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Originally a Thracian shepherd, he later served as an auxiliary in the Roman army, where he must have learned something of the art of war, but deserted and placed himself at the head of a brigand gang.
Taken prisoner, he was sold to a trainer of gladiators near Capua in Italy. In 73 BC Spartacus belonged to a company owned by one Lentulus at Capua. He persuaded his fellow gladiators to make a bid for freedom; about 70 of them broke out of their barracks and took refuge in the crater of Vesuvius (which did not become active until AD 79). Chosen as their leader, Spartacus was soon joined by runaway slaves. Having defeated two Roman forces, they rose in number by the end of that year to 90,000, and were in possession of most of southern Italy.
Realising they could not hold off the Roman armies for long, Spartacus decided to retreat to the north so that his slaves could scatter to their original homelands. But some among his followers, notably the Gauls and Germans, wanted to stay in Italy and plunder, so Spartacus was forced to winter in the south. By 72 BC his forces numbered 70 000 and the Roman senate, realizing the magnitude of the threat, sent both consuls against him. However, Spartacus quickly moved his forces north and defeated the proconsul of Cisalpine Gaul. His followers again refused to leave Italy, so he moved south again, probably deciding to make for Sicily.
The senate now appointed Crassus (later to be triumvir with Pompey and Caesar) commander-in-chief of six legions and ordered him to stop Spartacus. However, Spartacus broke through Crassus' lines and.was only stopped when another force landed behind them at Brundisium and drove them back to Crassus, who crushed Spartacus' men in three engagements. Spartacus was killed. Those of his followers who survived the battles, numbering around 6000, were crucified along the Appian Way. Any who escaped were caught in Etruria by a force led by Pompey on his way home from Spain.
By all accounts Spartacus was a humane man who fought bravely, with remarkable success, for his liberty and that of the other pitifully oppressed slaves.
For information about the television series Spartacus: Blood & Sand, go here.