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Florus on Spartacus

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Gladiators on a relief from the first century BCE. Glyptothek, München (Germany). Photo Marco Prins.
Gladiators on a relief from the
first century BCE (Glyptothek,
München)
Spartacus was the leader of an army of runaway slaves that shook Italy in 73-71 BCE but was ultimately defeated by the Roman general Crassus. There are two important sources about this revolt: the story is told in the Life of Crassus by Plutarch of Chaeronea, and in the Civil wars by Appian of Alexandria.

A third account is that of Publius Annius Florus, the author of an epitome of the History of Rome since its foundation of the great Roman historian Livy. Here, we find his story (Epitome, 2.8) in the translation by Edward Forster.

Spartacus, Crixus and Oenomaus, breaking out of the gladiatorial school of Lentulus with thirty or rather more men [1] of the same occupation, escaped from Capua. When, by summoning the slaves to their standard, they had quickly collected more than 10,000 adherents, these men, who had been originally content merely to have escaped, soon began to wish to take their revenge also.

The first position which attracted them (a suitable one for such ravening monsters) was Mt. Vesuvius. Being besieged here by Clodius Glabrus [2], they slid by means of ropes made of vine-twigs through a passage in the hollow of the mountain down into its very depths, and issuing forth by a hidden exit, seized the camp of he general by a sudden attack which he never expected. They then attacked other camps, that of Varenius [3] and afterwards that of Thoranus [4]; and they ranged over the whole of Campania. Not content with the plundering of country houses and villages, they laid waste Nola, Nuceria, Thurii and Metapontum with terrible destruction.

Becoming a regular army by the daily arrival of fresh forces, they made themselves rude shields of wicker-work and the skins of animals, and swords and other weapons by melting down the iron in the slave-prisons. That nothing might be lacking which was proper to a regular army, cavalry was procured by breaking in herds of horses which they encountered, and his men brought to their leader the insignia and fasces captured from the praetors, nor were they refused by 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. 

He also celebrated the obsequies of his officers who had fallen in battle with funerals like those of Roman generals, and ordered his captives to fight at their pyres, just as though he wished to wipe out all his past dishonor by having become, instead of a gladiator, a giver of gladiatorial shows.

Next, actually attacking generals of consular rank, he inflicted defeat on the army of Lentulus [5] in the Apennines and destroyed the camp of Gaius Cassius at Mutina [6]. Elated by these victories he entertained the project -in itself a sufficient disgrace to us- of attacking the city of Rome.



Crassus, bust from the Louvre, Paris (France).
Crassus (Louvre©!!!)

At last a combined effort was made, supported by all the resources of the empire, against this gladiator, and Licinius Crassus [7] vindicated the honor of Rome. Routed and put to fight by him, our enemies -I am ashamed to give them this title- took refuge in the furthest extremities of Italy. Here, being cut off in the angle of Bruttium and preparing to escape to Sicily, but being unable to obtain ships, they tried to launch rafts of beams and casks bound together with withies on the swift waters of the straits.[8]

Failing in this attempt, they finally made a sally and met a death worthy of men, fighting to the death as became those who were commanded by a gladiator. Spartacus himself fell, as became a general, fighting most bravely in the front rank.






Notes

[1]
According to Appian and Plutarch about seventy.

[2]
The full name of this praetor was Gaius Claudius Glaber.

[3]
A praetor who was sent after the defeat Claudius Glaber.

[4]
Not known from other sources.

[5]
Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus, consul in 72.

[6]
Gaius Cassius Longinus, the governor of Gallia Cisalpina.

[7]
Marcus Licinius Crassus was praetor in 72.

[8]
Near Messina.

© Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2002
Revision: 30 Dec. 2008



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