Spartacus (109?–71 BCE), the slave who rebelled against Rome, has been a source of endless fascination: the subject of myth-making in his own time, and of movie-making in ours. Hard facts about the man have always yielded to romanticized tales and mystifications. In this riveting, compact account, Aldo Schiavone rescues Spartacus from the murky regions of legend and brings him squarely into the arena of serious history.
Schiavone transports us to Italy in the first century BCE, where the pervasive institution of slavery dominates all aspects of Roman life. In this historic landscape, carefully reconstructed by the author, we encounter Spartacus, who is enslaved after deserting from the Roman army to avoid fighting against his native Thrace. Imprisoned in Capua and trained as a gladiator, he leads an uprising that will shake the empire to its foundations.
While the grandeur of the Spartacus story has always been apparent, its political significance has been less clear. What were his ambitions? Often depicted as the leader of a class rebellion that was fierce in intent but ragtag in makeup and organization, Spartacus emerges here in a very different light: the commander of an army whose aim was to incite Italy to revolt against Rome and to strike at the very heart of the imperial system. Surprising, persuasive, and highly original, Spartacus challenges the lore and illuminates the reality of a figure whose achievements, and whose ultimate defeat, are more extraordinary and moving than the fictions we make from them.
Aldo Schiavone’s Spartacus attempts to go back to [ancient] sources, analyze them intelligently, and see whether we can find the truth and understand something of the real man. He does his best to trace the rebellion step by step, interweaving his narrative with wider consideration of the nature of slavery in the Roman world and its role in the social and economic system… Schiavone offers a readable, generally sensible and certainly thought-provoking discussion of Spartacus and of first-century slavery.
[Spartacus] attempts to strip away the myth from the historical rebel. It is an intelligent, learned, and challenging account… It is also sensibly succinct.
The author’s goal is to separate the man from the myth and provide a more accurate historical context… Both the newcomer and the experienced Roman historian will find a wealth of entertainment and information.
No work explains so well and so briefly both the triumphs and ultimate failure of Spartacus.
[T]he perfect factual summary of events for the history-curious newcomer…stylish, engaging… Schiavone has a good ear for dramatics and a wonderful way with scene-setting… Readers should dispense with the novels and take up this book—no less gripping—instead.
This is a highly readable, interesting inquiry into a man and a movement that will never be fully understood.
Schiavone attempts to drill down through the sedimented legends to the bedrock of historical fact… To understand who Spartacus was and what he wanted, Schiavone argues, it’s necessary to read against the grain of the text, and to place him as far as possible in a broad historical context… Ironically, [Spartacus] would become more potent in death than he ever was in life: no longer a local warlord but a symbol of freedom who still has the power to inspire and fascinate more than 2,000 years later.
Schiavone has become known, and deemed worthy of English translation, by approaching the old standards of literary elegance and erudition about as well as anybody… Schiavone’s Spartacus is no arch-liberator, but a prophetic gambler who found himself with no easy escape from Italy and thus sought to turn Rome’s beaten-down neighbor cities against it… You’ve seen the movie: now get the straight dope.
Given current interests in resistance and rebellion, books on Spartacus are proliferating, but this one is different. From the commanding perspective of an eminent historian of Rome, it provides both a critical account based on the original sources and a highly readable narrative of one of the greatest slave wars in world history. Schiavone offers a careful reconstruction of what might have happened and a compelling analysis of a losing cause.
- 208 pages
- 4-3/8 x 7-1/8 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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