Clio Historia Magazine - June 2010
SPARTACUS / Antiquity's 'Che' Guevara?
SPARTACUS on TV: blood, sweat and...lots of sex
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.
and sand" (airing in Canal + –www.plus.es–) 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.
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
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.
"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
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
19, line 11: they had written Bob Tapert. I changed it into
(SQUARED TEXT IN PAGE 19):
IS WHO IN THE SOAP OPERA
The hero: Spartacus
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.
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.
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
The envy: Crixus
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
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.
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.
SPARTACUS / Antiquity's 'Che' Guevara?
SPARTACUS SUDDENLY FOUND HIMSELF LEADING AN ARMY OF 40,000-70,000 PEOPLE.
IMPOVERISHED PEASANTS ALSO JOINED THE REBELLION.
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
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
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.
FREEDOM OR BOUNTY?
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
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.
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.
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.
DEAD THE MAN, THE
LEGEND IS BORN
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
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.
20: SPARTACUS' STATUE in the Jardin des Tuileries, in Paris
22: A SCENE FROM THE TV SHOW "Spartacus: blood and sand" which has brought
back to popularity the legend of the rebel slave.
23: CRUCIFIED REBELS along the Apian Way, the ending of Kubrick's
SPARTACUS / Antiquity's 'Che' Guevara?
The myth of Spartacus: politics, culture and...soccer.
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
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
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).
Movies, plays, novels...even
revolutionary Socialism and sports have found inspiration in the Spartacus
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
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!
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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