Surviving historical accounts of Spartacus and the conflict that
became known as the Third Servile War or Spartacus' War are extremely sparse. Given the enormous nature of the conflict, it is very likely that many more accounts existed, but have unfortunately been lost forever to history. These few sources are what remains. They are listed here in order according to their scope and thoroughness.
Plutarch's Life of Crassus
Plutarch was a Greek historian that lived from c. 46 AD to 120 AD. He is known primarily for a series of biographies that he wrote called Parallel Lives. His biography of Crassus contains the most complete surviving account of The Third Servile War. It begins in Chapter 8 of the biography and is as follows:
- The insurrection of the gladiators and their devastation of Italy, which is generally called the war of Spartacus, had its origin as follows. A certain Quintus Lentulus Batiatus had a school of gladiators at Capua, most of whom were Gauls and Thracians. Through no misconduct of theirs, but owing to the injustice of their owner, they were kept in close confinement and reserved for gladiatorial combats.
- Two hundred of these planned to make their escape, and when information was laid against them, those who got wind of it and succeeded in getting away, seventy-eight in number, seized cleavers and spits from some kitchen and sallied out. On the road they fell in with wagons conveying gladiators' weapons to another city; these they plundered and armed themselves. Then they took up a strong position and elected three leaders. The first of these was Spartacus, a Thracian of Nomadic stock, possessed not only of great courage and strength, but also in sagacity and culture superior to his fortune, and more Hellenic than Thracian. It is said that when he was first brought to Rome to be sold, a serpent was seen coiled about his face as he slept, and his wife, who was of the same tribe as Spartacus, a prophetess, and subject to visitations of the Dionysiac frenzy, declared it the sign of a great and formidable power which would attend him to a fortunate issue. This woman shared in his escape and was then living with him.
- To begin with, the gladiators repulsed the soldiers who came against them from Capua, and getting hold of many arms of real warfare, they gladly took these in exchange for their own, casting away their gladiatorial weapons as dishonorable and barbarous. Then Clodius the praetor was sent out from Rome against them with three thousand soldiers, and laid siege to them on a hill which had but one ascent, and that a narrow and difficult one, which Clodius closely watched; everywhere else there were smooth and precipitous cliffs. But the top of the hill was covered with a wild vine of abundant growth, from which the besieged cut off the serviceable branches, and wove these into strong ladders of such strength and length that when they were fastened at the top they reached along the face of the cliff to the plain below. On these they descended safely, all but one man, who remained above to attend to the arms. When the rest had got down, he began to drop the arms, and after he had thrown them all down, got away himself also last of all in safety. Of all this the Romans were ignorant, and therefore their enemy surrounded them, threw them into consternation by the suddenness of the attack, put them to flight, and took their camp. They were also joined by many of the herdsmen and shepherds of the region, sturdy men and swift of foot, some of whom they armed fully, and employed others as scouts and light infantry. In the second place, Publius Varinus, the praetor, was sent out against them, whose lieutenant, a certain Furius, with two thousand soldiers, they first engaged and routed; then Spartacus narrowly watched the movements of Cossinius, who had been sent out with a large force to advise and assist Varinus in the command, and came near seizing him as he was bathing near Salinae. Cossinius barely escaped with much difficulty, and Spartacus at once seized his baggage, pressed hard upon him in pursuit, and took his camp with great slaughter. Cossinius also fell. By defeating the praetor himself in many battles, and finally capturing his lictors and the very horse he rode, Spartacus was soon great and formidable; but he took a proper view of the situation, and since he could not expect to overcome the Roman power, began to lead his army toward the Alps, thinking it necessary for them to cross the mountains and go to their respective homes, some to Thrace, and some to Gaul. But his men were now strong in numbers and full of confidence, and would not listen to him, but went ravaging over Italy.
- It was now no longer the indignity and disgrace of the revolt that harassed the senate, but they were constrained by their fear and peril to send both consuls into the field, as they would to a war of the utmost difficulty and magnitude. Gellius, one of the consuls, fell suddenly upon the Germans, who were so insolent and bold as to separate themselves from the main body of Spartacus, and cut them all to pieces; but when Lentulus, the other consul, had surrounded the enemy with large forces, Spartacus rushed upon them, joined battle, defeated the legates of Lentulus, and seized all their baggage. Then, as he was forcing his way towards the Alps, he was met by Cassius, the governor of Cisalpine Gaul, with an army of ten thousand men, and in the battle that ensued, Cassius was defeated, lost many men, and escaped himself with difficulty.
- On learning of this, the Senate angrily ordered the consuls to keep quiet, and chose Crassus to conduct the war, and many of the nobles were induced by his reputation and their friendship for him to serve under him. Crassus himself, accordingly, took position on the borders of Picenum, expecting to receive the attack of Spartacus, who was hastening thither; and he sent Mummius, his legate, with two legions, by a circuitous route, with orders to follow the enemy, but not to join battle nor even to skirmish with them. Mummius, however, at the first promising opportunity, gave battle and was defeated; many of his men were slain, and many of them threw away their arms and fled for their lives. Crassus gave Mummius himself a rough reception, and when he armed his soldiers anew, made them give pledges that they would keep their arms. Five hundred of them, moreover, who had shown the greatest cowardice and been first to fly, he divided into fifty decades, and put to death one from each decade, on whom the lot fell, thus reviving, after the lapse of many years, an ancient mode of punishing the soldiers. For disgrace also attaches to this manner of death, and many horrible and repulsive features attend the punishment, which the whole army witnesses. When he had thus disciplined his men, he led them against the enemy. But Spartacus avoided him, and retired through Lucania to the sea. At the Straits, he chanced upon some Cilician pirate craft, and determined to seize Sicily. By throwing two thousand men into the island, he thought to kindle anew the servile war there,which had not long been extinguished, and needed only a little additional fuel. But the Cilicians, after coming to terms with him and receiving his gifts, deceived him and sailed away. So Spartacus marched back again from the sea and established his army in the peninsula of Rhegium. Crassus now came up, and observing that the nature of the place suggested what must be done, he determined to build a wall across the isthmus, thereby at once keeping his soldiers from idleness, and his enemies from provisions. Now the task was a huge one and difficult, but he accomplished and finished it, contrary to all expectation, in a short, running a ditch from sea to sea through the neck of land three hundred furlongs in length and fifteen feet in width and depth alike. Above the ditch he also built a wall of astonishing height and strength. All this work Spartacus neglected and despised at first; but soon his provisions began to fail, and when he wanted to sally forth from the peninsula, he saw that he was walled in, and that there was nothing more to be had there. He therefore waited for a snowy night and a wintry storm, when he filled up a small portion of the ditch with earth and timber and the boughs of trees, and so threw a third part of his force across.
- Crassus was now in fear lest some impulse to march upon Rome should seize Spartacus, but took heart when he saw that many of the gladiator's men had seceded after a quarrel with him, and were encamped by themselves on a Lucanian lake. This lake, they say, changes from time to time in the character of its water, becoming sweet, and then again bitter and undrinkable. Upon this detachment Crassus fell, and drove them away from the lake, but he was robbed of the slaughter and pursuit of the fugitives by the sudden appearance of Spartacus, who checked their flight. Before this Crassus had written to the senate that they must summon Lucullus from Thrace and Pompey from Spain, but he was sorry now that he had done so, and was eager to bring the war to an end before those generals came. He knew that the success would be ascribed to the one who came up with assistance, and not to himself. Accordingly, in the first place, he determined to attack those of the enemy who had seceded from the rest and were campaigning on their own account (they were commanded by Caius Canicius “Gannicus” and Castus), and with this in view, sent out six thousand men to preoccupy a certain eminence, bidding them keep their attempt a secret. And they did try to elude observation by covering up their helmets, but they were seen by two women who were sacrificing for the enemy, and would have been in peril of their lives had not Crassus quickly made his appearance and given battle, the most stubbornly contested of all; for although he slew twelve thousand three hundred men in it, he found only two who were wounded in the back. The rest all died standing in the ranks and fighting the Romans. After the defeat of this detachment, Spartacus retired to the mountains of Petelia, followed closely by Quintus, one of the officers of Crassus, and by Scrophas, the quaestor, who hung upon the enemy's rear. But when Spartacus faced about, there was a great rout of the Romans, and they barely managed to drag the quaestor, who had been wounded, away into safety.
- This success was the ruin of Spartacus, for it filled his slaves with over-confidence. They would no longer consent to avoid battle, and would not even obey their leaders, but surrounded them as soon as they began to march, with arms in their hands, and forced them to lead back through Lucania against the Romans, the very thing which Crassus also most desired. For Pompey's approach was already announced, and there were not a few who publicly proclaimed that the victory in this war belonged to him; he had only to come and fight and put an end to the war. Crassus, therefore, pressed on to finish the struggle himself, and having encamped near the enemy, began to dig a trench. Into this the slaves leaped and began to fight with those who were working there, and since fresh men from both sides kept coming to help their comrades, Spartacus saw the necessity that was upon him, and drew up his whole army in order of battle. In the first place, when his horse was brought to him, he drew his sword, and saying that if he won the day he would have many fine horses of the enemy's, but if he lost it he did not want any, he slew his horse. Then pushing his way towards Crassus himself through many flying weapons and wounded men, he did not indeed reach him, but slew two centurions who fell upon him together. Finally, after his companions had taken to flight, he stood alone, surrounded by a multitude of foes, and was still defending himself when he was cut down. But although Crassus had been fortunate, had shown most excellent generalship, and had exposed his person to danger, nevertheless, his success did not fail to enhance the reputation of Pompey. For the fugitives from the battle encountered that general and were cut to pieces, so he could write to the senate that in open battle, indeed, Crassus had conquered the slaves, but that he himself had extirpated the war. Pompey, accordingly, for his victories over Sertorius and in Spain, celebrated a splendid triumph; but Crassus, for all his self-approval, did not venture to ask for the major triumph, and it was thought ignoble and mean in him to celebrate even the minor triumph on foot, called the ovation, for a servile war. How the minor triumph differs from the major, and why it is named as it is, has been told in my life of Marcellus.
Appian's Civil Wars
Appian of Alexandria, known as Appian, was a Greek historian who lived from c. 95 AD to c. 165 AD. His principal work, simply titled Roman History, was a 24 book set chronicling Roman culture and history from ancient times up until his own time. It is most valuable for five books within the set that tell the history of the end of the Roman Republic. These books are known as Civil Wars. The 14th chapter of Book One of Civil Wars contains an account of Spartacus' War and is as follows:
- At the same time Spartacus, a Thracian by birth, who had once served as a soldier with the Romans, but had since been a prisoner and sold for a gladiator, and was in the gladiatorial training-school at Capua, persuaded about seventy of his comrades to strike for their own freedom rather than for the amusement of spectators. They overcame the guards and ran away, arming themselves with clubs and daggers that they took from people on the roads, and took refuge on Mount Vesuvius. There many fugitive slaves and even some freemen from the fields joined Spartacus, and he plundered the neighbouring country, having for subordinate officers two gladiators named Oenomaus and Crixus. As he divided the plunder impartially he soon had plenty of men. Varinius Glaber was first sent against him and afterwards Publius Valerius, not with regular armies, but with forces picked up in haste and at random, for the Romans did not consider this a war yet, but a raid, something like an attack of robbery. They attacked Spartacus and were beaten. Spartacus even captured the horse of Varinius; so narrowly did the very general of the Romans escape being captured by a gladiator. After this still greater numbers flocked to Spartacus till his army numbered 70,000. For these he manufactured weapons and collected equipment, whereas Rome now sent out the consuls with two legions.
- One of them overcame Crixus with 30,000 men near Mount Garganus, two-thirds of whom perished together with himself. Spartacus endeavoured to make his way through the Apennines to the Alps and the Gallic country, but one of the consuls anticipated him and hindered his flight while the other hung upon his rear. He turned upon them one after the other and beat them in detail. They retreated in confusion in different directions. Spartacus sacrificed 300 Roman prisoners to the shade of Crixus, and marched on Rome with 120,000 foot, having burned all his useless material, killed all his prisoners, and butchered his pack-animals in order to expedite his movement. Many deserters offered themselves to him, but he would not accept them. The consuls again met him in the country of Picenum. Here there was fought another great battle and there was, too, another great defeat for the Romans.
- Spartacus changed his intention of marching on Rome. He did not consider himself ready as yet for that kind of a fight, as his whole force was not suitably armed, for no city had joined him, but only slaves, deserters, and riff-raff. However, he occupied the mountains around Thurii and took the city itself. He prohibited the bringing in of gold or silver by merchants, and would not allow his own men to acquire any, but he bought largely of iron and brass and did not interfere with those who dealt in these articles. Supplied with abundant material from this source his men provided themselves with plenty of arms and made frequent forays for the time being. When they next came to an engagement with the Romans they were again victorious, and returned laden with spoils.
- This war, so formidable to the Romans (although ridiculed and despised in the beginning, as being merely the work of gladiators), had now lasted three years. When the election of new praetors came on, fear fell upon all, and nobody offered himself as a candidate until Licinius Crassus, a man distinguished among the Romans for birth and wealth, assumed the praetorship and marched against Spartacus with six new legions. When he arrived at his destination he received also the two legions of the consuls, whom he decimated by lot for their bad conduct in several battles. Some say that Crassus, too, having engaged in battle with his whole army, and having been defeated, decimated the whole army and was not deterred by their numbers, but destroyed about 4000 of them. Whichever way it was, when he had once demonstrated to them that he was more dangerous to them than the enemy, he overcame immediately 10,000 of the Spartacans, who were encamped somewhere in a detached position, and killed two-thirds of them. He then marched boldly against Spartacus himself, vanquished him in a brilliant engagement, and pursued his fleeing forces to the sea, where they tried to pass over to Sicily. He overtook them and enclosed them with a line of circumvallation consisting of ditch, wall, and paling.
- Spartacus tried to break through and make an incursion into the Samnite country, but Crassus slew about 6000 of his men in the morning and as many more towards evening. Only three of the Roman army were killed and seven wounded, so great was the improvement in their moral inspired by the recent punishment. Spartacus, who was expecting a reinforcement of horse from somewhere, no longer went into battle with his whole army, but harassed the besiegers by frequent sallies here and there. He fell upon them unexpectedly and continually, threw bundles of fagots into the ditch and set them on fire and made their labour difficult. He also crucified a Roman prisoner in the space between the two armies to show his own men what fate awaited them if they did not conquer. But when the Romans in the city heard of the siege they thought it would be disgraceful if this war against gladiators should be prolonged. Believing also that the work still to be done against Spartacus was great and severe they ordered up the army of Pompey, which had just arrived from Spain, as a reinforcement.
- On account of this vote Crassus tried in every way to come to an engagement with Spartacus so that Pompey might not reap the glory of the war. Spartacus himself, thinking to anticipate Pompey, invited Crassus to come to terms with him. When his proposals were rejected with scorn he resolved to risk a battle, and as his cavalry had arrived he made a dash with his whole army through the lines of the besieging force and pushed on to Brundusium with Crassus in pursuit. When Spartacus learned that Lucullus had just arrived in Brundusium from his victory over Mithridates he despaired of everything and brought his forces, which were even then very numerous, to close quarters with Crassus. The battle was long and bloody, as might have been expected with so many thousands of desperate men. Spartacus was wounded in the thigh with a spear and sank upon his knee, holding his shield in front of him and contending in this way against his assailants until he and the great mass of those with him were surrounded and slain. The Roman loss was about 1000. The body of Spartacus was not found. A large number of his men fled from the battle-field to the mountains and Crassus followed them thither. They divided themselves in four parts, and continued to fight until they all perished except 6000, who were captured and crucified along the whole road from Capua to Rome.
Gaius Sallustius Crispus, known as Sallust, was a Roman historian who lived from 86 BC to c. 35 BC. Due to the passage of time, the majority of Sallust's writings survive only in fragments, and not as whole accounts. Therefore, many of his accounts of Roman history begin and end abruptly. This is the case with his writings about Spartacus' War, which unfortunately begins and ends abruptly. Had more of Sallust' account survived, he would have had the most noteworthy account of Spartacus, having been around 13 when the Third Servile War began. His account of this war is found in fragment numbers 3.64 to 3.66 and is as follows:
- They hardened their spears with fire which, apart from the appearance which is necessary for war, could do almost as much harm as iron. But, while the fugitive slaves were engaged in these activities, some of the [Roman] soldiers were ill from the oppressive autumn climate; none had come back from the previous rout, even though they had been sternly ordered to return; and those who remained were shamelessly avoiding their military duties. Varinius sent his quaestor C. Thoranius to Rome, so that they could easily learn the real state of affairs from him there. Meanwhile he took those soldiers who were willing to follow him, four thousand in number, and encamped near [the slaves], surrounding his camp with a rampart, ditch and huge fortifications. The slaves had used up all their provisions, and wanted to avoid attack from the nearby enemy while they were foraging. They used to keep watches and stand guard and carry out the other duties of regular soldiers. About the second watch [of the night] they all went out of their camp in silence, leaving behind one trumpeter. To give the appearance of guards to anyone in the distance, they propped up the bodies of men who had recently been killed on stakes outside the gate, and lit many fires, which would be enough to frighten off Varinius' soldiers . . . their journey . . . [ 4 lines missing ] . . . they turned onto an impassable route. But Varinius, when it was now fully light, noticed the absence of the slaves' usual taunts, of the showers of stones thrown into the camp, and of the shouts and din of men [rushing all around]. He sent his cavalry up [a hill which rose] nearby, to seek out and quickly [pursue the enemy]. He himself, although he believed that [the slaves had gone] far away, was still afraid [of an ambush], and [withdrew in a secure] formation, in order to double his army [with new recruits]. But . . . Cumae . . . [ 5 lines missing ] . . . # [After] a few days, our men became more confident than usual and there was some swaggering talk. This prompted Varinius to move rashly against a known danger with soldiers who were new, untried, and daunted by the disasters which the others had suffered. He led them at full speed against the slaves' camp, but now they were quiet and did not enter battle as boastfully as they had previously demanded it. But [the slaves] were almost at blows with each other, because they could not agree on a plan of action; Crixus and his fellow Gauls and Germans wanted to go out to confront [the Romans] and offer battle, while Spartacus [argued against attacking them].
- ...[that they should] not, [wandering around] in the way that they were at that time . . . and then they would be cut off [during their journey] and wiped out . . . and at the same time the concern . . . and so they should [leave as quickly as possible]. A few sensible men, with [free and] noble minds, [approved of the plan] that they should escape in this way . . . and praised [what he directed them to do]. But some of [the slaves] stupidly trusted in the forces which were coming to join them and in their own fierce courage; others [dishonourably] neglected their country of origin; and most, with [the true character] of slaves, [sought nothing] but plundering and savagery . . . [ 2 lines missing ] . . . seemed to be the best plan. Then he advised them to go off into more open countryside, richer in cattle, where they could increase their numbers with picked men, before Varinius returned with a new army. He soon found a suitable guide, one of the prisoners from Picentia, and then he went over the Eburine heights to Nares Lucanae, from where he advanced at dawn to Forum Anni, before the inhabitants realised. Immediately the slaves, contrary to the orders of their leader, turned to raping the young girls and mothers, and others . . . [ 2 lines missing ] . . . now and tormented those who remained in a shocking way with horrible wounds, and sometimes left their mutilated bodies still half alive. Others set fire to the buildings, and many of the slaves from the district, whose character inclined them to be their allies, brought out the possessions which their masters had hidden, or dragged out their masters themselves. Nothing was sacred or inviolable to these men, who had the savagery of barbarians and the temperament of slaves. Since Spartacus could not stop these [outrages], he earnestly begged them to forestall the news of what they had done, and quickly . . . [ 3 lines missing ] . . . that they would [earn the hatred of the inhabitants], who had been cruelly attacked [and slaughtered] . . . heavy mostly . . . after staying there for that day [and the following] night, with the number of [slaves in his army] now doubled, he [moved camp] at first light and [halted] in a fairly wide plain, [where he saw] that the farmers had come out of their buildings. By that time, the autumn crops were already ripe [in the fields]. But when it was already fully daytime, the residents learnt from their [fleeing] neighbours that the slaves were heading [in their direction], and [hurried away to the nearby mountains] with all [their families].
Orosius' Historiae Adversus Paganos
Paulus Orosius, known as Orosius, was a Christian priest and historian who lived from c. 375 AD to at least 418 AD. His greatest work, titled Historiae Adversus Paganos contains a brief account of Spartacus' War and is as follows:
- In the six hundred and seventy-ninth year of the City and during the consulship of Lucullus and Cassius, seventy-four gladiators escaped from the training school of Cnaeus Lentulus at Capua. Under the leadership of Crixus and Oenomaus, who were Gauls, and of Spartacus, a Thracian, the fugitives occupied Mount Vesuvius. From there they later sallied forth and captured the camp of the praetor Clodius, who had previously surrounded and besieged them. After forcing Clodius to flee, the fugitives concentrated their entire attention on plundering. Marching by way of Consentia and Metapontum, they collected huge forces in a short time. Crixus had an army of ten thousand according to report, and Spartacus had three times that number. Oenomaus had previously been killed in an earlier battle.
- While the fugitives were throwing everything into confusion by massacres, conflagrations, thefts, and attacks upon women, they gave a gladiatorial exhibition at the funeral of a captured woman who had taken her own life in grief over her outraged honor. They formed a band of gladiators out of the four hundred captives. Indeed, those who formerly had been participants in the spectacle were now to be the spectators, but as the trainers of gladiators rather than as the commanders of troops. The consuls Gellius and Lentulus were dispatched with an army against these fugitives. Gellius overcame Crixus in battle, though the latter fought with great bravery; Lentulus, however, was defeated and put to flight by Spartacus. Later the consuls joined forces, but to no avail, and after suffering a severe defeat both took to flight. Then this same Spartacus killed the proconsul C. Cassius after defeating him in battle.
- The City now became almost as terrified as she had been when Hannibal was raging about her gates. The Senate at once dispatched Crassus with the legions of the consuls and with fresh reinforcements. Crassus quickly engaged the fugitives in battle, slew six thousand of them, but captured only nine hundred. Before advancing against Spartacus in person, who was laying out his camp at the head of the Silarus River,Crassus defeated the Gallic and German auxiliaries of Spartacus and slaughtered thirty thousand of them together with their leaders. Finally he encountered Spartacus. After drawing up his battle line, he killed most of the forces of the fugitives as well as Spartacus himself. Sixty thousand, according to report, were slain and six thousand captured, while three thousand Roman citizens were recovered. The remaining gladiators, who had escaped from this battle and were wandering at large, were gradually killed off by many generals who constantly pursued them.
Florus' Epitome of the Histories of Titus Livy
Lucius Annaeus Florus, known as Florus, was a Roman historian that lived from c. 74 AD to c. 130 AD. He wrote a brief history of Rome based mainly upon the writings of Livy. Though it is sometimes redundant to the work of Livy, it is helpful in that it often gives historians an idea of what was contained in the lost portions of Livy's texts. His summary of Spartacus' War is as follows:
- We may, however, support the dishonor of a war with slaves, for though they are, by their circumstances, subjected to all kinds of treatment, they are yet, as it were, a second class of men, and may be admitted to the enjoyment of liberty with ourselves. But the war raised by the efforts of Spartacus I know not what name to call, for the soldiers in it were slaves, and the commanders gladiators; the former being persons of the meanest condition, and the latter men of the worst character, and adding to the calamity of their profession by its contemptibleness. Spartacus, Crixus, and Oenomaus, breaking out of the fencing school of Lentulus, escaped from Capua, with not more than thirty of the same occupation, and, having called the slaves to their standard, and collected a force of more than ten thousand men, were not content with merely having escaped, but were eager to take vengeance on their masters. The first theatre for action that attracted them was Mount Vesuvius. Here, being besieged by Clodius Glaber, they slid down a passage in the hollow part of the mountain, by means of ropes made of vine-branches, and penetrated to the very bottom of it; when, issuing forth by an outlet apparently impracticable, they captured, by a sudden attack, the camp of the Roman general, who expected no molestation. They afterwards took other camps, and spread themselves to Cora, and through the whole of Campania. Not content with plundering the country seats and villages, they ravaged, with terrible devastation, Nola and Nuceria, Thurii and Metapontum. Being joined with new forces day after day and forming themselves into a regular army, they made themselves, out of osiers and beasts' hides, a rude kind of shields, and out of the iron from the slave-houses forged swords and other weapons. And that nothing proper might be wanting to the complement of the army, they procured cavalry by breaking in the herds of horses that came in their way, and conferred upon their leader the ensigns and fasces that they took from the praetors. Nor did he, who of a mercenary Thracian had become a Roman soldier, of a soldier a deserter and robber, and afterwards, from consideration of his strength, a gladiator, refuse to receive them. He afterwards, indeed, celebrated the funerals of his own officers, who died in battle, with the obsequies of Roman generals, and obliged the prisoners to fight with arms at their funeral piles, just as if he could atone for all past dishonors by becoming, from a gladiator, an exhibitor of shows of gladiators. Engaging next with the armies of the consuls, he cut to pieces that of Lentulus, near the Apennines, and destroyed the camp of Caius Cassius at Mutina. Elated by which success, he deliberated (which is sufficient disgrace for us) about assailing the city of Rome. At length an effort was made against this swordsman with the whole force of the empire, and Licinius Crassus avenged the honor of Rome, by whom the enemies (I am ashamed to call them so) being routed and put to flight, betook themselves to the furthest parts of Italy. Here, being shut up in a corner in Bruttium, and attempting to escape into Sicily, but having no ships, and having in vain tried, on the swift current of the strait, to sail on rafts made of hurdles and casks tied together with twigs, they at last sallied forth, and died a death worthy of men. As was fitting under a gladiator captain, they fought without sparing themselves. Spartacus himself, fighting with the utmost bravery in the front of the battle, fell as became their general.
Sextus Julius Frontinus, known as Frontinus, was a Roman statesman, soldier, and author who lived from c. 40 AD to 103 AD. He wrote numerous technical treatises, including one on military tactics known as Strategems. Within this work is contained a chapter titled "On Concealing One's Plans", which contains this small excerpt regarding Spartacus:
- When Marcus Crassus had constructed a ditch around the forces of Spartacus, the latter at night filled it with the bodies of prisoners and cattle that he had slain, and thus marched across it.
- The same Spartacus, when besieged on the slopes of Vesuvius at the point where the mountain was steepest and on that account unguarded, plaited ropes of osiers from the woods. Letting himself down by these, he not only made his escape, but by appearing in another quarter struck such terror into Clodius that several cohorts gave way before a force of only seventy-four gladiators.
- This Spartacus, when enveloped by the troops of the proconsul Publius Varinius, placed stakes at short intervals before the gate of the camp; then setting up corpses, dressed in clothes and furnished with weapons, he tied these to the stakes to give the appearance of sentries when viewed from a distance. He also lighted fires throughout the whole camp. Deceiving the enemy by this empty show, Spartacus by night silently led out his troops.
Frontinus mentions Spartacus one more time in a chapter titled "How to conceal the Absence of the Things we lack, or to supply Substitutes for Them" and is as follows:
- Spartacus and his troops had shields made of osiers and covered with hides.
Titus Livius Patavinus, known as Livy, was a Roman historian that lived from 59 BC to 17 AD. Between 27 and 25 BC Livy wrote a landmark set of history books known collectively as Ab urbe condita libri. Many of the books that were originally a part of this set are lost to history. However, a surviving abridged version of this set, known as Periochae does exist for the complete work. However, it is not much of an abridgment, and is more like a table of contents briefly describing each book. Livy's full account of Spartacus' war is lost, but the abridged version remains, and is as follows:
- (73 BC) Seventy-four gladiators escaped from the school of Lentulus at Capua, gathered a large number of slaves and workhouse prisoners, began a war under command of Crixus and Spartacus, and defeated the army of praetor Publius Varenus and his deputy Claudius Pulcher.
- Praetor Quintus Arrius crushed Crixus, the leader of the runaway slaves, and 20,000 men. (72 BC) Consul Gnaeus Lentulus, however, unsuccessfully fought against Spartacus. Consul Lucius Gellius and praetor Quintus Arrius were defeated by the same leader.
- Proconsul Gaius Cassius and praetor Gnaeus Manlius unsuccessfully fought against Spartacus, and the war was confined to praetor Marcus Crassus.
- (71 BC) Praetor Marcus Crassus first fought victoriously with a part of the runaways, mainly Gauls and Germans, and killed 35,000 of them, including their leaders Castus and Gannicus. Then he completely defeated Spartacus, who was killed with 60,000 people
Cicero, one of the most famous Romans of antiquity, was a politician and lawyer who lived from 106 BC until his summary execution by order of Mark Antony in 43 BC. Many of his political speeches and legal arguments still exist and some reference Spartacus and the Third Servile War. His statements concerning Spartacus provide valuable insight into how Romans who lived during the time of the Third Servile War viewed Spartacus as a pure villain.
In 43 BC, roughly thirty years after the war, Cicero made a series of speeches to the Senate attacking the leadership of Mark Antony. In these speeches he compares Mark Antony to Spartacus twice:
- The whole then of the contest, O Romans, which is now before the Roman people, the conqueror of all nations, is with an assassin, a robber, a Spartacus!
He then later stated:
- O you Spartacus! for what name is more fit for you? you whose abominable wickedness is such as to make even Catiline seem tolerable. [Cataline was a Roman senator who had orchestrated an unsuccessful conspiracy to overthrow the Republic in 63 BC. Cicero himself had uncovered the conspiracy.]
Another time when Cicero mentioned Spartacus' War was during his prosecution of Gaius Verres, a magistrate on trial for his mismanagement of Sicily in 70 BC (only one year after Spartacus was killed). In his defense at trial, Verres had apparently boasted that he had played a part in Spartacus' failed attempt to cross from the Italian mainland over to Sicily. Cicero attacked him for this and in doing so, he provided history with the earliest surviving source of Spartacus' War.
- What will you say? That in the war of the runaway slaves Sicily was delivered by your valour? It is a great praise; a very honourable boast. But in what war? For we have understood that after that war which Marcus Aquillius finished, there has been no war of fugitive slaves in Sicily. Oh! but there was in Italy. I admit that; a great and formidable war. Do you then attempt to claim for yourself any part of the credit arising from that war? Do you think that you are to share any of the glory of that victory with Marcus Crassus or Cnaeus Pompeius? I do not suppose that even this will be too great a stretch for your impudence, to venture to say something of that sort. You, forsooth, hindered any part of the forces of these slaves from passing over from Italy into Sicily? Where? When? From what part of Italy, as they never attempted to approach Sicily in any ships or vessels of any sort? For we never heard anything whatever of such an attempt; but we have heard that care was taken, by the courage and prudence of Marcus Crassus, that most valiant man, that the runaways should not make boats so as to be able to cross the strait to Messana; an attempt from which it would not have been so important to have cut them off, if there were supposed to have been any forces in Sicily able to oppose their invasion. But though there was war in Italy so close to Sicily, still it never came into Sicily. Where is the wonder? for when it existed in Sicily, at exactly the same distance from Italy, no part of it reached Italy.
- What has the proximity of the countries to do with either side of the argument in discussing this topic? Will you say that access was very easy to the enemy, or that the contagion and temptation of imitating that war was a dangerous one? Every access to the island was not only difficult to, but was entirely cut off from men who had no ships; so that it was more easy for those men, to whom you say that Sicily was so near, to go to the shore of the ocean than to Cape Pelorus. But as for the contagious nature to that servile war, why is it spoken of by you more than by all the rest of the officers who were governors of the other provinces? Is it because before that time there had been wars of runaway slaves in Sicily? But that is the very cause why that province is now and has been in the least danger. For ever since Marcus Aquillius left it all the regulations and edicts of the praetors have been to this effect, that no slave should ever be seen with a weapon.