Roman slave and gladiator, and leader of a famous slave revolt. He has become a modern-day inspirational figure.
Little is known of the early years of Spartacus. He is thought to have been born in Thrace (modern day Balkan region) and it has been suggested he was in the Roman army. He was sold into slavery and trained at the gladiatorial school in Capua, north of Naples.
Spartacus escaped in 73 BC and took refuge on nearby Mount Vesuvius, where large numbers of other escaped slaves joined him. Their insurrection came to be known as the Third Servile War, or the Gladiators’ War. Leading his army of runaway slaves, which has been estimated to have reached 100,000 men, Spartacus defeated a series of Roman attacks using tactics which would now be called guerrilla warfare.
In 72 BC Spartacus and his army marched north towards Gaul (the Roman term for a region covering France, the Low Countries and northern Italy). They fought off a series of attacks from Roman forces, but then turned south. By the end of 72 BC, they were camped at Rhenium, (now Reggio di Calabria) probably intending to go on to Sicily.
The administration in Rome now began to take the threat from Spartacus seriously and the Roman politician and general Marcus Licinius Crassus led an army south. The slaves managed to break through the fortifications that Crassus had built to trap them, but were pursued to Lucania where the rebel army was destroyed. Spartacus is thought to have been killed in the battle. Around 6,000 of his followers who escaped were hunted down and crucified. Thousands of others were killed by the army of the Roman general Pompey, who then claimed the credit for suppressing the rebellion.
Spartacus's struggle has been inspirational to revolutionaries, politicians and writers since the 19th century. The Spartacist League was a revolutionary socialist group, formed in Germany in 1916, which unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow the government in 1919.
Stanley Kubrick directed Kirk Douglas in the film Spartacus, released in 1960.
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