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Spartacus a Communist?

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Of course, the Roman senate was very weak at the time - so weak that they had to give a private person like Crauses the imperium to lead the attack on Spartacus instead of the proper magistrates, so you can argue that the senates weakness contributed to Spartacus's success. But still, when you think of an army of thousands of hooligans and proletarians with no discipline and not a loty in common beating the Roman army, I still think its quite impressive...but thats just me.

 

Spartacus destroyed a Praetorian led (Glaber) but hastily recruited and raw force of 3,000. He followed up this irritating surprise by defeating legionary cohorts under another praetor in Publius Varinius. Understanding that the glowing slave rebellion was becoming a threat and/or bad example if left unchecked, Rome finally responded with full consular armies under Gellius and Lentulus. That both consuls were soundly defeated, leaving a sudden void in the command hierarchy (which reasonably fell to an active praetor for the year 72 in Crassus) is not weakness on the part of the Senate but rather weakness of the part of the consuls and/or a testament to the guerrilla abilities of Spartacus.

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Of course, the Roman senate was very weak at the time - so weak that they had to give a private person like Crauses the imperium to lead the attack on Spartacus instead of the proper magistrates, so you can argue that the senates weakness contributed to Spartacus's success.

 

I don't see any evidence that the senate was weak in their handling of Spartacus. The senate prudently dispatched two waves of forces. The first wave was a rapid-deployment force of conscripts under the commands of the praetors, Gaius Claudius Glaber and Publius Varinius, and the second wave was a proper legionary force led by the two consuls of 72, Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus and Lucius Gellius Poplicola (Plut., Cato Min. ). The consular legions thoroughly defeated Crixus' forces, killing Crixus and wiping out 2/3 of his army. They then successfully prevented Spartacus' escape from Italy, prevented him from assailing Rome, and kept him in check with their two legions (against Spartacus' 120,000 men). Seeing that the consuls could not overcome Spartacus' forces, the Senate then recalled the consuls to civilian life and supplanted their two legions with a surge of additional forces (6 legions), led by the praetor Crassus and large numbers of nobiles.

 

In my view, the early successes of Spartacus were much exaggerated by Crassus and his political allies, and since his friends and allies were those who wrote the subsequent histories, their account of events needn't be taken at face value. Yet even with this bias, however, the Senate is nevertheless portrayed as responsive to events, capable of re-appraising their strategies in light of new evidence, and ultimately their policies led to an utterly crushing defeat of Spartacus and his brigand army.

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LOL--PP's post came just as I was composing mine! We say the same thing though.

 

Yes, but your account is more appreciative of Lentulus and Gellius :rolleyes:

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Didn't Spartacus break through the trench and breastworks that Crassus set up in Bruttium(?), thinking that he had S. bottled up?

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Didn't Spartacus break through the trench and breastworks that Crassus set up in Bruttium(?), thinking that he had S. bottled up?

 

Yes, Appian and Plutarch give slightly different accounts, but both confirm that Spartacus broke through... at least in part.

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Yes, but your account is more appreciative of Lentulus and Gellius :rolleyes:

 

True. Despite being vastly outnumbered, they managed to keep their armies from being annihilated, thereby leaving all Italy open for Spartacus to do as he pleased (e.g., besiege Rome). Through their judicious use of Fabian tactics, they cost Spartacus his German allied army, kept him bottled up in Italy, and they gave Rome time to raise a larger force. I freely grant that the consuls were no military geniuses, but they were better than the praetors who preceded them, and I see nothing that made them less qualified than Crassus, who got an ovatio .

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The consular legions thoroughly defeated Crixus' forces, killing Crixus and wiping out 2/3 of his army. They then successfully prevented Spartacus' escape from Italy, prevented him from assailing Rome, and kept him in check with their two legions (against Spartacus' 120,000 men). Seeing that the consuls could not overcome Spartacus' forces, the Senate then recalled the consuls to civilian life and supplanted their two legions with a surge of additional forces (6 legions), led by the praetor Crassus and large numbers of nobiles.

 

I see it quite in a differant manner. It's not likely that the two consuls pave up the command voluntarily, since they were actually very capable at foreign relations and war(like when they fought under pompeiis command in 67 and maybe even before in Spain), and even afterwards they later were sent by the senate to be legats during the wars against thepirates and Mithridates).

Its unfortunate that we dont have any records of who called in the senate and proposed to give the command over to Crassus instead of the consuls. On the other hand, there is clear evidence that Crassus did want the job and of the support he got from other nobles (Plutarchus on Crassus and also Appian). And also, there are some historoians who claim that Crassus fought with an army that he financed out of his own pocket.

So. all this together clarifies the circumstances in which Crassus got the command instead of the consuls in 72. Although a private citizen, he accomplished his goal of leading the war against Spartacus by his influence on the nobles and maybe by offering to finance the army. I think that perhaps what made him do it was Pompeiis expected return from Spain and he took advantage of the oppurtunity to get a head start with his rivals supporters.

This wasnt a precedent - In 83 Pompeii took charge of 3 legions and financed them himself, and took command on them when he fought alongside Sulla.

Also, since the second Punic war, the only irregular appointments in Rome made by the senate was Pompeii in 82 and 77 and now Crassus in 72. All the rest were made by the Roman assemblies.

For all these reasons I believe that the senate was already in a decline at that time, maybe the word weak was stretching it, but they were certainly losing power and being taken advantage of by ambitious persons.

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Isn't it possible (probable?) that the the senates removal of the consuls and the appointment of Crassus (one of the praetors of 72, not a private citizen) to the command against Spartacus was, at least in part, a stroke against Pompey and his supporters?

 

Lentullus and Gellius were, apparently, friendly to Pompey (they served under him later, and as consuls sponsored a bill allowing him to enfranchise some Spaniards). Would not the leaders of the senate (who loathed Pompey even if they weren't crazy about Crassus) have been happy to get in a dig at the great general by punishing his friends and raising up a rival?

Edited by Pompieus

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Communist? No, just a crook. A very talented guerilla leader as it turned out, but not a great general

 

Actually in my opinion he was somewhat of a great general.

 

I don't see why he should be considered so. The fact that people flocked to his 'cause' has more to do with prevailing conditions within the republic than any innate military superiority. Most of them were opportunists, not his followers as such. Spartacus was lucky to obtain such a large rebellion and I think it suprised him that he becamew such a figurehead. He was, if you will, a rogue who was having his fifteen minutes of fame. No, a great general would have realised that raiding throughout italy was doomed to failure. A great general would have planned ahead and fought for discreet objectives. Spartacus did whatever seemed appropriate at the time. His later actions were becoming desperate. He tried to swim and sail rafts to sicily at one point but the tide was too strong, lreaving him no option but to assail the wall built by Crassus to hem him in. In doing so, he threw his hapless followers against it and lost thousands of casualties for a handful of roman soldiers. Granted he did not have the resources to build siege engines, much less know how to employ them, but there wasn't any great idea involved. In fact, Spartacus lost the initiative as soon as he reached southern italy. The fact he retained freedom and raided for two years is remarkable but have others done similar things in roman times. Tacfarinas for instance. No, Spartacus as a great noble general fighting for freedom is a romantic myth. A brave man, a clever guerilla leader, a fierce fighter. He was also dishonest, possibly a little gullible, and hopelessly unable to accept discipline.

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Caldrail's description reminds me much of Boudicca's revolt as well. She was clearly a leader with some charisma and was able to motivate a rebellion while the provincial governor was away with the main army. She sacked a couple of towns and defeated an understrength vexillation (roughly 2,000 men) of a Roman legion (IX Hispana), but when Suetonius came up with a full, veteran Roman army, the rebellion was soundly crushed.

 

Spartacus is much the same. He certainly had some success but was not much of a match for the power of Rome once it had settled in upon doing the job. Even his successes against Lentulus and Gellius were limited in comparison to what he had done earlier against raw recruits and small contingents of legionaries. I don't mean to suggest that his efforts weren't impressive, because they most certainly were, but sometimes we tend to overuse descriptions such as "great" when describing generals, armies and campaigns, etc.

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Whether Crassus was a private citizen (privatus) is actually an interesting issue. On the one hand, we have clear descriptions of Crassus as a praetor from the epitomes of Livy (which are notoriously unreliable). On the other, modern historians are firmly on Cleopatra's side of the argument. According to Gruen's Last Generation (p. 536n9), "That Crassus was a privatus at the time should no longer be doubted; see Shatzman, Athenaeum, 46 (1968): 347-350."

 

For argument's sake, let's assume that Crassus was indeed privatus. Does this show some new weakness in the Senate? I don't think so. Going back to the Samnite War, in 295, four ex-consuls were given propraetorian imperium. Two generations later, the privatus Scipio Africanus was also given proconsular imperium, as was M. Marcellus and a whole string of Spanish governors. Thus, even if Crassus were privatus, there was nothing new here, and thus no need to invoke a "weakened" Senate to explain anything extraordinary about the imperia extra ordinem.

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I think this whole discussion is absurd, you simply can't take a modern concept and "glue" it to people of ancient times.

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I think this whole discussion is absurd, you simply can't take a modern concept and "glue" it to people of ancient times.

 

Blame Marx.

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I think this whole discussion is absurd, you simply can't take a modern concept and "glue" it to people of ancient times.

 

Blame Marx.

 

I do, and like all of his ideas this one is also wrong and worthless :)

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