One of the more informative entries in the series. Probably most of us have heard of Spartacus, the Roman gladiator who led a slave revolt against the Legions around 45 BCE. If nothing else, there is the movie with Kirk Douglas as the protagonist.
Well, for the most part, Spartacus is popularly thought of as the hero who defied the Roman Empire and was crucified for his troubles.
In this episode we get more historical detail (and perhaps less dramatic action) than the movie with Kirk Douglas provides us. Spartacus didn't begin the revolt by himself. He had a partner, Crixus. And their group were treated by the Romans not as an army but as an escaped group of slaves, pursued by inept political generals. Most of the more accomplished officers were away, fighting enemies in Spain or the Middle East. The political officers were presumed to be sufficiently competent. After all, how canny must one be to capture a bunch of runaway slaves? They were wrong, though. Spartacus, about whom little is known, may have been in the Roman army himself at one time. In any case he knew his way around a battle and he defeated two attempts at capture -- each bringing a stinging defeat to the pride of the army and the government in Rome. Some of the Legions were decimated by their leaders -- one man picked at random out of every ten for a humiliating and painful execution by his brothers-in-arms.
It's not in the movie, but Spartacus and Crixus had a falling out. Crixus was given to lavish displays of brutality, killing all his prisoners, raping, pillaging, taking women and children as slaves. (Well, I suppose he figured that, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.) Still, what Crixus was up to is nowadays considered brigandry. The two partners split and went their separate ways.
By this time the government realized that they were up against an organized army, not a disorganized lot of escapees and camp followers, and they sent a proper general, Crassus, in pursuit. They caught up with Crixus's army and slaughtered them. Spartacus had made a deal with Turkish pirates at the tip of the Italian boot, arranging for transportation across the Straits of Messina to Sicily, where his band would presumably have established their own idiosyncratic Roman colony. The pirates simply took the money and ran, leaving Spartacus walled in by Crassus at Italy's Southern tip.
Spartacus had to keep his company on the move in order to forage food and supplies. By the time the demoralized group had found a way around Crassus's wall, they were defeated in battle and all the men were crucified. (Spartacus's body was never found.) Another famous general, Pompeii, showed up with his army just in time to take all the credit.
The film is informative and, as far as I can tell, true to historical fact, but I wish the budget had allowed for more than one location shooting. The dank and chilly forests of Lithuania simply don't look much like Brindisium. (Where a young girl on the beach fingered the "M" tattooed on my deltoid and asked, "Mussolini?") The battle scenes are a bit repetitious, and I'd have liked to know more about the political shenanigans back in the capitol. However, it's a good episode, even if Spartacus is played by a Litvak muscle man.
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