The Third Servile War was the greatest attempt of internal resistance to Rome's gradual transformation from a democratic republic of small farmers and tradesmen into an imperial project of military expansion and economic exploitation. The Third Servile War caused many disputes inside the Roman senate years after the rebellion ended, and is partly opened the way for the transformation of the Republic into the Roman Empire ruled by those commanding the legions which maintained order. Unknown to most, many who later took public office in the Roman senate were involved in the rebellion, many as legionares and centurions.
The rebellion was finally crushed through the concentrated military effort of a single commander, Marcus Licinius Crassus, although the rebellion continued to have indirect effects on Roman politics for years to come.
Spartacus, Crixus, Oenomaus, Gannicus and Castus were all leaders behind the third Slave rebellion against Rome. The official fate of Spartacus after their defeat from Crassus remains unknown, but he is believed to have perished in the Battle at the Silarus River.
Attacks through Southern Italy
The rebels rampaiged through Southern Italy between 73 BC to 71 BC, attacking and plundering many towns and cities in Campania, Lucania, Calabria and Bruttium. They included:
- Atena Lucana
- Forum Annii
- Casaletto Spartano
- Sinuessa en valle
The rebels may have moved past or had battles near towns now known as Oliveto, Citra, Roccadaspide, Genzano di Lucania. But these might be simply cultural claims. Other towns such as Caggiano, Colliano and Polla boast Spartacus passed by on his travels
His men scoured the area, raiding estates and towns, particularly in search of horses. News of atrocities against slaveholding landowners dominated conversation in Rome's marketplaces and public buildings. These attacks caused the very name, Spartacus, to generate terror.
Beginning of the Rebellion
In 73 BC, the Thracian gladiator Spartacus, along with his allies Crixus, Oenomaus and Gannicus, grew tired of the growing brutality given towards them and all other slaves by the Romans. He allegedly told the other gladiators, "If we must fight, we might as well fight for freedom".
During one night, two hundred of these gladiators and slaves from the ludus of Lentulus Batiatus formed a plan to escape, but being discovered, those of them who became aware of it in time to anticipate their master. Out of the 200 gladiators that tried to escape only 73 survived the break out, using chopping-knives and spits against the guards, and made their way through the city, and in the streets they found wagons of gladiatorial weapons and confiscated them.
- "Two hundred gladiators tried to escape, but the guards recaptured most of them. Only seventy-eight men managed to fight their way out of the school, using weapons they had found in the kitchen, such as chopping-knives and spits. Fleeing through the streets of the city, the fugitives had the good luck to find several carts full of gladiators' weapons, which were being shipped to another city. After arming themselves with these weapons, the gladiators had no trouble fighting their way out of Capua. They paused at a defensible place in the countryside, where they elected a chief and two captains. As their chief they chose Spartacus. Although he was a barbarian from one of the nomad tribes, Spartacus was brave, intelligent, and polite-more like a civilized Greek than a wild man from the Balkans...He was accompanied by his wife, who had escaped with him... When some soldiers came out of Capua to recapture them, Spartacus led the fugitives into battle. The soldiers were routed, and the gladiators captured from them a quantity of regular military equipment. As soon as the fugitives got their hands on conventional weapons and armor, they threw away their inferior gladiator equipment".
The rebels most likely made their way to Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli) using the Via Annia. Any travellers along the road towards them would have turned and ran, and those who held their ground lost their daggers and clubs if not their lives. Spartacus had intended then and their to move towards the Alps and escape, but the rebels had pointed out the difficulty of crossing the Alps in autumn. The rebels would have to sit in Northern Italy and fight off the Romans until the following spring, when they could go over the mountains again. The rebels had to leave Italy, if not then or the next day then soon. And eventually they had to cross the Alps. Spartacus decided to take his army to Mount Vesuvius to serve as a base of operations. During their travel to Vesuvius, the rebels plundered plantations and liberated slaves, many of whom accepted Spartacus's invitation to join the rebel gladiators in a life of banditry. Their ranks had only reached a few hundred by this time. The rebels raided and burned down most, if not all, the villas around Vesuvius.
- "The gladiators took refuge atop the mountain, which was accessible only by one narrow and difficult passage. By keeping this passageway guarded, the Roman general thought that he had caught the gladiators in a trap, since the mountain top was surrounded on all other sides with steep and slippery cliffs. On the mountaintop was a crater, in which grew a profusion of wild vines. Cutting as many vines as they needed, the gladiators twisted them into ropes, and constructed ladders long enough to reach the bottom of the cliffs. By this means they all descended except for one man, who remained at the top long enough to lower their weapons; then he also descended. The Romans had failed to notice what was happening, so the gladiators decided to attack them by surprise. They stormed into the rear of the Roman camp and captured it. Many of the slaves in that region now revolted against their masters and joined the rebel gladiators. After Spartacus defeated the army that had been sent to subdue him, the Roman senate dispatched two larger armies against the slaves".
Spartacus had been noticed by the Roman senate, not as a threat but as a minor concern. His army had reached around 1,000 at that time. The senate appointed one of their praetors; Claudius Glaber, to quell the small group of rebels Spartacus had. He was given 3000 men to fight them. These men were not seasoned legionaries from the Roman legions, but farmers and herdsmen with little training and not much experience in battle.
Glaber had managed to push the rebels up towards the top of Mount Vesuvius, intending to strarve them towards serender. Using ladders made from the wild vines that covered the volcano crater, the rebels climbed down the other side of Mount Vesuvius. They were able to encircle the enter the unguarded camp and slaughtered many of them. The rebels, after winning the battle, plundered Glaber's camp, taking his equiptment, food and weapons, and they may have even found letters sent to him by the senate in Rome, something that may have helped Spartacus in the future. Glaber's camp then became the rebels first base of operations.
Rest of 73 BC
In the autumn of 73 BC, the praetor Publius Varinius led two legions of 12,000 against the slaves, who were mostly still armed only with clubs and stakes and adopting guerrilla warfare tactics to wear down Roman strength. Varinius twice drew up his army for pitched battle but the slaves army melted away, avoiding confrontation at this stage. Varinius overtook them but couldn’t prevent the rebels crossing over the Silarus, into Lucania. From Campania to Lucania, the rebels brought freedom to slaves and death to any Roman who faced them. After crossing the Silarus river in 73 BC, the rebel army had entered Lucania. Lucania had thick forests, remote towns and mountain peaks. Lucania was the perfect place for guerilla warfare, and was used for many of their victories in the war. Lucania was teeming with animals and populated with slaves. It was a recruiters dream.
Now, Spartacus organised a series of punishing counter-attacks and spread out some 70,000 men across the countryside to prevent direct defeat.
One morning in 73 BC during autumn, the rebels rampaged through the valley of campania, raping young girls and women and killing the native campanians, against Spartacus' orders. Anyone who tried to resist or run away were killed. Even the rebels who tried to stop the situation were killed. Roman masters were dragged out of their homes, and were either killed or treated as slaves; chained up or forced to perform slave tasks. Villas were burned down, often with people still inside. Spartacus tried on several occasions to restrain his men. He believed this indicipline would weaken his army.
To defeat Varinius, Spartacus needed shepherds and herdsmen and physically able slaves, if not gladiators. To find them, they needed to head into the southern countryside and pasturelands. Pastures were well armed, trained and experienced fighters, they knew how to defend themselves. Shepherds became the infantry of the rebel army. Shepherds were the closest thing to elite troops Spartacus could find.
Following the defeat of Glaber and Varinius, Spartacus and his rebels attacked the slave mines near Lucania. Spartacus chose a group of rebels to infiltrate the mines as slave condemned there. Around 10,000 were freed and joined the rebel ranks.
Spartacus' army had grown to 70,000 men by the middle of 72 BC, and more troops rallied to his cause everyday.
Varinius was sent to follow Glaber should he have failed. He came with 2000 men. Now they had defeated Glaber, Varinius would be straight behind, and eventually he would force a battle.
Varinius' soldiers underestimated the rebels too much, and when they went into battle against them, their numbers were slaughtered. Even when Spartacus came near Varinius' position and the general had ordered his men to stand their ground, many fled from battle. The remaining troops fought the rebels off, giving Varinius oppertunity to escape. Varinius was pulled off of his horse and killed by Spartacus; he was almost taken prisoner. Spartacus retrieved the aquila, the legionary tandard, and the fasces, the symbol of the Republic.
After defeating Varinius
The slaves in southern Italy appeared in large groups to join the rebellion. The rebel army had increased to 40,000 before they travelled to the mines of Lucania. As one source says:
"After this, even more, many more, came running to Spartacus".
Shepherds and save flocked from their masters everywhere to join the rebels. The new recruits were often barefoot, and many were probably still wearing their chains. New recruits also had to take whatever advice or training they could find while the army was on the move.
They again confronted several Roman armies, defeated them, and on that occasion too returned to their camp laden with weapons and spoils of war.
The praetor Cossinius and his tribune, Furius, had been on the march with the remnants of Varinius' men (at least 2,000 soldiers) and decided to afford himself a bath, a luxury in a time of war. Spartacus and a cluch of his men invaded Cossinius, attempting to kill him away from the bulk of his army. However Cossinius escaped, having to ride on horse back to his army. Spartacus was soon caught in battle again. This battle lasted at least a full day until the rest of Cossinius' legion retreated. Cossinius and Furius travelled to a villa in Salinae, near Pompey after escaping the battle. Spartacus, Crixus and Gannicus found their way to Cossinius again at another villa, and stormed through the camp slaughtering the guards. Cossinius and Furius were trapped and they themselves were slain by the rebel leader. Their heads were then cut off and put on spikes to instill fear on the remainder of their soldiers.
After the defeat of Cossinius and Furius in Nuceria, the rebels travelled to the city of Abella (modern Atella). Abella was located five miles north-east of Nola. The rebels intended to plunder the city and free any slaves currently within its walls. When the rebels arrived outside the city, Spartacus had a meeting with a city official. He gave this official two options: give supplies of food and water for his army, and hand over the slaves currently living in the city, or his entire army would attack and plunder the city, along with the Roman citizens. The official handed over most of the slaves in the city (but not all) to the rebels. As the rebels were about to leave, they were cornered by the quaestor Gaius Toranius and his small force. The battle was short lived for the Romans, and the rebels gained yet another victory. The rebels were ready to head back and pillage the city, but Spartacus ordered them not to.
Death of Oenomaus
During the battle, Oenomaus fought bravely against Toranius' troops, and fatally wounded.
Sometime in 72 BC, Spartacus and the rebels attacked and plundered the farm town of Forum Annii. It was a slaughter, while Spartacus wanted to negotiate with the town, the rebels did not. They ignored Spartacus once again and slaughtered all the men women and children who were not slaves.
After Forum Annii, the rebels came to the city of Thurii. Once again, they dealt with and defeated a small force, and moved to siege the city. They found supporters in the city and a number of it's residents were spared, while others were killed or used for amusement.
After the successful siege of Thurii, the rebels decided to attack Cosentia, a city located 50 miles south of Thurii. Cosentia was the capital of the Bruttians.
The rebels came from Ercolano in Campania to the city of Metapontum in Tarentum. They were caught between another Roman force. The battle was short, and the rebels gained another victory. After winning the battle the rebels decided to storm the city and plunder it. Nothing else is known of the event, but there was most likely bloodshed.
Two praetors, Quinctius Valgus and Publius Gallienus, were appointed to stop the revolt. They managed to find the rebels before they could attack the city of Heraclea. Once again the morale of the men on the Roman side weakened. Spartacus claimed another victory, and attacked the city.
The rebels finally decided to attack the city of Surrentum. They managed to move towards the city without being caught in a battle by another Roman force. But as their army came, the had to break through into the city and defeat the defenses and soldiers sent out to fight them.
Sometime in 72 BC the rebels came to the city of Nola. Once again, the rebels fought a pitched battle, and won. Winning the battle, they moved in and plundered the city of Nola.
Sometime in 72 BC the rebels came to Octaviorum. The rebels managed to attack and plunder the city. Before leaving, the rebels were blocked in by Gaius and Publius Clodius Vatin, two elected praetors who were sent by the senate to defend the city before Spartacus could attack, but they were too late.
One of the only sieges the rebels made without having to deal with a Roman forceSpartacus, Crixus and Gannicus entered the city alone, disguised as slavers. During the night after, Spartacus and Crixus killed off most of the guards while Gannicus opened the front gate. The rebels stormed through the city, killing the other guards and many of the Roman residents.
The rebels fought off several small battes outside the city. knowing that romans would attempt to trap them in within the city, the rebels left and headed for the Appinine mountains, intending to make it to the Alps. However, Crixus had other intentions.
Separation between Spartacus and Crixus
Remainder of 72 BCNow that the senate was not only moved at the indignity and baseness, both of the enemy and of the insurrection, but, looking upon it as a matter of alarm and of dangerous consequence, so they sent Gellius Publicola and Cornelius Clodianus with their forces as an attempt to end the rebellion.
Crixus intended to stay in Italy and plunder and defeat any Roman armies he could. However Spartacus and Gannicus wanted to head for the Alps and cross over back to their native lands. Crixus seperated from Spartacus with 30,000 rebels, including Gauls and Germans. Crixus' army headed to Apulia (modern Puglia), remaining in Southern and South-East Italy. But Spartacus' force still went northwards.
Crixus and Spartacus made a friendly divorce. Or perhaps they seperated in order to feed the entire army, and later reunite. Seperating into two groups made the prospects better for foraging in seperate locations. Spartacus and Crixus likely kept in touch by messages.
Crixus and his army had attacked the city of Vibinum. The siege was most likely what gave Gellius Crixus' whereabouts. Crixus and his men spent one night in the city before taking a morning leave to travel north to the Garganus mountains.
Crixus had marched his army towards the east of Italy near the Garganus mountains. Crixus noticed Gellius' legions on the other side of the mountainsand fearing that this battle would be his last, he turned to his army and adressed them. With his army spurred on by their confidence, they charged towards Gellius and his army. The battle lasted an entire day, both forces fighting to the best of their ability. Though Crixus' army had defeated around 10,000 of Gellius' men, 20,000 rebels had also lost their lives in the battle. 10,000 travelled back to Spartacus, meating him during the Battles of Picenum, where Gellius and Clodianus and their armies were defeated.
Lentulus was the first to attack Spartacus and his army, in the Apennine Mountains in a valley named Lentula
Clodianus waited for the rebels, just north of the River Po, with a consular army. Another army in two columns, led by Quintus Arrius and Publicola, came in from the south, to attack the Spartacans from the rear. In a pincer movement, Lentulus met up with one of the two southern columns, partially encircling the slaves on one side, leaving an inviting gap as if in error. This was to invite the Spartacans to split in half, stretching their numbers across the battlefield in the process and then retreat either side of the gap. Had Spartacus fell into this trap, the Romans would have closed in on his extended lines, creating confusion in his ranks. Instead, Spartacus split his army, leaving a small force to keep the smaller Roman force busy. He then led the bulk of his army head on to the larger of the two Roman forces, defeating it. He then turned his troops to the smaller force and defeated that as well. Gellius and Lentulus escaped capture, but enormous number of prisoners and equipment fell in the hands of the slave army.
Publicola had sent two legions under his praetor Arrius to hem in the gladiators against the coast.
Spartacus only found out about Crixus' fate after defeating Lentulus and realising he had also fought against Gellius. In retaliation for the death of Crixus, and perhaps for his own tenure as a Roman slave, Spartacus had 300 pairs of Roman prisoners fight as gladiators to the death. This news caused great anger to the senate.
Later during the winter months of 72 BC, two employed mercenaries; Bucolion and Gryphus, had made their way into the rebel ranks. During the night of their deaths, they had managed to poison a number of the rebels and almost managed to kill Spartacus and Crixus. Spartacus lost control of his army after this quarrel.Instead of marching on Rome as first supposedly intended, which would have been difficult to sack without the necessary siege machines, the slave army began preparations to strike north, towards Cisalpine Gaul. Spartacus began to be great and terrible; but wisely considering that he was not to expect to match the force of the republic, he marched his army towards the Alps, intending, when he had passed them, that every man should go to his own home, some to Thrace, some to Gaul. Continuing to march north, the slave army was met with the Proconsular governor of Cisalpine Gaul, Cassius Longinus Varus and his Roman force.
On their way north to the Alps, the rebels came across the city of Bantia (modern day Banzi), and attacked the city. The rebels numbers stormed and plundered the city quickly.
Near Mutina, at the foothills of the Alps, Varus had blocked the rebels with a wall he built. His legions marched into position on both sides of the wall to block them in ready to defeat them.
In the battle, the rebels once again defeated the Romans. Cassius himself was lucky to escape, although one source suggests Spartacus was able to kill him in battle at some point, but allowed him to live.
The slave army eventually found a weak spot in the wall, and, on one stormy night, having disarmed the local Roman defences, the rebels were able to clog the Roman trenches at this point with bundles of sticks thrown across in great quantities.
End of the Rebellion
Following the battleSpartacus still wanted his army to cross the Alps, which would be difficult to lead over 40,000 people out of Italy, and it was necessary to march in separated columns, but the rebels, grown confident in their numbers, and inspired with their success, would give no obedience to him, and decided to head back and continue to pillage the countryside. Though, Spartacus might have gone against crossing the Alps and going back to Thrace in the end. Marcus Terentius Lucullus, governor of Macedonia, had won victories over the Thracians including the Bessi tribe. This would have made Spartacus doubt going back to his homeland, when it probably would not have kept them safe.
However, a number of the rebels probably took this chance, and crossed the Alps and returned to their homes, at their own risk.
Unfortunately for Spartacus and his army, they had proven their significance to Rome by defeating Gellius and Lentulus. Now the Senate in Rome had to take the slave revolt seriously. When the senate understood the threat, they ordered their consuls to no further involve themselves, and appointed Propraetor Marcus Crassus, whelthiest man in the republic with a special command to end the rebellion. He took command in the autumn of 72 BC. A great many nobility and senators volunteered to fight with him such as Julius Caesar, partly out of friendship, and partly to get honour and rise within the political ladder. Crassus had one plan against Spartacus: block him in and lay siege to him and his army.
Crassus expected that Spartacus would now flee north toward the Alps, so he positioned his main force to block this escape route. He then sent his lieutenant, Mummius, with two legions to harrass the slaves and try to provoke them into marching north. Mummius had strict orders not to fight a pitched battle, but he disobeyed his instructions and led a frontal assault against the slaves, believing that he would have the advantage of surprise. He was however quickly routed. In the ensuing melee, many of the legionaries were slain, and hundreds of others broke rank and fled. Mummius was killed in the batte and Crassus sentenced the defeated legions to suffer the ancient Roman punishment of decimation.
- "The soldiers were divided into groups of ten men each, who drew lots to see which of them would be executed. Those who drew the unlucky lots were killed in appalling and terrible ways, suffering disgrace as well as death before the eyes of the whole army, which assembled to watch them die".
At some point after decimation, Crassus achieved his first two victories against the rebels, in northern Lucania. 10,000 rebels had recently broken off from Spartacus and were moving northwards. Wether this group was another break off or if they were foraging for food for the rebels is unknown. While they were camped, Crassus created an ambush. Crassus won his first victory against the rebels, but this battle also proved that the rebels wouldn't back down or surrender; no rebel surrendered or retreated. One source claims that Crassus captured 900 survivors, and the survivors were most likely executed. If so Crassus would have used Carnificina.
- "After crushing the enemy detatchment, Crassus marched on Spartacus with contempt. Crassus defeated him and persued him vigourously inflight".
Spartacus and Crassus first met in northern Lucania. Crassus was winning the battle, and this caused Spartacus to retreat.
- "Finally, Licinius Crassus saves the Romans honour; the enemy_were beaten by him and fled and sought refuge in the tip of Italy".
After Crassus won his first victory, he moved towards northern Lucania. Crassus pursued Spartacus to Rhegium, across the straits from Sicily. The rebels would have preferred to draw Crassus into the mountainous hillside of Lucania rather than fight his army in an open plain.
Rather than face the cornered gladiators in a pitched battle, he ordered his legions to construct a wall completely across the peninsula to hem in the enemy and starve them into submission. The legionaries excavated a ditch 15 feet deep and wide across the 32-mile distance, then fashioned a wood and stone wall along one edge of the ditch. At first Crassus was successful in trapping Spartacus and the slave army in, but the Senate viewed this as a demoralizing siege against an inferior foe, dispite having had concern about the slave army in their successes.
Spartacus turned around and headed towards Sicily, planning to escape on pirate ships, which he had hired, not knowing that the pirates had already sailed away. At the Isthmus of Bruttium, Crassus built a wall to block Spartacus' escape. When the slaves tried to break through, the Romans fought back, killing about 12,000 of the slaves, while losing only 7,000 of their own.
Pursued by the Romans, Spartacus led his army to the mountains of Petelia. Crassus' legions hounded the gladiators as they fled southward. Stragglers were rapidly picked off and executed. Spartacus advised his followers to continue their retreat through the Petelian heights, but many of his officers advocated heading south to Apulia to reach the seaport of Brundisium on the heel of the Italian peninsula.
- "Much faster than anyone had expected, Crassus completed this great feat of engineering, digging a ditch from one sea to the other, a distance of thirty-seven and a half miles, right across the neck of land. The ditch-fifteen feet wide and equally deep-was backed by a good, strong wall and a paling".
Spartacus had made arrangements with the Cilician pirates who were the only group with a naval force large enough to move 2,000 of his men over to Sicily. Spartacus paid the pirates in advance for their services. If Sicily was under the control of the rebels, they would have control of Rome's grain supply, it would be a great prize for the rebels. The pirates could take them across the strait to Messina.
- "Meeting with some Cilician pirate ships in the straits, Spartacus decided to send a small force to Sicily, where a slave rebellion had been been extinguished only a few years earlier. By landing two thousand men in Sicily, Spartacus hoped to rekindle the fire which had so recently been smothered, and which seemed to need only a little fuel to set it blazing again. But after the pirates had struck a bargain with him, and collected their payment, they deceived Spartacus and sailed away".
Many rebels were planning either to travel backwards towards the Alps or towards Africa or Thrace, but Spartacus planned to move his army over the straits to Sicily. The pirates, however, betrayed him and did not meet him at Rhegium after taking their gold and treasure. Feeling a new desperation, some rebels decided to build rafts to cross the strait over to Sicily. While trapped in Bruttium, Spartacus divided his men, some to build rafts, some to gather food. Most of his man power was put towards holding holding off an attack from Crassus. Crossing the strait was risky, but Spartacus' men still took the chance. Unfortunately, the currents destroyed the rafts, and these men most likely drowned. Spartacus' plan had failed; all he could do now was turn on Crassus and break through the wall he built.
- "Once the Cilicians had made an agreement with him and taken gifts, they tricked him and sailed off"
Wether the pirates were payed more money by the Romans, either from Verres or Crassus is unknown. The pirates probably feared ome and the consequences of helping the rebels, or, they were probably just acting like pirates. Verres had two legions at his disposal. He likely built sea defenses, and shore defenses.
Spartacus needed to boost his mens morale and weaken the enemies certainty. He also needed the Romans' confidence to quickly disappear. To make this happen he crucified a Roman prisoner in front of them, probably infront of Crassus himself. However the sight of a Roman citizen on a cross probably strengthened the morale of Crassus' men further, not weakened it.
The Senate however were fearing these stalemates, so they called for Pompey to return from Hispania. Crassus however, didn't like Pompey returning to crush Spartacus, he wanted the glory for himself.
A week after the Battle of Thurii, the rebels moved to the mountains near the city and set up camp. They gained much supply from local trade and plunder from raids. Spartacus used Thurii to successfully train his army. Thurii had docks where ships, mostly merchant ships and pirate ships. Whenever merchants came to sell to the rebels, Spartacus made sure the rebels never brought gold or silver. Only iron and bronze were allowed. These things, along with slave chains and shackles, were melted down and reforged into new weapons.
Incase the Romans attacked, they could escape through the rugged hills and dense forests.
Spartacus, for a time, ignored the Roman wall. He desperately searched for some other means to transport his army but could not devise one. Crassus started moving south towards Spartacus' rebellion; he was not willing to give the rebels an area as big as Bruttium (100 miles of land). Spartacus could still gather supplies in Bruttium, so rassus wanted to deprive him of any supplies he could be moving south. By now, the only place Spartacus had left was southern Bruttium.
Crassus harrassed the enemy and so did Spartacus did the same. Spartacus definitely increased Rome's frustration.
- "Spartacus annoyed the men in the defensive works in many ways from place to place; he constantly fell upon them unawares and threw bundles of wood into the trenches that he had set on fire, which gave the Romans nasty and difficult works as they hustled to put out the fires".
With winter setting in and supplies running low, he determined his only recourse was to smash through the barricade across the peninsula. The Thracian waited for a snowy night and a wintery storm when he filled up a small portion of the ditch with earth and timber and the boughs of trees, and battered his way through.
Unable to secure the passage to Sicily that he coveted, a breakout against the siege was ordered. While they did manage to escape, Spartacus lost almost a tenth of his army, nearly 12,000 rebels. Free from Crassus' siege, Spartacus moved towards Brundisium, in the heel of Italy, where he still hoped to secure escape by sea. Crassus had become eager to fight a decisive battle, for news was already brought that Pompey was at hand; and people began to talk openly that the honour of this war was reserved to him, who would come and at once oblige the enemy to fight and put an end to the war.
The rebels were certainly at odds; if they stayed in Italy they would have to deal with Crassus, and eventually Pompey and/or later Lucullus. If they crossed over to Sicily, they would have to deal with Gaius Verres and his legions. Spartacus moved what was left of his army faster than they had before to escape Crassus and have a better chance to reach the Alps. Spartacus and his army used the Aspromonte mountains. Crassus understood the reason behind this: Spartacus would not risk a pitched battle against him on an open plane. If any battles happened from then on, they would take place in the mountainous areas like Campania and the Appennine mountains.
Spartacus realised that Pompey gave him and Crassus a common enemy, so he offered Crassus a peace treaty (or fides, Latin for faith or trust, or for Spartacus, protection). Doing this sould make Crassus, Spartacus' patron. Fides meant surrender, but Spartacus' dignity would be conceded. Neither Crassus or Rome, would ever negotiate with runaway slaves. Crassus ignored the offer, with distain.
Separation between Spartacus and GannicusGannicus had decided to seperate from Spartacus along with Castus, and took a sizable army of Greeks and Germans with them. A lot of rebels started doubting Spartacus' abilities as a leader, so they left and joined Gannicus. Crassus would have been looking for other groups that seperated from the main force, and would have led extensive scouting parties to seek these minor factions out and defeat them. Crassus did his best to deplete Spartacus' army day by day.
Gannicus and Castus fought against Lucius Pomptinus, a commander of Crassus and a portion of his army. Pomptinus and many of his troops were killed and a high percentage of Gannicus' army survived. Rufus and his soldiers met the rebels at the top of the mountain, and then Crassus moved his force up the mountain in order to block the rebels between his force and Rufus'. Then Suddenly Spartacus and the other rebel force arrived; fearing being blocked again by two rebel forces, Crassus had his army retreat, along with Rufus'.Gannicus' army to raid and gather supplies. This time they fought Marcius Rufus, another of Crassus' commanders, and against a much larger force of around 6,000. Rufus tried to use a camoflague tactic and surprise attack on the rebels, but their position was discovered by two Celtic women, and the battle ensued.
The rebels suffered great defeat, and both Gannicus and Castus were killed, but only after much bravery. Superior numbers and equipment would have overwhelmed the Celts had not Spartacus come to their rescue. Crassus had to retreat.
Spartacus certainly mourned both his former commanders' deaths, but this time he had no Roman prisoners to honour them with like he had done for Crixus and or/if for Oenomaus, he could only honour them with any later victories he could abtain. Spartacus was the only surviving leader.
Spartacus' was again blocked by Crassus' legions, and fought against 10,000 of his troops near the extinct volcano Mount Vulture, above the city of Venusia (modern Venosa). They were only 50 miles from the Appian Way.
Spartacus then tried to force his way out and reach the Samnite country, but Crassus once again indecepted them and killed almost 6,000 of his opponents at the beginning of the day and nearly as many more at evening, at the cost of only a few hundred dead and several wounded from the Roman army; so effective had their punishment been in altering their will to win.
Spartacus was more determined than ever to leave Italy. He and his army went to Brundisium (modern Brundisi) perhaps to buy passage once they cam to the ports, and maybe they would find the cilician pirates there. Crassus and his army killed six thousand rebels during the battle and captured nine hundred, many of whom he either crucified or executed through carnificina.
Whilst the day favoured the Romans, Spartacus led his remaining forces, minus those killed and captured, into orderly retreat to Thurii, through Lucania.
Unfortunately for Spartacus and Crassus, Lucullus and his army had landed in Brundisium.
Before the final battle
When Spartacus learned that Crassus' troops were to be reinforced by another Roman army brought back from Hispania, he decided it was time to retreat back to Alps as he had originally intended. He and his army fled north, with Crassus following straight behind. Spartacus' escape route was blocked at Brundisium by a third Roman force recalled from Macedonia.
Spartacus proposed a negotiated settlement, but Crassus refused this out of hand.
There were no other options Spartacus could take. They had now no cavalry and only limited armoury. Crassus still had around 40,000 men at his disposal, while Spartacus' forces had diminished. He had around 40,000 left, if not left, and lost around 20,000 from his several defeats by Crassus' legions. The rebels were not looking for a battle; they were looking for a grudge match to avenge their fallen friends. They surely looked for an honourable death, like the Celtic, Gallic and Germanic warriors had been made to desire.
It had all come down to this, their final battle against the Romans, against Crassus. Spartacus first faced the Romans below the most dangerous volcano of that time: Mount Vesuvius. Now he would make his last stand in a deadly earthquake zone, the upper Silarus River.
He and his army were forced to fight Crassus' legions, should they survive that battle, the armies of Pompey and Lucullus would follow. Before the battle ensued, Spartacus adressed his army for the final time, slaying his horse, claiming that should they win the battle, they would have thousands of horses, and should they lose the battle, they would not have need of any.
- "Spartacus, seeing that he could no longer avoid a pitched battle, set his army in array. When his horse was brought to him, he drew out his sword and killed it, saying that if he won the day he would get a better horse from the enemy; and if he lost the day he should have no need of any horse".
The battle was a battle between two things: military prowess and heroic ideals. When it began, both armies infantries charged forward, the rebels charged quickly, while the Romans, remaining disciplined, charged slowly, and orderly. First, Crassus' men threw their javelins 50 feet from the rebels, then they drew their swords and charged into battle, allowing a battle cry meant to scare the rebels and encourage themselves.
The Roman numbers were around 32,000, but the rebel numbers were either 30,000 or 50,000. Before long, Spartacus turned the battle into a duel, between him and Crassus.
"He pushed towards Crassus, through many weapons and wounds"
Crassus was close enough to Spartacus for Spartacus to see him, just behind his front line.
- "The battle was long and bloody, as might have been expected with so many thousands of desperate men. Spartacus was wounded in the thigh with a spear and sank upon his knee, holding his shield in front of him and contending in this way against his assailants until he and the great mass of those with him were surrounded and slain. The remainder of his army was thrown into confusion and butchered in crowds. So great was the slaughter that that it was impossible to count the dead Spartacans. The Roman loss was about one thousand. The body of Spartacus was not found.
It is said that at the end he was cutting his way through the Roman troops to get to Crassus. Attacking Crassus was brave, but foolish. Crassus' men would do whatever they could to protect their commander.
Spartacus had a group of men to protect him while he moved towards the man himself. If Spartacus killed Crassus, his men would certainly crumble. It was a daring attempt. As he battled towards Crassus:
"He killed two centurions who fought hand to hand with him"
All participants fought hard and long, following orders, and fighting to the death.
"The battle was long and strongly contested because of the desperation of so many myriads of men"
One source uses a metaphor to explain the rebel's fighting spirit:
"As befit an army led by a gladiator, the battle was fought sine missione - to the death"
Spartacus himself was wounded by a spear-thrust in the thigh, but went down on one knee, held his shield in front of him, and fought off his attackers until he and a great number of his followers were encircled and killed.
The legionaries pushed into the rebel lines, opening up pockets everywhere they could
- "They were cut down en masse", one source says. Another says "They met with a death worthy of real men"
Crassus, in command of six legions, was said to have crushed Spartacus' revolt with "ruthless efficiency".
AftermathCrassus swept survivors and stragglers out of the surrounding countryside by the thousands, and prepared an horrific, if not intimidating punishment. The 6,000 surviving rebels that Crassus had taken prisoner were crucified and spaced out along the Appian Way, from Capua to Rome. Here they were left to rot as a reminder to all potential future rebellions.
- "A large number of his men fled from the battlefield to the mountains, but Crassus followed them. Split into four separate groups, the slaves continued to fight until they all perished except six thousand, who were captured and crucified along the whole road from Capua to Rome."
For years, travelers were forced to see the crosses: every thirty, forty meters, they saw how a body of a former slaves was rotting away, a prey for the vultures and dogs, and only when the bodies began to fall apart were they taken down. They were either buried in pits or cremated.
The Romans recovered five legionary eagle-standards, twenty-six other standards, and five fasces.
The rebel bodies were piled up and either buried or cremated in a huge pit. As for any dead Roman soldiers, their bodies were cremated, and their ashes buried on the battlefield. Before the pyre was lit, the legions would march, salluting their fallen comrades, paying their last respects. Lastly, the dead were given numerous animal sacrifices.
Spartacus most likely died among the rest of his men on the battlefield; he would have clothed and hidden his look. No Roman would have been able to tell him apart from any other rebel.
During Crassus' "mopping up" operations, there were probably many small battles in all directons from the battlefield, most he won, some he probably lost. People witnessing these crucifixions, some likely being slave traders, wealthy citizens and politicians probably found the execution of 6.000 slaves as a waste of people who could be used in the mines of Lucania, which were left unusable when they were attacked back in 72 BC.
Publipor, one of the rebels, helped 20,000 women and children out of Italy. Pompeius Magnus and his legions caught up to the survivers and forced 5,000 who could still fight into battle. Publipor and the other rebels held the Romans off while the others had oppertunity to come to and crossed over the Alps.
Pompey moved into Italy with his legions from Hispania. He swept out any remaining resistance and claimed final victory in the war, with losing only a hundred of his own men in the process. Pompey enjoyed a triumph for his victory in Hispania, while Crassus was given the lesser honor of an ovation for his victory over mere slaves.Almost the entire rebel army was annihilated, its remnants were around 20,000, but were also very low in armed combabtents and trained fighters, comprising mostly of women and children. Having the republic learn of Spartacus' escape from battle was something Crassus could not allow. The Romans were quick to crush any rumors that he had escaped, he simply claimed that Spartacus' body was never found, but had definitely been killed.
In the end, a group of rebels made it over the Alps and into true freedom, while others, still trapped in the south, found Thurii and took refuge there. Thurii was the only city that Spartacus had completely captured during the war. They would no longer dare face the Romans. Seven years later, when the Roman aristocrat Catiline raised a revolt of debtors and slaves and failed, he and the survivors fled to Thurii. Though Spartacus was dead, he was remembered by Rome, decades to centuries later. To some, he remained a hero, to others, he was a barbarian, and to many, a symbol of hope. Some amount of slaves might have worshipped him as a god. Even in Pompeii he was remembered, on a painting, a cartoon fresco detailing one of its characters as Spartacus, reading SPARTAKS, written in the Oscan language. While the war may seem like an insignificant point in history, it may have ultimately led to to Rome becoming the dominant empire it became.