Synopses & Reviews
Spartacus (109?-71 bce), the slave who rebelled against Rome, has been a source of endless fascination, the subject of myth-making in his own time, and of movie-making in ours. Hard facts about the man have always yielded to romanticized tales and mystifications. In this riveting, compact account, Aldo Schiavone rescues Spartacus from the murky regions of legend and brings him squarely into the arena of serious history.
Schiavone transports us to Italy of the first century bce, where the pervasive institution of slavery dominates all aspects of Roman life. In this historic landscape, carefully reconstructed by the author, we encounter Spartacus, who is enslaved after deserting from the Roman army to avoid fighting against his native Thrace. Imprisoned in Capua and trained as a gladiator, he leads an uprising that will shake the empire to its foundations.
While the grandeur of the Spartacus story has always been apparent, its political significance has been less clear. What were his ambitions? Often depicted as the leader of a class rebellion that was fierce in intent but ragtag in makeup and organization, Spartacus emerges here in a very different light: the commander of an army whose aim was to incite Italy to revolt against Rome and to strike at the very heart of the imperial system. Surprising, persuasive, and highly original, Spartacus challenges the lore and illuminates the reality of a figure whose achievements, and whose ultimate defeat, are more extraordinary and moving than the fictions we make from them.
"Rather than rely on Kubrick's classic film, Schiavone, founder and former director of the Istituto Italiano di Scienze Umane, depends on the accounts of ancient scribes, historical time lines, and the author's own observations to reconstruct the fabled first-century B.C.E. slave revolt and its legendary leader. The author's goal is to separate the man from the myth and provide a more accurate historical context, and while his account is thorough and interesting, his heavy-handed emphasis on the movements and clashes of armies and the vilifying of the Roman Empire draws the focus away from his subject. Nevertheless, it's clear that Schiavone (The Invention of the Law in the West) is extremely knowledgeable about Roman history, and he does provide a new take on the Spartacus tale, showing that the revolt was not a spontaneous uprising; it was a deliberate and strategic strike against the Roman Empire. The text moves smoothly between narrative and historical analysis, meaning both the newcomer and the experienced Roman historian will find a wealth of entertainment and information. 3 maps." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Given current interests in resistance and rebellion, books on Spartacus are proliferating, but this one is different. From the commanding perspective of an eminent historian of Rome, it provides both a critical account based on the original sources and a highly readable narrative of one of the greatest slave wars in world history. Schiavone offers a careful reconstruction of what might have happened and a compelling analysis of a losing cause. Brent Shaw, Princeton University
The author's goal is to separate the man from the myth and provide a more accurate historical context...Both the newcomer and the experienced Roman historian will find a wealth of entertainment and information. Publishers Weekly
This is a highly readable, interesting inquiry into a man and a movement that will never be fully understood. Jay Freeman
[This] little book (well under 200 pages, and as small as a dime-store paperback) stands not only as the perfect factual summary of events for the history-curious newcomer...but also as a stylish, engaging guided tour of that summary. Schiavone has a good ear for dramatics and a wonderful way with scene-setting... And although Schiavone reserves his sharpest thinking, fittingly enough, for the subject of slavery in the ancient world, he's very skilled at filling readers in on all aspects of the ancient Roman world--and the outsized characters like Crassus and Pompey who were eventually tasked with the responsibility of bringing the Spartacus rebellion to a speedy end... We can't know much about the charismatic power the Spartacus had, and we can know nothing at all about what, if any, political signals he wanted to send (beyond his mere survival, which may have ended up being the sharpest political signal of them all). But it hardly matters: what we do know has seldom been presented in so spry and enjoyable a monograph as this one. Readers should dispense with the novels and take up this book--no less gripping--instead. Booklist
There is an intoxicating intensity in classical studies that is hard to match in any other field, with entire theoretical structures standing or falling on a single word or an interpretation of a verb tense. Schiavone has become known, and deemed worthy of English translation, by approaching the old standards of literary elegance and erudition about as well as anybody...Schiavone's Spartacus is no arch-liberator, but a prophetic gambler who found himself with no easy escape from Italy and thus sought to turn Rome's beaten-down neighbor cities against it...You've seen the movie: now get the straight dope. Steve Donoghue - Open Letters Monthly
Aldo Schiavone's Spartacus attempts to go back to [ancient] sources, analyze them intelligently, and see whether we can find the truth and understand something of the real man. He does his best to trace the rebellion step by step, interweaving his narrative with wider consideration of the nature of slavery in the Roman world and its role in the social and economic system...Schiavone offers a readable, generally sensible and certainly thought-provoking discussion of Spartacus and of first-century slavery. Colby Cosh - Maclean's
Spartacus... attempts to strip away the myth from the historical rebel. It is an intelligent, learned, and challenging account...It is also sensibly succinct. Adrian Goldsworthy - Wall Street Journal
Schiavone attempts to drill down through the sedimented legends to the bedrock of historical fact...To understand who Spartacus was and what he wanted, Schiavone argues, it's necessary to read against the grain of the text, and to place him as far as possible in a broad historical context...Ironically, [Spartacus] would become more potent in death than he ever was in life: no longer a local warlord but a symbol of freedom who still has the power to inspire and fascinate more than 2,000 years later. Mary Beard - New York Review of Books
No work explains so well and so briefly both the triumphs and ultimate failure of Spartacus.
Adam Kirsch - Barnes and Noble Review
The slave and gladiator Spartacus has been the subject of myth-making in his own time and of movie-making in ours. Aldo Schiavone brings him squarely into the arena of serious history. Spartacus emerges here as the commander of an army, whose aim was to incite Italy to revolt against Rome and to strike at the very heart of the imperial system.
About the Author
Aldo Schiavone is Professor of Roman Law at L’Istituto Italiano di Scienze Umane and was its Director from 2006 to 2010.
Author's home: Firenze, ITALY