Saturday, 12 March 2011



He remained an obscure historical figure until Karl Marx on the 27th of Feb in 1861 wrote a letter to Engels . In that letter the first real mention was made of a man we think of today as a legend of the word freedom ,someone who taught the world the real meaning of resistance to tyranny, a name that is one of the first names that comes to mind when thinking of those that fought against the fascist and authoritarian regimes of history. Did Marx see in that warrior and in that revolt someone who was creating class struggle?

After that letter the story of Spatacus travelled far, from Rosa Luxembourg's group who used the name ,right up to a film (that had its moments) of Kirk Douglas . Many other left wing, mostly communist groups, fancied themselves in the Spatacus role and called themselves Spartacists.

alpha miniatures the spartacus revolt

Sports teams in the Eastern Bloc used the name frequently and Spartacus had suddenly ,from that letter of Marx to Engels , become the first real communist.

But now a book that has delved deeply into the ancient world confronts the idea that the revolt of Spartacus was in any way class struggle. The book called Spartacus.The man and his army by Aldo Schiavone refutes any suggestion that this was the first real manifestation of a class struggle.

To understand this we should maybe think that men are made by the times they live in and reflect its ideas and mores. The book puts forward the idea that Spatacus was merely a warrior that liked the fight and the writer has put to good use his research into the historical accounts that were contemporary to the times.

Marx by James Opie

All of it is Roman none of it comes from the side of Spartacus.As a teenager I was working in Debenhams in Oxford Street. I had left school as soon as possible and as jobs were plentiful at the time I quickly found employment as a porter in that big department store. The money I earned I spent on clothes and books. One of the first books that I read at that time was “The Rebel” by Albert Camus. In the book Camus states that when Spartacus was in sight of Rome and Rome had no army left to defend it Spartacus suddenly turned away from the city taking his army with him. Camus goes on to say that Spartacus realised that he had nothing to replace Rome with. If this story is true it falls into line somewhat with the theory of Schiavone.

There were maybe two million slaves on Roman soil and only 60,000 of them joined the fight against Rome.Nevertheless mass panic spread throughout the Roman empire. If we are to understand how the army of Spatucus made Romans tremble in their flip-flops then we only have to think of the slave revolt in Virginia under the leadership of Nat Turner.The Southern States of North America had great similarities to Rome, obviously the slave was looked upon as a thing and not a human being, they were used carefulluy as they cost a lot but not just used for work as rape was considered normal. 


nat turner

In the so called Land of the Free there were only 200 out of a possible four million slaves that fought a guerilla war agaist the United States and that was enought to send white Americans into visions of terror.

If 200 in the States made the white folk tremble then think of an army of 60,000 many of whom knew how to handle a weapon to its maximum possibilities.(If we think about present day america we do not have to look further than the anti-black sentiments of the Tea Party people who have clothed their protest against a black president in a pseudo socio-economic mask)

The revolt of Spatacus was not the first slave revolt. There had been two in Sicily in 132 b.c .The other in 104b.c. In the first revolt an anti-roman coalition in Asia Minor had taken on the might of Rome.


When the crap hit the fan back in 73bc at the town Capua, Rome was sending the bulk of its armies to quell risings in Asia Minor and Spain.

above capua The rebels showed that they were men ready for anything and most were gladiators.

The life of a gladiator ended in early adult age, around 25. In Efeso in Turkey remains of gladiators have been found in a unique gladiator cemetary.Around 130 skeletons have been dug up.

All had been killed before they had reached 35 most were around 25.It is thought that the majority were also killed in their first gladatorial contest. Around a third of the Deaths were found to have come from violent hits to bones, a third of these were head blows,the others were found with no bone damage whatsoever but their deaths were violent all the same such as disembowelments and arteries cut through.These gladiators lived in the period called the Pax Romanus about two centuries after Christ. The fights in the arena were organised within a monopoly of the state.

playmobil , great toy.

In the time of Spartacus one century before christ in the late republic, the fights were not within the monopoly of the state but privately run affairs and this meant that things were much worse for them.


As we have seen in the U.K as regards privitisation of services and organisations the private sector works on maximum profit for minimum outlay.This was certainly true for gladiators.
Rome was a place where all mainifestations of the senses were acceptable , from sadism to sexual freedom, everything was cool. Blood and Sex with a bit of religion thrown in dominated the scene.

The fight organisers were rich men in search of popularity and understood that the mob loved blood and these men gave the mob want they wanted, blood and death, a lot of it ( This was little different to sporting events today , good examples are football matches where anything violent gets the blood moving in the mob).cherilea

Privitisation and catering to the base desire of the mob meant that gladiators did not have a fighting chance as many were meant to die even before a fight took place , merely lambs led to the slaughter.

Many slaves and prisoners were merely tied up and torn apart by wild animals. In the case of the Gladiators, who were meant to provide blood, many were probably matched against opponents with whom they had no chance of winning.

The revolt began in 66b.c in summer. In Capua there had already been two small cases of insubordination; in 216 b.C after the defeat of the legions at Cannae,Capua abandoned their alliance with Rome to team up with Hannibal. Rome was little different to regimes like that of Hitler and of Mussolini but it was much more complex and a variety of different situations such as the Pax Romanus ruled the roost nevertheless mass killing and execution was part of the plan.At times when pacification through non-violent means was considered more economically viable then it was this path that was taken.Thus for the Romans Capua was a town that was traitorous but Rome had taken it back into the fold by creating an important trade centre in the town much of which was based on slaves.

hannibals army by the michigan toy soldier company     below armorama 54mm

Many of these were taught the art of “those about to die”.Some were never going to be any good and quick deaths were outlined for them by the money men behind the contests. It was all good. Women put into the arena to titilate the crowd were gang raped by wild beasts until they were literally torn apart from inside. No one cared , it was fun.

Already in the 2nd century the games which ended in mass death were more or less like a day at the fair, death was normal., too normal.     below wilson edward


The fans were getting bored and needed more spectacular ways of death in the arena. It got so bad that the famed Vestel Virgins were put into the arena to be torn apart by hounds .
It was no longer a place where there was a fighting chance.Not many won freedom.To understand the fans who frequented the Arena we don't have to look any further than modern day football where any sense of fair play has gone out of the window due to the obssessive nature of supporters who only care about winning and not the sport.At first Gladiators were appreciated for their skill but then the whole thing deteriorated into the cheap thrill, the thirst for blood.Rome provided the blood

In the end when the games started to lose popularity death with lots of blood was boring .( my favourite anecdote of the games was when one Caesar sent the mob “onto the pitch” after they had heckled him, all were torn apart by wild beasts and they say that this particular Carsar thought it the best laugh he'd had in  below romeo 54mmages).Ausiliario Romano - Fine II Sec. D.C.

Most Romans lived on social security and did little work..The games and the fights were the main form of entertainment but they were unable to reinvent themselves and the crowd, the mob were restless and as I have stated, no one wanted to see a fair fight.                                        below seil 54mm

The first fights in the arena were those of trained gladiators but towards the end of the empire anyone who wanted to have a go could enter the arena as a gladiator.

Many impoverished Roman citizens entered the fray as a quick way of making money.Prisoners from the wars were also sent into the arena where they re-enacted Roman battles that had become famous. But at the time of Spartacus these types of combat were only at an initial stage. Spartacus at the time of the revolt was thirty and came from Thrace, the European part of Bulgaria. He had been a Roman soldier after enrolling in the army to fight against Mitridate(above) in the campaign of 88-85 but after the fighting started to include the repression of his own people the Maidi he became a partizan against the Romans and led a guerilla band. He was captured and sold into slavery. As a slave he met the woman of his life who was also a slave but her name has not been passed down to us. crescent

She had been a baccante of Dioniso, a cult that attracted both people.He was bought in Rome by Lentulo Baziato and put into the gladiatorial school in Capua.Quickly after Spartacus arrived the gladiators started their revolt . When Spartacus met the first Roman troops sent to stop him he was already escaping to Vesuvius. Escaping? Most historians alive at that time say that the Thracian merely wanted to create the right conditions for an ambush thus massacaring all sent against him and escape was never on his mind just the blood of the Roman.

Many times he had had the possibility to escape without leaving a trace, he could have easily returned to Thrace and that would have been that.

The truth according to the new book is that Spartacus never for one moment considered leaving Italy. He divided his command with Crisso and Enomao. In those first moments on Vesivius the revolt had become a war.

Publio Vanario and his legion marched towards Spartacus . He most likely marched thinking that it was an easy victory just as Mussolini's legions had marched in Africa before the start of the Second World war .

When he reached him he was cut to pieces. Spartacus showed in that first battle that tactical awareness was his forte. After this Spartacus and Crisso split up and divided their men. This was not as the Romans say for internal dissent between the two but merely for strategic reasons.

They left Campania and went South: Nocera, I'Ipirnia(above),The Picentini Mountains,they finally arrived in Forum Annii in the Diano valley and there let forth an explosion of violence which really made the name of Spartacus.


The slaves of the area all passed over to the Gladiator army. But the blood and massacre of Forum Annii sickened Spartacus and he vowed that that would be the last time and that he would create a new society.

First of all though he had to create the conditions and a war needed to be won. These are the views of Schiavone the author of the book.Spartacus was unbeatable, he took all of Lucania and got control of two ports on the Ionian sea that of Metapontum and Turi


Through history there have been those that have tried against incredible odds to create a new society , Mao in China and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, ones that started out with the best of intentions and finished somewhat short of their ideals but were always better than their alternative(Before Mao millions of peasants had been left to die of hunger every year or two).

Mao in China notwithstanding his ecessive zeal and control of certain parts of society made it better for the bulk which was that of the peasants while Vietnam freed itself of capitalist exploitation and French and American control.(Interesting to note that the main reason for war in Vietnam was the lobby of Uncle Ben's rice who owned vast tracts of rice paddy in Vietnam, the theory of the domino is most likely total bollocks made up by American politicians)charbens

Spatacus was different in that he had no “FORMULA” as Mao and Ho Chi Minh had had, in their case the Communist Manifesto. The difference was that Spatacus had to create a new society from nothing.Thus this is one of the reasons for saying that the war of Spartacus was not class struggle.

As stated Camus in his book the Rebel states that the reason why Spartacus did not replace replace Rome was from the fact that he had nothing to replace it with.The writer of this new book says that Spartacus was basically a commander of the battlefield and not a statesman.He continues to say that the main aim of Spartacus was to get as many men as he could on his side.But he wanted the right kind of men ,Roman deserters were not wanted.      below wilson edward 54mm

The Romans defeated Crisso who had gone down to Apulia and into the Gargano(above) but when they got round to facing Spartacus they were torn apart by the gladiator/slave army. This happened around the city of Modena and straight away the road of freedom looked Spartacus in the face as the Alps were only a few days march away. It was a golden occasion. Spartacus had time on his hands and he organised the sumptuous funeral of Crisso(proof that between the two there had not been any friction). He made 300 Roman prisoners fight to the death at the funeral to honour Crisso. The author writes that this was a shock to the spectators as the Roman soldiers tore each other apart, the shock was that of seeing the roles reversed. The bloodletter was now Spartacus and the victims were ordinary Roman soldiers."Provocator" Romanoromeo 54mm gladiator

After this they marched not to the Alps but towards Rome. He gave orders to kill all Romans wherever found and to kill even the numerous amount of Roman desertors who wanted to join him.Why this deciusion? Because he didnt feel that he was the leader of an army of refugeess, he was now behaving like a God given leader from the East who was now leading a real army that would shake the whole world. He would now hit the Romans in the heart and take over Italy.

Schiavone says that the Spartacus revolt cannot just be limited to Roman slavery.

No form of class awareness ever existed in Roman history and the slaves never ever had this awareness for the simple reason that in ancient history there was not a division of classes as in modern history. Only diverse levels which were so involved that they couldn't create the Marxian sense of society. The condition of a slave reduced mankind to things and so there was not the seperation of the worker and thus the selling of labour.This was and is the soul and basis of modern society.The existance of the slave had its origin in the fact that a slave was not paid and this meant that a class struggle as we know it could not be attained because the worker was never faced with his capitalist master. In short the master was that of the land and also of the slave,the slave did not sell his labout to the capitalist as a worker does..While the worker is a product of production and his contract the slave was o outside the spheres of economic struggle, he had the same status as a prisoner of war and therefore had no voice.

In the latin language there is no word that defines the idea of work as an abstact conception , slaves did what needed to be done and that was that. Most free Romans lived on social security if they were not rich.The idea of work as a poltical and social notion was really born with the industrial revolution.The arbitary conditioning of the past based on modern day conceptions of class struggle is not applicable to a period that had no idea of these principles (and could not have had an idea)and is one of the greatest misconceptions created by some modern day historians and the like to explain ancient society.

Nothing that we know of Spartacus gives us the authority to suppose he acted deliberately in the name of all the slaves of Rome or he fought for their general redemption. For sure he did not want to abolish the thing called slavery.The Roman prisoners became his slaves and as slaves he made them fight to the death. Spartacus merely wanted a vendetta , to reverse a situation where he became the owner of slaves. That was that. Spartacus didn't want Roman desertors in his army because he wanted a different kind of man in his army, he wanted a civil war in Italy.irregular 54mm

He percieved that in Italy there was anti -Roman feeling , a little like the Spain of Sirtorius.For sure banning slavery wasn't on his agenda.He looked for overturning the Roman dictatorship with his own.

The Romans reacted by sending Marco Lucinio Crasso to fight Spartacus and by asking the rival of Crassus, Pompey, to return home from Spain. Crasso had forced Spartacus to seek alliances in Sicily as the slaves were not joining him anymore.But the pirates who had said they'd take him across the Messina straits didn't live up to their bargain.The Sicilian governor stopped Spartacus from creating alliances on the Island. Spartacus then had to go into Calabria. Crasso tried to cut the line of retreat by creating a gigantic wall from the coast of the Tyrennehian to the ionian sea.                         below mb mins 54mm
 A ridiculous idea as Spartacus passed all the same.Crasso attacked him in the environs of Lake Lucano in Lucania but Spartacus bettered him.In the meanwhile Pompey making forced marches was arriving with his army and Crasso who could not stand thought of pompey being the one to defeat Spartacus so he threw his last ace and fought Spartacus in a pitched battle in the locality of Mount Cantena in North Basilicata.
 This time he nearly destroyed the army of Spartacus.But after this Spartacus resisted and defeated the Romans once more. After trying to make an truce with Crasso and failing he marched towards Brindisi.In the battle of Alto Sele (above)Spartacus was finally defeated and killed. His body was never found.But there is a legend that says he was crucified on the road that takes you from Capua to Rome.This was the fate that 6,000 of his men found and this was not a legend.. A group of his men remained together and fought a guerilla war for ten more years. They joined the revolt of Catilinius who fell near Pistoia in 62.bc.The survivors fought again in 60bc at Turi.

The thread that went from the revolt of Spartacus to that of the later revolts died at Turi.The people who owned land obviously hated the idea of Spartacus taking over but the Roman mob welcomed him but after the coup'D'etat of Augustus these sentiments vanished. The mob were not interested in much and their enthusiasm for Spartacus was a passing fancy.
They were not interested in work because they had never had productive work, they did not even understand what an occupational post meant. They were resigned to momentary pleasure such as the games and to the dole money handed out to them by the state.If you are ever in the vicinity of Highbury or Old Trafford on a Saturday afternoon at three o'Clock you may well be reminded of this.You will see aggressive faces shouting for blood and baying “You're gonna get your fuckin heads kicked in” and you know that that not much has changed except dole money won't get you into a stadium.

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