We are very excited to share the NEW TED-Ed animation on Spartacus, that wily gladiator. Given their lengthy relationship, Dr Rad is especially thrilled to have played a small role in bringing Spartacus’ story to your screens in a new format. This video is based on a range of primary sources about Spartacus and the revolt that he led against Rome between 73-71 BCE. If you are intrigued by this slave revolt, perhaps you would like to check out our previous episodes on Spartacus (1960) and the Starz series.
Kirk Douglas as Spartacus in the 1960 Kubrick production.
Image courtesy of http://informationaction.blogspot.com/2013/09/im-spartacus.html
All jokes aside… who was Spartacus really?
This is actually a hard question to answer and a lot of academic ink has been spilt trying to answer this question. Virtually nothing is known for sure about ‘Spartacus’ prior to the revolt. Why would the Romans be concerned about such a character before he had an impact on them? They weren’t… The basic details that we can be confident about are that the slave revolt began in 73 BCE in a ludus in Capua, owned by a man named Batiatus. A number of Batiatus’ gladiators broke out of the training school, led by a man named Spartacus (although this may not have been his given name). Spartacus and his followers would go on to accrue a large number of followers, although the exact number is difficult to ascertain. Certainly, it was in the tens of thousands. Their rebellion lasted for years and involved the defeat of a range of Roman forces, from local militia to consular armies. Although they would not have known it at the time, Spartacus’ revolt or the Third Servile War was the last large-scale slave uprising in Rome’s history.
So how is it possible that we don’t know more about the leader of this slave war? It is more famous than the previous two, perhaps as it occurred on the Italian mainland and not in Sicily. A major obstacle is the lack of any sources that record a slave perspective on the events that transpired. Fortunately, there are various references to Spartacus in pro-Roman sources, but none of these accounts were trying to provide a detailed biography of the slave himself. For example, in sources such as Cicero, Spartacus is referred to only in passing and generally used as a term of abuse. In narrative accounts, the Roman men who fought him, the strategies and tactics employed during the conflict, what the revolt meant for Rome at that time, and the outcome were the important factors. Spartacus and this conflict are useful tools to illuminate information about Rome. This perhaps explains why we get some contradictory impressions of the slave leader, depending on the author consulted. However, for those who would like to check out some primary material themselves, the most detailed works are Plutarch’s Life of Crassus and Appian’s Civil Wars. Nonetheless, Dr Rad’s favourite description of Spartacus comes from Florus – mostly because it sounds just like a movie tagline. Spartacus was “….the man who, from being a Thracian mercenary, had become a soldier, and from a soldier a deserter, then a highwayman, and finally, thanks to his strength, a gladiator.”
And hasn’t he continued to exert a fascination throughout the centuries?
What do you think about Spartacus?
We would love to hear your thoughts on Spartacus, slavery and the revolt. Get in touch!
Sparty and the gang from the Starz series. (Image courtesy of https://creativekatarsis.com/spartacus-la-serie/)