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  • As the warrior slept,

  • a snake coiled around his face.

  • Instead of a threat, his wife saw an omen

  • a fearsome power that would lead her husband to either glory or doom.

  • For now, however, he was only a slave

  • one of millions taken from the territories

  • conquered by Rome to work the mines,

  • till the fields,

  • or fight for the crowd's entertainment.

  • A nomadic Thracian from what is now Bulgaria,

  • he had served in the Roman Army but was imprisoned for desertion.

  • His name was Spartacus.

  • Spartacus had been brought to Capua by Batiatus, a lanista,

  • or trainer of gladiators.

  • And life at the ludus, or gladiator school, was unforgiving.

  • New recruits were forced to swear an oath

  • to be burned, to be bound, to be beaten, and to be killed by the sword,”

  • and to obey their master's will without question.

  • But even harsh discipline couldn't break Spartacus's spirit.

  • In 73 BCE, Spartacus led 73 other slaves

  • to seize knives and skewers from the kitchen and fight their way out,

  • hijacking a wagon of gladiator equipment along the way.

  • They were done fighting for others

  • now, they fought for their freedom.

  • When the news reached Rome,

  • the Senate was too busy with wars in Spain and the Pontic Empire

  • to worry about some unruly slaves.

  • Unconcerned, praetor Claudius Glaber took an army of three thousand men

  • to the rebel's refuge at Mount Vesuvius,

  • and blocked off the only passage up the mountain.

  • All that remained was to wait and starve them out

  • or so he thought.

  • In the dead of night,

  • the rebels lowered themselves down the cliffside on ropes made from vines,

  • and flanked Glaber's unguarded camp.

  • Thus began the legend of Rome's defiant gladiator.

  • As news of the rebellion spread,

  • its ranks swelled with escaped slaves,

  • deserting soldiers, and hungry peasants.

  • Many were untrained,

  • but Spartacus's clever tactics transformed them

  • into an effective guerrilla force.

  • A second Roman expedition led by praetor Varinius,

  • was ambushed while the officer bathed.

  • To elude the remaining Roman forces,

  • the rebels used their enemy's corpses as decoy guards,

  • stealing Varinius's own horse to aid their escape.

  • Thanks to his inspiring victories and policy of distributing spoils equally,

  • Spartacus continued attracting followers,

  • and gained control of villages

  • where new weapons could be forged.

  • The Romans soon realized they were no longer facing ragtag fugitives,

  • and in the spring of 72 BCE,

  • the Senate retaliated with the full force of two legions.

  • The rebels left victorious,

  • but many lives were lost in the battle,

  • including Spartacus' lieutenant Crixus.

  • To honor him, Spartacus held funeral games,

  • forcing his Roman prisoners to play the role his fellow rebels had once endured.

  • By the end of 72 BCE,

  • Spartacus' army was a massive force of roughly 120,000 members.

  • But those numbers proved difficult to manage.

  • With the path to the Alps clear,

  • Spartacus wanted to march beyond Rome's borders,

  • where his followers would be free.

  • But his vast army had grown brash.

  • Many wanted to continue pillaging,

  • while others dreamed of marching on Rome itself.

  • In the end, the rebel army turned south

  • forgoing what would be their last chance at freedom.

  • Meanwhile, Marcus Licinius Crassus had assumed control of the war.

  • As Rome's wealthiest citizen,

  • he pursued Spartacus with eight new legions,

  • eventually trapping the rebels in the toe of Italy.

  • After failed attempts to build rafts,

  • and a stinging betrayal by local pirates,

  • the rebels made a desperate run to break through Crassus's lines

  • but it was no use.

  • Roman reinforcements were returning from the Pontic wars,

  • and the rebels' ranks and spirits were broken.

  • In 71 BCE, they made their last stand.

  • Spartacus nearly managed to reach Crassus before being cut down by centurions.

  • His army was destroyed,

  • and 6000 captives were crucified along the Appian Way

  • a haunting demonstration of Roman authority.

  • Crassus won the war,

  • but it is not his legacy which echoes through the centuries.

  • Thousands of years later,

  • the name of the slave who made the world's mightiest empire tremble

  • has become synonymous with freedom

  • and the courage to fight for it.

As the warrior slept,

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B2 US TED-Ed spartacus gladiator rome roman bce

From slave to rebel gladiator: The life of Spartacus - Fiona Radford

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    robert posted on 2018/12/18
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