Spartacus (real name unknown) was a Thracian herdsman and later legionary of the Roman Republic who was enslaved by the Republic sometime before 73 BC. After his enslavement he was taken to the city of Capua, where he would be purchased alongside his wife Tresura by a Lanista named Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Batiatus. Following this, he and his wife spent years in Batiatus' ludus, with Spartacus being trained as a Gladiator alongside Crixus, Oenomaus, Gannicus and Castus. At the start of 73 BC, Spartacus and the other Gladiators broke out from the ludus, beginning an armed rebellion against the Roman Republic, which would come to be known as the Third Servile War. Spartacus became the leader of the rebellion, commanding over 60,000 escaped slaves from 73 BC to 71 BC. Under his leadership, the rebels laid waste to Forum Annii, Cosentia, Nola, Octaviorum, Herculaneum, Surrentum, Nerulum, Thurii, Sinuessa en Valle, Bantia and Mutina, defeating many countless Roman armies and mercenary groups along the way, including those of Gaius Claudius Glaber at Mount Vesuvius, Publius Varinius at Picentia and Gaius Cassius Longinus Varus at Mutina.
A proud and efficient leader, Spartacus was ultimately killed during the Battle at the Silarus River in 71 BC while fighting Marcus Licinius Crassus and his legions. His body was never found among the battlefield.
Spartacus was said to have been born in 109 BC in Thrace (modern day Bulgaria). He grew up in an unknown tribe in Thrace, learning from a young age how to fight, as well as herd. He supposedly lived and worked as a shepherd in the lands of Thrace. Spartacus was probably not his real name, just given to him as a gladiator later on in his life, however he was said to be of royal descent.
At one point, his tribe was visited by the Roman legions. Spartacus chose to join the Roman army, either for glory, for money, or to fight against the warring tribes. Spartacus would learn much about the Romans and their army during his service. One theory of his service was that he served under Lucius Cornelius Sulla in the Social War, under the command of Sulla and a future opponent of his, Marcus Licinius Crassus.
Spartacus soon learned that the Romans were making him fight against his own people. Without any hesitation, he took his change to desert and make it back to his village where he and his wife went north, but not before being recognized, captured and finally enslaved by Roman troops.
Taken to Italy, he was then brought from the slave ports of Neapolis to the City of Capua, where he was sold to Lentulus Batiatus, a lanista. Spartacus was trained as a gladiator and won many victories in the arena, becoming popular attraction along with his the Gaul Crixus. But having the life of a gladiator, having to fight to the death for the entertainment of others, was something Spartacus despised.
In the early weeks of 73 BC, he decided that should he die fighting, it would not be in the arena. Persuading Crixus, Oenomaus and Gannicus, they began the Third Servile War, using kitchen implements and chopping knives to make their escape from the ludus. After much effort, the gladiators made their escape, but out of 200 of his brothers, only sixty survived, with around twenty house slaves.
The rebels remained in Capua for a small amount of time; plundering, liberating any slaves they could find and sometimes slaughtering slave owners and burning down villa's. But eventually they left and he chose Mount Vesuvius as a base of operations. He heard of Vesuvius either from his days as a bandit, from his service to Sulla during the Social War (depending on whether he did any of these things), or simply heard about it from other slaves.
Spartacus had smaller numbers than Glaber's collected cohorts, which drove Spartacus and his men above Mount Vesuvius. They needed a way to get down the mountain (the only known entrance being blocked by Glaber's troops). This was when he had an idea: gather enough wood and weeds to weave together a number of vines for him and his men to climb down the mountain with. When Spartacus had a considerable amount of his men with him, they stormed into Glaber's camp, which was easy for them as no trench work had been constructed, thanks to Glaber's ignorance and overconfidence.
In the dead of night, Spartacus killed many of Glaber's men, before the rest of the rebels made it down the mountain and towards the encampment. The rebels won, and the remainder of Glaber's men retreated.
The next test of his leadership came when facing the army of Publius Varinius.
Now that they had defeated Varinius and his cohorts, Spartacus decided to attack the mines located in Lucania to replenish his ranks. It took a while, but finally managed to free every slave there.
Spartacus led another successful siege along with his growing army, this time on the city of Forum Annii in early 72 BC. It was the first time he saw first hand the brutality his generals Crixus, Gannicus and Castus displayed against Roman citizens. He had killed a number of Romans himself, but felt instantly regretful of allowing his generals to do as they pleased.
Now hearing of Crixus' death in Apulia, Spartacus faced the Romans again, planning on finally killing Lentulus and Clodianus.
Spartacus was aware that Crassus would try to scout him out with a large force. When Spartacus was bringing his army south, Gaius Mummius disobeyed Crassus and attacked the rebels. Once again, Spartacus' numbers managed to overpower Mummius' forces, killing around 2,000 of them and allowing 10,000 of them to retreat back to Crassus' encampment, taking countless weapons for his men and another legionary standard.
By this time in the war, Spartacus was beyond certain he would win any and all future battles, especially against Crassus (who had really been defeated because of an insubordinate commander such as Mummius).
After their first defeat, the rebels were forced to retreat to Brundisium. Crassus followed and then had the rebels trapped between the Mediterranian and the wall he built.
Spartacus died during the Battle at the Silarus River. Before bringing his men out into battle, he addressed them one more time. His horse was brought before him. Taking his sword, he killed the animal. He told his men that should they win the battle, they would have plenty of horses to choose from, but if they lost the battle there would be no need for any. He then led his men into battle, keeping them in a tight formation at they moved closer to Crassus' men.
PersonalitySpartacus was not one to silently allow the weak to suffer. In contradiction to all of Roman culture, he saw slaves as people, of equal importance as owners. He helped defend the house slaves in anyway he could, assaulting the guards that harassed them, even thought he gained the displeasure of Batiatus.
Spartacus held an undying love for his wife, a woman he deeply loved, and would go as far to do anything for her. He at first as a gladiator, defied all authority, only obeying when Batiatus threatened his wife, forcing Spartacus to obey him. He found another meaning with his life as a gladiator. Spartacus put all of his efforts into becoming the best gladiator to buy both his and his wife's freedom. When Spartacus and the other Gladiators escaped, they take vengeance on Batiatus, setting his ludus on fire and leaving him to die.
Soon, his small rebellion that began in the ludus expanded into the greatest slave rebellion ever known, and Spartacus found an important purpose in life: to free all those enslaved by the Romans. He would have done it for any slave, signifying it was not out of something such as favoritism but unwillingness to see someone suffer. This became Spartacus' defining trait, that he could no longer remain a slave and stand by silently whilst others suffer at his hand or anybody else's.
As leader of the rebellion, Spartacus had a keen mind for war and used battle tactics and other tactics that he himself said the "Romans would consider mad" such as using vines as ropes to lower his men down Mount Vesuvius. He cares about most of his fellow rebels and wishes to see them all find common ground, he organised fights and competitions where two rebels fought together against another pair.
His disdain and hatred for the Romans, however, is strong enough that he would kill hundreds of Roman citizens, as well as kill any Roman soldier he would come across. Even during the siege of Thurii and Sinuessa, he and his men slaughtered men and women. Despite this, Spartacus carried something of a moral compass, showing an act of morality and kindness by ordering his rebels to halt their killing and to imprison the remainder of the survivors.
His ruthlessness increased following the deaths of both Tresura and Crixus forcing his prisoners to fight to the death, crucifying a Roman soldier and killing Cossinius, Furius and many other commanders despite the fact that they surrendered and asked for terms of surrender.
Spartacus, as has been popularly depicted, had no concern over the state of slavery or the gladiator games in the Roman world. He simply wished freedom for himself and any who joined him, not the complete social reform of the Roman system.
Interestingly, unlike his predecessors in the Syrian revolts in Sicily, Spartacus did not style himself as a king. Also, Spartacus forbade the use of gold and silver in his encampments, perhaps to inhibit trade and the argument that went with this, maybe as a conscious means of creating a `war communist’ economy. Spartacus was believed to have imposed a great deal of discipline on his army so even their own plundering raids had an organised fashion.
Spartacus was not by any means a blood-thirsty tyrant, and was equally open to diplomatic, as well as military, solutions. Spartacus knew his armies victories were only from Roman incompetence, and needed a steady plan for his army to defeat the forces sent against them. Spartacus could not stop the raids, so he told the rebels to make them quick, even the killing and other barbarous acts.
During the rebellion, Spartacus may have secretly sent messages to nearby towns and cities that the rebels were going to attack when they disobeyed his orders.
AppearanceSpartacus had a lean, muscular build befitting for a gladiator. Before becoming a slave, he had long, scruffy brown hair and rough facial hair, as all Thracians would have had. This was shaven but grew back to where it was a year into the rebellion. He had a distinct scar in the middle of his chest, above all of the tattoos he proudly displayed on his body.
Spartacus clothed in protective garments around his waist, wrist guards and belts to hold further weapons including a trap on his back to hold his shield. He wore a leather cuirass fit for a leader, with snakes embossed into the leather alongside matching leather gauntlets and greaves, and a red cloak strapped around his back and upper torso. The cuirass and cloak was used to cover up the scars on his chest.
Traits and Skills
- Master combatant: Spartacus was already a skilled warrior before his training as a Gladiator, being able to utilize skill with a sword as well as impeccable skill in throwing a spear. His own fighting abilities allowed him to take on several opponents at once. Following his gladiatorial training, Spartacus became a champion-level gladiator. He trained in then style of Dimachaerus and was extremely proficient as a dual-sword combatant, both before and during the rebellion. Spartacus was skilled in multiple styles of combat with several multitude of weapons. Being able to fight with a sword and shield, single-sword, dual-swords and use of the spear, both as a weapons and projectiles, as well as other weapons such as securis' and hammers on occasion as well as unarmed combat.
- Banditry Expert: Spartacus' experience in the Roman auxiliary and as a bandit chief made him suitable material for a gladiator
- Master Tactician: He presented keen intellect with Roman warfare and could create efficient battle tactics. Spartacus himself had not lost a battle against the Republic until Marcus Crassus was put in charge of the ending of his rebellion.
- Multilingualism: Other than being fluent in his native Thracian, Spartacus also became fluent in Greek and Latin, both languages he used to interact with thousands of his rebel followers.
- Unnamed father
- Unnamed mother
- Tresura - wife
- Rebel Army - followers
- Roman Republic
Several historical sources claim different things about Spartacus.
- One source claims that Spartacus was a soldier under the command of Lucius Cornelius Sulla during the social war of 83 BC. If so, he would have met Marcus Crassus there, who was one of Sulla's commanders.
- Another source claims that he was a supporter of Mithridates. This suggests that his revolt was not just a slave rebellion, but civil support for Mithridates from within Italy.
- Like his wife, he was presumably a follower of Dionysus. Being a follower of Dionysus, and leading a successful slave rebellion, his followers probably thought of him as a god or demigod.
- Plutarch, Appian and Florus all claim that Spartacus died during the battle, and most historians agree with this notion, although Appian reports that his body was never found. Some sources say that his body was so mutilated during the battle that it was recognizable; so his body was never found.
- Because Romans liked to give their slaves and gladiators names, and the name Spartacus was already a Latinized form of the name Sportokos (the name of Thracian kings), his real name was probably not Spartacus, and was given to him as a gladiator.
- Viribus Liberatus
- Et exercitus qui sunt Nequam
- Fratres Campani
- Duas Amplius Cadere
- Hostis et Inimicus
- Deceptus ab inimico
- Et mortuos ac morientes
- Ad extremum Infelix
- Spartacus was portrayed by Mario Guaita-Ausonia in the 1913 Spartacus film.
- Spartacus was portrayed by Massimo Girotti in the 1953 film Sins of Rome. In this version he becomes enslaved on the orders of Marcus Crassus.
- Spartacus was portrayed by Kirk Douglas in the 1960 film Spartacus.
- He was portrayed by Peter Lupus in the 1965 film Challenge of the Gladiator.
- He was later portrayed by actor Goran Višnjić in the 2004 miniseries adaptation. In this adaptation he is enslaved while fighting the Romans.
- In the 2008 Docudrama Heroes and Villains: Spartacus, he was portrayed by Anthony Flanagan.
- In the Starz original series, Spartacus, he was portrayed both respectively by Andy Whitfield in the first season: Blood and Sand, and by Liam McIntyre, in the two sequels: Vengeance and War of the Damned.