Outbreak Of The Gladiatorial War In Italy Spartacus

The gladiatorial games, which now held the first rank among the popular amusements in Italy, had led to the institution of numerous establishments, more especially in and around Capua, designed partly for the custody, partly for the training of those slaves who were destined to kill or be killed for the amusement of the sovereign multitude. These were naturally in great part brave men captured in war, who had not forgotten that they had once faced the Romans in the field. A number of these desperadoes broke out of one of the Capuan gladiatorial schools (681), and sought refuge on Mount Vesuvius. At their head were two Celts, who were designated by their slave-names Crixus and Oenomaus, and the Thracian Spartacus. The latter, perhaps a scion of the noble family of the Spartocids which attained even to royal honours in its Thracian home and in Panticapaeum, had served among the Thracian auxiliaries in the Roman army, had deserted and gone as a brigand to the mountains, and had been there recaptured and destined for the gladiatorial games.

The Insurrection Takes Shape

The inroads of this little band, numbering at first only seventy-four persons, but rapidly swelling by concourse from the surrounding country, soon became so troublesome to the inhabitants of the rich region of Campania, that these, after having vainly attempted themselves to repel them, sought help against them from Rome. A division of 3000 men hurriedly collected appeared under the leadership of Clodius Glaber, and occupied the approaches to Vesuvius with the view of starving out the slaves. But the brigands in spite of their small number and their defective armament had the boldness to scramble down steep declivities and to fall upon the Roman posts; and when the wretched militia saw the little band of desperadoes unexpectedly assail them, they took to their heels and fled on all sides. This first success procured for the robbers arms and increased accessions to their ranks. Although even now a great portion of them carried nothing but pointed clubs, the new and stronger division of the militia-- two legions under the praetor Publius Varinius--which advanced from Rome into Campania, found them encamped almost like a regular army in the plain. Varinius had a difficult position. His militia, compelled to bivouac opposite the enemy, were severely weakened by the damp autumn weather and the diseases which it engendered; and, worse than the epidemics, cowardice and insubordination thinned the ranks. At the very outset one of his divisions broke up entirely, so that the fugitives did not fall back on the main corps, but went straight home. Thereupon, when the order was given to advance against the enemy's entrenchments and attack them, the greater portion of the troops refused to comply with it. Nevertheless Varinius set out with those who kept their ground against the robber-band; but it was no longer to be found where he sought it. It had broken up in the deepest silence and had turned to the south towards Picentia (Vicenza near Amain), where Varinius overtook it indeed, but could not prevent it from retiring over the Silarus into the interior of Lucania, the chosen land of shepherds and robbers. Varinius followed thither, and there at length the despised enemy arrayed themselves for battle. All the circumstances under which the combat took place were to the disadvantage of the Romans: the soldiers, vehemently as they had demanded battle a little before, fought ill; Varinius was completely vanquished; his horse and the insignia of his official dignity fell with the Roman camp itself into the enemy's hand. The south-Italian slaves, especially the brave half-savage herdsmen, flocked in crowds to the banner of the deliverers who had so unexpectedly appeared; according to the most moderate estimates the number of armed insurgents rose to 40,000 men. Campania, just evacuated, was speedily reoccupied, and the Roman corps which was left behind there under Gaius Thoranius, the quaestor of Varinius, was broken and destroyed. In the whole south and south-west of Italy the open country was in the hands of the victorious bandit- chiefs; even considerable towns, such as Consentia in the Bruttian country, Thurii and Metapontum in Lucania, Nola and Nuceria in Campania, were stormed by them, and suffered all the atrocities which victorious barbarians could inflict on defenceless civilized men, and unshackled slaves on their former masters. That a conflict like this should be altogether abnormal and more a massacre than a war, was unhappily a matter of course: the masters duly crucified every captured slave; the slaves naturally killed their prisoners also, or with still more sarcastic retaliation even compelled their Roman captives to slaughter each other in gladiatorial sport; as was subsequently done with three hundred of them at the obsequies of a robber-captain who had fallen in combat.

Great Victories Of Spartacus

In Rome people were with reason apprehensive as to the destructive conflagration which was daily spreading. It was resolved next year (682) to send both consuls against the formidable leaders of the gang. The praetor Quintus Arrius, a lieutenant of the consul Lucius Gellius, actually succeeded in seizing and destroying at Mount Garganus in Apulia the Celtic band, which under Crixus had separated from the mass of the robber-army and was levying contributions at its own hand. But Spartacus achieved all the more brilliant victories in the Apennines and in northern Italy, where first the consul Gnaeus Lentulus who had thought to surround and capture the robbers, then his colleague Gellius and the so recently victorious praetor Arrius, and lastly at Mutina the governor of Cisalpine Gaul Gaius Cassius (consul 681) and the praetor Gnaeus Manlius, one after another succumbed to his blows. The scarcely- armed gangs of slaves were the terror of the legions; the series of defeats recalled the first years of the Hannibalic war.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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