February 27, 2024 | Miles Brucker

Rebellious Facts About Spartacus

Famous in modern culture for his many adaptations into film and television, most notably Kirk Douglas and his “I'm Spartacus!” line in the Stanley Kubrick film, the story of this slave leading a revolt has captivated us for over half a century. Here are some facts to fill you in on who the man actually was, and help you separate fact from fiction.

1. Nomadic Stock

Born around 111 BC, Spartacus was a Thracian, an Indo-European tribe on the outskirts of the Roman Empire, in Bulgaria. It is believed he was nomadic, but not much is known about his early history.


2. In the Army

Spartacus was initially a member of the Roman army. He wasn’t really a fan of not being able to have his life in his own hands, so he fled the army in order to live life as a free man. Some historians argue that Spartacus was actually a Roman auxiliary officer before escaping, which would mean that he originally volunteered service.

SpartacusStarz, Spartacus (2010–2013)

3. Captured

Running away from any army, let alone the Roman army, is usually not a good idea. After going AWOL, Spartacus was captured and forced into slavery as punishment for his desertion. What did he think was going to happen?

Spartacus desertingStarz, Spartacus (2010–2013)

4. Gladiator School

Spartacus was purchased by a man named Lentulus Batiatus, who promptly enrolled him in the gladiator school in Capua that Batiatus himself just so happened to own. The gladiator school Spartacus was enslaved to was famous for its harsh training regemen, and Batiatus wasn’t really the nicest of guys, because, you know, he was a slave owner.

Spartacus  and gladiatorsStarz, Spartacus (2010–2013)


5. Heavyweight Fighter

As a gladiator, Spartacus was trained in the role of a "murmillo," a heavyweight gladiator. Murmillos fought with a broadsword up to 18 inches in length, and used a large shield called a scutum in defense. Oh, and they also fought bare-chested and barefooted. Sounds like fun times.

Spartacus  as a gladiatorStarz, Spartacus (2010–2013)

6. Escape #2

Spartacus was pretty darn good at escaping bad situations, and after some time, he was able to manage another escape, this time with 70 other slaves. The escape was planned and executed at the gladiator school.

Spartacus FactsSpartacus,Starz

7. Good With a Fork

The escapees wielded kitchen utensils as arms while fighting their way to freedom. Once they broke free, they seized wagons full of gladiator arms and fought off the local authorities before fleeing South to set up at Mount Vesuvius.

Spartacus  climbing Mount VesuviusStarz, Spartacus (2010–2013)

8. Tools to Recruit

They now had plenty of supplies, and while they traveled south, they began fighting to free other slaves, and recruiting them to their side. That must not have been too hard; by all accounts, slavery isn't a sweet deal or anything.

Spartacus FactsSpartacus,Starz

9. More Than Rome Can Handle

The name of the conflict that Spartacus stirred up was the "Third Servile conflict." At first, the Romans considered the revolt more as an authorities issue than a full blown conflict. As things escalated, however, the Romans quickly found that these were no ordinary slaves.

Roman soldiers and generals Starz, Spartacus (2010–2013)


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10. Head of State

Accounts say that three men were chosen as leaders of the rebel slaves: Spartacus and two Gallic slaves, Crixus and Oenomaus.

Spartacus FactsSpartacus,Starz


11. Building an Army

Originally comprised of only 70 escapees, the rebellion army population quickly skyrocketed to over 65,000 men. Some estimates even put the number at around 125,000 men.

Spartacus  and gladiatorsStarz, Spartacus (2010–2013)


12. Inclusivity over Exclusivity

While the escapee forces were comprised mostly of ex-slaves, Spartacus also allowed many of the shepherds and herdsmen of the area to join in the fun.

gladiators  and romansStarz, Spartacus (2010–2013)


13. Third Time's a Charm?

Spartacus wasn’t the first slave to rebel, and his slave army was not the first that Rome attempted to put down. The First Servile Conflict and Second Servile Conflict both took place in Sicily, with the second resulting in a four-year fight between the slaves and Rome. Nonetheless, Spartacus's rebel army was bigger and more organized than the groups in these previous revolts.

Spartacus FactsWikimedia Commons

14. Terror Strikes

Spartacus’s revolt led to a “fear of slaves,” known as "terror serilis." This fear spread throughout Rome, as the first two Servile Wars had already taken their toll on the population.

Spartacus  and gladiatorsStarz, Spartacus (2010–2013)

15. Capable Gladiators

Under Spartacus's leadership, the rebel army was able to defeat nine separate Roman armies during the conflict by causing chaos in the countryside and aggressively attacking the Roman armies who underestimated the slaves' capacity and capabilities.


16. Good Timing

Part of the reason why Spartacus was so successful in fighting Roman armies was that Rome didn’t have their best men available to wage conflict, as Rome was already engaged in two other wars at the same time—a revolt in Hispania (Spain) and the Third Mithridatic conflict—which called for their most capable generals and army men.

Spartacus FactsSpartacus: Blood and Sand,Starz


17. Splitting the Camp

During the conflict, Spartacus and his right-hand man Crixus split up for some reason. Some believe it was a strategic plan by the leaders, and some believe Crixus wanted to pillage the Roman countryside on their way to Rome. Whatever the reason, it would prove detrimental: Crixus left the group with about 30,000 followers.

Spartacus FactsSpartacus: Blood and Sand,Starz

18. Loss of Forces

After splitting up, Crixus and his followers were charged and defeated by the Roman army. Upon hearing of Crixus’ passing, Spartacus took revenge by sacrificing the lives of 300 of his Roman captives.

CrixusStarz, Spartacus (2010–2013)

19. Time Not Well Used

Another possible pitfall for Spartacus and his men may have been their time spent pillaging the countryside; this pillaging was attractive because they were able to collect small fortunes. This time, however, could have been used more efficiently if they had dedicated themselves to escaping over the Alps instead.

Spartacus ,Starz

20. Spiteful Game

Before he sacrificed the Romans, Spartacus had some fun. In a staging of a role-reversal, Spartacus held a mock gladiator game, pitting the Roman army men against each other in a fight to the demise.

Spartacus ,Starz

21. The Seer

After their escape from the gladiator school, Spartacus’s wife, a prophetess of the times whose name has been brushed into the winds of time, woke up one morning and saw Spartacus sleeping with a serpent cozied up around his head. She perceived this as a sign of things to come, and said it represented “a tremendous and fearsome power that would bring him to an unfortunate end.”


22. Don’t Trust a Pirate

Spartacus' rebellion plans suffered a fatal hit when he attempted an escape to Sicily in order to recuperate his losses and incite a larger rebellion on the island. His plan backfired when the pirates he made a transportation deal with betrayed him and took the money and ran, leaving the rebels stranded.

Spartacus ,Starz


23. Sudden Demise

Before the final battle of the conflict, the Battle of the Silarus River, Spartacus made a bold move to rile his men up: He brought his horse before his men and ended it, declaring that if they won the battle, he would have new horses to choose from, but if they lost, he simply would not need one.

Spartacus  and gladiatorsStarz, Spartacus (2010–2013)

24. Death on the Battlefield

Spartacus lost his life on the battlefield at the banks of the Silarus (now known as Sele) river. However, one source reports that his body was never recovered. There were so many gone after the battle that it was deemed impossible to properly count how many each side lost, although modern estimates guess that 36,000 people were liquidated.


25. No Glory

Spartacus's objectives for inciting the conflict are mysterious and debated. Nothing suggests, however, that the great rebel was looking to promote the abolishment of slavery. Some sources argue that he (as well as the other slaves) was merely looking to escape before getting caught up in plundering, while others claim he (at least initially) wanted to march on Rome.


26. Spartacus’s Spirit Lives On

In the spirit of the original Spartacus, Kirk Douglas, the actor who portrayed on screen, made a rebellion of his own in his work with Dalton Trumbo, the screenwriter for the film Spartacus. A Hollywood pariah at the time, Trumbo had been blacklisted (that is, banned from working in Hollywood) due to his refusal to testify to the Un-American Activities Committee. Douglas agreed that Trumbo could use his real name in the credits of the film, essentially breaking the McCarthy-era blacklist in the process.

Spartacus FactsSpartacus,Universal Pictures

27. First Fight

During his rebellion against the Romans, Spartacus led his fellow slaves to victory in a bloody battle on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius, a live volcano, where Spartacus actually rappelled down the sides of the mountain with his army to ambush the Romans.


Source: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

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