Rebel Army
General information
Founding 73 BC (in Capua)
Ended 71 BC (Silarus River, Southwestern Italy)


Spartacus' Rebel Army (also modernly called the Spartacans), was an armed force that grew to over 60,000 escaped slaves and gladiators, which waged a slave rebellion known as the Third Servile War, an almost three year long conflict against the Roman Republic from 73 to 71 BC. The rebels were led by a former gladiator named Spartacus, and his generals Crixus, Gannicus, Oenomaus, and Castus. Spartacus was the official leader of the rebels, as his decisions were ultimately the course of the rebels' actions. Their string of victories caused many complications and conflicts within the Roman senate years after they were defeated. Lucania was almost completely controlled by the rebels in 72 BC. The rebellion led by Spartacus was the biggest internal threat the Romans ever faced, though at first the Roman Senate did not consider Spartacus' revolt a serious challenge, simply raids orchestrated by bandits, a simple Tumultus (an emergency).

They operated as a surprisingly effective army, repeatedly besting the trained Roman legions, assassins and mercenaries sent against them. Some of their success may be that they understood the enemy, which came from Spartacus, who was supposedly a Roman soldier before his enslavement. Equipping themselves into an appropriate military force, the slave army had grown from a minor nuisance to a formidable and legitimate power. They first managed to defeat two praetors; Claudius Glaber and his three thousand soldiers, and Publius Varinius and his two thousand soldiers, however many of the remaining force retreated. The resources and troops of the Roman Republic had become extremely shortened through their many defeats by the rebels. Rome was still fighting foreign challengers overseas; Pompeius Magnus was still in his campaign against the renegade Sertorius in Hispania (modern Spain), after fifteen years previous, Terentius Lucullus was still facing the forces of Mithridates, king of Asia Minor (modern Turkey), Marcus Antonius Creticus was fighting off pirates plaguing the island of Crete. Many noblemen and senators assisted in paying for more soldiers to send against the rebellion, but these were merely men with little training and even less experience in battle. Nevertheless, the rebels defeated many of them, along with the generals and praetors who commanded them including:

They triumphed over entire Roman armies, and many cohorts before finally facing the eight legions under the command of Marcus Licinius Crassus in 71 BC. Their last battle was at the Silarus River, where the rebels were outnumbered and defeated at a place called Apulia.

Due to having small numbers originally, the rebels depended on using surprise tactics or "hit and run" against some forces sent against them. Nevertheless, the rebels' continued victories caused a growing alarm to Rome and its people. The army must have controlled the entire countryside of Campania. Substantial numbers may have been non-combatants, women and children.

The rebellion first began with the escape from the ludus of Lentulus Batiatus. The gladiators involved were divided between three separate leaders at the time: Spartacus, Crixus and Oenomaus. The Gauls with Crixus, the Germans with Oenomaus, and the remaining handful with Spartacus. Most house slaves did not participate in the bloodshed. Though divided, they all ultimately belonged to the same group, with Spartacus himself being the appointed leader. In order to defeat the Roman forces sent against them, the rebels needed to learn how to trust, communicate and understand each other, and personal conflicts between rebel and rebel were resolved quickly. Though conflicts between the different races such as the Gauls and Germans were more common, and were part of what eventually led to army separations. Spartacus and Crixus had to establish a balance between what their men wanted and what they needed. Many rebels didn't only lose their lives in battles against the Romans, they also died from illness and were sometimes killed by other rebels in small disputes.

The rebels could not find their way across Southern Italy alone. They needed pathfinders, whether willing or coerced. Without local intelligence and knowledge to point the way, the rebels would have been lost. Spartacus led his people, but his "eyes and ears" around the Italian countryside would have been landowners too slow to run, mountain men willing to give assistance for coin and grizzled farmers. Some of his guides were also prisoners. These guides took him and his army over the rough terrain and mountain ridges.

After the battle of Mount Vesuvius, word spread of Spartacus' victory against the Romans and this eventually reached the ears of many slaves in Italy. Spartacus freed a heavy percentage of the rebels in his army from slave ports, markets, the cities he attacked and thousands from the mines of Lucania. Though another part of his army were other gladiators and slaves who either escaped or ran away from their masters to join his cause. Originally, the rebels mostly comprised of Gaulish and Germanic gladiators, but after the defeat of Claudius Glaber and his troops, the rebel numbers fluctuated after the arrival of thousands of runaway slaves.

The rebels comprised of many nationalities: Celts (Gauls, Boii, Belgae, Celtiberians and Galatians), Thracians, Germanics, Greeks, Phoenicians, Sardinians, Iberians, Sicilians, Anatolians (from modern day Turkey), Carians, Phrygians, Lydians, Cappadocians, Isaurians, Cilicians, Illyrians from the Adriatic coastlands of the Balkans, Scythians and Sarmatians from the Russian Steppes and the Pannonians (from modern day Hungary and Serbia). Though the rebels were mainly made up of Celts, Greeks and Germanics. Many of the slaves were said to have been survivors of conflicts such as the Cimbrian Wars.

Spartacus also allowed some Romans to fight for him who believed in his cause, but most of these Romans had themselves been slaves. No town had joined their cause, and they were all either slaves, deserters or human flotsam.

Within the ranks of the rebels, any person was free to do as they pleased, which also included the option of leaving, which rebels usually did. Typically, a majority of the fighters were men. Many of the women were not trained in combat, so they supported the gladiators and other fighters in what ways they could, most of all, archery, helping the fighters on the battlefield from a standpoint away.

There were also those who struggled clinging to the life of being a slave. They were doubtful of the rebels' cause, knowing nothing but slavery for their entire lives, and fearing the consequences of fighting against the Romans. Though successful, Spartacus was surely a frustrated leader, having to make sure all the rebels could keep up so they could avoid an attack from a Roman cavalry. Rebels were occasionally hungry and exhausted in great numbers, and their progress worsened each day. To make sure none fell behind, he had his cavalry go through the rebel columns, while others were stationed at various posts on every column.

Later on in the rebellion, there would have been fear of Roman spies and mercenaries infiltrating the army, secretly sending information on the rebel numbers and locations. Through this fear Spartacus would test the new arrivals, to see if they performed on par and the fighting style of Roman legionaries.

No doubt, Spartacus would have employed a "Buddy system" or "password system" like the Romans to keep count of new recruits and potential threats among his ranks.

Armour and Weaponry

The rebels supplied their weaponry with that of defeated Roman soldiers. Later, they had grown to using makeshift armor that they used in battle in order to engage the Roman military on equal footing. Most of the armor consisted of leather whilst being mixed together with Roman military armor from the soldiers they had killed. Gladius', axes, war hammers, spears, bows and arrows, nets and daggers were all weapons utilized by the rebels. Spartacus gave each rebel a rank according to their capabilities. The rebels were a mixture of different nations and languages. Most of the rebels would have known some Latin to understand each other. And Spartacus probably gave power to those who knew the language.

Their weapon of choice was dependent upon the combatant with some rebels being more skilled than others in certain aspects. They collected chains from those they had freed and forged them into weapons, for further aid their cause. They even employed blacksmiths. The process of forging weapons, often by melting down leg irons, and crude shields from horse or other animal hides, went hand in hand with the next step of creating a disciplined army by training and morale boosting activities. Spartacus may have changed his mind about marching on Rome because he was not yet a match for the defenders and his troops did not all have weapons and equipment, and the rebels had no proper siege equipment.

Wild horses were captured from battle or in mountain ranges and trained, to provide a rudimentary cavalry for the army. Spartacus decided to build his cavalry in Lucania. The horses they found their were not perfect despite the training, but they had to do, at least for a temporary cavalry.

Combat and battle tactics


The majority of the female combatants among Spartacus' ranks would have been archers. Other archers included the men unable to fight in the infantry.

The Rebels mainly used tactics of surprise or "hit and run" against the vast Roman forces whenever they had the smaller force. When their numbers grew, however, the combat teaching became more minimal to that where the ordinary rebel warrior is on par or slightly above ordinary Roman soldiers. All rebels are trained in the ways of combat and many become more skilled in time during their direct confrontations in battle and their own adaptations to many styles of blood and battle. Many of the rebels mainly fought with a sword and shield, having to use the weapons they captured from the Roman legions. In their many victories in 72 BC, the rebels deployed ambush, trickery, surprise, speed and psychological warfare as promising lines of attack. They also used hill country and mountainous terrain for a battle ground. The rebels fought best when the Roman forces were weakened, allowing the infantry to inflict their blood lust and ferocity on the battlefield. Whenever the Romans held their formations and discipline in battle, the rebels found it harder to defeat them. Spartacus' cavalry helped achieve many victories, and Romans needed precautions to counter these attacks.

Against some Roman commanders, such as Publius Varinius and Tremellius Scrofa, the rebels would dress, arm and prop up corpses on stakes and place them near burning campfires. These often tricked the Romans, thinking they were guards and allowing the rebels to escape. They only recognized these tricks when the usual taunts, insults and battle cries were not heard. Because Spartacus sometimes used Roman tactics and used Roman discipline, he may have even made military units and formations comparable to the Roman army, such as centuries or cohorts, putting his troops in groups between 80 and 480. The rebels probably took the Roman flags, eagle standards and Fasces with them to the battle to taunt the forces sent against them, carrying them with pride.

Crixus' army

Crixus separated from Spartacus in 72 BC, and took around 30,000 rebels with him. The reason for this split was either because Crixus planned to attack Rome instead of heading for the Alps as Spartacus wanted, or it was a military strategy. The army was intercepted by Gellius Publicola and his legions, and they were defeated at the Battle of Mount Garganus. Around 20,000 including Crixus were killed, and 10,000 escaped. After separating from Spartacus, he might have recruited slaves from Apulia near the Garganus mountains. Crixus' army had a smaller cavalry, despite the numbers. He and his army raided the hill country, which was stocked with farms.

Gannicus' army

Gannicus, along with Castus, also separated from Spartacus, in 71 BC weeks before the final battle. He took around 12,500 with him, but they did not plan to attack Rome, but simply pillage the countryside. They were attacked twice by Crassus and his legions near Mount Camalatrum and in Cantenna, where both Gannicus and Castus were killed, but only after putting up much bravery. Castus and Gannicus probably knew they would not win against Crassus, not with Celtic tactics and warfare.

Publipor's army

After Spartacus' death, Publipor, his last commander, took the remaining combatants, women and children north towards the Alps. But only 5,000 of them were combatants. They made it as far to Etruria in northern Italy before facing Pompey and his army. the 5,000 combatants put up a desperate fight against the Romans, before their entire force was destroyed and their survivors crucified.


See: Rebels in Spartacus' army
See: Rebel Commanding Authority
See: Rebel Leaders
See: Rebel Trainers


  • According to Plutarch, the Rebel numbers were about 78 when the rebellion first began. This number eventually grew into a band from around 60,000, 100,000 or even 120,000 men, women, and children.
  • After the Gladiators, one of the more important types of recruit in Spartacus' army would have been Pastores (pastors, or shepherds), who were slaves permitted freedom of movement, as to herd cattle, sheep or goats across the country. They were also armed and traveled in groups, so as to deter thieves from their herds, and may have been employed by their masters as a form of law-enforcement among the agricultural slaves or tenant-farmers on their master's estate.
  • A recorded 30,000 fought with Spartacus against Crassus' forces.
  • Some Romans may have even hidden themselves as rebels; which is a plausible reason as to how Appian and Plutarch created their sources.