From Publishers Weekly
No one presents the military history of the ancient world with greater insight and panache than Strauss (The Trojan War
). His latest work tells the story of a slave from the Balkans, 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 off balance. Strauss reconstructs the rebels' movements across southern Italy and their development into an army good enough to overcome Rome's legions in battle after battle. Not until Marcus Licinius Crassus was given command of Roman forces did Spartacus face an opponent who could match him. Spartacus forced a battle that resulted in complete defeat and his anonymous death. But the uprising he sparked left a permanent mark on the Roman psyche and made Spartacus himself a figure of myth as well as history, as Strauss shows at the end of this brisk, engrossing account. 8 pages of b&w illus., maps. (Mar. 17)
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The first-century BCE slave revolt against Rome was led by Spartacus, a Thracian-born gladiator who had previously served as a Roman auxiliary soldier. Spartacus and the struggle he led have served as the inspiration for movies, an opera, and several fictionalized accounts. He has also been adopted as a symbol of freedom by political movements of both the Left and Right. Yet the historical Spartacus remains a murky figure, while the details of the revolt remain subjects of historical dispute. Strauss, professor of history and classics at Cornell University, has made an admirable attempt to fill in some of the gaps in the historical record in a compelling but highly speculative effort. Strauss admits the lack of reliable primary sources has forced him to engage in some tricky conjectures regarding the character and motivation of Spartacus. Still, many of his assertions are credible, and his efforts to portray the political and social milieu of Italy during the late Republic are superbly done. Strauss sees Spartacus as a brave and charismatic leader who was limited by some personal shortcomings. --Jay Freeman