Stewart's Reviews > On The Spartacus Road: a Journey Through Ancient Italy

On The Spartacus Road by Peter Stothard
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Mar 27, 12

Read in March, 2012

Spartacus, the leader of a slave revolt against Rome in 73-71 B.C., has held a fascination for me and many others during the past two millenniums. The past two centuries, Spartacus has been a favorite to many on the right and left. Karl Marx listed him as a hero.
One of my favorite movies is the 1960 "Spartacus" with Kirk Douglas, Jean Simmons, and Laurence Olivier, directed by Stanley Kubrick. And one of my favorite pieces of music is the three suites of music drawn from Aram Khachaturian’s 1956 ballet "Spartacus."
"Spartacus Road: A Journey Through Ancient Italy" by Peter Stothard combines history, literature, travelogue, and memoir as he travels the length of Italy during the early 21st century in the footsteps of Spartacus.
Stothard drove from Rome to Capua, where the slave revolt began in 73 B.C., to Mount Vesuvius, where the slaves built their initial fortified position, to the heel of Italy and up to the foothills of the Alps, detailing Spartacus’ army defeating several Roman legions sent against it. Stothard continued back down to the toe of Italy where Marcus Licinius Crassus finally defeated the slave army in 71 B.C. and crucified the survivors along the Appian Way.
He describes the present day scenes and quotes from Roman and Greek poets and historians such as Pliny, Plutarch, Horace, Sallust, and others, who were mostly hostile to Spartacus and his revolt against the established order.
“Was Spartacus a great man? Many have argued so. Karl Marx considered him one of his favourite heroes of all time. Garibaldi made him his model for uniting and freeing Italy. For Voltaire the Spartacus war was the only ‘just war’ in all history. Kirk Douglas and other film-makers and novelists agreed, attributing to him their own passions and ideas, seeing seeds of the future that may or may not have been there, creating myths and legends on an epic scale.
“Others have either gently or violently disagreed. For [Roman senator and writer] Symmachus and his friends in the former capital of an empire, Spartacus was still an expletive.”
This is not a book for someone wanting to be introduced to the life of Spartacus. It would be better to read Howard Fast’s 1951 novel "Spartacus," the works of modern biographers and historians or the accounts by Roman historians. But to someone already familiar with the Thracian slave leader, Stothard’s book will be a welcomed addition.
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