Sure, you might know the famous movie quote "I am Spartacus!," but who was the real gladiator Spartacus? He was a Thracian-born mercenary-turned-probable deserter who was sold into slavery in the first century BCE, becoming a gladiator at a famed school in Italy. In 73 BCE, Spartacus and about 70 of his pals fled their bondage; over the next few years, they gathered tens of thousands of slaves in a conflict against Rome.
The Spartacus slave revolts were also dubbed the Third Servile War. Although they ended badly in 71 BCE – the Spartacus slave wars ended in Spartacus's death and 6,000 crucified rebels – this gorgeous gladiator inspired future generations in his crusade against tyranny, his feats – and his physique – becoming more impressive with each re-telling of his story. Check out Stanley Kubrick's 1960 film Spartacus or the Starz series Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which ran from 2010-2013, for some visuals of this muscular progression.
Spartacus Might Have Been An Ex-Soldier Who Turned On Rome
Born in Thrace (an ancient land made up of chunks of modern southeastern Europe), Spartacus might have been a soldier in his youth. The historian Appian wrote that Spartacus "had once served as a soldier with the Romans."
Spartacus Was Sold As A Slave And Became A Gladiator
After turning on his purported former employers (the Roman army), Sparty was captured and sold as a slave. Where? To a school that trained gladiators for combat in the arena, located in Capua (near modern Naples), owned by one Gnaeus Lentulus Batiatus. There, Spartacus got super buff and befriended a couple of guys named Crixus and Oenomaus. These relationships would serve him well in the future...
And the friendships he cultivated weren't the only things that boded well for his future feats. According to Plutarch, Spartacus's wife – a prophetess – saw Sparty sleeping with a snake on his face shortly after his capture in Rome. His wife declared this unlikely scenario the "sign of a great and terrifying force which would attend him to [an]... issue." Certainly, a great and terrifying force is a phrase that can be used to describe the revolts that Spartacus would incite against Rome.
He Led A Mass Gladiator Escape And Hid Out On A Volcano
In 73 BCE, fed up with being a slave, Spartacus and 78 of his pals fled the gladiator school. Their only weapons? Supposedly, they were limited to kitchen knives and spits at first, then they acquired a cache of gladiators' swords, tridents, etc. They fled Capua to the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, which would become best known 150 years later for exploding and coating Pompeii.
Over time, Spartacus rallied more slaves to his side. He became not only a symbol of freedom, but also of Rome's corrupt political system.
Rallying 90,000 Slaves, Spartacus Beat Several Roman Armies
In the two years after his initial escape and flight to Vesuvius, Spartacus's army swelled to include almost 90,000 disaffected slaves from all over Italy. During this time, Rome sent several military forces to defeat Spartacus; Spartacus beat them all! First up was praetor Claudius Glaber, who probably didn't think much of the rebel forces, regarding them more as disorganized no accounts than an army; Spartacus and co. were besieged on a vine-covered hill, but they escaped by climbing down the vines, and they defeated Glaber.
Next up against Spartacus was another praetor, Publius Varinius (they'd already beaten his legate); Varinius split his forces and lost the battle. Spartacus captured him and paraded him naked through camp. The final campaign before the end was a giant consular force; Spartacus had become quite formidable by this point, and his army had learned to make its own weapons. Two consuls went up against Spartacus, who squashed both their armies.