Spartacus was a great Roman soldier, but he became disillusioned by the way the army was acting as they were raping and killing girls and women, killing villagers who weren’t even fighting, and making the captives slaves. He thought Romans were to be men of honor but discovered they were barbarians just like any other army.
It was on his way to desert from the army when he was caught and made a slave and no longer a soldier. Eventually a businessman who owned gladiators purchased Spartacus from the Roman Army’s commander.
Gladiator owners had training facilities where they would keep and train their men. The men were slaves, but they were fed better than most because strength was important. The owners would then decide who their best fighters were and then take them to fight and leave the others to continue training. They would travel to cities that had mini-coliseums and have their men compete against other owners’ gladiators with a lot of money at stake.
The biggest problem was that if an owner’s gladiator lost the fight he wasn’t just out the money that was bet, he was also out a gladiator who was killed in the fight. For some of these owners, their entire fortunes were made on the backs of one or two extraordinary gladiators.
It didn’t take long for Spartacus to prove he was the best gladiator the owner had ever had so he worked out some deals to where he could have Spartacus compete where the real money was, the Roman Coliseum. He proved he was the best of all the gladiators and became a crowd favorite.
The whole time he was working as a gladiator he was also working on an escape plan with 70 other gladiators who trained at the same facility. They were tired of being slaves and wanted a way out, so they devised a plan for escape. They took knives from the kitchen to begin killing the Roman guards.
Even though they were gladiators they weren’t trusted with real swords and used wooden ones instead thus their need for knives. Every time they’d kill a Roman guard they’d take his shield and sword, so they were able to discard the knives and start using real weapons. On their way out, they also seized several wagons of weapons and armor.
The owner of the school sent many men to recapture the gladiators, but they were easily defeated. Rome was already involved in two major military campaigns where they were trying to capture more territory, so they had no interest in going after the gladiators. If Roman soldiers happened to come across them they were to be executed. What Rome didn’t realize is that Spartacus and his men had a goal way beyond escaping…they wanted to free other slaves which would hurt the Roman Empire.
There were numerous Roman military stations across the lands that were responsible for holding back rebellions and for collecting taxes from the people. These forts had slaves including concubines who were passed around. Spartacus and his men continued to attack these forts and freed the slaves, so word got back to Rome that a major rebellion was underway. By this time, Spartacus had tens of thousands of former slaves in his army.
Because Rome finally became believers that Spartacus was a problem they decided to go on the offensive but didn’t have enough money to send an army. They went to the wealthiest man in Rome by the name of Gaius Claudius Glaber, who once was a general, to ask for his help. He agreed to fund the army and run the military campaign if the Senate would give him one of the highest positions of political power when he returned which they agreed.
Most of the Roman soldiers Gaius needed were already available it’s just that Rome couldn’t afford to send them anywhere so now with Gaius’s money the army could go on the attack using well qualified fighters. He knew he and his soldiers would crush the slaves, so spirits were extremely high all around. Gaius was especially excited because he thought he wouldn’t need to spend much money to fund the campaign because it would be over quickly, and he’d get his prestigious political appointment.
They wanted to squelch the rebellion, but it was also very important to them that they kill Spartacus because he was becoming a hero to non-Romans. Rome saw him as a barbarian not thinking he had any military expertise because they didn’t know he was once a Roman soldier.
Spies told Gaius where Spartacus camped, and it was at the base of a high volcanic ridge, so he decided to move his troops on the other side where they were to remain until first light when they’d launch their attack. In the middle of the night Spartacus’ soldiers came over the ridge to deliver their own surprise attack.
They decimated thousands of Roman soldiers and almost got their hands on Gaius but he slipped away. Many Roman soldiers were dead, and it appeared their commander was afraid of Spartacus, so morale dropped significantly. Rome was supposed to be an unstoppable force, yet slaves were beating them to a pulp and the word was being spread everywhere.
Spartacus came across a large Roman city, so his men stormed it, killed the Roman solders, and released the slaves. Word got out about the city falling so thousands of Roman soldiers were dispatched to gain control of the city again.
They sent spies to look at how the walls were fortified but they were seen by Spartacus’ men who chased them down and killed them; more discouraging news for Gaius.
Rome was pretty much up to date on how Gaius’ military campaign was going because they were constantly sending news carriers back and forth which took days for each run. Gaius would normally be happy with this public relations opportunity but being Spartacus and his slaves were beating him he grew angry at the messengers for bothering him. It didn’t matter, the fact that Gaius hadn’t made it back to Rome told the Senate all they needed to know.
One of the smartest moves Spartacus made is he focused on resources like food and water. He had the advantage of insight from the villagers who came from across the country to fight for him as to where these critical supplies were located. Villagers along the way were more than happy to help them yet when the Roman army came through they had most of their supplies hidden.
Spartacus’ army was fairly well fed and rested whereas Gaius’ wasn’t. He was too obsessed with killing Spartacus, so he was pushing his men hard to get the military campaign over with to save money; it had already gone on a lot longer than he had anticipated.
Spartacus moved his army and many people out of the city to difficult terrain thinking the Romans wouldn’t follow but they did. His compassion for the women and children who he brought along with them from the city was hurting his army in many ways (i.e. depleting food and water, slowing them down, limiting military tactics they could use, etc.). His heart was in the right place, but it was negatively influencing their overall mission of freeing all slaves in the Roman Empire.
Many of Spartacus’ men didn’t want to provide escort services for the women and children and instead wanted to fight their way to Rome because of the massive number of slaves in the city, so about half the army left while Spartacus and the rest of the men continued to move the women and children outside the Roman Empire where they’d be safe.
The soldiers who left for Rome started off winning all the battles while moving towards the city. When Rome was finally in sight the men marched over a hill and saw a gigantic Roman army waiting for them that was at least ten times larger than theirs. They decided not to retreat and figured at the very least they’d kill as many Romans as they could before dying themselves. This way the size of the Roman army would be smaller for when Spartacus and the rest of them arrived.
Word got to Spartacus that his army was completely destroyed near Rome. He was very close to many of the men who lost their lives, so he was devastated and wanted revenge. He left a small contingency of men to continue to move the civilians outside the Empire while he took the rest to march on Rome.
Gaius heard that Spartacus was heading to Rome, so he moved his army in a position to intercept them because he wanted credit for killing Spartacus and ending the revolt. It wasn’t an easy victory for Gaius as the battle went on for several days even though Spartacus’ army was far outnumbered, but eventually they were defeated.
Historians don’t agree on whether Spartacus’ body was recovered. Some say he was taken off the battlefield and carried home for a proper burial while others believe he was among the dead and was buried in a mass grave.
I’m not sure if very many people know Spartacus’ story but isn’t it incredible? He wasn’t driven by influence and power but by compassion for those who were in bondage like he had been; which reminds me of the Bible passage which reads: “There’s no greater love than when a man lays down his life for another man.” The great warrior Spartacus showed he had a lot of love in his heart.