Book Review: Spartacus


by Aldo Schiavone, translated by Jeremy Carden

Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 2013. Pp. xviii, 180. Maps., notes, biblio., index. $19.95. ISBN: 0674057783

In Spartacus, originally published in Italian in 2011, Prof. Schiavone (Istituto Italiano di Scienze Umane)presents a novel view of the Spartacus rebellion, arguing that it was essentially more of a civil war than a slave insurrection. 

Schiavone makes an interesting case.  He reminds us that although the “slave army” was initially formed by rebellious gladiators, not everyone who followed Sparactus was a fugitive slave.  While the rebels recruited thousands of people who were seeking freedom from servitude, among whom were many enslaved Italians or South Italian Greeks, it also quickly attracted large numbers of impoverished free Italiot peasants and even rural bandits.  In addition, the “strategy” adopted by Spartacus seems wholly contrary to the notion of escaping Roman slaves.  Despite several opportunities to march for the Alps, Spartacus kept his army in Southern Italy, where it was eventually trapped; only then did he seek to flee Italy, making an unsuccessful attempt to form an alliance with pirates. 

Schiavone divides his book into three parts.  “The Fugitive” discusses the background of slavery and slave insurrections in the Roman world, what is known about Spartacus the man, and the beginnings of his rebellion.  In “The Commander,” Schiavone looks at the transformation of a band of run away gladiators into an army that ravaged much of southern Italy as it took on Roman armies.  Finally, in “The Loser,” Schiavone discusses the ultimate fate of Spartacus and his followers, the influence of the rebellion on Roman policies, and its impact on Italy. 

The book is very well written, often carefully analytical, and is at times quite moving.  Among the most interesting and touching passages is Schiavone’s description of what must have once been a very pleasant modest rural villa the appears to have been destroyed in the Spartacist war. 

Spartacus offers a lively, thought-provoking account of the ancient world’s most famous slave rebellion, and while Schiavone doesn't quite "prove" his case, the book is certainly an important read for any serious student of the late Roman Republic or of the history of slavery, especially in the ancient, would be a worthwhile read for the curious layman.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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