Spartacus, a Roman gladiator, of Thracian birth, leader of a servile insurrection in 73-71 B. C. Originally a shepherd, he became a chief of banditti, and was captured by the Romans. He was sold and trained as a gladiator, and in 73 persuaded 77 of his associates to escape with him from the school of Lentulus at Capua. They took refuge in the crater of Mt. Vesuvius, and chose Spartacus for their leader. C. Claudius Pulcher was sent against them with 3,000 men, but was defeated, and his arms became the trophy of the victors. Spartacus now proclaimed liberty to all slaves that should flee to him, and for two years he held the supremacy in Campania, Lucania, Bruttium, and other parts of Italy. At the head of 70,000 men he triumphed over two consular armies in 72, and forced his Roman captives to fight as gladiators at the funeral games which he celebrated. His army increased to 100,000 men, the consuls were again defeated, and he meditated an attack upon Rome itself. His own desire was to secure the freedom of the slaves by taking them beyond the Alps, but they, eager for plunder, refussd to leave Italy. He for a time maintained his superiority in 71, but in consequence of repeated divisions among his troops, he was twice defeated by Crassus, and fled with his followers.
Through the treachery of Cili-cian pirates, who were to carry him over to Sicily, 12,000 of his men fell into the hands of the Romans. He at length effected his escape, but his followers refusing to go to the north, he faced the Romans again, defeated them, and went to Brundusium, where, baffled in his attempt to seize the shipping, he perished in battle with Crassus near the head of the river Silarus. Pompey completed the work of extinguishing the insurrection. Of the rebels 60,000 fell in combat, and 6,000 prisoners were crucified in the Appian way. Roman writers naturally paint the character of Spartacus in the blackest colors, but critical investigations have led modern historians generally to speak in his praise.