The Third Servile War, also called by Plutarch the Gladiator War and The War of Spartacus, was the last in a series of slave rebellions against the Roman Republic, known collectively as the Servile Wars. The Third was the only one directly to threaten the Roman heartland of Italia. It was particularly alarming to Rome because the Roman military seemed incapable of suppressing it.
The revolt began in 73 BC, with the escape of around 70 slave-gladiators from a ludus in Capua; they managed to defeat a small Roman force sent to recapture them. They roamed the surrounding countryside freeing slaves and adding them to their number. Within two years, they had been joined by some 120,000 men, women and children; the able-bodied adults of this band were a surprisingly effective armed force and repeatedly showed they could withstand or defeat the Roman military, from the local Campanian patrols, to the Roman militia, and even to trained Roman legions under consular command. The slaves roved throughout the Italian Peninsula, raiding estates and towns with relative impunity, sometimes dividing their forces into separate but allied bands under the guidance of various leaders. The most prominent of these leaders was the famous gladiator-general Spartacus.
The slaves defeated a number of roman forces sent to crush them, which prompted the Roman senate to charge the famous general Marcus Licinius Crassus with putting them down. The rebels first attempted to leave Italia by sea by enlisting the help of the notorious Cilician Pirates, but Crassus was able to bribe the pirates into abandoning them. The slaves then set off toward the Alps in hopes of escaping the republic's dominion. However, the slaves divided here, with a large number under the leadership of another leader named Crixus instead choosing to turn back to Rome and liberate the slaves there. This division weakened the slave forces and eventually led to their downfall. Crixus and his followers were crushed in Italy while Spartacus and his forces were later cornered and defeated while trying to cross the Alps. This defeat marked the end of the last major slave revolt recorded in Roman history, but the heroic story of the slaves' struggle for freedom lives on to this day.