In 73 B.C. Spartacus and other slaves forced to train as gladiators at the Batiatus school got their hands on some kitchen knives and skewers, overpowered the guards and fled.
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About 70 made it outside, where they found wagons full of weapons, quickly defeated the Capuan Home Guard and retreated into the countryside. At first, the authorities were not overly worried, sending militia to exterminate the rebels camped on Mount Vesuvius.
Under siege, Spartacus and his troops, now swelled by other runaways, made ropes from vines, clambered down the other side of the volcano, and attacked the Romans from the rear, killing most of them.
Then they descended on two nearby towns to pillage, burn and rape.
Romans, who lived in close quarters with their slaves, quivered as this rebel army gathered momentum.
It took two years to eliminate the threat, and to make a point, the Romans crucified 6,000 captured slaves along the Appian Way from Rome to Capua.
I spoke with Peter Stothard, author of “Spartacus Road: A Journey Through Ancient Italy,” on the following topics:
1. Fight to the Death
2. Display of Combat Tactics
3. Bloody Spectacle
4. Political Tool
5. Emperor’s Show
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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)