Just Finished Reading: On The Spartacus Road – A Spectacular Journey Through Ancient Italy by Peter Stothard (FP: 2010)
I’ve had a ‘thing’ about Spartacus for quite a while now. I’m not entirely sure when it started or why I find the gladiator made revolutionary so compelling. I’m not even sure if my fascination with this historical giant dates from, or predates, the 1960 Kirk Douglas film that I remember seeing with my Father and Brother way back when (presumably some years after 1960 as I’m pretty sure that I saw it at the cinema and I’m damned sure I didn’t see it (and remember it so well) before my 1st birthday! Needless to say I had to buy this book and dived into it almost immediately.
Unlike my previous reading on the subject this book kept the speculation on the events of the early years, escape and subsequent demise to a minimum. Because the truth is we know very little about this iconic character and surprisingly little about the battles he fought, and mostly won, against a number of Roman armies. Built from its very foundations on uncountable slaves the greatest fear of any Roman was a slave revolt. Any sign of rebellion within the slave population was dealt with by the upmost severity so when a handful of gladiators not only escaped from their captivity and later defeated the much larger force sent against them it sent shockwaves through the whole Roman world. Worse was to come as the slave army gathered recruits and beat the next army sent to destroy them and the one after that too. For 3 years armed bands of slaves terrorised the Italian countryside beating off local militia and entire Roman legions leaving death, destruction and legends in their wake. Determined to get as close as possible to what actually happened between 73-71BC the author followed the route taken by Spartacus and his army to understand what drove him and how a group of salves taught to fight for entertainment could cause so much havoc for so long.
Told with knowledge, wit, humour (some of which was rather dark) and insight this was a delight to read from the first page to the last. As a journalist the author has an engaging style which I enjoyed a great deal. Part travelogue, part homage to classical education and part cancer survivor’s notebook I found this hard to put down and difficult to tear myself away from whenever I needed to eat, sleep or get back to work. If you have an interest in the Ancient world, Rome, gladiators or the Spartacus story in particular then this is definitely the book for you. Personally I loved it. Highly recommended.