by Peter Stothard
New York: Overlook Press, 2010. Pp. xiv, 240.
Illus., maps, biblio. $26.95. ISBN: ISBN: 978-1-5902-0
is not so much an historical treatment of the famous slave rebellion and its leader as it is a meditation on history.
Stothard is a journalist and editor of The Times Literary Supplement, the author of Thirty Days: An Inside Account of Tony Blair at War, rather than a specialist in Roman history. Nevertheless, he gives us a good account of the “Third Servile War” (73-71 BC). He looks into its background, the events, their meaning, and the echoes and eddies the uprising has had the down the ages, from ancient historians through Marx and on to recent motion picture and television portrayals, and the continuing use of “Spartacist” by some political radicals. Stothard skillfully weaves walks travels across historic landscapes and through ancient ruins with literary and artistic criticism, political analysis, comparisons between ancient and modern culture and society, profiles of notable and not so notable people across the ages, and such, while giving us a running commentary on art, tourists (he crosses paths several times with a knowledgeable Korean, also touring the ancient sites), folklore, literature, and more. In one of his most arresting passages, Stothard describes a recently evacuated villa, otherwise unrecorded in history, that was almost certainly sacked by the rebellious slaves, one of the most amazing finds in recent archaeology.
While a particularly valuable book for those interested in ancient history, Spartacus Road is likely to be a stimulating read for the layman.