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Updated on December 4, 2016

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.

©1960 Universal Studios
©1960 Universal Studios

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.


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    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Kirk Douglas' portrayal of Spartacus in the 1960 movie was compelling. Nice picture of Douglas in that role. Enjoyed the hub.

    • Carmen Borthwick profile image

      Carmen Borthwick 8 years ago from Maple Ridge, B.C.

      Great hub. I love roman history and that movie was a favourite many moons ago.

    • rebekahELLE profile image

      rebekahELLE 8 years ago from Tampa Bay

      ohh, I love all this stuff~~~~ always so interesting. one of my favorite movies~~ also Gladiator~~~~ love it~ so moving,

      thanks darkside.

    • frogdropping profile image

      Andria 8 years ago

      Oh bugger. You know they're really difficult to write about don't you? Not much was ever written down. And my books are stored over in the UK. Oh well. I should have kept my mouth shut :)

    • profile image

      Duchess OBlunt 8 years ago

      Thanks for this brief history lesson, it was written in such a way, that even I could understand it.

      I'm with you darkside, I'd like to read frogdropping's hub on the Celts as well.

    • BrianS profile image

      Brian Stephens 8 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

      I remember watching the film when I was younger, good film and now a good article on it as well.

    • darkside profile image

      Glen 8 years ago from Australia

      I find the Celts interesting, and I eagerly await to read what you publish about them :D

    • frogdropping profile image

      Andria 8 years ago

      Wonderful. I just love history. Any chance you could stretch to the celts and the likes of Bodicea? Or will I have to do that for myself? More fun reading someone elses efforts though :)

      And regarding the Romans, I especially like the period running up to and beyond the BC/AD era. I admire the way they fought, the way they moved around the globe, the fact that they were so disciplined within the confines of the military but they could be hedonistic as a culture/society.

      I need to go to the UK and grab my history books. I miss the smell, the words (they're old!) - even though I've read them so many times.