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What Do We Really Know About Spartacus?

Updated on April 9, 2013

The ONLY thing most know about the man called Spartacus is from Hollywood. The 1960 movie by that name. Most of that movie is fiction including the part where he screams, "I am Spartacus". The reason why we know so little about this man is because there are no first hand accounts, only accounts written long after the events and handed down.

What we know as "fact" are the following:

  1. He led a slave revolt against Rome from 73 to 71 B.C. and demolished every Roman army he came upon until he was killed.
  2. His army of 70,000, once defeated, suffered at the hands of Rome by the 6000 men crucified along the Appian Way from Rome to Capua. This was Rome's way to finally crush him followers.
  3. He did escape from the gladiator school in Capua, near Naples.
  4. His army defeated Rome's legions many times over until Crassus dealt him the final blow.

That is about it. There is no proof he was trained by the Romans and that he served with their army before he was a slave. How his army of thousands were trained by him also remains a mystery. The slave warriors under him probably were not trained and it was simply a matter of numbers in many battles that allowed him to prevail.

His first battle that he won by killing all of the Romans was at Mount Vesuvius. This victory became like a magnet for anyone against Rome, which caused his army to swell to near 70,000, by some accounts. Rome then sent two legions, some 30,000, to halt his advance northward. Rome was successful until meeting Spartacus. Both legions were defeated. It was this alarm that led Rome to send Crassus with eight legions, almost 50,000 well trained men.

This forced Spartacus to begin his retreat back towards Sicily until the final battle.

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