Spartacus, a Slave who Led a Revolt

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Is it fair to have slavery? Is it fair to hold people captive and force them to work with no pay? Spartacus, a former slave in the Roman Empire, did not think it was very fair and neither did the other thousands of people that led a revolt with Spartacus against slavery. The goal of this essay is to determine if Spartacus had an impact on the Roman Empire, or if the slave revolt he led was a failure that led to a waste of time and lives.

Slavery was an immense issue in the Roman Empire. The owners of the slaves had a substantial amount of power over them, so much power, that it was up to the owner if his/her slaves lived or died. Slavery in the Roman Empire was different than most types of slavery. Slaves did not just work on farms during this time period, they could have all sorts of jobs. For example, slaves could be artisans, miners, gladiators, domestic servants, or agricultural workers (Ewheelan). Rome had a diverse group of slaves because whenever Rome won a war, they would capture citizens from the country they were at battle with and force them to become slaves. Rome was infamous for doing this. It was also exceedingly common for prisoners to be sold into slavery in Rome. If anyone was ever caught by the Romans, then he or she knew that he or she would become a slave. Often, if a person knew he or she was going to become a slave he or she would commit suicide. People felt that ending their lives would be better than letting someone else control it.

As for Spartacus, he was born in Thrace in 109 BC, which is located in southeast Europe (Czech). It is believed that Spartacus served in an auxiliary unit, that is until he deserted this job (Jarrus). Spartacus was always against the Romans, but now that he had fled from his job, he was against them even more. Later, after deserting his job, Spartacus was captured by the Romans and sold into slavery. Spartacus was sold as a slave to a man known as Vatia (Jarrus). Vatia owned a school in Capua that trained men, particularly salves, to become gladiators. Due to Spartacus’ superior strength, Vatia had him trained as a gladiator (Ewheelan). Spartacus became an extravagant gladiator, but it did not take Spartacus long to realize how hard it was to be a gladiator. The gladiators had to compete in duels every afternoon. The duels were extremely intense, and the loser was often killed (EyeWitness). While training in Capua, he met many other gladiators. He and his newly found gladiator friends organized a way to escape the school. In 73 BC, over 70 gladiators managed to escape Vatia’s gladiator school. (Czech). The men escaped with gobs of weapons, such as cleavers, knives, etc (Jarrus). After escaping, the gladiators elected several men to be in charge of the new group. The two most important leaders being Spartacus and Crixus a Gaul (Ewheelan). After establishing the officials, the men established a camp on Mount Vesuvius; this was located in southern Italy (Ewheelan). During their time on the mountain, slaves throughout Rome escaped to join Spartacus and his men. The group of men lived in extreme environments on the mountain. The extreme environment allowed Spartacus to train and prepare the gladiators, along with all the other escapees who joined them. The gladiators and slave refugees became known as the rebels.

The Romans underestimated Spartacus and his people. They did not see them as a threat because they were only seen a group of rebellious slaves. The Romans sent two different expeditions to wipe out this newly formed slave revolt. The Romans were confident that the expeditions would succeed because how hard could it be for a trained army to take out a few rebellious slaves? Needless to say, the Romans eminently underestimated the rebels. Due to the misjudgment, both expeditions were unsuccessful (Ewheelan). The first expedition was led by a man named Gaius Claudius Glaber. Glaber’s plan of attack did not involve a war. He simply wanted to block Spartacus and his men and starve them to death. So, Glaber set up camp to keep Spartacus and his men trapped. Since the land where the rebels were staying was capped in vines, it was simple for the men to escape. Spartacus and his men created ropes out of the vines, then the rebels snuck down the mountain on a spot that Glaber must not have known about because he did not have it blocked. The slaves could have just taken off after escaping, but instead, they led a surprise attack on the Romans. If the rebels had just run, then they would not have created a fierce name for themselves, but by staying, they did. Of course, the slaves won because the sleeping Romans did not see the attack coming. The slaves then took the Romans camp (Jarrus). This helped the rebels to get more weapons and resources. The great success that came from winning this battle led to many people escaping slavery and joining Spartacus in the fight to shake the Roman Empire. The second expedition was led by Publius Valerius. Valerius did not take his job in ending the rebellion seriously. In fact, it was said that he did not even form a proper army. Instead, he just gathered as many people as he could find on the spot to fight with him. His underestimation of the rebellion led to his defeat as well. Like the previous battle, this battle also led to more slaves joining the rebellion. Over time even freedmen joined the revolt. Spartacus had such an impact on the people, that even the people not affected by slavery wanted to help him end slavery (Jarrus). The Roman government was not only harsh and unfair but just plain cruel. The people wanted to join the rebellion to fight back. They did not want to be completely controlled by these powerful leaders. Spartacus was seen as man who was finally taking a stand against the government for freedom, and when he did most of the citizens wanted to join and support him.

Spartacus continued to add people to his revolt. He was headed towards the Alpine Mountain, but his co-leader, Crixus, was staying in southern Italy. Spartacus and Crixus both had a great number of rebels with them, totaling at about 40,000. Meanwhile, the Romans sent more groups to end this rebellion. At this point, the Romans were not only extremely angry but embarrassed that the revolt had gone on this long and they were determined to end it. Therefore, they sent two consuls, Lucius Gellius Publicola and Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus. Together, these men had about 20,000 troops (Jarrus). The Romans were sure this would end the rebellion. Gellius caught up with Crixus in Italy and Gellius killed Crixus, along with many of the other rebels Crixus had with him. After Gellius’ victory over the rebels, he decided to go after Spartacus. He came from the south in an attempt to trap Spartacus, since Lentulus was ahead of Spartacus in the north. The two men thought this would definitely work because they had tons of men and lots of great equipment. What the men did not know was that Spartacus had continued building his army and now had enough men to put up a good fight. Spartacus first conquered Lentulus and took all his supplies. This gave Spartacus a great advantage because his weapons were now just as good, if not better than Gellius’. After conquering Lentulus, Gellius was either conquered as well or forced to retreat. Spartacus then continued his march to the Alps (Jarrus). Along the way, he encountered yet another army led by a Roman governor named Gaius Cassius Longinus. Spartacus and his army defeated Longinus. After this defeat, many people expected Spartacus to march into the city. Spartacus, however, felt that the time was not right and instead marched south (Ewheelan). When Spartacus and his men marched south, many people suspected they did this in search for loot. Some, however, believe Spartacus was simply scared. There would have been terrible consequences for Spartacus and the rebels had they taken down the government. Spartacus had never dreamed of coming to a point where he could take down the government, he just wanted to end slavery or at least gain some freedom. Now that Spartacus could take down the government, he began to fear for what would happen if he did. Along the way, the rebels defeated another Roman force. By now Spartacus and his remaining men were near the “toe of Italy” and set up camp in the Strait of Messina (Ewheelan). Spartacus wanted to send his army to Sicily, but the “Cilician pirates” bailed on Spartacus and left him and his men with nowhere to go, except north towards Marcus Licinius Crassus (Jarrus). Crassus, like many previous consuls, attempted to trap Spartacus and his army. Crassus set up camp at Melia Ridge in an attempt to trap Spartacus and his army and starve them to death (Jarrus). Spartacus knew that Crassus would defeat his army and tried to settle out an agreement, but Crassus was not willing to negotiate, because Crassus knew how powerful his army was and that his army could defeat Spartacus once and for all. Therefore, Spartacus was left with no choice but to escape the trap. Spartacus filled in one of Crassus’ trenches with human bodies and then punched his way through it. Although he escaped, many of his people did not. Other rebels decided to branch away from Spartacus and go their own way (Jarrus). This greatly decreased the number of the army, but Crassus’ army was still fully prepared, with all their men still going strong. Along with this, two other forces had formed against Spartacus, Pompey and Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus. At this point, Spartacus and the people that branched away from him were all surrounded with thousands of men with powerful weapons. Now the only option Spartacus had was to go to Brundisium, but in the spring of 71 BC, Spartacus received news that it too had already been covered by Romans (Jarrus). So, the only option was to fight Crassus. So, in April of 71 BC, the battle between Crassus and the rebels took place. Unfortunately, Spartacus and his rebels were killed in this battle, but the body of Spartacus was never found. The rebels that did survive the attack were hunted down and killed and the revolt came to an end.

Although Spartacus did not end slavery in the Roman Empire, he had a huge impact on slavery. He led a rebellion that opened people’s eyes to how horrible slavery is. His revolt began with slave refugees and throughout the rebellion, free men and women joined Spartacus. It led to many people fighting to put an end to slavery. The revolt was far from a waste of time and lives. The revolt opened people’s eyes. It made them see how cruel the Roman Empire was. It made people want to make a change, and for that reason, the rebellion was a success.

Works Cited

Czech, Kenneth P. “Spartacus.” HistoryNet, 5 July 2016, Accessed on 22 October 2018.

Ewhelan. “What Was the Impact of Spartacus’ Uprising on Rome?” How Did Public Sanitation Develop? Accessed on 22 October 2018.

Jarrus, Owen. “Spartacus: History of Gladiator Revolt Leader.” Google Search, Google, Accessed on 22 October 2018.

Norris, Shawn T. “Battle of Mount Vesuvius: Spartacus and the Slave Revolt.” Rome Across Europe, 23 May 2017, Accessed on 22 October 2018.

“Gladiators, 50 AD.” The Black Death, 1348, 2005, Accessed on 12 November 2018.


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