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The Spartacus Warby Barry Strauss
Synopses & Reviews
The Spartacus War is the extraordinary story of the most famous slave rebellion in the ancient world, the fascinating true story behind a legend that has been the inspiration for novelists, filmmakers, and revolutionaries for 2,000 years. Starting with only seventy-four men, a gladiator named Spartacus incited a rebellion that threatened Rome itself. With his fellow gladiators, Spartacus built an army of 60,000 soldiers and controlled the southern Italian countryside. A charismatic leader, he used religion to win support. An ex-soldier in the Roman army, Spartacus excelled in combat. He defeated nine Roman armies and kept Rome at bay for two years before he was defeated. After his final battle, 6,000 of his followers were captured and crucified along Rome's main southern highway.
The Spartacus War is the dramatic and factual account of one of history's great rebellions. Spartacus was beaten by a Roman general, Crassus, who had learned how to defeat an insurgency. But the rebels were partly to blame for their failure. Their army was large and often undisciplined; the many ethnic groups within it frequently quarreled over leadership. No single leader, not even Spartacus, could keep them all in line. And when faced with a choice between escaping to freedom and looting, the rebels chose wealth over liberty, risking an eventual confrontation with Rome's most powerful forces.
The result of years of research, The Spartacus War is based not only on written documents but also on archaeological evidence, historical reconstruction, and the author's extensive travels in the Italian countryside that Spartacus once conquered.
"No one presents the military history of the ancient world with greater insight and panache than Strauss (The Trojan War). His latest work tells the story of a slave from the Balkans, a gladiator who in 73 B.C. led an uprising of 700 gladiators that eventually attracted over 60,000 followers. Strauss depicts Spartacus as a charismatic politician, able to hold together a widely disparate coalition of Celts, Thracians, Germans and Italians. As a general, he was a master of maneuver and mobility, keeping the ponderous Romans consistently off balance. Strauss reconstructs the rebels' movements across southern Italy and their development into an army good enough to overcome Rome's legions in battle after battle. Not until Marcus Licinius Crassus was given command of Roman forces did Spartacus face an opponent who could match him. Spartacus forced a battle that resulted in complete defeat and his anonymous death. But the uprising he sparked left a permanent mark on the Roman psyche and made Spartacus himself a figure of myth as well as history, as Strauss shows at the end of this brisk, engrossing account. 8 pages of b&w illus., maps. (Mar. 17)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
One of the frustrations of studying the last, agonized century of the Roman Republic is that our sources invariably derive from the ruling elite. No snob like a senatorial snob: To search the writings of authors such as Cicero or Sallust for details of how the lower classes lived is like panning for gold. Most despised of all — and most ignored, of course — were the slaves. It was certainly no concern... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) of a Roman aristocrat to examine the lives of those millions of unfortunates upon whose bent backs the entire glittering edifice of classical civilization had been raised. Yet one of those same unfortunates remains to this day a household name whose fame outshines that of many a senatorial high-flyer. After all, it was not Pompey, nor Cicero, nor even Julius Caesar who ended up being played on the big screen by Kirk Douglas, but the lowest of the Roman low: a gladiator. What makes this all the more extraordinary is that Spartacus himself, the slave who defied an empire, left no testimony of his own. The few, fragmentary accounts of his life that do survive were composed by authors in whom the very thought of a slave rebellion inspired horror and contempt. From them we know the basic details of Spartacus' career: how he was brought from Thrace to fight in an arena in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius; how he and about 70 other gladiators, armed only with kitchen utensils, broke out of their barracks; how for two years, from 73 to 71 B.C., his growing band of runaway slaves ravaged Italy; how at one point he led more than 100,000 men. And yet, despite the terror he inspired, there was a quality to Spartacus that even the Romans seem sneakingly to have admired. Whether it was overpowering his guards or putting consuls to flight or killing his horse to deprive himself of any means of flight when he finally faced defeat, he lived "fortissime" — as a man of exceptional courage. The very features that so appealed to Hollywood, however, make Spartacus a potentially treacherous subject for any classicist. Historians, no matter how seduced by the drama of his revolt, are more circumscribed than their script-writing counterparts by the moth-eaten character of our sources. The balance between accessibility and scholarship, imagination and responsibility, is not always an easy one to strike. In his previous book on the Trojan war, Barry Strauss, a professor of classics at Cornell, seemed so desperate not to bore readers that he occasionally floated free of scholarly moorings. "The Spartacus War," however, has all the excitement of a thriller but none of the poetic license. Whether it is the remains of a trench system in the toe of Italy or an abandoned silver ladle or the mention of one of Spartacus' guides in "one line in a lost history book," Strauss makes every last scrap of information count. This is particularly the case when it comes to descriptions of fighting. The account of what it meant to be a gladiator, of the tactics required to be victorious and of the agony of defeat is particularly adrenaline-fueled. Spartacus' death — not on a cross, as in Stanley Kubrick's 1960 movie, but charging the Roman general who led the campaign against him — comes as a worthy climax to an epic that never once relaxes its tension. As to the broader question of what Spartacus was fighting for, whether a principled love of freedom or a bandit's love of plunder, Strauss hedges his bets. The goals of the rebellion, he concludes, were both noble and coarsely pragmatic: "honor, prowess, vengeance, loot, and even the favor of the gods." If so, then one of the reasons why Spartacus endured so long in the memories of the Romans must surely have been that he reminded them of themselves. Certainly, as Strauss points out, it was never a part of the rebels' manifesto to abolish slavery itself. What they objected to was not the institution, but their own entrapment within it. Marauding up and down Italy, they lived precisely as their former masters did: off the labor and produce of others. That notwithstanding, Spartacus does appear to have held some authentically exceptional principles. Uniquely among the leaders of slave revolts in the ancient world, he seems — if we can trust our sources — to have put his faith in something like an ideal of equality. For that reason alone, it might be argued, he more than merits this fine biography. As another, if less well historically attested, gladiator put it: "Brothers, what we do in life, echoes in eternity." Tom Holland is the author of "Rubicon: The Last Years of the Roman Republic." His new book, "The Forge of Christendom," will be published in May. Reviewed by Tom Holland, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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From an esteemed historian of the ancient world and popular guest on The History Channel comes the true story of the gladiator Spartacus, who led a slave rebellion that rocked and nearly destroyed the Roman Republic. b&w photos.
• An authoritative account from an expert Author - The Spartacus War is the first popular history of the revolt in English. A leading authority on classical military history, Barry Strauss has used recent archaeological discoveries, ancient documents, and on-site investigations to create the most accurate and detailed account of the Spartacus rebellion ever written—and it reads like a first-rate novel. .
• A thrilling story that has inspired novelists and filmmakers: The real-life Spartacus is even more amazing than his fictional counterparts. A slave from Thrace (modern day Bulgaria), possibly of noble origins, he led a shocking rebellion at a gladiatorial school in Capua in 73 BC. Within two years the ranks of his army, which started with fewer than 100 men, swelled to 60,000; they routed nine Roman armies and for a time controlled all of southern Italy. The Roman general Crassus eventually defeated the slave army and while Spartacus apparently died on the field of battle, his body was never recovered. The legend arose that he escaped and remained undefeated..
About the Author
Barry Strauss, professor of history and classics at Cornell University, is a leading expert on ancient military history. He has written or edited several books, including The Battle of Salamis, The Trojan War, and The Spartacus War.
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