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sylla

General Spartacus

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That was an excellent commentary on the Third Servile War that would probably have deserved its own thread; besides one single major point, it

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The obvious major point is the utter underestimation of Spartacus as a general.

Not at all. I creditd him with his success. However, he wasn't a general. He was a rebel or a bandit depending on how you like to see him, not the leader of a miltary army. He achieved his early successes by being sneaky, not by victory in battle, and the latter half of his campaign was a desperate attempt to avoid confrontation.

 

It's not only that guerrilla warfare required as much military abilities as any other aspect of ancient war.

Warfare in ancient times had significant differences to the modern day. You often stress organisation in a modern sense when such things were primitive or non-existenent.

 

The plain facts are that the rebel army consistently crushed the legionaries of multiple praetors, legates and two consuls in open battle for years; that is well ahead "simple" guerrilla warfare.

No, that's wrong. The Romans weren't consistently crushed, they were outwitted dring the early half of the rebellion when the Romans underestimated Spartacus's intelligence.

 

If Crassus was forced to revive the old decimatio, that was because his legions feared Spartacus' army in open battle and not just their ambushes.

There are plenty of other alternative explanations for that decision.

 

Even if embarrassed by being defeated so many times by mere fugitive slaves, Roman historians were well aware of the value of their Thracian commander; that explains how Spartacus made his way to Frontinus Strategemata, among the best Roman generals ever.

Spartacus was a rebel bandit. He didn't fight for Rome, and your comments underline those I made earlier about the romanticisation of his campaign. Plenty of historians dismiss Spartacus as an interesting footnote in history. Frontinus included him because he considered Roman legions to be the best, a matter of hindsight and incorrect evaluation of older armies against the reputations of later, more modern ones, something repeated on these forums. I doubt Frontinus was entirely objective.

 

The same Spartacus, when besieged on the slopes of Vesuvius at the point where the mountain was steepest and on that account unguarded, plaited ropes of osiers from the woods. Letting himself down by these, he not only made his escape, but by appearing in another quarter struck such terror into Clodius that several cohorts gave way before a force of only seventy-four gladiators.This Spartacus, when enveloped by the troops of the proconsul Publius Varinius, placed stakes at short intervals before the gate of the camp; then setting up corpses, dressed in clothes and furnished with weapons, he tied these to the stakes to give the appearance of sentries when viewed from a distance. He also lighted fires throughout the whole camp. Deceiving the enemy by this empty show, Spartacus by night silently led out his troops.

Strategemata, Frontinus

 

Sounds like clever guerilla tactics to me.

Edited by caldrail

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Just read Plutarch and Appian (and Frontinus, BTW).

Your quotation on Frontinus (Strategemata 5;21-22) is in the chapter On Escaping from Difficult Situations , among similar anecdotes from such notorious "guerrillas" as Sulla, Hasdrubal, Brasidas and Crassus himself.

Frontinus is talking here about huge armies openly facing each other in the field; in fact, the conclusion of the Spartacus/Varinius encounter was (Plutarch, Crassus 9:5)

By defeating the praetor himself in many battles, and finally capturing his lictors and the very horse he rode, Spartacus was soon great and formidable;

 

As stated, Spartacus consistently

Edited by sylla

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Scylla, I'm not wasting my time making loads of definition to suit you. If you don't know what a 'general' or a 'guerilla' is, buy a dictionary. In any case, all you're trying to do is score points. Fine, whatever, I don't care. You can believe Spartacus was a great general if you want - I'm sure many people will, it's such a wonderful image - but I'm not interested in Roman propaganda.

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Scylla, I'm not wasting my time making loads of definition to suit you. If you don't know what a 'general' or a 'guerilla' is, buy a dictionary. In any case, all you're trying to do is score points. Fine, whatever, I don't care. You can believe Spartacus was a great general if you want - I'm sure many people will, it's such a wonderful image - but I'm not interested in Roman propaganda.

Steady on please, boys - we dont want an interesting debate to descend into yet another terse argument.

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Steady on please, boys - we dont want an interesting debate to descend into yet another terse argument.

Point taken and sorry for that; I owe the forum an apology.

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This is an interesting spat. Is their any more mileage in this theme within this thread?

 

In all seriousness, there has not been a new post in this section for quite a few days and the subject of Spartacus and his credentials as a 'military' leader is rather enticing.

Edited by marcus silanus

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The problem is one of perception. The image of Spartacus as a general is very enticing but one that gives him air and graces he never had. Spartacus after all had no overall strategy other than to plunder and stay one step ahead of the Romans, nor was he attempting to win 'victory' or 'conquest' over the Roman state. Nor for that matter did he have any formal army whatsoever, rather a band of escaped gladiators (although most of these were no more than ill-trained cannon-fodder anyway - there was a spectacle planned in Capua and Spartacus armed his followers with weapons intended for the performance, found on a wagon approaching outside ot town) and an increasingly large retinue of disaffected individuals.

 

Spartacus may have had military credentials though. One story describes him as a deserter from the auxillaries, which is in keeping with the nature of the man. His main claim to fame is that he stayed at large for so long and embarrased Roman generals by outwitting them. That in itself doesn't make him a general, and that's why I prefer to describe him as a guerilla leader. His campaign was based on banditry, not miltary conquest of territory or other strategic objectives.

 

In fact, there's a strong possibility that he thought he could get away weith his bandit lifestyle. Although he'd been caught and sentenced once already, his ability to outwit the legions sent against him persuaded him (or if not, most of his followers) to turn south and begin plundering instead of making for the Alps and freedom 'over the border'. He was therefore conducting his campaign for personal gain - though I must also point out that he was described as being scrupulously fair in dividing the spoils.

 

Notice also that in the Kirk Douglas film there's a scene where Spartacus stops a fight hastily arranged between senators, with Spartacus demanding to know whether they had become animals (humanity is a theme visited by the film regularly), when in fact the historical Spartacus was only too ken to see his social betters fight each other as they had intended him to.

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In fact, there's a strong possibility that he thought he could get away weith his bandit lifestyle. Although he'd been caught and sentenced once already, his ability to outwit the legions sent against him persuaded him (or if not, most of his followers) to turn south and begin plundering instead of making for the Alps and freedom 'over the border'.

 

I know this is one of those "what if" questions but let's just say that Spartacus stuck to his original plan and made it over the Alps to freedom. Would his band of outlaws have just split up and gone their own ways in order to make a new life for themselves and more importantly would Rome have let them?

 

I don't think so. Personally I think Spartacus knew full well that Rome would never let him escape to a new life across the Alps, that they would pursue him until he was finally crushed and punished for having the audacity to rise against Rome.

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This is an interesting spat. Is their any more mileage in this theme within this thread?

 

In all seriousness, there has not been a new post in this section for quite a few days and the subject of Spartacus and his credentials as a 'military' leader is rather enticing.

In all seriousness and with all due respect, the problem here is plainly one of knowledge, because the facts speak for themselves, no matter which source might be used.

 

The Rebels consistently neutralized and defeated for more than two years the same Roman army that was smashing Mithridates and his allies at the same time.

The 72 BC campaign was a brilliant series of like a dozen major battles where the legions were systematically crushed (with only one exception).

For destroying the rebels, the proconsul ML Crassus required no less than eight legions for six months, ie. a force analogous to what Caesar used to conquer Gaul within the same generation.

Even so, decimatio was required to stimulate the legendary legionaries, an extreme measure that Caesar never had to use.

 

Just pretending to debate if the terms "General", "Army" and "Strategy" should be applied to the description of such outstanding campaigns is absurd and ludicrous to the extreme.

 

However, that may be the right answer for the wrong question, because we are here once again playing that curious game of pretending that a good general was all that it was required for defeating the Roman Republican Empire at its acme.

This forum might well deserve a discussion on the additional required factors for such outcome.

 

Ancient historians may have tried to pretend that, not only because of the sociological knowledge that they had not (and we supposedly have), but also because their accounts were basically apologetic; they were trying to explain the unimaginable, that the proud Roman Army that conquered the World was repeatedly routed by the vilest beings, below even the human condition.

 

We simply can't use the same excuse; even if Spartacus (or any other of the rebel commanders) was of the same height that Alexander or Hannibal (needless to say, that would be impossible to determine) that would not have been even remotely enough for explaining the victorious campaigns of such generals, the same as having the best quarterback is not enough for getting the superbowl.

 

We are not talking about personal combat here; a minimum of trained soldiers, able officials, effective weapons and operative logistics were essential (among other factors) the same as they were required by Alexander in Gaugamela and Hannibal in Cannae.

 

How can we explain that such (and other) factors were present in the required quantity on the rebel side all along the III Servile War?

Edited by sylla

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If Spartacus was a military leader we can call him a general and as he won several surprising victories he was a successful general.

I don't think that an ancient army needed "trained soldiers, able officials, effective weapons and operative logistics" to win a battle. His men were clearly highly motivated and that is the most important thing.

He was not an ethnic Thracian but a type of gladiator called thracian.

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I don't think that an ancient army needed "trained soldiers, able officials, effective weapons and operative logistics" to win a battle. His men were clearly highly motivated and that is the most important thing.
Then our conceptions of what a battle (modern or ancient) is are radically different.

 

For any reason, motivation seem to have not been enough for the multiple armies that the Roman were facing at the same time in Asia, Pontus, Armenia, the Balkans, Gaul and Spain... not to mention the millions of Gauls that Caesar conquered some years later.

 

In any case, the rebel salve army didn't just win one single battle (by sheer luck???); it won more than one full campaign in the Roman own backyard, sometimes quite close to the City itself; an unsurpassed deed from Hannibal to Alaric; far beyond any purely psychological explanation in my book, and certainly weeell beyond Mithridates' army capabilities, which undoubtedly had plenty of "trained soldiers, able officials, effective weapons and operative logistics" by any measure.

 

He was not an ethnic Thracian but a type of gladiator called thracian.
That is an interesting and disputed fact that seems to me to be still unsettled, depending on the authors that you consult on. Edited by sylla

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A few quotes from Vegetius that kind of sums up Spartacus and his army..

 

"A general is not easily overcome who can form a true judgment of his own and the enemy's forces."

 

"Few men are born brave; many become so through care and force of discipline."

 

"Novelty and surprise throw an enemy into consternation; but common incidents have no effect."

Edited by Gaius Paulinus Maximus

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Just on an entirely personal title, some preliminary observations:

 

- This rebellion was not limited to slaves; it was probably the closer we may get to a peasant revolt across the late Republican years. The participation of

Edited by sylla

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There's a romantic element to Spartacus that some people seem remarkably unwilling to dispense with. Firstly, the 'battles' and 'consistently crushing victories'. Spartacus outwitted the enemy commanders often enough and did fight off the legions from time to time, but the word 'battle' here is misleading.

 

In the context of romanticism it conjures up an image of ranks of soldiers lining up against each other and a tactical chessboard confrontation ensuing. Battles of this nature are common enough in the ancient world but care needs to be taken. The parade ground formations of the flintlock era are inappropriate, and even the Roman legions with all their much vaunted organisation tended to employ simplistic formations due to the relative lack of sophisticated communication and the manner in which ancient battles were fought. It's wrong to assume that generals of that time always stood behind the lines directing efforts. Often the commanders were in the thick of battle, trying to rally or exort their men directly. Instead, the tactics to be used against the enemy were more usually decided the night before.

 

Further, the word 'battle' may be misconstrued. To Roman eyes, that simply meant a confrontation with lots of armed men. It didn't necessarily mean a text book set piece battle as we understand the term, and given the level of chicanery used by generals in ancient times it's remarkable how many ancient armies were overcome by a simple ruse, not just Roman ones either.

 

Noticeably, the battles Spartacus fought were forced upon him. He did not seek out confrontations with the legions. He did not attempt to 'defeat' Rome, and indeed, was more content to thumb his nose at it. He did not attempt to conquer territory and establish zones of control, rather he did no more than intrude upon the Roman. In all cases, his motivation was top ensure he could leave the area safely and pursue his aim of plundering the neighbourhood. In what way was his strategy military? Not at all, because he had none. His 'battles' were fought merely to stay at large.

 

As to the question of whether Spartacus would be allowed to escape north over the Alps, one should remember by that time he was an established bandit. Once encamped on the sklopes of Vesuvius (not the crater - that wasn't there at the time) he was raiding the local area repeatedly, a lifestyle he had already once become accustomed to. Had he simply escaped north, then I doubt the Romans would have worried too much about him and a hundred gladiators (although they would have been escaped slaves from that point on). However, he was actively employed in brigandage and that changed everything. So I agree, even if he had escaped to the north, the Romans wouldn't have forgotten him. That said, he didn't. He turned south and remained a bandit at large, plundering towns and cities and making good use of the numbers of followers attracted by his rebellious attitude. Even in his own day, he must have seemed a romantic figure.

 

Despite the repeated assurances on this thread that Spartacus was indeed a general, it's useful to compare him to Tacfarinas, a similar figure althoiugh one more obscure. Tacfarinas of course was in Africa, not the Italian mainland, thus his threat seemed far away. In any event, he fought three campaigns against the Romans and was only defeated on the third. The important point was that despite training his forces to fight in the Roman model and successfully conducting more identifiably military campaigns, he was never described as a general. Not once.

 

The question of where the recruits Spartacus gathered had come from is nio great mystery. The economic situation of the time involved considerable hardship, and it it's known that the huge numbers of slaves were not well treated in this period. In fact, with the slave revolts in Sicily very much in mind, is it any wonder Spartacus attempted to reach that island? To him, it was a ready source of recruits and potential safe haven. In effect, Spartacus gathered recruits for the same reasons that other more modern revolts have become popular. They saw in him a hope of something better. Although Spartacus had no intention of the marxist inspired ideal of freeing the downtrodden masses, it did provide him with both men that could be employed defensively and also too considerable baggage that must have slowed him him down.

 

- As they ruled extensive rural areas and even some cities for protracted periods, a civil administration can probably be safely inferred, ie. a maroon society in development, possibly analogous to at least some of the contemporary

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