111–71 BC

Spartacus was a Thracian by birth. He served in the Roman army at one time, but later was taken prisoner and sold as a gladiator. In 71 B.C. he broke out of a gladiator training camp with a band of fellow prisoners and took refuge on Mt. Vesuvius. There he was joined by hundreds of others slaves, fugitives, and refugees from throughout Italy. Many of his lieutenants were fellow-gladiators and there were many well-trained fighting men among his ranks, as well as criminals and brigands.

The Romans assumed that a hastily collected force of 3,000 would be enough to capture the rebels, but Spartacus proved a formidable opponent. After escaping from the first Roman force sent against them, the insurgents occupied Campania, including the towns of Thurii and Metapontum. The senate eventually dispatched both consuls against him, but Spartacus overcame both armies, and headed towards the Alps, with the intention of escaping into Gaul. His army, however, balked at leaving Italy, and preferred to continue to plunder and rampage. This was a fatal mistake, because after two years of being worsted by Spartacus, the senate resolved to send the praetor Crassus against the rebels, and he was greatly aided by the disunion within the ranks of Spartacus. The Gauls and Germans, having separated themselves from the main body of rebels, were attacked and destroyed. Spartacus favored a retreat towards Sicily, but many of his men preferred to fight rather than retreat. The great general Pompey now joined Crassus, and together the forces were too much for Spartacus. Soon after he fell in battle, the rest of his rebel forces were cut to pieces. Over six thousand were taken prisoner and crucified.

Spartacus has always been considered a very sympathetic insurgent. He was an extraordinary general, able to exert great command over his band of slaves, outcasts, and brigands. His troops were mostly untrained, and spoke many different languages. Considering the challenges of his command, and the fact that he held out against the Roman army for two years in the heart of Italy, his military and leadership abilities must have been remarkable. He is said to have treated his prisoners with a greater humanity then did the Romans. After savagely crucifying all of the insurgents taken in war, the Roman army found 3,000 unharmed and well tended prisoners in the camp of the defeated rebel leader.

Key events during the life of Spartacus:

73 BC
Broke out of a gladiator school at Capua and fled to Mt. Vesuvius.
72 BC
Captured Thurii and many other towns in southern Italy.
71 BC
Killed in battle with Crassus in Lucania; 3,000 Roman prisoners were found in his camp unharmed.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Spartacus in  Lucius. Adventures of a Roman Boy  by  Alfred J. Church
Revolt of the Slaves  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber
Crassus  in  Our Young Folks' Plutarch  by  Rosalie Kaufman
Gladiators' Revolt  in  The Story of Rome  by  Mary Macgregor
Revolt of the Gladiators  in  Historical Tales: Roman  by  Charles Morris

Image Links

Spartacus and Hermann in the arena
 in Lucius. Adventures of a Roman Boy

Short Biography
Crassus Very wealthy general. Fought Spartacus. Formed triumvirate with Pompey and Caesar.
Pompey Very renowned general. Defeated pirates. Led opposition to Caesar in civil war.