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sylla

General Spartacus

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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."

I think the first one would be the best to describe Spartacus.

Edited by sylla

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Why? Because it suits your sensibilities? You're using the phrase as a label and thus risking using the quote out of context. Vegetius after all wasn't a military man nor was his work an accurate commentary on legionary activity.

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

 

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

And this is probably the best one describing his men.

Edited by sylla

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A great general, unlike Garibaldi

Karl Marx

 

The description of Spartacus as a general emerges not from history, but his place in the marxist ideology. The question should be asked however why Karl Marx considered Spartacus a great general at all. It wasn't because of his military deeds, but rather that he committed them in an ancient class struggle, which of course was the political invention of the recent past. More importantly, Spartacus was viewed by Marx as a charismatic figure who could inspire the working classes of the Italian mainland to throw off their masters yoke. His military achievements were therefore beside the point. Marx wanted a leader. A hero.

 

The two main accounts of Spartacus come from Appian and Plutarch, and they disagree to the extent to which Spartacus led the escape and the rebellion that followed. To Appian, he was the ringleader, the man who persuaded the gladiators to escape. To Plutarch, he was a man who became the leader as events pushed him to the fore.

 

There is an element of doubt here. Are these descriptions decended from eye-witness accounts, or the literary devices of Roman historians seeking to establish a character? Since most of Spartacus's followers either died in battle or were crucified along the Appian Way, it's difficult to see how an accurate depiction of Spartacus could be made.

 

At their head were two Celts, who are designated by their slave names Crixus and Oenomaus, and the Thracian Spartacus. The latter, perhaps a scion of the noble family of the Spartacids which attained even to royal honours in its Thracian home and in Panticapaeum, had served among the Thracian auxillaries in the Roman army, had deserted and gone as a brigand to the mountains, and had been there recaptured and destined for the gladiatorial games.

A History Of Rome (Theodor Mommsen)

 

Here lies the core of the problem with Spartacus. It's the romantic illusion of his story, the assumed nobility of the man in the popular imagination that people want, and for that reason, they ascribe virtues to him he never would have had in real life.

 

It's much the same as the representation of King Arthur as a noble and chivralous knight in shing armour, when he was more likely a dark age warrior who is described by contemporary writers as something less than the hero of legend. Robin Hood is another example - turned by romance into a disposessed lord fighting against tyranny by noble revolution, instead of the medieval thief he would have been.

 

Mommsen describes him as a scion of his people. To his mind, it was unthinkable that a common man would show the nobility and talent of leadership which in his day was considered the preserve of the upper classes.

 

Mommsen compounds this romantic expression by stressing that the family of Spartacus might even have been royalty amongst his people. It seems unlikely that a prince would seek to fight for Rome as a common soldier in the Auxillaries, and Mommsen either ignores or isn't aware that Spartacus is his stage name - even though he mentions the two Celtic leaders as having slave names themselves.

 

In the six hundred and seventy-eighth year of Rome, Marcus Licinius Lucullus, the cousin of that Lucullus who had carried on the war against Mithridates, obtained the province of Macedonia. A new war, too, suddenly sprung up in Italy; for eighty-four gladiators, led by Spartacus, Crixus, and Oenomaus, having broken out of a school at Capua, made their escape; and, wandering over Italy, kindled a war in it, not much less serious than that which Hannibal had raised; for, after defeating several generals and two consuls of the Romans, they collected an army of nearly sixty thousand men. They were, however, defeated in Apulia by the proconsul Marcus Licinius Crassus; and, after much calamity to Italy, the war was terminated in its third year.

Historiae Romanae Breviarium (Eutropius)

 

It seems then the legend of Spartacus was already established in the fourth century during the reign of Jovian. Eutropius of course wasn't writing from first hand experience or the word of witnesses. His sources were Suetonius, Livy, and an unknown history now lost to us. His assertion that Rome was in as great a danger as during the Hannabalic War is there for literary purposes.

 

Eutropius gives Hannibal twenty three paragraphs compard to the single entry that mentions Spartacus. More pointedly, Hannibal was a days march from an undefended Rome after the defeat of Cannae, named the "Fourth and almost fatal wound" by the historian Florus, who completely ignores the Spartacus Revolt in his survey of the various conflicts of that period. Spartacus was at no time within reach of such a serious victory over the Roman Republic.

 

If there prove to be any persons who take an interest in these books, let them remember to discriminate between "strategy" and "stratagems," which are by nature extremely similar. For everything achieved by a commander, be it characterized by foresight, advantage, enterprise, or resolution, will belong under the head of "strategy," while those things which fall under some special type of these will be "stratagems." The essential characteristic of the latter, resting, as it does, on skill and cleverness, is effective quite as much when the enemy is to be evaded as when he is to be crushed. Since in this field certain striking results have been produced by speeches, I have set down examples of these also, as well as of deeds.

Strategems (Frontinus)

 

Frontinus does indeed provide many examples of strategems (by which he means "tactics") and specifically we do see some of those attributed to Spartacus, who is not described as a general in the text. The historian isn't concerned with the "strategy" of Spartacus, merely the tactics he used to good effect, and the whole of Frontinus's work is to collect such anecdotes as examples for the commanders of his day to read as inspiration for their own efforts.

 

It isn't just the personality of Spartacus that has been romanticised, or his military ability, but also his role in the pages of history. Worst still, he has been made a patron of the class struggle and representative of an idealistic view of the ephemeral fight against tyranny.

 

Spartacus means the fire and spirit, heart and soul, the will and deed of the revolution of the proletariat... Spartacus means every hardship and every desire for happiness, all committment to the struggle of the class concious proletariat. Spartacus means socialism and world revolution...

Gessamelte Reden Und Schriften (Karl Liebknecht)

 

Inspiring words perhaps but the real Spartacus was not concerned with freedom for the common man. He lived in an age when slavery was nothing more than an accepted part of life. I doubt very much the real Spartacus shared the moral outrage we see expressed today on that subject. Certainly he wouldn't have cared for having been enslaved - who does? - but remember that this was done as punishment for his brigandage. Whether Spartacus saw that as just is another matter.

 

His escape from the ludus of Lentulus Batiatus was not part of some noble plan to bring down Roman society. There's no doubt he had in mind to save his own life. He was apparently in training for an imminent spectacular, an event in which he may well have been killed for public entertainment. The usual interpretation is that Spartacus was trained as a gladiator, which would imply a professional fighter, and indeed his legend reinforces that view.

 

However, we need to view this in terms of the period in which he was condemned Ad Ludum. In this period the popularity of gladiatorial games was soaring, and centered upon Campania, as the arenas of the later empire had yet - particularly under the Augustan franchise as cities vied with one another for civic achievements and the state sponsorship they could win by emulating Rome.

 

It has become recognised that gladiators of that era were harshly treated. In fact, it was the revolt of Spartacus that was to spawn many changes in the imperial period to improve security and one that also saw the rise of the volunteer fighter, a trained and valuable athlete, a development that Spartacus never experienced. For him, his imminent death was something he chose not to accept. A coward he was not, but to die for public entertainment was more than he could bear.

 

Again we run the risk of romanticising the man. Spartacus was at heart a non-conformist. His taste for adventure had seen him leave home and join the auxillaries whom he later deserted from. Another misinterpretation of the legend is to assume that the auxilaries were a coherent military unit much like the modern day. Study of the revolt demonstrates that the legions of the time were of poor quality. Many refused to fight, others ran in panic when suprised, a feature of poorly organised and ill-disciplined troops throughout the ages.

 

Spartacus was one of those characters who find themselves unable to obey orders and run with the crowd - he was at heart a rebellious man. Whilst many prefer the noble hero (and general) of legend, it should be realised that Spartacus was of a larcenous nature, and the theft of wealth and resources from the people of Campania as he established a bandit camp on the slopes of Vesuvius was merely a return to his favourite lifestyle. Of course the locals were indignant and attempted to oust him without success, calling upon Rome to defend their security.

 

The response was Clodius Glaber who blockaded the path leading down from the bandits mountain retreat. Spartacus famously had his men slide down the mountainside on vines and suprised the Roman sentries from an unexpected direction. There wasn't much of a fight to it. Startled and paniced, the Romans ran off.

 

Publius Varinius arrived with reinforcements. His troops were suffering from the damp climate, disease, and according to Mommsen - cowardice and insubordination thinned the ranks. Such was the poor state of morale that when ordered to advance against the bandit camp which is recorded as being pitched down from the mountain at that point. Was Spartacus geting the hint it was time to move on? At any rate, his victory of Varinius was against troops in no better shape to fight than those of Glaber.

 

Whilst considering the failings of the Roman legions and their carelessness and lack of foresight in dealing with a crafty adversary, it's worthing noting that there are clues about Spartacus as a leader. He was only one of three commanders voted by the escapees. Both Crixus and Oenomaus, the other two, argued with Spartacus and split away with their own followers and were defeated quite quickly. Further, Sallust reveals that Spartacus was unable to stop his men from raping and killing in the places he plundered. Indeed, he specifically describes him as 'powerless'.

 

The followers of Spartacus and Crixus were not from the same country as their leaders, nor were they of the same nation, and only their common lot and their fate drew them together for the campaign. And this is only natural. For I believe every slave to be the enemy of his master when it appears possible to overpower him

Synesius (5th Century)

 

It is true the Romans had an uncomfortable relationship with their slaves, one bounded by practises designed to dissuade them from revolt. Such was the folk memory of Spartacus that it was considered necessary. If however, we accept that Spartacus was intent on military conquest of the Roman state and the elinination of slavery, what did Karl Marx's hero achieve? Nothing.

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Then, all the relevant facts are still the same, as told by any available source:

 

the army of Spartacus utterly and systematically defeated all the legions that they faced for more than two years, including multiple major battles against many praetors, legates, two consuls and one proconsul, conquering in the process vast territories and many cities, sometimes quite close to Rome itself (while the powerful professional armies of Mithridates and his allies were being routed at the same time by the same legionaries in Asia).

 

And of course, for crushing Spartacus and his men, ML Crassus required almost the same number of legions used by Caesar some years later to conquer Gaul.

 

Therefore, our conclusion cannot change; the question is not so much the indisputable qualities of Spartacus as commander and tactician, but the nature of the underlying conditions for his army; how was the rebel army able to achieve such impressive deeds with just untrained slaves and without logistic support?

Edited by sylla

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No. There was one 'major battle' and Spartacus lost it. Most of his victories were not great battles in any sense of the word. I've already answered your question about how Spartacus carried on for as long as he did, facts the Romans themselves observed even if you haven't. They were careless, fightimng with troops under par to say the least, and weren't used to dealing with people who thought outside the box. Of course Crassus used large numbers of troops. He wanted the man surrounded and finished off come what may. Always attack from at least three times their number is the old military axiom. And since the Romans were careless enough to allow Spartacus to get away with early on, he had accrued a fair number of followers, most of whom he precious little control over.

 

You were right. The relevant facts are there. It's just that you prefer the fantasy.

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"Fantasy" is one of those words that have been so constantly and carelessly used by you here, without the support of any regular English dictionary, like "romanticism" or "guerrilla"; Please try your own search at Merriam-Webster

Have you even tried to estimate the figures for those "little" ("not great") battles so absurdly dismissed by you? Plainly, you have been systematically ignoring even the most elementary maths.

 

Old habits die hard; any search of evidence is a good improvement, but that is only half of the job; now you have to analyze it.

Please re-check your own quotations and try to use your own evidence.

The relevant facts are clear and easy to read in Eutropius and Frontinus, the only relevant sources that you chose for your previous post; then, you simply ignored or denied them, just by your own bare assertion, without any additional evidence!

The Marxist and Anti-Marxist references were irrelevant red herrings, because nobody here presented Spartacus as a pre-communist hero (No, the Kubrick film was analyzed in another thread; if that film left such a permanent impression in you, maybe you should try that Thread again).

As it has been repeatedly stated, all our sources state the same basic facts, either Plutarch, Appian, Orosius or anyone else.

 

Please check on previous posts; so far, you have been answering questions that nobody asked.

You have so far given no hint of having understood the delicate balance of social factors involved in the appearance, development, consolidation and aftermath of the Third Servile War to any significant extent; there's no way then that we can expect you to explain them to us.

(If you simply have no idea what I am talking about, just check out carefully my preliminary observations in the post #14 from this same thread)

 

We simply can't have enough time to review the mechanism of all the countless fallacies that you intentionally or carelessly committed; a pearl should be enough:

- Frontinus didn't explicitly name Spartacus as a general in any single phrase, because he had previously done it in the introduction of his Book I ("in order to complete the task I have begun, to summarize in convenient sketches the adroit operations of generals, which the Greeks embrace under the one name strategemata"); otherwise, we would have to admit that Frontinus denied the title of "general" to such notorious "bandits" (yes, that dictionary again!) like Caesar, Laelius, Ventidius or Themistocles.

 

 

If you have any question on my previous statements or their sources, just ask it.

If you want to correct any of my statements, just give us your sources so we would be able to analyze them together.

As you have probably already note, unsourced statements are frequently hard (or even impossible) to answer.

Thanks in advance.

Edited by sylla

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Hi chaps - me again. Whilst the cycle of mild insults followed by articulate but languid put - downs is mildy amusing, It is somewhat clouding what is otherwise an interesting debate. I have moved it to the Arena, as there are still interesting and pertinent points from both sides in the debate.

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Fine with me, NN.

 

A personal apology to UNRV as a whole; I have tried my best to limit my remarks to the academic debate and I have never pretended to imply personal connotations.

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Fine with me, NN.

 

A personal apology to UNRV as a whole; I have tried my best to limit my remarks to the academic debate and I have never pretended to imply personal connotations.

My thanks Sylla for your considerate response. Caldrail, your silence on this issue concerns me, and your often irrascible tone has ruffled more than a few feathers in recent months. We are speaking to real people here, even if we do only know them via a computer screen.

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I have always thought that Spartacus was such a good general for two reasons and two reasons only.

 

1) He was a Roman solider before going gladiator, so he knew what tactics were good and what were bad against the Legions. This usually kept him one step ahead of the Romans, because he knew how they liked to fight.

 

2) Spartacus had an army with good moral. They all fought for freedom, and so one could argue that they had a edge over the Roman legionaries. The Spartacus army knew that they had a good commander that they trusted, and so they obeyed all orders without hesitation.

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I have always thought that Spartacus was such a good general for two reasons and two reasons only.
From where I am, both explanations are rather simplistic, because:
1) He was a Roman solider before going gladiator, so he knew what tactics were good and what were bad against the Legions. This usually kept him one step ahead of the Romans, because he knew how they liked to fight.
That is the kind of jingoistic apologetic explanation that all military powers give when defetaed: "They were able to defeat us because they were like us". For example, some people attributed the Japanese victories of 1942 to the former studies of the Japanese commander (Admiral Yamamoto) in America! Regarding Spartacus, the tradition of him being a Roman auxiliary was late (II century) and essentially without evidence. Plutarch even described Spartacus as "Hellenic" (???). It was of course possible that Spartacus had served in the Roman Army, but that was obviously also the case for thousands of Roman auxiliaries (at least in the same number as the true legionaries). It's clear that there were never thousands of Spartacus; basic Roman infantry training was hardly enough to become a Hannibal or an Alexander. Besides, please note it was a standard excuse; the same was said about Arminius after Teutoteburg. Plainly, you didn't have to be a Roman to be a good general. Just ask Surena (the Parthian that crushed Crassus)
2) Spartacus had an army with good moral. They all fought for freedom, and so one could argue that they had a edge over the Roman legionaries. The Spartacus army knew that they had a good commander that they trusted, and so they obeyed all orders without hesitation.
All rebel slaves have fought for their freedom ever, without exception; the military performance of the vast majority has been rather poor. As any general and soldier know, a good moral is not enough. Besides, most of the available sources consistently reported notorious signs of insubordination and lack of discipline from Spartacus' army. In fact, most of the other rebel slaves that we know by name were killed (with their men) for having disobeyed Spartacus (ie, Crixus, Gannicus, Castor). Edited by sylla

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PS: the fullest account on the former professional life of Spartacus was reconstructed by the Roman historian Florus (II century):

" the man who, from being a Thracian mercenary, had become a soldier, and from a soldier a deserter, then a highwayman, and finally, thanks to his strength, a gladiator."

 

This account was openly and utterly apologetic; Florus knew "not what name to give to the war" at which "the latter men of the worst class

Edited by sylla

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All rebel slaves have fought for their freedom ever, without exception; the military performance of the vast majority has been rather poor. As any general and soldier know, a good moral is not enough. Besides, most of the available sources consistently reported notorious signs of insubordination and lack of discipline from Spartacus' army. In fact, most of the other rebel slaves that we know by name were killed (with their men) for having disobeyed Spartacus (ie, Crixus, Gannicus, Castor).

I suppose it is true that many deserted Spartacus. But it was only because they argued over what they should do. Spartacus always wanted to go and get through the Alps, while Crixus wanted to stay and fight. So of course those that wanted to stay and fight would die. If they had stayed with Spartacus they might have lived. But I agree then that the army was divided and were not all thinking the same way.

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I suppose it is true that many deserted Spartacus. But it was only because they argued over what they should do. Spartacus always wanted to go and get through the Alps, while Crixus wanted to stay and fight. So of course those that wanted to stay and fight would die. If they had stayed with Spartacus they might have lived. But I agree then that the army was divided and were not all thinking the same way.
Actually, what the Spartacus' opposition wanted (according to virtually all our sources) was to continue plundering and raiding Italy.

 

The plans of the rebels are not entirely clear; if they were indeed running to their homelands (purportedly Gaul and Thrace), why would they have turned backwards after having utterly defeated the proconsul C. Cassius (of Cisalpine Gaul) and his two Legions (10,000 men) in Mutina? (Late 72 BC).

 

From where I am, I can see two likely non-exclusive explanations:

 

- Cassius' defeat may not have been so definitive as depicted by Plutarch and other sources, and he might have been expecting reinforcements soon (eg, from Fonteius in Transalpine Gaul or Curio in Macedonia).

 

- Most of the rebels might actually have been either slaves from other provinces or peasants from Campania, Lucania and Bruttium; in the last moment, Gaul and Thrace would have simply seemed not friendly enough for them.

Edited by sylla

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