Internal Dissension Among The Insurgents

What might have come of it, had the national kings from the mountains of Auvergne or of the Balkan, and not runaway gladiatorial slaves, been at the head of the victorious bands, it is impossible to say; as it was, the movement remained notwithstanding its brilliant victories a rising of robbers, and succumbed less to the superior force of its opponents than to internal discord and the want of definite plan. The unity in confronting the common foe, which was so remarkably conspicuous in the earlier servile wars of Sicily, was wanting in this Italian war--a difference probably due to the fact that, while the Sicilian slaves found a quasi-national point of union in the common Syrohellenism, the Italian slaves were separated into the two bodies of Helleno-Barbarians and Celto-Germans. The rupture between the Celtic Crixus and the Thracian Spartacus--Oenomaus had fallen in one of the earliest conflicts--and other similar quarrels crippled them in turning to account the successes achieved, and procured for the Romans several important victories. But the want of a definite plan and aim produced far more injurious effects on the enterprise than the insubordination of the Celto-Germans. Spartacus doubtless--to judge by the little which we learn regarding that remarkable man--stood in this respect above his party. Along with his strategic ability he displayed no ordinary talent for organization, as indeed from the very outset the uprightness, with which he presided over his band and distributed the spoil, had directed the eyes of the multitude to him quite as much at least as his valour. To remedy the severely felt want of cavalry and of arms, he tried with the help of the herds of horses seized in Lower Italy to train and discipline a cavalry, and, so soon as he got the port of Thurii into his hands, to procure from that quarter iron and copper, doubtless through the medium of the pirates. But in the main matters he was unable to induce the wild hordes whom he led to pursue any fixed ulterior aims. Gladly would he have checked the frantic orgies of cruelty, in which the robbers indulged on the capture of towns, and which formed the chief reason why no Italian city voluntarily made common cause with the insurgents; but the obedience which the bandit-chief found in the conflic ceased with the victory, and his representations and entreaties were in vain. After the victories obtained in the Apennine in 682 the slave army was free to move in any direction. Spartacus himself is said to have intended to cross the Alps, with a view to open to himself and his followers the means of return to their Celtic or Thracian home: if the statement is well founded, it shows how little the conqueror overrated his successes and his power. When his men refused so speedily to turn their backs on the riches of Italy, Spartacus took the route for Rome, and is said to have meditated blockading the capital. The troops, however, showed themselves also averse to this desperate but yet methodical enterprise; they compelled their leader, when he was desirous to be a general, to remain a mere captain of banditti and aimlessly to wander about Italy in search of plunder. Rome might think herself fortunate that the matter took this turn; but even as it was, the perplexity was great. There was a want of trained soldiers as of experienced generals; Quintus Metellus and Gnaeus Pompeius were employed in Spain, Marcus Lucullus in Thrace, Lucius Lucullus in Asia Minor; and none but raw militia and, at best, mediocre officers were available. The extraordinary supreme command in Italy was given to the praetor Marcus Crassus, who was not a general of much reputation, but had fought with honour under Sulla and had at least character; and an army of eight legions, imposing if not by its quality, at any rate by its numbers, was placed at his disposal. The new commander-in-chief began by treating the first division, which again threw away its arms and fled before the banditti, with all the severity of martial law, and causing every tenth man in it to be executed; whereupon the legions in reality grew somewhat more manly. Spartacus, vanquished in the next engagement, retreated and sought to reach Rhegium through Lucania.

Conflicts In The Bruttian Country

Just at that time the pirates commanded not merely the Sicilian waters, but even the port of Syracuse;(26) with the help of their boats Spartacus proposed to throw a corps into Sicily, where the slaves only waited an impulse to break out a third time. The march to Rhegium was accomplished; but the corsairs, perhaps terrified by the coastguards established in Sicily by the praetor Gaius Verres, perhaps also bribed by the Romans, took from Spartacus the stipulated hire without performing the service for which it was given. Crassus meanwhile had followed the robber-army nearly as far as the mouth, of the Crathis, and, like Scipio before Numantia, ordered his soldiers, seeing that they did not fight as they ought, to construct an entrenched wall of the length of thirty-five miles, which shut off the Bruttian peninsula from the rest of Italy,(27) intercepted the insurgent army on the return from Rhegium, and cut off its supplies. But in a dark winter night Spartacus broke through the lines of the enemy, and in the spring of 683(28) was once more in Lucania. The laborious work had thus been in vain. Crassus began to despair of accomplishing his task and demanded that the senate should for his support recall to Italy the armies stationed in Macedonia under Marcus Lucullus and in Hither Spain under Gnaeus Pompeius.

Disruption Of The Rebels And Their Subjugation

This extreme step however was not needed; the disunion and the arrogance of the robber-bands sufficed again to frustrate their successes. Once more the Celts and Germans broke off from the league of which the Thracian was the head and soul, in order that, under leaders of their own nation Gannicus and Castus, they might separately fall victims to the sword of the Romans.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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