Recently I was reading Colleen McCullough’s ‘Fortune’s Favorites’ from her series about ancient Rome. In the latter half of this long book, she retells the story of Spartacus, but with a different perspective. In particularly, she questions the common wisdom that Spartacus was born in Thrace.
Historical sources refer to Spartacus as a ‘Thracian gladiator’. But that phrase can have two meanings. It can mean that the gladiator known as Spartacus was a man born in Thrace. Or it can mean he was a gladiator who fought in the Thracian style— one of two combat styles used by gladiators in the era of the Roman republic.
McCullough, whose Roman series seems to be VERY well researched, presents Spartacus as a non-Thracian, a former Roman legionary who got in trouble with his superiors and was as punishment made a gladiator. In her fictional account, the new gladiator Spartacus (not his real name) was too aggressive with his trainers and ended up being sold to a more punitive gladiator school. Life was so horrible there that he and his comrades slew their tormentors and escaped— and without meaning to, accumulated a massive following of escaped slaves and others who looked to Spartacus to give them hope for a better life.
Spartacus is shown as acting not as a modern crusader to end slavery and oppression as he is sometimes portrayed, but as a man who acted as he did mainly in attempts to feed his followers and bring them to some place of safety.
The ending McCullough gives Spartacus, where both Spartacus and his wife possibly escaped the final battle to live peacefully in hiding, gives a rather hopeful note to the story.
Now, the source for the story of Spartacus as ethnic-Thracian does come from ancient Roman sources. But I wonder how much the ancient Romans knew about him? Surely there were no detailed records kept of the life history of every slave gladiator. And Spartacus was never captured alive and interrogated about such things as his life history. So that leaves the true story of Spartacus with a lot of mystery.
My Current Roman-History Phase
While Roman history is a Special Interest of mine, my current attempts to study it are actually part of worldbuilding, for a story-world I call Kirinia. Kirinia is a large division of a world called Erileth, which can be reached from our world through gateways. The tween-worlds gateways go to and from different time periods without necessary chronological agreement— so people from the Middle Ages can come through, build a society for a thousand years, and then a gateway can open up that leads to ancient Rome.
Which is the origin of Kirinia. A thousand years or more before the story begins, Koreans from the period of the late Middle Ages or so came over from our world to Erileth and build a society. Some of them settled in the land that would one day be Kirinia. As the story begins, the Korean-descended population has been devastated by a war, with only handfuls of refugee women left as survivors. A new gate opens up which connects to Earth in the era of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. Roman legionaries go through the gate and start to transform an abandoned city into a Roman colony. Unknown to the Roman leaders, a number of Christians, with their presbyters and two bishops, have gone through the gate as well. And then, the gate closes. And the Romans meet the enemy that emptied the city….