Gladiatores

Hermann Vogel, Tod des Spartacus, 1882
Hermann Vogel, Der Tod des Spartacus (1882)

Enimvero et servilium armorum dedecus feras; nam etsi per fortunam in omnia obnoxii, tamen quasi secundum hominum genus sunt et in bona libertatis nostrae adoptantur: bellum Spartaco duce concitatum quo nomine appellem nescio; quippe cum servi militaverint, gladiatores imperaverint, illi infimae sortis homines, hi pessumae auxere ludibriis calamitatem Romanam. Spartacus, Crixus, Oenomaus effracto Lentuli ludo cum triginta aut amplius eiusdem fortunae viris erupere Capua; servisque ad vexillum vocatis cum statim decem milia amplius coissent, homines modo effugisse contenti, iam et vindicari volebant. prima sedes velut rabidis beluis mons Vesuvius placuit. ibi cum obsiderentur a Clodio Glabro, per fauces cavi montis vitineis delapsi vinculis ad imas eius descendere radices et exitu inviso nihil tale opinantis ducis subito impetu castra rapuerunt; inde alia castra, Vareniana, deinceps Thorani; totamque pervagantur Campaniam. nec villarum atque vicorum vastatione contenti Nolam atque Nuceriam, Thurios atque Metapontum terribili strage populantur. affluentibus in diem copiis cum iam esset iustus exercitus, e viminibus pecudumque tegumentis inconditos sibi clipeos et ferro ergastulorum recocto gladios ac tela fecerunt. ac ne quod decus iusto deesset exercitui, domitis obviis etiam gregibus paratur equitatus, captaque de praetoribus insignia et fasces ad ducem detulere. nec abnuit ille de stipendiario Thrace miles, de milite desertor, inde latro, deinde in honorem virium gladiator. quin defunctorum quoque proelio ducum funera imperatoriis celebravit exsequiis, captivosque circa rogum iussit armis depugnare, quasi plane expiaturus omne praeteritum dedecus, si de gladiatore munerarius fuisset. inde iam consulares quoque aggressus in Appenino Lentuli exercitum cecidit, apud Mutinam Publi Crassi castra delevit. quibus elatus victoriis de invadenda urbe Romana—quod satis est turpitudini nostrae—deliberavit. tandem enim totis imperii viribus contra myrmillonem consurgitur pudoremque Romanum Licinius Crassus asseruit; a quo pulsi fugatique—pudet dicere—hostes in extrema Italiae refugerunt. ibi circa Brittium angulum clusi, cum fugam in Siciliam pararent neque navigia suppeterent, ratesque ex trabibus et dolia conexa virgultis rapidissimo freto frustra experirentur, tamen eruptione facta dignam viris obiere mortem et, quod sub gladiatore duce oportuit, sine missione pugnatum est. Spartacus ipse in primo agmine fortissime dimicans quasi imperator occisus est.
(Florus, Epit. 3.20)

One can tolerate, indeed, even the disgrace of a war against slaves; for although, by force of circumstances, they are liable to any kind of treatment, yet they form as it were a class (though an inferior class) of human beings and can be admitted to the blessings of liberty which we enjoy. But I know not what name to give to the war which was stirred up at the instigation of Spartacus; for the common soldiers being slaves and their leaders being gladiators—the former men of the humblest, the latter men of the worst, class—added insult to the injury which they inflicted upon Rome. Spartacus, Crixus and Oenomaus, breaking out of the gladiatorial school of Lentulus with thirty or rather more men of the same occupation, escaped from Capua. When, by summoning the slaves to their standard, they had quickly collected more than 10,000 adherents, these men, who had been originally content merely to have escaped, soon began to wish to take their revenge also. The first position which attracted them (a suitable one for such ravening monsters) was Mt. Vesuvius. Being besieged here by Clodius Glabrus, they slid by means of ropes made of vine-twigs through a passage in the hollow of the mountain down into its very depths, and issuing forth by a hidden exit, seized the camp of the general by a sudden attack which he never expected. They then attacked other camps, that of Varenius and afterwards that of Thoranus; and they ranged over the whole of Campania. Not content with the plundering of country houses and villages, they laid waste Nola, Nuceria, Thurii and Metapontumb with terrible destruction. Becoming a regular army by the daily arrival of fresh forces, they made themselves rude shields of wicker-work and the skins of animals, and swords and other weapons by melting down the iron in the slave-prisons. That nothing might be lacking which was proper to a regular army, cavalry was procured by breaking in herds of horses which they encountered, and his men brought to their leader the insignia and fasces captured from the praetors, nor were they refused by the man who, from being a Thracian mercenary, had become a soldier, and from a soldier a deserter, then a highwayman, and finally, thanks to his strength, a gladiator. He also celebrated the obsequies of his officers who had fallen in battle with funerals like those of Roman generals, and ordered his captives to fight at their pyres, just as though he wished to wipe out all his past dishonour by having become, instead of a gladiator, a giver of gladiatorial shows. Next, actually attacking generals of consular rank, he inflicted defeat on the army of Lentulus in the Apennines and destroyed the camp of Publius Cassius at Mutina. Elated by these victories he entertained the project—in itself a sufficient disgrace to us—of attacking the city of Rome. At last a combined effort was made, supported by all the resources of the empire, against this gladiator, and Licinius Crassus vindicated the honour of Rome. Routed and put to flight by him, our enemies—I am ashamed to give them this title—took refuge in the furthest extremities of Italy. Here, being cut off in the angle of Bruttium and preparing to escape to Sicily, but being unable to obtain ships, they tried to launch rafts of beams and casks bound together with withies on the swift waters of the straits. Failing in this attempt, they finally made a sally and met a death worthy of men, fighting to the death as became those who were commanded by a gladiator. Spartacus himself fell, as became a general, fighting most bravely in the front rank. (tr. Edward Seymour Forster)

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