The sixth Roman legions commanded by Marcus Licinius Crassus in 71 BC were the last force sent against Spartacus and his rebel army during the Third Servile War. These legions ultimately defeated the slave rebellion after nine other failed attempts before their involvement. Spartacus' rebel army defeated over three of Crassus' legions by the end of the war, around 20,000 soldiers.

Third Servile War

Main Article: Third Servile War
Crassus was ordered by the Roman senate into battle to end the slave rebellion after the defeat of Cornelius Clodianus and Gellius Publicola. Crassus offered to equip, train, and lead around 50,000 troops, at his own expense, after several legions had been defeated and their commanders killed in battle or taken prisoner. There were now no structured Roman forces left in Italy proper able to stop the slave army. Crassus had previous military experience, being a commander of Sulla in the Civil War of 83 BC. He knew how to lead an army, discipline them and even knew how to recruit men. He would have recruited men who fought with him in the social war against Marius. They may have been older and less capable than they were a decade ago, but they were trained and experinced soldiers. They would have been suitable men to bring against Spartacus, not the unprepared men Spartacus had faced since the rebellion began.


Main Article: Decimation
"Each of you swore sacramentum, to obey order given, to refrain from theft or breech of common law, to protect the legionary standard and to never break rank, nor flee from the enemy. Those who stand before me turned from field of battle, retreated from the rebel Spartacus and his army of slaves, fearing them more than their own commander, an error I shall see corrected. There can be no greater shame presented to us in our fight against the enemy. Our forefathers presented answer for such a dishonor........decimation. And in the lesson, I will mount fear upon the name of Marcus Licinius Crassus."

Crassus' addressing a cohort of men who fled before decimating them.

At first Crassus had trouble both in anticipating Spartacus' moves and in inspiring his army and strengthening their morale. Mummius, one of Crassus' tribunes, had ignored his orders and took 12,000 to fight Spartacus. 2,000 of his men had been killed and the other 10,000 had retreated, abandoning their weapons. This disgrace caused Crassus to revive the ancient practice of decimation (executing one out of every ten legionaries). At the end of this punishment, around 1,000 of his men had been executed. After the punishment ensued, the troops' fighting prowess improved dramatically, now that Crassus had demonstrated "he was more dangerous to them than the enemy."

followers camp

Those who survived decimation were banished to the followers camp to sleep outside the Roman encampment along with slaves and whores. After rejoining the legions, these men were put in the front ranks during battle.



Roman camp and followers camp

Afterwards, when Spartacus retreated to the Bruttium peninsula in the southwest of Italy, Crassus tried to pen up his armies by building a ditch and a rampart across an isthmus in Bruttium, "from sea to sea." Despite this remarkable feat, Spartacus and most of his army still managed to break out.
Some time later, when the Roman armies led by Pompey and Varro Lucullus were recalled to Italy in support of Crassus, Spartacus decided to fight rather than find himself and his followers trapped between three armies, two of them returning from conflicts oversea. In this last battle, the Battle of the Siler River, Crassus gained a decisive victory, and managed to capture around six thousand slaves. During the battle, Spartacus attempted to kill Crassus personally, slaughtering his way toward the general's position, but he only succeeded in killing two of the centurions guarding Crassus. Spartacus himself is believed to have been killed in the battle, and his corpse was left mutilated enough to become unrecognizable. The Third Servile War had ended.

Crassus had the six thousand captured slaves crucified along the Via Appia. At his command, their bodies were not taken down afterwards but remained rotting along Rome's principal route to the South. This became a lesson to anyone who might think of defying Rome in the future, especially her slaves.

The Legions