Category Archive 'Spartacus'

06 May 2013


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The text is in Oscan.

In the course of reviewing Aldo Schiavone’s Spartacus (just published in English translation by Harvard), Mary Beard explains just how little we actually know about the gladiator-leader of a servile revolt.

In the entrance hall of a fairly ordinary house in ancient Pompeii, buried beneath layers of later paint, are the faint traces of an intriguing sketch of two men fighting on horseback. They are named in captions above their heads, written in Oscan—one of the early languages of South Italy that was eventually wiped out by the Latin of the Romans. The name of one is scarcely legible, but probably says “Felix the Pompeian” (or “Lucky from Pompeii”). The other reads clearly, in Oscan, “Spartaks,” which in Latin would be “Spartacus”—a name best known to us from the slave and gladiator who in the late 70s BC led a rebellion that, it is said, very nearly managed to defeat the power of Rome itself.

At first sight, the scene painted on the wall looks like a military battle. But the trumpeters on either side of this pair of fighters match those often found next to gladiators in ancient paintings. So this is probably meant to depict mounted gladiatorial combat. The men must be the equites, or “horsemen,” who sometimes appeared in those bloody Roman spectacles, alongside the more familiar, heavily armed characters who fought on foot.

It is, of course, possible that the painting has nothing to do with the famous Spartacus, and that it refers to some other gladiator who just happened to have the same name; that is certainly what some skeptics argue. But there are nevertheless good reasons for linking the painting to the famous rebel: it very likely dates to the lifetime of “our” Spartacus, in the early years of the first century BC (as both the archaeological setting and the use of the Oscan language suggest); and Pompeii was, in any case, less than forty miles from Capua, where Spartacus underwent training for combat and from where he is said to have launched his rebellion—the two towns were presumably on the same gladiatorial circuit. There is a fair chance that this image gives us a glimpse of the future enemy of Rome when he was still just an ordinary gladiator—and to judge from the picture, not a totally successful one. For “Felix the Pompeian” is certainly getting the better of the retreating Spartaks. In fact, we might guess that it was to celebrate the victory of the local man that the Pompeian householder put up this image in his front hall.

Read the whole thing.

20 Oct 2008

Rome Just Wanted to Spread the Wealth Around

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“I’m Spartacus.”

Transterrestial Musings finds :

71 BC*

ROME (Routers) Diligent investigative reporters were shocked to learn today that many, indeed most of the captured slaves in yesterday’s battle in Lucania who proclaimed “I am Spartacus” were actually misleading military authorities, and not the famous rebel leader at all.

One of the investigators, Probius Ani, lead chiseler at the Tempus Romae, shared the details. “We looked into their backgrounds, and while they were all slaves at one time or another, few of them had formal gladiator training, nor did they universally use the Thracian style of combat for which he was well known.”

After the defeat, when authorities demanded to know which of the defeated was the leader, at first one of them jumped up and declared himself Spartacus**. But the situation quickly grew confused as another, and then another, and then dozens and hundreds of the defeated curs shouted out the same claim. Legitimate demands of proof of identity, gladiators’ licenses, and tax and divorce records from them were met with a sullen resistance, making it impossible to tell which to properly punish.

“These slaves have no credibility,” noted a proconsul on the scene. “Why should we grant any respect to a campaign based on false pretenses? Why should we not just spread their wealth around, and crucify them all?”


Joe the Plumber speaks.

3:08 video

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