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5.0 1
by Aldo Schiavone

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The slave and gladiator Spartacus has been the subject of myth-making in his own time and of movie-making in ours. Aldo Schiavone brings him squarely into the arena of serious history. Spartacus emerges here as 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.


The slave and gladiator Spartacus has been the subject of myth-making in his own time and of movie-making in ours. Aldo Schiavone brings him squarely into the arena of serious history. Spartacus emerges here as 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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rather than rely on Kubrick’s classic film, Schiavone, founder and former director of the Istituto Italiano di Scienze Umane, depends on the accounts of ancient scribes, historical time lines, and the author’s own observations to reconstruct the fabled first-century B.C.E. slave revolt and its legendary leader. The author’s goal is to separate the man from the myth and provide a more accurate historical context, and while his account is thorough and interesting, his heavy-handed emphasis on the movements and clashes of armies and the vilifying of the Roman Empire draws the focus away from his subject. Nevertheless, it’s clear that Schiavone (The Invention of the Law in the West) is extremely knowledgeable about Roman history, and he does provide a new take on the Spartacus tale, showing that the revolt was not a spontaneous uprising; it was a deliberate and strategic strike against the Roman Empire. The text moves smoothly between narrative and historical analysis, meaning both the newcomer and the experienced Roman historian will find a wealth of entertainment and information. 3 maps. (Mar.)
Brent Shaw
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.
Booklist - Jay Freeman
This is a highly readable, interesting inquiry into a man and a movement that will never be fully understood.
Open Letters Monthly - Steve Donoghue
[This] little book (well under 200 pages, and as small as a dime-store paperback) stands not only as the perfect factual summary of events for the history-curious newcomer...but also as a stylish, engaging guided tour of that summary. Schiavone has a good ear for dramatics and a wonderful way with scene-setting... And although Schiavone reserves his sharpest thinking, fittingly enough, for the subject of slavery in the ancient world, he's very skilled at filling readers in on all aspects of the ancient Roman world--and the outsized characters like Crassus and Pompey who were eventually tasked with the responsibility of bringing the Spartacus rebellion to a speedy end... We can't know much about the charismatic power the Spartacus had, and we can know nothing at all about what, if any, political signals he wanted to send (beyond his mere survival, which may have ended up being the sharpest political signal of them all). But it hardly matters: what we do know has seldom been presented in so spry and enjoyable a monograph as this one. Readers should dispense with the novels and take up this book--no less gripping--instead.
Maclean’s - Colby Cosh
There is an intoxicating intensity in classical studies that is hard to match in any other field, with entire theoretical structures standing or falling on a single word or an interpretation of a verb tense. 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.
Wall Street Journal - Adrian Goldsworthy
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.
New York Review of Books - Mary Beard
Spartacus... attempts to strip away the myth from the historical rebel. It is an intelligent, learned, and challenging account...It is also sensibly succinct.
Barnes & Noble Review - Adam Kirsch
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.
Choice - R. I. Frank
No work explains so well and so briefly both the triumphs and ultimate failure of Spartacus.

Product Details

Harvard University Press
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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter Two: The Commander

The autumn wheat was ripe in the fields. The rebels felt safe, and were probably tired after the long trek. Casting aside all restraint, they ran amok in a sudden outburst of violence—bloodshed, torture, burning, and rape. The local slaves, possibly tipped off about their arrival, sided with them en masse in a more or less spontaneous insurrection of a kind that had already occurred elsewhere—bonds and solidarity formed in an instant. It was they who led Spartacus’s men to hastily concealed provisions and belongings, and pointed out the hiding places of their terrified masters. Power relationships fixed by the unremitting exercise of physical force dissolved instantly. Nothing seemed excessive or inviolable in the fury of the uprising—“barbarous rage and a servile nature” combined, Sallust writes coldly.

Spartacus, however, did not participate in the frenzy. In vain, he did everything he could—pleading even—to halt the massacre and to wrench his men out of a terrible spiral of “hatred:” in the writing of the Histories his figure once more stands out alone against the backdrop of his companions—a leader, but a leader in solitude.

How much truth and how much literary construction there is in this account is again hard to say: without a doubt, in Sallust’s time, a whole Italic—above all southern—tradition about the cruelty and violence perpetrated by the rebels in their forays was still alive: and it is quite feasible that what happened at Forum Anni rightly formed part of this reliable body of memories. But also Spartacus’s aloofness from the conduct of his men, undoubtedly played up by Sallust in stylistic terms, is not improbable either. We are told by Appian that the rebel chief often tried to impose a form of behavior which, though realistically accepting the harsh realities of war, prevented his men from becoming unbridled booty hunters—brigands without rules or scruples. It is information we have no reason to doubt—nobody had anything to gain from inventing it—and deserves to be judged with attention. Spartacus always “divided the plunder in equal parts” (a policy which, according to Appian, made recruiting easier). What’s more, “he prohibited the bringing in of gold or silver by merchants [into his camps], and would not allow his own men to acquire any: they only bought iron and bronze at great expense, without harming the merchants.” The detail is reported by Pliny as well, which suggests he and Appian drew on the same source: probably Sallust (and Varro), but perhaps we should not exclude Posidonius.

Where did Spartacus get these models of behavior? We should look in various directions. Towards more learned influences, which might have reached him from Greek democratic extremism and the economic egalitarianism that had long been spreading on the edges of that tradition, or even to the condemnation of the corrupting role of wealth found in significant strands of important philosophies (Stoicism, Cynicism), which might not have been unknown to him. Or, more simply, to basic notions of primitive rural communitarianism perhaps inherited from the customs of his own Thracian stock. Or, again—and this may be the most likely hypothesis—to a heterogeneous mix of overlapping cultural elements: doctrinaire ideas and popular reminiscences. Without forgetting that even bands of latrones often set rules for themselves. But in any case, I think it is less important to choose between these possible origins than it is to grasp what I would describe as the political-pedagogical aspect of Spartacus’s conduct, whatever its provenance.

Meet the Author

Aldo Schiavone is Full Professor in Roman Law at the Istituto Italiano di Scienze Umane, of which he was the founder, and the Director from 2006 until 2010.

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Spartacus 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
crayolakym More than 1 year ago
Spartacus, while a factual Thracian gladiator, has grown throughout history in to one of the greatest fictional superheroes ever born. Little is actually known about Spartacus beyond his historic leadership during the Third Servile War. While many books, movies, and even an in-depth television series can be found on Spartacus, much of what is portrayed is fictional or heavily exaggerated upon the little information about his life we do know. “Spartacus unquestionably had a charismatic power- by virtue of culture, military and perhaps even oratorical talents, and capacity of vision- superior to that of others, which would have given him an indubitable preeminence.” Author Aldo Schiavone dove deep into history providing fourteen pages of worthy sources shedding further light upon a man who rose from the ash and dust, leading an army of slaves against Roman troops and defying narrowing odds against them. He proved to be of great courage, leadership, and a steadfast tactician as he, alongside no more than seventy other slaves, armed themselves with meager kitchenware and rose up against the guards of Capua. This book is broken up into three main sections, The Fugitive, The Commander, and The Loser, and heavily utilizes the resources provided to obtain as accurate a story on Spartacus as possible. The author has done a superb job in ensuring that he didn’t glorify or elaborate upon what little knowledge was provided. This book, while on a limited source topic, is profoundly written in such a way as to evoke powerful emotions as Spartacus battles demon after demon, never giving up, and leaving his mark rooted deep within history. This is definitely a book you will want to pick up. You won’t regret it. *This book was provided in exchange for an honest review* *You can view the original review at Musing with Crayolakym and San Francisco & Sacramento City Book