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.
He Tried To Send All His Slave-Soldiers Back Home, But They Pillaged InsteadPhoto: Starz
After defeating the Roman consular armies, Spartacus headed north. Why? The south was controlled by his enemies (Rome!), so he couldn't sail from there, but by pulling a Hannibal and crossing the Alps, he might be home free.
And not just Sparty himself; he planned to disperse his army, and all slaves would be on their own, to get home as best they could. But rather than trek north, Spartacus's soldiers – hyped up because of their many victories – were into getting rich and pillaged the land around them, wasting time wreaking havoc through Italy.
He Made A Deal With Some Traitorous PiratesPhoto: Universal International
Since his Alps plan didn't work out, Spartacus tried to get to the Italian coast so he and his men could sail away. He seized a southern town in the hopes of providing a safe haven to sail to Sicily, an island full of disaffected slaves. In pursuit of a home base on Sicily, Spartacus made a deal with the devil – or devils!
He forged an alliance with Cilician pirates, groups of sea bandits from Asia Minor who'd ravaged the Mediterranean coastline for decades; they wanted to establish a base on Sicily so they could plunder Italy itself. The pirates could, in turn, help Spartacus sail into the sunset. Sparty got to the Strait of Messina around 71 BCE, but all wasn't as it seemed. In fact, the Cicilian sailors didn't show up to ferry the army across to Sicily as they'd promised. Something had gone horribly, horribly wrong... The pirates might have been bought off by the Romans or just given up.
It Took Rome's Richest Citizen And A Thousand Men To Beat SpartacusPhoto: Universal International
Once the pirates betrayed him, Spartacus was confronted by one Marcus Licinius Crassus, Rome's richest man and an important political figure. Crassus brought eight legions and even executed every tenth man in two of the units who'd been previously defeated by Spartacus. Why? In order to indicate that another defeat wouldn't be tolerated. Spartacus knew Crassus meant business, so he offered to make a peace treaty with the Roman, which Crassus rejected. To inspire his own troops, Spartacus crucified a Roman soldier in front of them.
After barely escaping some of Crassus's traps and losing some men to a rebellion, Spartacus faced off with Crassus in 71 BCE. Ultimately, Roman troops overwhelmed Spartacus's soldiers, especially his key cavalry. Spartacus himself perished in the battle.
6,000 Of Spartacus's Men Were CrucifiedPhoto: Starz
After the ultimate battle between Spartacus and Crassus ended badly for the former, Crassus decided to make an example of the rebels, so that Rome's slaves – who drove the imperial economy – would learn a lesson.
To accomplish this, he crucified 6,000 of Spartacus's soldiers along the Appian Way between Capua and Rome (unlike the Spartacus film, the already-dead Spartacus himself was not among those crucified).