the more conservative and western Greek city-states led by Sparta, though, and a war for dominance between Athens and Sparta, the Pelopennesian War, ensued from 431-404 B.C. The Peloponnesian War ended in defeat for Athens, and broke the Delian League, but Sparta was weakened by the war as well. Sparta's attempt to achieve dominance among the Greek city-states was then opposed and defeated by Thebes and its allies in a series of wars from 380 to 362 B.C.
After nearly a century of such warfare, the city-states of the Greek homeland were depopulated and exhausted, and fell under the influence and eventual military dominance of the Kingdom of Macedon to the north. Macedon was a kingdom on the periphery of Greek culture regarded by many Greeks as barbaric, but its kings maintained their descent from Greek heroes and therefore the right to participate in Greek affairs. Under the rule of King Philip II, Macedon became allied with Thebes and began intervening decisively in the affairs of the Greek peninsula. Athens attempted to assemble a coalition to resist the rise of Macedonian dominance, but was decisively defeated by Macedon at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 B.C. Macedon became the dominant Greek state.
After the city-states of the Greek homeland were conquered or dominated by Macedon in the late fourth century B.C., Macedon led the Greek city-states in a war of revenge against the Persian Empire. Under the command of the Macedonian king Alexander III, known to history as Alexander the Great, the Greeks and Macedonians liberated the Greek colonies of Asia Minor from Persian dominance, then embarked on a campaign of conquest, defeating the armies of the Persian Empire and subjecting the empire to Greco-Macedonian rule. Alexander would secure his conquests by leaving Greek and Macedonian colonies throughout the Persian Empire, and even beyond. Alexander pushed his rule into central Asia and India, planning the conquest of the entire subcontinent, when his soldiers protested, causing Alexander to retire to central Persia to plot campaigns in the western Mediterranean. Alexander died under uncertain circumstances before he could crystallise these plans, though, and Alexander's generals eventually divided his conquests amongst themselves. Greek culture therefore became the model for the ruling classes of the empires which Alexander's generals created in Egypt, Persia, Syria, and Asia Minor.
The conquests of India and central Asia were the most loosely held and soon lost to reconquest by native or neighboring populations, and Persian culture eventually reasserted itself in the Persian homelands, but Greco-Macedonian rule persisted in Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor throughout the period of the Third Servile War. Macedon itself allied with Carthage in the Second Punic War, attempting to thwart the rise of Roman influence in Illyria, but was defeated, and conquered after an attempted war of revenge against Rome 30 years later. Macedon was then incorporated into the Republic as the province of Macedonia. A Macedonian revolt a decade later was joined by an alliance of Greek city-states, but the rebels and their Greek allies were swiftly defeated. The city-states of Greece were either conquered or submitted to politically-dominated alliance with Rome. By 140 B.C. the Greek hearthland in the southern Balkans was completely dominated by Rome. Rome then began to form alliances and exert political influence on the remaining Greek city-states and kingdoms in Asia Minor and further east.
The Romans respected and looked up to Greek culture. However, the Romans thought of their neighbors to the east as weak and effeminate (as the Greeks themselves considered Persians, Assyrians, and Egyptians).
In 73 BC, a second Roman war was brewing against Mithridates, the Greek king of Pontus, in Asia Minor, who had attacked Rome. Mithridates was a descendant of one of Alexander's generals who had built a kingdom along the Black Sea coast of Asia Minor, and challenged Roman political domination of the Greek city-states of western Asia Minor which had followed Rome's victory in the Greek peninsula. The Second Mithridatic War (83-81 B.C.) began with a preemptive attack by the Romans, but ended in a defeat of Roman forces and a negotiated peace, disgracing those, like Glaber, who had held command during the war.
Mithridates' continued manoeuvres against Rome, conspiring with the Cilician Pirates and with the Roman rebel Sertorius in Hispania, in 74 B.C. led to a new declaration of war by Rome against Pontus in 73 B.C., the same year as the beginning of the Third Servile War. Spartacus's uprising was therefore aided by the relocation of several legions to Asia Minor at the start of the rebellion.