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The Spartacus War

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The Spartacus War

The Spartacus War

Simon & Schuster

The Bottom Line

As Barry Strauss explains in the introduction to The Spartacus War, the story of Spartacus should appeal to everyone, from those who want a good romance or crusade to those who want to hear about ethnic conflict. As a psychological history of one of the most popular figures from ancient history, it should appeal to those who want to understand the gladiator/slave rebellion, but don't want to sift through the less than substantial evidence, and probably even those who do.
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  • Weaves a coherent picture from meager data
  • Breathes life into the ancient countryside
  • Connects social and political history


  • Unsatisfactory follow-through on the Thracian lady


  • Divided into Breakout, Vengeance, Retreat, and To the Death sections as well as introduction and conclusion.
  • Contains helpful chronology, notes on sources, glossary, and maps.
  • Photos include the (discussed) Pompeiian fresco of SPARTAKS (Spartacus).
  • Published in 2009 by Simon and Schuster, 264 pages.
  • Dormice appear in the 1st paragraph.

Guide Review - The Spartacus War

Barry Strauss says Spartacus was more than a slave. He was a murmillo gladiator who had served as a Thracian auxiliary to the Roman army where he learned about Roman military tactics. His Celtic, Germanic, and Thracian followers included fierce women, children, free adventurous men, and slaves. What led Spartacus to fight his final battle against Crassus, following Crassus' rejection of his offer to surrender, included the Thracian sense of an honorable death. Mutiny and treachery led to the final outcome, but Spartacus died bravely in the fight. Crassus celebrated his suppression of the slaves with crucifixion, along the Appian Way, of 6000 of the remaining rebels.

The Spartacus War, by Barry Strauss, is at once an attempt to unravel the mysteries of the most important slave revolt in Roman history and a Campanian travelogue. No armchair historian, Strauss says he was fortunate to make several trips to the countryside in his research. It shows. Knowing that certain areas of the south of Italy were particularly fertile or wooded with ample wildlife or the reason the rebels were able to descend the mountain on wild, weedy vine ropes was because Mt. Vesuvius was defended, by Glaber's Romans, only on the sides that appeared to need it, add immeasurably to Strauss' ability to make a case for his versions of events.

Not content to give the evidence, Strauss usually picks a version of the events and backs it up, or works from multiple hypotheses; for instance, he writes: "As an astute judge of character, Spartacus might have chosen some men without prior military experience to lead units of his army."

Strauss combines his interpretations with background biography and history of the exciting period of the Social and Mithridatic wars to arrive at a picture of Spartacus and his followers that really doesn't look much like the Kirk Douglas movie.
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Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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