Clio Historia Magazine - June 2010

Translated: Cris

HEADER: SPARTACUS / Antiquity's 'Che' Guevara?


SPARTACUS on TV: blood, sweat and...lots of sex


"Spartacus: blood and sand" premieres June 3 on Canal +. A Starz media production about the historical drama of the gladiator that became a threat to the Roman Republic, giving the famous myth a new twist.

"Spartacus: blood and sand" (airing in Canal + ––) tells the tale of a man betrayed by the Romans, taken from his homeland and parted from the woman he loves: he is forced to become a slave, and turned into a gladiator. In order to survive in a new world ruled by corruption, blood and violence, he will be forced to place the very Republic against the wall, becoming a legend.

With a very similar graphic visual as the one used in the movie "300", this show uses the historical version of Spartacus as a deserter from the auxiliary troops, and from there, it takes its dramatic licenses, being the plot focused on what happens inside the gladiator school in Capua, a period about which there is no information on historical sources. There is a marked Manichaeism in the characters: the Romans are perfidious conspirators, avid of bloody spectacles, meanwhile gladiators are depicted like noble warriors who progressively become aware of the unfairness of their condition as slaves.

"Spartacus: blood and sand", directed (among others) by Grady Hall and Rick Jacobson, and produced by Rob Tapert and Sam Raimi, tells a story dominated by action, violence and sex. The first season's 13 episodes will air Thursdays at 22:00, available on HD for those with Canal +HD's terminal iPlus.

Text of pictures:

PAGE 18: "Spartacus (Andy Whitfield) is trained by Doctore (Peter Mensah) in Capua's school. Up: the ludus' owner: Batiatus (John Hannah)."


a few slight changes I made

*page 19, line 9: the text mentions Grady Hall and Rick Jacobson as sole directors. As a big huge fan myself of Michael Hurst as a director, and knowing there are more people to credit, I took the liberty of adding "(among others)

*page 19, line 11: they had written Bob Tapert. I changed it into Rob.



The hero: Spartacus (Andy Whitfield)

A Thracian soldier who volunteers to fight with the Romans. As punishment for defying Legatus Claudius Glaber, he is sentenced to death in the Arena. After killing, against all odds, the four gladiators sent to end him, his life is condoned and he is sold to Batiatus, who will try to tame his rebelliousness.

The ambition: Batiatus (John Hannah) and Lucretia (Lucy Lawless)

Batiatus is a citizen of Capua pining for a higher social status in the Roman society. Owner of a gladiator school, he hopes for Spartacus to bring back the lost fame to his ludus. His wife Lucretia is his soul mate, equally or even more ambitious than him. Incredibly crafty and sexually voracious, she turns the gladiator Crixus into her lover, hoping to get pregnant. She sees Spartacus as an untamable beast for whom they have paid too much and who can bring disgrace to the couple.

The pride: Doctore (Peter Mensah)

Trainer at Batiatus' school of gladiators. He is an especially strong man, proud to be a gladiator and who very rarely shows his emotions. His biggest concern is Spartacus' unpredictable temperament, to whom he wants to instill discipline.


The envy: Crixus (Manu Bennett)

Known as the Champion of Capua, he is the most advanced gladiator of the ludus. Powerful and prepotent, he considers Spartacus his enemy as he threats his reign as champion. Even though he is forced into a sexual relationship with Lucretia, his heart belongs to Naevia.


The lust: Ilithyia (Viva Bianca)

The daughter of Senator Albinius and Legatus Glaber's wife. Young and impressionable, boredom leads her to be seduced by the pleasures within Batiatus ludus' walls. There, apart from satisfying her desires, she finds the ideal place to climb the social ladder.


*page 19, Spartacus' text: it mentions Glaber as "commander Claudius" (comandante Claudius). All of us who have watched the show, know him better as Legatus Glaber, hence I changed it.


HEADER: SPARTACUS / Antiquity's 'Che' Guevara?




Spartacus and his men took shelter on Mount Vesuvius, the famous volcano that would erupt a century later, and news of the rebellion spread like gunpowder. Many slaves from Campania's latifundia escaped to join the Thracian and his men, and the group's size quickly increased. These fugitives would be of special importance for Spartacus, for the majority were Gaul, Thracian or German warriors enslaved during recent battles of their homelands with Rome.

Despite the obvious signs of revolt, the Senate acted with parsimony. They did not consider the matter as a true threat to their power, but some riots provoked by a group of bandits, and so underestimated the warrior character of the rebels. Even more, the wars in Asia and Spain claimed the need of sending to such territories the main military resources, so in order to stop the revolt they sent a contingent of only 3,000 men from the militia, with little experience in battle.

The Roman troops, led by Claudius Glaber, surrounded the Vesuvius, except one of the sides of the mountain, regarded as inaccessible. It was then when Spartacus showed his first hint of commanding skills: he ordered his men to make ropes with vines, and with them they descended the unprotected flank, attacking the Roman camp by surprise from behind. The gladiators literally slaughtered the Romans, capturing a huge amount of military equipment. The rebels were emboldened by the overwhelming victory. News of their achievements encouraged more and more slaves to escape, and soon Spartacus found himself leading a group of between 40,000-70,000 people, that would not stop growing.

This romantic image of a group of slaves fighting against tyranny was not devoid of problems. Firstly, there were tensions of ethnic nature due to the group's diversity, an ensemble of proud warrior cultures like Thracians and Gauls. Although the solution was to give Spartacus supreme command, his lieutenants, Crixus and Oenomaus, were both from Gaul, fact that would surely raise envies. Secondly, and despite attracting so many followers, that very same fact made them a more dangerous target for Rome, who would not doubt in using more resources against them.

However, the Roman elites fell into the same mistake again: they sent two contingents; perhaps more numerous, but still auxiliary troops. Spartacus didn't let himself be caught and maneuvered skillfully. The rebellion continued to grow with recruits, and these were not only slaves, but also simple peasants impoverished by the Roman system of latifundia owned by patricians, and also urban pauperized population. The South of Italy dreamed of revolution.



Up until this moment, the army of rebels had limited itself to move by impulses, without a clear aim. Until the end of 73 BC, when Spartacus and his lieutenants resolved to travel to the North of Italy, cross the Alps and reach their homes in Gaul, Thrace and Germania. The decision would coincide with Rome's change of attitude, finally opting to take the threat more seriously. It sent two armies, but that time the Senate named two consuls (the highest rank in the Republic) as the troop's generals, and they gathered four legions.

Despite the efforts, Spartacus managed to defeat them by the shores of the Po river, avoiding being captured and attacking the legions separately. The Roman sources, ever so interested, have concealed how the gladiators defeated those legions with a force in theory worse prepared than the Romans. Then, the most notorious Latin historians, against the Thracian, spoke of his cruelty. It seems that he lost Crixus in one of those battles, and to honor him in his funeral he made 300 prisoners fight as gladiators (according to Florus) or he directly executed them (according to Apianus).

With the news of this new defeat, the Senate and the people of Rome succumbed to panic, and Spartacus began to be compared to Hannibal and his fierce campaign during the Second Punic War, which brought terror to the very heart of Rome. And while fear grasped the enemy after his latest victory, Spartacus had the pass towards the Alps practically clear. However, most of his men, inebriated with their victories and the easy bounties obtained (all gained was equitably distributed), decided to change the plans and remain plundering Italy. Spartacus allowed it, believing that, if they continued the fight, the Romans would end up terrorized and would not follow them when they ran away to their homelands.



Meanwhile, the Senate sought a new leader to crush the rebellion. It seemed that no one wanted to confront Spartacus and his men, because apparently there was no possible glory for he who managed to defeat an army of slaves, and yes a lot of risk if they lost before the Thracian ex-gladiator. Despite this, a Roman patrician accepted the challenge. His name, Marcus Licinius Crassus, known as the richest man in Rome. Years before he had taken part in the Civil War with Sila and the plebs, fact that had enabled his fortune to grow even more. Although his earnings led way to his political ambition and he managed to attain certain achievements in the Senate, his figure was eclipsed by Pompey's victories in Africa and Spain, and Lucius Licinius' victories in Asia. Crassus needed a warlike feat to secure his prestige, and thus he offered to defeat Spartacus in 72 BC. After being named Praetor by the Senate, he grouped the surviving members of previous battles against the gladiators and recruited more troops.

Crassus would prove himself an inflexible commander in his desire to gain victory, and such is shown by the fact that after a group of 500 legionaries ran away on a fight against Spartacus' forces, as punishment he executed one per ten, to show that he would only accept absolute triumph over the rebels.

Meanwhile, the Thracian had drawn a new plan. He made a pact with the Cilician pirates (Southeast of present Turkey) to pass to Sicily, and from there, raise in arms the slaves from the island and become strong there, turning Sicily into their fortress and into a free land on which to build a world free of slavery. For this reason he traveled towards the South of Calabria (the point of the so-called boot of Italy). Once there, he discovered that the pirates had not kept their promise: they were not at the appointed place. With an added problem: Crassus army followed right behind them, and managed to encircle them there.

Crassus raised a high wooden palisade to prevent the slaves from escaping. It was winter, and the Romans trusted in the lack of supplies would weaken the enemy. Spartacus didn't hesitate either in using cruelty to maintain discipline, and crucified a Roman prisoner in front of his ranks while he admonished his followers, assuring them that would be their fate were they to be captured. Without further delay, the Thracian leader took action, and during a stormy night he attacked a sector of the palisade. The attack caught the Romans by surprise and the army of slaves could escape, although 12,000 rebels fell during the long siege.




Incensed by the new audacity of Spartacus, the Senate ordered the return of the legions from Spain and Greece. But Crassus did not want to share the victory with his rivals Pompey and Lucullus, and followed the rebels. It is the year 71 BC, and Spartacus' forces had been weakened, because part of the Gauls had deserted and had been slaughtered by Crassus. This year the Thracian reached Brindisium (actual Brindisi, in the Apulia region, the heel of the "boot") to try and take some ships with which to return to Thrace. But there he found Lucullus' legions. Crassus still followed him restlessly, and the gladiator tried to negotiate an exit. The Praetor's answer was clear: Rome did not pact with slaves.

The only option left was to fight. Spartacus prepared his army by the Sillaro river, where he killed his own horse before his men to show them there was but one exit: fight or die. He assured them that if they were victorious they would find other horses, and if they lost, those would be useless. A clear declaration of intentions. The battle against Crassus and Lucullus, this once allied by the circumstances, was cruel, and the legions did, this time, made their discipline value itself in front of an enemy exhausted by the constant running. In an attempt to save the situation, Spartacus jumped towards Crassus, but the legionnaires grouped to protect their leader. The ex gladiator managed to kill two centurions, but in the end he was defeated. The fall of the leader provoked a stampede, and the army of slaves was massacred. Only 6,000 men managed to escape, but Crassus eventually caught them and ordered them crucified along the Apian Way to serve as example. After the carnage, not even Spartacus' body was identified. And curiously, the ambitious praetor was not awarded with the public recognition given to grand Roman generals when they defeated equal enemies.

The slave rebellion exposed the Roman Republic's decay. The iniquities of its slavery system had allowed that a small group of gladiators gathered a great army, and that an arrogant and corrupt political system was unable to stop it in time. Crassus did not obtain the public recognition he expected for subduing the rebellion, but he did gain a bigger influence during the decades that marked the death of the republican system. In less than ten years the first Triumvirate took shaped, with Pompey, Julius Caesar and Crassus himself accumulating all the power. Since then, new civil wars would come, all leading to the definitive settlement of the Empire through the person of Octavian Augustus.

Spartacus would be remembered for a long time as no more than a bandit, but his persona remained latent, waiting to be rediscovered by writers, politicians and filmmakers during the XXth century that, through immortalizing him, made of him an icon of the fight against tyranny.



PAGE 20: SPARTACUS' STATUE in the Jardin des Tuileries, in Paris

PAGE 22: A SCENE FROM THE TV SHOW "Spartacus: blood and sand" which has brought back to popularity the legend of the rebel slave.

PAGE 23: CRUCIFIED REBELS along the Apian Way, the ending of Kubrick's "Spartacus".

HEADER: SPARTACUS / Antiquity's 'Che' Guevara?

The myth of Spartacus: politics, culture

Even though the historical Roman sources do not offer many details about Spartacus' origins, they do highlight his cruelty, the only exception being Plutarch, who gave him some dignity (presenting him as a noble Thracian influenced by Hellenism) in contrast with Crassus, whom the Greek historian despised deeply. After his defeat, the most famous gladiator seemed condemned to oblivion, but in 1760, the French playwright Bernard Joseph Saurin published a tragedy named "Spartacus" using Plutarch's texts as source. One century later, Karl Marx deepened into the Thracian's figure, seeing him as a precedent of his own theory on the Class Struggle. From then on, Spartacus turned into a reference for the Revolutionary Socialism, and some parties from that ideology named themselves after him, like the German Spartacist League (Spartakusbund).

During the second half of the XXth century, the gladiator became even more popular thanks to Howard Fast's novel "Spartacus" and his movie version from 1960; meanwhile, the Communist countries canonized the myth through multiple ways: historiography studies, the famous Aram Kachaturian's ballet, and even sports. The USSR promoted the Spartakiad, a sort of alternative to the Olympic games that took place between 1928 and 1952. Also, many Eastern Europe soccer clubs were founded under the name "Spartak" in honor of the Thracian leader.


50 years since Kubrick's movie

Spartacus has also been immortalized in cinema and TV. Precisely this year takes place the 50th anniversary of the well-known movie "Spartacus", directed by Stanley Kubrick, considered a cinema masterpiece. From a strictly historical point of view, there are important dramatic licenses found on this film: Spartacus is born a slave, the rebellion starts because of his love for Varinia –another slave–, and the gladiator dies on the cross. This movie must be framed within the set of films from the 50s in a country trapped in the "Witch-hunt" and senator McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade. Both Howard Fast (author of the novel) and Dalton Trumbo (the screenplay writer) had been prosecuted. Even though this did not seem a good omen for the movie, it went forward mainly thanks to Kirk Douglas' determination; he convinced Kubrick to direct it in exchange of reducing the ideological weigh of the film.

And even with this, "Spartacus" bears a potent political tone: the gladiators represent the fight of the oppressed for freedom against a Rome incarnating the double moral of the powerful and the corruption of "capitalism". "Spartacus" bore a sequel: "The slave: the son of Spartacus" (1962), a pure sword-and-sandal movie. Other films like "Gladiator" (2000) are inspired in the Thracian's figure, and in 2004 a TV movie attempted again to adapt Fast's novel for the screen, correcting some dramatic licenses (such as Spartacus dying in the battle, instead of the cross).


IMAGES TEXT: Movies, plays, novels...even revolutionary Socialism and sports have found inspiration in the Spartacus myth.


*in page 21, last paragraph, where the article mentions the film about Spartacus' son, in Spanish they use the term "peplum" to refer to the genre. I wasn't sure that latin term was used in English so I googled it, and even though the term does exist, it is mentioned as less popular than "sword-and-sandal" hence, thinking of fans, I chose the later in the translation: please, feel free to change

*From what I understand, "soccer" is the word used in English for Spanish "football –fútbol–; what they call "football" in North America, we call "American football", so "SOCCER" is the word I've used: do feel free to change if I was wrong with the terms!

*Nerdy note: Dalton Trumbo, author of the awesome and shocking "Johnny got his gun" indeed does NOT appear as Dalton Trumbo in Spartacus' credits)


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