Libertas

WHY WAS THE SLAVE REVOLT OF SPARTACUS SO DANGEROUS TO ROME?

Nothing is known about Spartacus’ early life, even less about his partner the Dionysian priestess. He grew up in Thrace (now Bulgaria) and may have joined the auxillia, a legion for foreigners, perhaps in Sulla’s time. Then he deserted his post, was caught and sold into slavery, becoming a gladiator.

One thing we can say for certain: it was the Romans who taught Spartacus to fight.

From the time he and 77 others broke out of Lentulus Batiatus’ establishment at Capua, in 73BC– Spartacus was a great danger to Rome. The reasons were not only what he did but what he represented.

“There was now more to disturb the senate than just the shame and the disgrace of the revolt. The situation had become dangerous enough to inspire real fear.” {Plutarch Crassus III} What was it they were they so afraid of?

Physically, the danger was defeats to Roman legions: first Clodius Glabrus, then Furius and the quaestor Publius Virinius. Even the consul Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus was humiliated by “those who ought to have been hauled away by the overseers, themselves pursued praetorian generals in flight from the battle-field.” {Florus IIBvii }

Psychologically, the danger was greater. Slaves might demand to be treated as hominae, even civitii, while brandishing kitchen knives. All ancient sources talk about Spartacus’ plans to march on Rome, but danger within was greater than a Hannibal outside the gates.

This explains the harsh punishments, once “Licinius Crassus vindicated the honour of Rome.” {Florus IIBviii} Spartacus himself died bravely in battle, but 6000 rebels were crucified along the Via Appia.

Spartacus remains a hero to generations of freedom fighters.

RESOURCES

Appian. “The Civil Wars,” The Histories of Appian, Loeb Classical Library. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Appian/Civil_Wars/1*.html

Florus. “Epitome of Roman History,” LacusCurtius, Loeb Classical Library. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Florus/Epitome/home.html

Plutarch, Fall of the Roman Republic. Middlesex: Penguin Classics, 1958.

Cyril Robinson, A History of Rome. London: Methuen & Co Ltd, 1935.

Barry Strauss, The Spartacus War. London: Phoenix, 2009.

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