Spartacus

THE Romans had many virtues, and conspicuous amongst these was the virtue of impartiality. They treated everybody with equal inhumanity. They were as pitiless towards the humble as towards the proud. The quality of mercy was utterly unknown to them. Their motto,

“Parcere subjectis, et debellare superbos,”

Fowell Buxton has happily translated, “They murdered all who resisted them, and enslaved the rest.”

But it was as slaveholders that the Romans most clearly exhibited their impartiality. They were above those miserable subterfuges that are so common with Americans. They made slaves of all, of the high as well as the low,—of Thracians as well as Sardinians, of Greeks and Syrians as readily as of Scythians and Cappadocians.

The consequence of the modes by which the Romans obtained their bondmen,—by war, by purchase, and by kidnapping,— affecting as they did the most cultivated and the bravest races, necessarily made slavery a very dangerous institution. Greeks and Gauls, Thracians and Syrians, Germans and Spaniards were not likely to submit their necks readily to the yoke. They rose several times in great masses, and contended for years on equal terms with the legions. Some of their number exhibited the talents of statesmen and soldiers, at the head of armies more numerous than both those which fought at Cannæ. One of them showed himself to be a born soldier, and caused the greatest terror to be felt at Rome that had been known there since that day on which Hannibal rode up to the Colline Gate, and cast his javelin defiantly into that city which he himself never could enter.

The treatment of their slaves by the Romans was not unlike that which slaves now experience. Some masters were kind, and there are many facts which show that the relations between master and slave were occasionally of the most amiable nature. But these were exceptional cases, the general rule being cruelty, as it must be where so much power is lodged in the hands of one class of men, and the other has only a nominal protection from the law. Even where cruelty takes no other form than that involved in hard labor, the slave must experience intolerable oppression. Now the Romans were the most avaricious people that ever lived. They had a hearty love of money for money’s sake. They would do anything for gold. Such men were not likely to let their slaves grow fat from light tasks and abundant food; their food was light, and their tasks were heavy. So ill-fed were they that they were compelled to rob on the highway, and were encouraged to do so by their owners. Indeed, much of the private economy of the Romans was founded on cruelty to their slaves. Some, who have come down to us as model men, were infamous for their maltreatment of their bondmen. The life of any foreigner was of but little account with any Roman, but enslaved foreigners were regarded as on a level with brutes. Many anecdotes art related of the ferocious disregard of all humanity which the world’s masters manifested towards the servile classes. There is a story told by Cicero, in one of the Verrine Orations, which peculiarly illustrates this feature of the Roman character. The prætorian edicts forbade slaves to carry arms. There were no exceptions. A boar of great size was once given to Lucius Domitius, who was a Sicilian Prætor. Its size caused him to ask by whom it was slain; and on being informed that the hunter was a shepherd and slave, he sent for him. The slave, not doubting that he should be rewarded for his bravery, hastened to present himself before the Prætor, who asked him what he killed the animal with. “With a spear," was the answer; whereupon the Prætor ordered that he should be immediately crucified. This was but one ot thousands of similar acts that were perpetrated by Romans through many generations.

The slaves, as we have remarked, occasionally revolted, and the efforts that were found necessary to subdue them rose sometimes to the dignity of wars. The first Servile War of the Romans occurred in Sicily. There were various reasons why this fine island should become the scene of servile wars sooner than other portions of the Roman dominions. Upon the final expulsion of the Carthaginians, about the middle of the Second Punic War, great changes of property ensued. Speculators from Italy rushed into the island, “who,” says Arnold, “in the general distress of the Sicilians, bought up large tracts of land at a low price, or became the occupiers of estates which had belonged to Sicilians ot the Carthaginian party, and had been forfeited to Rome after the execution or flight ot their owners. The Sicilians of the Roman party followed the example, and became rich out of the distress of their countrymen. Slaves were to be had cheap; and corn was likely to find a sure market whilst Italy was suffering from the ravages of war. Accordingly, Sicily was crowded with slaves, employed to grow corn for the great landed proprietors, whether Sicilian or Italian, and so ill-fed by their masters that they soon began to provide for themselves by robbery. The poorer Sicilians were the sufferers from this evil; and as the masters were well content that their slaves should be maintained at the expense of others, they were at no pains to restrain their outrages. Thus, although nominally at peace, though full of wealthy proprietors, and though exporting corn largely every year, yet Sicily was teeming with evils, which, seventy or eighty years after, broke out in the horrible atrocities of the Servile War.”1

The Sicilian Servile War began B. C. 133, only a few years after the destruction of Carthage and Corinth, and when the military power of the republic was probably at its height, though military discipline may have been somewhat relaxed from the old standard. It lasted two or three years. The chief of the slaves had at one time two hundred thousand followers, inclusive, probably, of women and children. He was a Svrian of Apamea, named Eunus, and had been a prophet and conjurer among the slaves. To his prophecies and tricks he owed his elevation when the rebellion broke out. According to some accounts, he was rather a cunning than an able man; but it should be recollected that his enemies only have drawn his portrait. The victories he so often won over the Roman forces are placed to the credit of his lieutenant, a Cilician of the name of Cleon; but he must have been a man of considerable ability to have maintained his position so long, and tn have commanded the services of those said to have been his superiors. Cleon’s superiority was probably only that of the soldier. He fell in battle, and Eunus was made prisoner, but died before he could be brought to punishment,—no doubt, to the vast regret of his savage captors.

In the year B. C. 103, another Servile War broke out in Sicily, and was not brought to an end until after four years of hard fighting. The leaders were Salvius, or Tryphon, an Italian, and Athenion, a Cilician, or Greek. Both showed considerable talent, but owed their leadership, Salvius to his knowledge of divination, and Athenion to his pretensions to astrology. They were often successful, and it was not until a Consul had taken the field against them that the slaves were subdued, the chiefs having successively fallen, and no one arising to make their place good.

The next great Servile War was on a grander scale, though briefer, than either of the Sicilian contests. Its scene was Italy, and it was conducted, on the part of the rebels, by the profoundest military genius ever encountered by the Romans, with the exception, perhaps, of Hannibal. We speak of SPARTACUS, who defeated many Roman, armies, and disputed with the all-conquering republic the dominion of the Italian Peninsula, and with it that of the civilized world. This war took place B. C. 73-71, while Rome was engaged in hostilities with Sertorius and Mithridates; and it was brought to an end only by the exertions of the ablest generals the republic then had,—the great Pompeius having been summoned from Spain, and it being in contemplation to order home Lucullus from the East. In the war with Hannibal the Romans showed their fearlessness by sending troops to Spain while the Carthaginian with his army was lying under their walls; but they called troops and generals from Spain to their assistance against the Thracian gladiator. He must have been a man of extraordinary powers to have accomplished so much with the means at his disposal. It has been regarded as a proof of the astonishing powers of Hannibal as a commander, that he could keep together, and in effective condition, an army composed of the outcasts, as it were, of many nations, and win with it great victories, scattered over a long period of time; yet this was less than was done by Spartacus. The Carthaginian, like Alexander, succeeded to an army formed by his father, next after himself the ablest man of the age. The Thracian, without country or home, and an outlaw from the beginning of his enterprise, had to create an army, and that out of the most heterogeneous and apparently the most unpromising materials. The palm must be assigned to the latter.

To what race did Spartacus belong? We are told that he was a Thracian, his family being shepherds. The Thracians were a brave people, but by no means remarkable for the highest intellectual superiority; yet Spartacus was eminently a man of mind, with large views, and an original genius for organization and war. Plutarch pays him the highest compliment in his power, by admitting that he deserved to be regarded as belonging to the Hellenic race. He was, says the old Lifemaker, “a man not only of great courage and strength, but, in judgment and mildness of character, superior to his condition, and more like a Greek than one would expect from his nation.” It is not impossible that he had Greek blood in his veins. Thrace was hard by Greece, had many Greek cities, and its full proportion of those Greek adventurers, military and civil, who were to be found in every country and city, from Spain to Persia, from Gades to Eebatana. What more probable than that among his ancestors were Greeks? At the same time it must be admitted that the Thracians themselves were capable of producing eminent men, being a superior physical race, and prevented only by the force of circumstances from attaining to a respectable position. They were renowned for soldierlike qualities, which caused the Romans to give them the preference as gladiators,—a dubious honor, to say the best of it.

How, and under what circumstances, Spartacus became a gladiator, is a point by no means clear. We cannot trust the Roman accounts, as it was a meritorious thing, in the opinion of a Roman, for a man to lie for his country, as well as to die for it. Florus states, that he was first a Thracian mercenary, then, a Roman soldier, then a deserter and robber, and then, because of his strength, a gladiator from choice. But, to say nothing of the national prejudices of Florus, he writes like a man who felt it to be a particular grievance that Romans should have been compelled to fight slaves, and particularly gladiators. This is in striking contrast with Plutarch, who was a contemporary of Florus, but whose patriotic pride was not wounded by the victories which the Thracian gladiator won over Roman generals. Indeed, as he was willing to admit that Spartacus ought to have been a Greek, we may suppose that he was pleased to read of his victories,— a not unnatural thing in a provincial, and particularly in a Greek, who knew so well what his country had once been. Plutarch says not a word about the Thracian having been a soldier and a thief, but introduces him with one of his good stories. “They say,” he tells us, “that when Spartacus was first taken to Rome to be sold, a snake was seen folded over his face while he was sleeping, and a woman, of the same tribe with Spartacus, who was skilled in divination, and possessed by the mysterious rites of Dionysus, declared that this was a sign of a great and formidable power, which would attend him to a happy termination." She was the Thracian’s wife, or mistress, being connected with him by some tender tie, and was with him when he subsequently escaped from Capua. In the bloody drama of the War of Spartacus hers is the sole relieving figure, and we would fain know more of her, for it could have been no ordinary woman who was loved by such a man.

The passion of the Romans for gladiatorial combats is well known. Not a few persons followed the calling of gladiatortrainers, and had whole corps of these doomed men, whom they let to those who wished to get up such shows. There were several schools of gladiators, the chief of which were at Ravenna and Capua, where garrisons were maintained to keep the pupils in subjection. According to one account, Spartacus, while on a predatory incursion, was made prisoner, and afterwards sold to Cneius Lentulus Batiatus, a trainer of gladiators, who sent him to his school at Capua. He was to have fought at Rome. But he had higher thoughts than of submitting to so degrading a destiny as the being “butchered to make a Roman holiday.” Most of his companions were Gauls and Thracians, the bravest of men, who bore confinement with small patience. They conspired to make their escape,—the chief conspirators being Spartacus and two others, who were subsequently made his lieutenants,—Crixus, a Gaul, and Œnomaus, a Greek. Some two hundred persons were in the conspiracy, but only a portion of them succeeded in breaking the school bounds. Florus says that not more than thirty got out, while Velleius makes the number to have been sixty-four, and Plutarch seventy-eight. Having armed themselves with spits, knives, and cleavers, from a cook’s shop, they hastened out of Capua. Passing along the Appian Way, they fell in with a number of wagons loaded with gladiators’ weapons, which they seized, and were thus placed in good fighting condition. Shortly after this they encountered a small body of soldiers, whom they routed, and whose arms they substituted for the gladiatorial, deeming these no longer worthy of them.

They were now joined by a few others, fugitives and mountaineers, with whom they took refuge in the crater of Vesuvius, then, as from time immemorial, and for nearly a century and a half later, inactive. Thence, under the leadership of Spartacus and his lieutenants, Crixus and Œdomaus, they ravaged the country; but it is not probable that they caused much alarm, their number being only two hundred, and such collections of slaves being by no means uncommon. The Romans little dreamed that they were on the eve of one of the most terrible of their many wars. Claudius Pulcher, one of the Prætors, was sent against the “robbers,” as they were considered to be. He found them so advantageously posted on the mountain, that, though superior to them in numbers in the ratio of fifteen to one, he resolved to blockade them, and so compel them to descend to the plain and fight at disadvantage, or starve. But he was contending with a man of genius, against whom even Rome’s military system could not then succeed. He despised his enemy,—a sort of gratification which to those indulging in it generally costs very dear. Spartacus caused ropes to be made of vine branches, with the aid ot which he and his followers lowered themselves to the base of the mountain, at a point which had been left unguarded by the Romans because considered inaccessible by the red-tapist who commanded them, and consequently affording a capital outlet for bold men under a daring leader. In tbe dead of night the gladiators stole round to the rear of the Roman camp, and assailed it. Taken by surprise and heavy with sleep, the Romans were routed like sheep, and their arms and baggage passed into the bands of the despised enemy.

Spartacus saw now that it was time for him and his comrades to assume a higher character than had hitherto belonged to them. Instead of a leader of outlaws, he aspired to be the liberator of tbe servile population of Italy. He issued a proclamation, in which, while calling upon his followers to remember the multitudes who groaned in chains, he urged the slaves to rise, pointing out how strong they were and how weak were their oppressors, maintaining that the strength of the masters lay in the blind and disgraceful submission of the slaves, at the same time declaring that the land belonged of right to the bravest,—a sentiment as natural and proper when uttered by a man in his situation as it is base when proceeding from a modern buccaneer, who has taken up arms, not to obtain his own freedom, but to enslave others. The whole, address is contemptuous towards the Romans, though somewhat too rhetorical for a man in the situation of Spartacus. It is the composition of Sallust, but we may believe that it expresses the sentiments of Spartacus, as Sallust was not only his contemporary, but was too good an artist to disregard keeping in what he wrote.

Italy was at this time full of slaves, many of whom must, have been men of quite as much intelligence as the Romans, having been made captives in war. The free population of the Peninsula had almost entirely disappeared. Two generations before, Tiberius Gracehus had pointed to the miserable condition of Italy, and to the fact that the increase of the slave population had caused the Italian yeomanry to become almost extinct. In the years that had passed since his murder the work of extinction had gone on at an accelerated rate, the Social War and the Wars of Sulla and Marius having aided slavery to do its perfect work." In this way had perished that splendid rural population from which the Roman legionary infantry had been conscribed, and which bad enabled the aristocratical republic to baffle the valor of Samnium, the skill of Pyrrhus, and the genius of Hannibal. Even so early as in the first of the Eastern wars of the Romans, immediately after the second defeat of Carthage, there were indications that the supply of Roman soldiers was giving out. An anecdote of the younger Scipio shows what must have been the character of a large part of the Roman population more than sixty years before the War of Spartacus. When he declared that Tiberius Gracchus had rightly been put to death, and an angry shout at the brutal speech came from the people, he turned to them and exclaimed, “Peace, ye stepsons of Italy! Remember who it was that brought you in chains to Rome!”

The country being full of slaves and the children of slaves, Spartacus had little difficulty in obtaining recruits. Apulia was particularly fruitful of insurgents. In that country the vices of Roman slavery were displayed in all their naked hideousness, and the Apulian shepherds and herdsmen had a reputation for lawlessness that has never been surpassed. Yet this was the consequence, not the cause, of their bondage. It is related that some of them having asked their master for clothing, he exclaimed, “What! are there no travellers with clothes on?” “The atrocious hint,” says Liddell, “was soon taken; the shepherd slaves of Lower Italy became banditti, and to travel through Apulia without an armed retinue was a perilous adventure. From assailing travellers, the marauders began to plunder the smaller country-houses; and all but the rich were obliged to desert the country, and flock into the towns. So early as the year 185 B. C., seven thousand slaves in Apulia were condemned for brigandage by a Prætor sent specially to restore order in that land of pasturage. When they were not employed upon the hills, they were shut up in large, prison-like buildings, (ergastula,) where they talked over their wrongs, and formed schemes of vengeance.” 2 The century and more between this date and the appearance of Spartacus had not improved the condition of the Apulian slaves. He found them ripe for revolt, and was soon joined by thousands of their number, men whose modes of life rendered them the very best possible material for soldiers, provided they could be induced to submit to the restraints of discipline. They were strong, hardy, athletic, and active, and full of hatred of their masters. It shows the superiority ot the Thracian that he could prevail upon them to act in a regular manner. He formed them into an army, the chief officers being the men who had escaped from Capua in his company. This army had some discipline, which was the more easily acquired because many of the men were originally soldiers, captives of the Roman sword. But the hatred of all in it to the Romans, and their knowledge that they had to choose between victory and the cruelest forms of death known to the cruelest of conquerors, made them the most reliable military force then to be found in the world.

With such an army, thus composed, thus animated, and thus led, Spartacus commenced that war to which he has given his name. Bursting upon Lower Italy, the most horrible atrocities were perpetrated, the rich landholders being subjected to every species of indignity and cruelty, in accordance with that law of retaliation which was accepted and recognized by all the ancient world, and which the modern has not entirely abrogated. Towns were captured and destroyed,3 and the slaves everywhere liberated to swell the conquering force. Spartacus is said to have sought to moderate the fury of his followers, and we can believe that he did so without supposing that he was much above his age in humane sentiment. He saw that excesses were likely to demoralize his army, and so render it unfit to meet the legions which it must sooner or later encounter.

Much as Spartacus had done, and signal as had been his successes, it was not yet the opinion at Rome that he was a formidable foe. The government despatched Publius Varinius Glaber to act against him, at the head of ten thousand men. This seems a small force, yet it was not much smaller than the army with which, three or four years later. Lucullus overthrew the whole military power of the Armenian monarchy; and it was half as large as that with which Cæsar changed the fate of the world at Pharsalia. The Romans probably thought it strong enough to subdue all the slaves in Italy, and Varinius sufficiently skilful to defeat their leaders and send them to Rome in chains. But they were to have a rough awakening from their dreams of invincibility, though some early successes of Varinius for a time apparently justified their confidence.

The army of Spartacus numbered forty thousand men, but it was poorly armed, and its discipline was very imperfect. It still lacked, to use a modern term, “the baptism of fire,”—never yet having been matched in the open field against a regular force. Its arms were chiefly agricultural implements, and wooden pikes that had been made by hardening the points of stakes with fire. Spartacus resolved upon retreating into Lucania; but the Gauls in his army, headed by his lieutenant Crixus, pronounced this decision cowardly, separated themselves from the main body, attacked the Romans, and were utterly routed. The retreat to Lueania was then made in perfect safety, and even with glory, apart from the skill with which it was conducted. Watching his opportunity, and showing that he understood the military principle of cutting up an enemy in detail, Spartacus fell upon a Roman detachment, two thousand strong, and destroyed it. Shortly after this, the Roman general succeeded, as he thought, in getting him into a trap. The servile encampment was upon a piece of ground hemmed in on one side by mountains, on the other by impassable waters, and the Romans were about to close up the only outlets with some of those grand works to which they owed so many of their conquests, when, one night, Spartacus silently retreated, leaving his camp in such a state as completely deceived the enemy, who did not discover what had happened until the next morning, when the gladiators were beyond their reach.

This masterly retreat was followed up by a brilliant surprise of a division of the Roman army under the command of Cossinius. The night was just setting in, and the soldiers were resting from their day’s march and from the labors of forming the encampment, when the Thracian fell upon them. Thus suddenly attacked, they fled, without making any show of resistance,—abandoning everything to the assailants, Cossinius himself, who was bathing, had time only to escape with his life. The Romans rallied, a battle ensued, and they were routed, Cossinius being among the slain. This action took place not far from the Aufidus, which had witnessed the slaughter of Cannæ.

Spartacus now considered his army fairly “blooded.” It had routed a Roman detachment, and defeated a small army. Two Roman camps had fallen into its hands, under circumstances that gave indications of superior generalship, and several towns had been stormed. Though still deficient in arms, he resolved to attack Varinius. Sallust represents him as addressing his army before the battle, and telling them that they were about to enter, not upon a single action, but upon a long war,—that from success then would follow a series of victories,— and that therein lay their only salvation from a death at once excruciating and infamous. They must, he said, live upon victory after victory,—an expression that showed he had a clear comprehension of the nature of his situation. In the battle that followed, Varinius was beaten, unhorsed, and compelled to fly for his life. All his personal goods fell into the hands of Spartacus. His lictors, with the fasces, shared the same fate. Spartacus assumed the dress of the Roman, and all the ensigns of authority. He has been censured for this; but a little reflection ought to convince every one that he did not act from vanity, but from a profound appreciation of the state of things in Italy. The slaves, of which his army was composed, were accustomed to see the emblems of authority with which he was now clothed and surrounded in the possession of their masters alone; and when they beheld them on and about their chief, they were not only reminded of the governing power, but aLso of the overthrow of those who had theretofore monopolized it. Spartacus was a statesman, and knew how to operate on the minds of the rude masses who followed him and obeyed his orders.

The defeat of Varinius left the whole of Lower Lueania at the mercy of the gladiators. Spartacus now established posts at Metapontum and at Thurii. Here he labored, with unceasing energy and industry, to organize and discipline his men. Adopting various measures to prevent them from becoming enervated through the abundance in which they were revelling, he prohibited the use of money among them, and gave all that he himself had to relieve those who had suffered from the war. Some of his officers are said to have followed his example in making so great a sacrifice for the common good.

Towards the close of the year Varinius had succeeded in getting another army on foot. With this he resolved to watch the enemy,—repeated defeats having made the Romans cautious, though they were not even yet seriously alarmed. He formed and fortified a camp, whence he kept a look-out. There was some skirmishing, but no fighting on a large scale. This did not suit Spartacus, who had become confident in himself and his men. He desired battle, but wished the Romans should take the initiative, and was convinced that the near approach of winter would compel them soon to fight or to retreat. To encourage them, he feigned fear, and commenced a retrograde movement; but no sooner had the elated Romans advanced in pursuit than he turned upon them, and they were compelled to fight under circumstances that made defeat certain. This second rout of Varinius was total, and we hear no more of him.

Never had there been a more successful campaign than that which Spartacus had just closed. His force had been increased from less than one hundred men to nearly one hundred thousand. He had proved himself more than the equal of the generals who had been sent; against him, both in strategy and in arms. He had fought three great battles, and numerous lesser actions, and had been uniformly successful. Like Carnot, he had “organized victory.” A large part of Italy was at his command, and, under any other circumstances than those which existed, or against any other foe than Rome, he would probably have found little difficulty in establishing a powerful state, the origin of which would have been far more respectable than of that with which he was contending. But he was a statesman, and knew, that, brilliant as were his successes, he had no chance of accomplishing anything permanent within the Peninsula. He was fighting, too, for freedom, not for dominion. His plan was to get out of Italy. Two courses were open to him. He might retreat to the extremity of the Peninsula, cross the strait that separates it from Sicily, and renew the servile wars of that island; or he might march north, force his way out of Italy, and so with most of his followers reach their homes in Gaul and Thrace. The latter course was determined upon; but the more hot-headed portion of his men, the Gauls, were opposed to it, and resolved to march upon Rome. A division of the victorious army ensued. The larger number, under Spartacus, proceeded to carry out the wise plan of their leader, but the minority refused to obey him. We have seen, that, at the very outset of his enterprise, Spartacus encountered opposition from the Gauls in his army, who were ever for rash measures, and that, separating themselves from their associates, under the lead of Crixus, they had been defeated. Crixus rejoined his old chieftain, and did good service; but he and his countrymen, untaught by experience, and inflated with a notion of invincibility,—on what founded, it would be hard to say,—would not aid Spartacus in his prudent attempt to lead his followers out of Italy. Rome was their object, and, to the number of thirty thousand, they separated themselves from the main army. At first, the event seemed to justify their decision. Meeting a Roman army, commanded by the Prætor Arrius, on the borders of Samnium, the Gauls put it to rout, and the victory of Crixus was not less decisive than any of those which had been won by Spartacus. But this splendid dawn was soon overcast. Crixus was a drunkard, and, while sleeping off one of his fits of intoxication, he was set upon by a Roman army under the Consul Gellius. He was killed, and his followers either shared his fate or were totally dispersed. This was the first great victory won by the Romans in the war.

The defeat of Varinius aroused the Roman government to see that their enemy was not to he despised, and, revolted slave though he was, they were compelled to pay him the respect of making prodigious efforts to effect his destruction. The Consuls Gellius and Lentulus were charged with the conduct of the war. The former overthrew the Gauls. The latter followed Spartacus, and came up with him in Etruria. Here a contest of pure generalship took place. Lentulus was determined not to fight until Gellius—whose victory he knew of—should have come up; and Spartacus was equally determined that fight he should before the junction could be effected. He succeeded in blocking up the road by which Gellius was advancing, unknown to Lentulus. and then offered the latter battle. Supposing that his colleague would join him in the course of the action, the Roman accepted the challenge and was beaten. The victors then marched to meet Gellius, who was served after the same manner as Lentulus. Spartacus was the only general who ever defeated two great Roman armies, each headed by a Consul, on the same day, and in different battles. Hannibal's Austerlitz, Cannæ, approaches nearest to this exploit of the Thracian; but on that field the two consular armies were united under the command of Varro.

These great successes were soon followed by the defeat of two lesser Roman armies, combined under the lead of the Prætor Manlius and the Proconsul Cassius. This last victory not only left the whole open country at the command of Spartacus, but also the road to Rome, upon which city he now resolved to march. It would have been wiser, had he persevered in his original plan, the execution of which his victories must have made it easy to carry out. But perhaps success had its usual effect, even on his mind, and blinded him to the impossibility of permanent triumph in Italy. He winnowed his army, dismissing all his soldiers except such as were distinguished by their bravery, their strength, and their intelligence. In order that his march might be Swift, be caused all the superfluous baggage to be destroyed. Every beast of burden that could be dispensed with was slain. His prisoners were disposed of after the same fashion. In a modern general such an act would be utterly without excuse. But it was strictly in accordance with the laws of ancient warfare, and Spartacus probably felt far more regret at sacrificing his beasts of burden than he experienced in consenting to, if he did not order, the butchery of some thousands of men whom he must have looked upon as so many brutes.

Proceeding to the south, Spartacus fell in with a great Roman army led by Arrius, and a battle was fought near Ancona, in which victory was true to the gladiator. The Romans were not only beaten, their army was utterly destroyed; a result which they seem to have felt to be so shameful, that they made no apologies for it. Why, after this signal victory, Spartacus did not forthwith carry out his grand design of attacking Rome, —a design every way so worthy of his genius, and which alone could give him a chance of achieving permanent success after he had abandoned the idea of forcing his way out of Italy by a northern march,—can never he known. It is supposed to have been in consequence of information that circumstances had now placed it in his power to effect a passage into Sicily, a project which he had regarded with favor at an earlier period.

At this time the Cilician pirates had the command of the Mediterranean, which they held until they were conquered, some years later, by Pompeius. It was by the aid of these men that Spartacus expected to carry his army into Sicily. They had shipping in abundance, and in a few days they could have conveyed a hundred thousand men across the narrow strait that separates Sicily from Italy. This they agreed to do, and were paid in advance by Spartacus, though it is probable that he relied less upon that payment for their assistance than upon the palpable fact that their interests were the same as his own. The pirates were on the sea. what the gladiatorial army was on land. They were the victims of Roman oppression, and had become outlaws because the world’s law was against them. A union of their fleets, which numbered more than a thousand vessels, with the army of Spartacus, in the harbors and on the fields of Sicily, would perhaps have been more than a match for the whole power of Rome, contending as the republic then was with Mithridates, and bleeding still from the wounds inflicted by Marius and Sulla, as well as from the blows of Spartacus. Sicily, too, was then in a state which promised well for the design of the Thracian. Verres was ruling over the island,—and how he ruled it Cicero has told us. Had the victorious Thracian entered the island, both the free population and the slaves would have risen against the Romans. A new state might have been formed, strong both in fleets and in armies, and compelled from the very nature of its origin to contend to the death with its old oppressors. Whatever the result, it is certain that a long Sicilian war, like that which the Romans had been compelled to wage with the Carthaginians, would have changed the course of history, by directing the attention and the energies of such men as Crassus, Pompeius, and Cæsar to very different fields from those on which their fame and power were won.

But it was not to be. There was work for Rome to do, which could be done by no other nation. The power that had been found superior to Hannibal was not to fall before Spartacus, or even, to have its course stayed materially by his victories. He marched to the foot of Italy, on the shore of the strait, where he expected to find his supposed naval allies. He was disappointed. They, impolitic no less than faithless, broke their engagement after they had pocketed the sum agreed upon for their services. It was impossible for Spartacus to carry out his design; for not only had he no vessels, but his followers were, it is altogether probable, incapable of building them. The Romans, too, must have had ships in the strait, and a very few would have been found enough to keep it clear of the unskilful gladiators, even had the latter had the time and the means to construct boats.

After the defeat of the Romans under Arrius, the Senate had called Crassus to the chief command, resolving to make an herculean effort to destroy their terrible enemy. The accounts are somewhat confused, but, according to Plutarch, Crassus commenced operations against Spartacus before the latter marched for Sicily. He sent one of his lieutenants, Mummius, to follow and harass the gladiators, but with orders to avoid a general engagement. The lieutenant disobeyed his orders, fought a battle, and was defeated. Not a few of his men threw away their arms, and fled,—an uncommon thing with a Roman army. The victors continued their march, but, as we have seen, failed in their main object. Spartacus then took up a position in the territory of Rhegium, which is over against Sicily. He must have been convinced by this time that the crisis of his fortune had arrived, and though he would not even then entirely give up all idea of crossing over into the island that lay within sight of his camp, he prepared to meet the coming storm, which had been for some time gathering in his rear. Accordingly he faced about, and commenced a game of generalship with Crassus, who was now in person at the head of the Roman army.4

Of all men then living, Crassus was best entitled to command an army employed in fighting revolted slaves. If not the greatest slaveholder in Rome, he was the most systematic of the class of owners, and knew best how to turn the industry of slaves to account. He was the wealthiest citizen of the republic. One can understand how indignant such a person must have felt at the audacity of the gladiator and his followers. As a slaveholder, as a man of property, as a lover of law and order, he was concerned at so very disorderly a spectacle as that of slaves subverting all the laws of the republic; as a Roman, he felt that abhorrence for slaves which was common to the character. Here were motives enough to bring out the powers of any man, if powers he had in him; and it does not follow that because Crassus was very rich he was therefore a fool. He was a man of consummate talents, and at this particular time was probably the most influential citizen of Rome. The Romans had confidence in him, as the embodiment of the spirit of supremacy by which they were so completely animated. The event showed that their confidence was not misplaced.

The army of Crassus was two hundred thousand strong, and having restored its discipline by examples of great severity, he marched to meet Spartacus; but on arriving in front of the latter’s position, he would not attack it, while Spartacus showed an equal unwillingness to fight. The Roman determined to blockade the enemy. As they had the sea on one side, and that was held by a fleet, he commenced a line of works, the completion of which would have rendered it impossible for the gladiators to escape. These works were on the usual Roman scale, and consisted principally of walls and ditches, a hundred thousand men being employed in their construction. So cleverly did Crassus conceal what he was about, that it was not until he had almost accomplished his design that Spartacus discovered the intention of his foe. The emergency was suited to his genius, and he was not unequal to it. He began a series of attacks on the Romans, harassing them perpetually, retarding their labors, and drawing their attention from that point of their line by which he purposed to extricate his army. At last, on a night when a terrible snow-storm was raging, he led his men to a place where the Roman works were yet incomplete, the snow enabling them to march noiselessly. When they reached the, line, the immense ditches seemed to bar their further advance; but they set resolutely at work to fill them. Earth, snow, fagots, and dead bodies of men and beasts were hastily thrown into them; and across this singular bridge the whole army poured into the country, leaving the Roman camp behind, and having rendered nugatory all the laborious digging and trenching of the legions.

It was not until the next morning that Crassus discovered what had been done, and how thoroughly he had been outgeneralled by Spartacus. But he had no room for vexation in his mind. He was so frightened as a Roman citizen, that he could not feel mortified as a Roman soldier. He took counsel of his fears, and did that which he had cause both to be ashamed of and to regret in after days. He wrote to the Senate, stating that in his opinion not only should Pompeius be summoned home from Spain, but Lucullus also from the East, to aid in putting down an enemy who was unconquerable by ordinary means. A short time sufficed to show how indiscreetly for his own fame he had acted; for Spartacus was unable to follow up his success, in consequence of mutinies in his army. The Gauls again rebelled against his authority, and left him. Crassus concentrated his whole force in an attack on the seceders, and a battle followed which Plutarch says was the most severely contested of the war. The Romans remained masters of the field, more than twelve thousand of the Gauls being slain, of whom only two were wounded in the back, the rest falling in the ranks. Spartacus retreated to the mountains of Petelia, closely followed by Roman detachments. Turning upon them, he drove them back; but this last gleam of success led to his destruction. His policy was to avoid a battle, but his men would not listen to his prudent counsels, and compelled him to face about and march against Crassus. This was what the Roman desired; for Pompeius was bringing up an army from Spain, and would be sure to reap all the honors of the war, were it to be prolonged.

Some accounts represent Spartacus as anxious for battle. Whether he was so or not, he made every preparation that became a good general. The armies met on the Silarus, in the northern part of Lucania; and the battle which followed, and which was to finish this remarkable war, was fought not far from where the traveller now sees the noble ruins of Pæstum. Spartacus made his last speech to his soldiers, warning them of what they would have to expect, if they should fall alive into the hands of their old masters. By way of practical commentary on his text, he caused a cross to be erected on a height, and to that cross was nailed a living Roman, whose agonies were visible to the whole army. Spartacus then ordered his horse to be brought to him in front of the army, and slew the annual with his own hands. “I am determined,” he said to his men, “to share all your dangers. Our positions shall be the same. If we are victorious, I shall get horses enough from the foe. If we are beaten, I shall need a horse no more.” 5

The battle that followed was the most severely contested action of that warlike period, which, extending through two generations, saw the victories of Marius over the Northern barbarians at its commencement., and Pharsalia and Munda and Philippi at its close. The insurgents attacked with great fury, but with method, Spartacus leading the way at the head of a hand of select followers, thus acting the part of a soldier as well as of a general. The Romans steadily resisted,—and the slaughter was great on both sides. At last, victory began to incline towards the gladiators, when Spartacus fell, and the fortune of the day was changed. He had made a fierce charge on the Romans, with the intention of cutting his way to Crassus. Two centurions had fallen by his sword, and a number of inferior men, when he was himself wounded in one of his thighs. Falling upon one knee, he still continued to fight, until he was overpowered and slain. The battle was maintained for some time longer, and ended only with the destruction of the insurgents, thirty thousand of whom were killed;—Livy puts their killed at forty thousand. The Roman slain numbered twenty thousand, and they had as many more wounded. Only six thousand prisoners fell into the hands of Crassus, who caused the whole of them to be crucified,—the crosses being placed at intervals on both sides of the Appian Way, between Capua and Rome, and the whole Roman army being marched through the horrible lines. A body of five thousand fugitives, who sought refuge in the north, were intercepted by Pompeius on his homeward march from Spain, and slaughtered to a man.

Thus fell Spartacus, and far more nobly than either of the great republican chiefs whose deaths were so soon to follow. Pompeius, who boasted that he had cut up the war by the roots, ran away from Pharsalia, without an effort to retrieve his fortunes, though the force opposed to him in the battle was only half as large as his own, and he had still abundant resources for future operations. Crassus, who claimed to have conquered Spartacus, and who not unreasonably resented the pretensions of Pompeius, fell miserably in Parthia, after having led the Romans to the most fatal of their fields except Cannæ. Wanting the nerve to die sword in hand in the midst of his foes, like Spartacus, he consented to adorn the triumph of those foes, and perished as ignominiously as the great gladiator gloriously.

  1. * Arnold, History of Rome, Vol. III. pp. 317-318, London edition.
  2. Liddell, History of Rome, Vol. II. p. 144.
  3. These ravages seem to have made a great impression on the Romans, and were by them long remembered. Forty years later Horace alludes to them, in that Ode which he wrote on the return of Augustus from Spain (Carm. III. xiv. 19). He calls to his young slave to fetch him a jar of wine that had seen the Marsian War, “if there could be found one that had escaped the vagabond Spartacus.” The manner in which he, the son of a libertinus, speaks of Spartacus, is not only amusing as an instance of foolish pride, but is carious as illustrating a change in Roman ideas that was working out more important results than could have followed from all the acts of the first two Cæsars, though perhaps it was in some sense connected with, if not dependent upon, their legislation.
  4. It is probable that justice has never been done to Crassus as a military man. Roman writers were not likely to deal fairly with a man who closed his career so fatally to himself, and so disgracefully in every way to his country. It was his misfortune—a misfortune of his own creating—to lead the finest Roman army that had ever been seen in the East to destruction, in an unjust attack on the Parthians. Had he succeeded, the injustice of his course would have been overlooked by his countrymen; but they never could forgive his defeat. Yet it is certain that this man, who has come down to us as a contemptible creature, having small claim to consideration beyond what he derived from his enormous possessions, not only exhibited eminent military ability in the War of Spartacus, but, when a young man, won that great battle which takes its name from the Colline Gate, and which laid the Roman world at the feet of Sulla. Pontius Telesinus had marched upon Rome, with the intention of “destroying the den of the wolves of Italy,” and Sulla arrived to the city’s rescue but just in time. In the battle that immediately followed, Sulla, at the head of the left wing of his army, was completely defeated, while the right wing, commanded by Crassus, was as completely victorious. Talent must have had something to do with Crassus’s success, which enabled Sulla to retrieve his fortunes, and to triumph over the Marian party. One hundred thousand men are said to have fallen in this battle. The avarice of Crassus and his want of popular manners were fatal to him in life, and his defeat left him no friends in death.
  5. When the Earl of Warwick, the Kingmaker, killed his horse in front of the Yorkist army, at the battle of Towton, (fought on Palm Sunday, 1461,) he little knew that he was imitating the action of a general of revolted slaves, more than fifteen centuries earlier. Warwick is said to have done the same thing at the battle of Barnet, the last of his fields, where he was defeated and slain, fighting for the House of Lancaster.