Thursday, January 20, 2011

I am Spartacus!

In honor of tomorrow night's premiere of Spartacus: Gods of the Arena, I'm going to post about the historical figure, Spartacus and the history of slavery in Italy.

I love Lucy Lawless (who doesn't love Xena?) and I'm a sucker for period shows, especially set in Italy. So when I heard about the show Spartacus: Blood and Sand, I decided to tune in. They should call it Spartacus: Blood and Sex, but what else would you expect from a Starz show? lol For those who don't know, the show is loosely based on the life of Spartacus, an actual person who led a slave revolt in Italy around 70 BCE. It takes place in a ludus, a gladiator school and gives insight into the politics and machinations of ancient Italy. The design team is amazing: The costumes, jewelry, sets, hair, props... I give props to the props, especially the winged penis candle which was lit for a fertility ritual. The story takes place in Capua. So why do they all speak with British accents? Seriously, I hate that. HBO did the same thing with their series, Rome. I want different accents! The Gaul, the Thracian, the Sicilian, the Capuan... I want to hear it! Booooo! I guess they do that to make it easier to understand, but seriously, it throws off the whole thing for me.

If you haven't seen the show, and want to (instant watch on netflix) then don't read on, for there be spoilers here:

The show actually follows the known history pretty well: Spartacus is believed to have been a Thracian who fought in the auxiliary for the Roman army. There is no record of how he went from soldier to slave. Some say he deserted the auxiliary. He was then captured but instead of being killed, he was sold to a ludus where he was trained as a gladiator. His wife was a prophetess of their tribe and sold into slavery as well.

Around 73 BCE, Spartacus incited a slave revolt which has come to be known as the Third Servile War. Spartacus started with about 80 slaves, having stolen weapons and supplies from the ludus, then went on to incite more revolts in the area of Capua. The small group quickly grew to 12,000, made up of men, women, and children. It was good timing on the part of Spartacus: Most of the Roman army was off fighting elsewhere, in Spain and Armenia.

Spartacus, and Crixus had over 150,000 fighting with them, both slaves. 30k wound up going south to continue their pillaging and raiding, while Spartacus led the rest north, allegedly to escape over the alps and send everyone back to their country of origin. At some point, Spartacus' group turned back south.

At one point Spartacus tried to negotiate an end to the rebellion, suing for peace for his followers and their release. He was refused. If the Romans let these slaves go, the others would surely follow. The war pressed on.

Unfortunately, Pompey's legions returned and joined the fight. They eventually quashed the rebellion, killing everyone either in battle or crucifying the rest along the Appian Way. Spartacus' body was never found. Some say he was killed along with the rest but not identified, others say he escaped. I prefer to believe the later, especially in light of the fact that they knew what Spartacus looked like from his attempts at a peaceful negotiation.

This was the THIRD Servile War, so waht was up with the first 2? The First servile war was in Sicily around 130 BCE. I'm not going to bore you with the historical land grab that involved Carthage and Rome, suffice it to say that wiki has a good basic description of the conditions that led to it:

The second servile war also started in Sicily: During negotiations to recruit soldiers for a campaign, Consul Gaius Marius agreed, at the behest of King Nicodemes, to release all of the Italian slaves under his command who'd been taken for failure to pay their debt. He didn't want his countrymen enslaved. About 800 were released. All slaves who'd been taken by tax-collectors left. Oops. When the non Italians were ordered back.. heh you think they went? Not so much. About 22,000 participated in that revolt. It took a while to get enough troops over to Sicily, but eventually the revolt was quashed.

So what's the deal with slavery in ancient Rome? It's said to have started with Romulus who decreed that fathers could sell their children into slavery to pay debts. Nice. Slavery was a common tool of economy building and was well established in Greece and Egypt and was also used in pre-roman Italy, by the Etruscans and others of he Latin league well before Romulus and Remus showed up.

There were debtor slaves and conquered slaves and economic slaves: When someone couldn't pay their taxes or owed money, they were arrested and sold into slavery. Rome liked to wage war. A lot. Rome had so many prisoners of war that there were specialists who'd travel along with the army to deal with the conquered, catalog them, and sell them into slavery. It's thought that about 40% of the population of Italy was made up of slaves.

Slaves could be freed at the whim of their owner, children born of slaves were considered property, and there were rewards for capturing escaped slaves, much like ancient greece and ancient egypt.

When did slavery end? Around 117 CE, Emperor Hadrian, of Hadrian's Wall, and Pantheon designer, changed many of the laws surrounding slavery to be more humane. "People who owned slaves no longer had the right to kill them. Nor were they allowed to force their slaves into becoming gladiators or prostitutes. Hadrian also abolished slave labor-camps. Finally, he changed the law that stated that if a man was killed by a slave, all his slaves would be executed" from Hadrian, Empire and Conflict.

Other sources go on to sat that slavery didn't disappear in Rome because of reform or religion but because the Romans found other sources of labor which didn't include the massive investment of money as purchasing a slave. Slaves were gradually replaced by wage laborers in the towns and serfs in the country.

We don't want to end on a downer, so here are some pictures from Spartacus: Blood and Sand!

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