Jan. 20 (Monday)

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Full Name: Spartacus
Born: unknown

Spartacus was a Thracian-born leader in the Gladiatorial War (73-71), a spectacular slave uprising against Rome popularized by the movie Spartacus, in which Spartacus is played by Kirk Douglas.

Though little is known about Spartacus, he apparently served in the Roman Army before he was sold as a slave, apparently after he deserted and became a bandit. In 73, Spartacus was one of about seventy gladiators who escaped a gladiatorial training school at Capua and took refuge on Mt. Vesuvius, where their numbers were augmented by other runaway slaves.

After defeating two Roman forces, the rebels overran most of southern Italy as their numbers grew to at least 90,000. The slave army fought its way to the Alps in an attempt to escape Italy. But when Spartacus’ men refused to leave Italy, they instead tried to cross to the island of Sicily, only to find themselves trapped by Roman forces. The superior Roman forces eventually prevailed, with Spartacus himself falling in battle. Some 6,000 prisoners were crucified along the Appian Way.

Though the gladiator rebellion wasn’t really a social movement — it isn’t even apparent that Spartacus was intent on ending slavery — it was nonetheless a sensational challenge to Roman authority that inspires revolutionaries and freedom fighters to this day.