Even in these days of “small Latin, and less Greek,” Spartacus is a name from Roman history as recognizable as Caesar or Nero. The Thracian gladiator who ignited a slave rebellion in 73 B.C., defeated nine Roman armies, and plundered Italy from the Straits of Messina to the Alps, has for centuries been an icon of righteous violence against an unjust social order. Communists appropriated Spartacus as a historic exemplar of proletarian revolt; revolutionary nationalists like Toussaint L’Ouverture and Giuseppe Garibaldi admired him; Voltaire deemed the gladiator’s rebellion the only just war in history; American leftists glorified Spartacus in novels and films; and even Ronald Reagan evoked Spartacus as a champion of freedom. So much for the myth, but what about the man?

In The Spartacus War, Barry Strauss, professor of history and classics at Cornell University, seeks to answer this...


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