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The Spartacus War

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  1,561 ratings  ·  157 reviews
An authoritative account from an expert author: The Spartacus War is the first popular history of the revolt in English.

The Spartacus War is the extraordinary story of the most famous slave rebellion in the ancient world, the fascinating true story behind a legend that has been the inspiration for novelists, filmmakers, and revolutionaries for 2,000 years. Starting with on
Hardcover, 264 pages
Published March 17th 2009 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2009)
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Average rating 3.90  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,561 ratings  ·  157 reviews

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Bill Kerwin
May 24, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: history

A detailed narrative of the Spartacus slave revolt. As not much is known of the man Spartacus nor the specifics of his campaign, this two hundred page treatment is padded with geographical details and anecdotes of tangential relevance. Strauss writes clearly and unpretentiously, however, and he paints a vivid picture of this important event within the context of the wider world of the late Roman Republic.
Jul 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, antiquity, italy
*Revised review
This book is not quite an academic treatise, and not quite a "popular" reconstruction of events, but something in-between; a work that is purely evidence based but written in a casual tone with a lack of textual references in a way that makes it very accessible to the casual reader. In short, a work of “popular history “in the vein of the plethora of popular science works out there.

But do not mistake it for creative non-fiction. Since a lot of the evidence relating to the subject
Jun 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, in-my-house
I finally got round to reading this because I was watching the TV show Spartacus with my other half and he kept asking how accurate I thought the show was being. My usual reply was that the show is entertaining, but that it's accuracy levels are pretty low, being based on lurid conjecture not on fact. However as I didn't know all that much about the slave rebellion led by 'Spartacus' I figured it was about time that I read the one book sat on my shelf that could add to my knowledge on the subjec ...more
History is written by the victors, so Barry Straus needs to be forgiven for an insane degree of “probably, maybe, possibly” in any tale of tragedy from the other side. Especially the Thracian snake-sorceress remains an enigma.

The story as spun however, is an adrenaline-rich chase.

Spartacus’ first refuge after escaping from gladiator school was the high ground of Vesuvius, a day away. On the way, he recruited mainly sturdy latifundia slaves. Rome’s weak reaction was by the book. It was only slav
Aug 07, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well-written speculation about Spartacus, painting a picture of him that's honestly quite different to what I was expecting. Of course, it makes sense: he couldn't have done what he did if he weren't a good general, skilled at inspiring men and drawing up battle plans. This book makes that clear, though, and traces the things he did to hold his army together and train them.

From the little information available, Barry Strauss really did a good job here, while emphasising that most of it was specu
andrea ✨
Jan 12, 2020 is currently reading it
i’m currently watching the show Spartacus on netflix and after finding out that a lot of the characters featured on the show were actually real people, and that the war being fought in the show was also real, i’ve gotten sooooo interested in them and the war and ancient rome during the gladiator period as a whole and now i want ALL THE BOOKS written about this time and these people. i just find it all so interesting and intriguing.
Nov 03, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"No one presents the military history of the ancient world with greater insight and panache than Strauss. His latest work tells the story of a gladiator who in 73 B.C. led an uprising of 700 gladiators that eventually attracted over 60,000 followers. Strauss depicts Spartacus as a charismatic politician, able to hold together a widely disparate coalition of Celts, Thracians, Germans and Italians. As a general, he was a master of maneuver and mobility, keeping the ponderous Romans consistently of ...more
Aug 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
Barry Strauss has produced an excellent history of Spartacus, the leader of the most successful slave rebellion against Rome, despite the dual obstacles of trying to obtain facts where scant original material exists, and attempting to accurately portray a subject which has been depicted in writing and on film either in romantic terms or as a shining hero of conflicting political beliefs.

Strauss is a professor of classics at Cornell; he has written two popular histories, about the Battle of Sal
Mar 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
This book is speculative history. The sources for the person Spartacus and for the slave revolt he lead are so limited and most if not all are non-contemporary accounts add this to the fact that for the majority of the conflict the eventual winning side was losing and losing to what they considered the lowest of the low and you can understand why there is little information on it. This however doesn't stop the author. He speculates wildly on a thousand different topics that may or may not be at ...more
Steven Peterson
Jul 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Anyone who has read Barry Strauss' book "The Trojan War" knows how he can create interesting history from bits and pieces of hard evidence. There are only a handful of written primary sources (some very short) that mention Spartacus, the warrior gladiator. What Strauss does in this book is an historical tour de force.

He takes the few fragments on Spartacus and weaves a story around those, based on his knowledge of Rome and the larger Roman World of the era. In short, he takes those fragments and
Apr 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Spartacus is probably one of the most famous rebels from antiquity. Here, Strauss tells the story of the rebellion. Since original sources are scarce, there's a lot of speculation and supposition. It makes for an entertaining read though. ...more
Sean DeLauder
Jan 27, 2015 rated it really liked it

My dog greatly enjoyed this book. I came upstairs to discover she'd eaten the cover.

 photo IMG_0548.jpg
Here's a photo of the villain caught unrepentant in the act of her latest villainy: luring two unsuspecting children to certain doom. What a monster.


When your historical references about an event are either biased, tangential, or removed by 100 years or more, the task of assembling a convincing work on the subject will prove challenging. Nevertheless, Strauss paints a compelling picture of the world at
Nathan Albright
Dec 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: challenge-2018
It is unclear exactly what led the author to write this book as a classicist who bemoans the lack of good sources and firm knowledge and has to resort to all kinds of speculations and guesses about important elements of the war, but there are at least two possibilities.  For one, Spartacus is well-known as a mythical figure supporting freedom from tyranny and oppression, and it might have been impossible for the author to resist the chance to write at least some work that dealt with this mythos ...more
May 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Spartacus is my historical boyfriend since I was eight.

I had an illustrated history book, with entire chapter devoted to Spartacus rebellion and there was a picture of a muscled man in tiny white panties climbing down the Mount Vesuvius on a rope, made from vine and that delicious tingling started and hadn't stopped ever since.

And then there was that Kirk Douglas movie with all I AM SPARTACUS and I was all, oooh, I want to go to there. Never mind growing up in former USSR, with Spartacus becom
Jul 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
This is a story of the gladiator, Spartacus. He was brought from Thrace (Bulgaria) to fight in an area in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius. In about 73 to 71 B.C. Spartacus and seventy other gladiators broke out armed with kitchen utensils. For two years he led a growing band of runaway slaves in a revolt. Strauss points out that Spartacus was a Murmillo gladiator who had served as a Thracian auxiliary to the Roman Army where he learned Roman military tactics.

Strauss is a Professor of Classics at Corn
May 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
A well-written, somewhat informal history of Spartacus’ slave revolt. Strauss does a good job bringing together all the information that is known about Spartacus and the revolt. He also writes relatively well, and provides good portraits of Spartacus and his nemesis Crassus.

The book is dry, with little momentum or energy. The book plods along, with the tedium unbearable at times, but as a history it is still reliable. Strauss is also hampered by the quality of the sources: since history is writt
Sean O'Hara
Mar 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-ancient, war
This is what history should be -- short, concise, and no long digressions on the history of sandals or the archaeological significance of potsherds. When Strauss discusses motivations of various figures, he tells us what ancient sources said, what modern scholars think, his own view, and he makes clear that this is all speculation. Likewise, if the record is unclear about where or when an event took place, he gives the evidence and lays out the most likely answers -- but, again, he lets the read ...more
Laura Leilani
Nov 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, history
Fantastic explanation. I had always wondered about various aspects of this uprising; so many things didn’t make sense to me. For instance, Spartacus’ army made it to the foot of the Alps. They could have left Italy forever; each slave going back to their home country; but they turned back. Why? That always bothered me. Now I understand.

Author gives a great explanation of the mind set of the times and various tribes. I learned so much from this book. The information is fascinating but the writin
Tom Brooks
Aug 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I re-read this book this summer because I made a goal for myself to read four history books this summer. the tale of Spartacus still rings strong today as it did many moons ago in the BC era which he lived in. Looking back on my first reading and comparing it to my now second reading I definitely still think this was a great read about the great gladiator and goes into an amazing detail of his time on the run and how he used all his cunning to trick his enemies.
Tom Ludwig
Oct 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
good introduction for people that want to read about spartacus who are unfamiliar with the era. for those who are well verse in the late republican period, it still is worth looking into
Preston Caddell
May 19, 2020 rated it liked it
"The Spartacus War" by Barry Strauss is probably as close as we are going to get about the true life of Spartacus and the 2-year slave revolt he led in Ancient Rome. From the beginning, Strauss is upfront about the lack of first-hand historical sources on his subject. In truth, we will probably never know much about Spartacus himself or his early history. Most of what we know about the rebellion was written by second-hand Roman sources that are unreliable at best. However, considering this handi ...more
Joseph Adelizzi, Jr.
Jul 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
Revolting is war. “The Spartacus War” by Barry Strauss drives that fact home. The slave revolt headed by the gladiator Spartacus was not a little uprising put down quickly by the military might of Rome. There was much to the “war,” and Strauss captures that scope admirably in this work, fleshing out history, personalities, short-comings, and strategies throughout. When all is read and done, though, this book is memorable for me on two levels. First there is the informative compilation of the his ...more
Jacob Stelling
Aug 18, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting book on a topic I knew little about. Very good at painting a picture of how the slave rebellion played out and the importance of personality and tactics used by the protagonists on both sides, particularly Spartacus.
Sep 17, 2012 rated it it was ok
See the original review here:

Detailing the events preceding, during and after one of the greatest and probably most well known slave rebellions in all of history, The Spartacus War takes readers on a trip all around Italy roughly 100 years BC, where a Thracian slave rose up against his oppressive Roman owners and took back his freedom, stirring many fellow slaves to do the same.

From camping out on Mt Vesuvias to the failed crossings across to Sicily, Stra
Jim Mann
Jul 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
While most of us know the general details of Spartacus' revolt (or at least the Kubrick version), the actual historical details are rather slim, based mostly on Sallust and the surviving bits of Livy's account (much of this section of Livy is lost). We know he lead a slave revolt that started with a small group of gladiators. We know that he won his initial encounters against Roman armies that we hastily put together, and that he marched north to the Alps, changed his mind, marched to the Strait ...more
Myke Cole
Dec 21, 2015 rated it liked it
The Spartacus War is a well written chronicle of the Third Servile War, the greatest slave revolt in Roman history. I assume that the publisher forced the awful title on the grounds that everyone has heard of Spartacus, and no casual reader knows what the hell a Servile War is.

Strauss has a gift for cliff-hangar chapter endings, story beats and how to write narrative prose that is engaging in spurts. But only in spurts. Strauss also has a meandering style, going down rabbit holes that distract f
Maura Heaphy Dutton
Spartacus was a failure against Rome but a success as a mythmaker. No doubt he would have preferred the opposite, but history has its way with us all ...

In its way, this book is a little triumph over History -- in reality, the primary sources about the Spartacus revolt could be archived on the back of a postage stamp. Contemporary histories which we know existed have been lost; the histories that survive were written by the winners, of course, many years after the events, and seem to be a heady
Jul 28, 2009 rated it liked it
For those you who are familiar with the Kubrick film Spartacus – which made Kirk Douglas a household name in cinema – Strauss’s historical look into the real deal is both concise and well-researched. It also blasts out of the water the most famous and quoted part of Kubrick’s film. No, never did said legendary figure and his men after him proclaim “I am Spartacus!” Rather, “One story says that Spartacus’s friends abandoned him, while the other has them fight and die with him.” In either event, “ ...more
Dec 21, 2013 marked it as to-read
Description: The Spartacus War is the extraordinary story of the most famous slave rebellion in the ancient world, the fascinating true story behind a legend that has been the inspiration for novelists, filmmakers, and revolutionaries for 2,000 years. Starting with only seventy-four men, a gladiator named Spartacus incited a rebellion that threatened Rome itself. With his fellow gladiators, Spartacus built an army of 60,000 soldiers and controlled the southern Italian countryside. A charismatic ...more
Paul Kearney
Armed with only cleavers and skewers, seventy four gladiatorial slaves escaped the worlds super power. Lead by Spartacus to inspire a volunteer force of sixty thousand, A figure of rebellious, freedom striking fear into the heart of slave owning aristocratic Rome. When after victory Spartacus the escaped gladiator. Put on his own gladiatorial games. The combatants Roman prisoners of war, The cheering audience, former slaves of Rome. The message clear Romans are not special. He wasn't asking for ...more
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Barry Strauss, professor of history and classics at Cornell University, is a leading expert on ancient military history. He has written or edited several books, including The Battle of Salamis, The Trojan War, The Spartacus War, Masters of Command, The Death of Caesar, and Ten Caesars.

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