Feb 28

The Spartacus Trail

by in Amphitheater Tour, Ancient Roman Tour, NU

Spartacus trained at one of the many gladiatorial schools outside of Capua. The school belonged to Lentulus Batiatus. While the ruins of the school have not been preserved, the amphitheater in Capuawhere he competed still remains. Inside, there is also a small Gladiator Museum.

The Spartacus Trail begins in Capua, but can continue on through the Campania region and beyond.

As Mary Beard explains in her book Pompeii, gladiators had about a 1 in 6 chance of dying during a game. The life of gladiators was short and their training harsh. Rebellion and revolt shouldn’t have been a surprise.

But Spartacus’ Slave Rebellion did surprise Rome. In 73 B.C. he was part of a group of gladiators who seized kitchen implements, used them as weapons, and escaped from the school. Stealing gladiatorial weapons, Spartacus and seventy other men then began to plunder the region surrounding Capua. They recruited slaves along the way and climbed Mount Vesuvius where they created a military camp.

At first considering the revolt a matter left for the police rather than the military, Rome sent a militia to route the slaves from Mount Vesuvius. But Spartacus made ropes from vines, climbed down the cliff side of the volcano and attacked this militia, killing most of them.

As the plundering of the region continued, Spartacus’ followers swelled to about 70,000. From 73-72 B.C. his troops expanded their raiding territory to include towns such as Nola (where today you can visit the mall called Volcano Buona).

In 71 B.C. the Roman Senate began to take the threat seriously. Anywhere from 40,000-50,000 Roman soldiers were dispatched, sending Spartacus and his followers to the south of Italy where he encamped near the Strait of Messina. Alas, in that same year Spartacus was defeated on the right bank of the River Sele near the village of Quaglietta.

Spartacus was killed and 6,000 of his men were captured by the legions of Crassus. Cruelly, they were all crucified, their crosses lining the Appian Way from Rome to Capua. (So the next time you drive down the Appian autostrada, imagine the near two hour drive with crucified men on either side of you as far as the eye can see!) 

For a far more detailed description of the Slave Rebellion and Spartacus, check out this article that first appeared in Military History magazine.


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