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Caesar and Spartacus, what were their aims?

The Thracian gladiator Spartacus, the ex-Roman auxiliary who challenged the might of Rome with his slave army has held the interest of many, since Hollywood saw fit to create his legend with the movie about him some years ago. He had in fact caused quite a problem in Italy by his defeat of several legions and a Consular army sent to deal with him. The immediate question arises how was he different in his aims than the Caesar I have described in my book?

To answer this question we must first of all understand the times and the differences in the outlook of society that was understood then and today. Slavery was at that time a worldwide phenomenon that covered the earth. It was a social institution, which was accepted by all races and groups of men throughout the earth. Although many different attitudes were taken regarding slavery by different cultures and groups, (for instance, the Hebrews took the attitude that the slaves should be manumitted every seven years, although in actual fact this was rarely done) the Romans in general took the attitude, at the time of Caesar, that slaves were an extension of the family. In my book I mentioned that it is my own idea that the Romans used slavery as a social tool.

We must remember that the society of that time was much different than ours. Education amongst the lower classes was non-existent. Poverty and misery amongst the lowest classes of free society was of a kind we can hardly imagine today. The slaves of that time were not people of a different race, but of the same race as the slaveholders. Most slaveholders, although looking on their charges as property, knew they were human beings, and treated them, as I said before, as perhaps disenfranchised poor relatives. In fact many slaves, especially those that worked in the city were much better off than the free people, as they were guaranteed room and board, while the free people were left to fend for themselves 1

If we understand this, and then further see that there were no real organized police forces at this time. Crime was more or less taken care of through vigilantism, and tribal law enforcement (remember the clan, and familial structure of the Roman {and Italian} state), then we can understand that, in a way, slavery was an institution with a purpose namely: to keep under control an element that was a real threat to organized society.

Who were these slaves? They were mainly young, poor, uneducated males (the females were in the minority 2 ) from various barbarian peoples who were defeated in battle, or who had been known criminals (in other words, using the popular idiom: loose cannons). Another segment was the children of poorer people, and prostitutes, who rather then leave their unwanted newborns to die of exposure, sold them into slavery. In probably 99.9% of cases these were people who had been discarded by organized society, and if not for slavery would end up living a life of crime, and terrorizing the poor free people who were already living in extreme misery.

One more point should be made. The Aegean and Eastern provinces (Cilicia, Caria, Capadocia, Rhodes, Cyprus etc.) had already undergone an extensive excoriating experience through the free reign of groups of this same class of people that I have mentioned above (potential slaves). These were namely, the pirates who during the time of the young Caesar had more or less completely controlled the waterways surrounding these provinces. They were indeed of the same mold as Spartacus’ army. And they provide a good idea of what would have occurred in Italy if Spartacus’ army had been given free reign to do as they pleased. They were cast off soldiers and slaves who banded into extensive groups that for some decades controlled and terrorized this whole region. Their reign of terror was one of lawless rapine and pillaging of everyone in those areas, to the extent that any sea voyage was a fearful toss of the dice as to its outcome. If anything, they fed the slave trade with more victims than even the normal sources could account for. Their end finally came about not through cruelty, but through Pompey’s magnanimity. He gave them land and a chance at family life in agriculture. Caesar, as a subordinate and apprentice soldier (see the book), had experienced, and dealt firsthand with these same people; in point of fact, he had even become one of their hostages. And I feel that it was he, who, because of his extensive experiences, probably counseled Pompey as to how to finally deal with them.

So after having said all this, I will finally answer the formal question asked above, by summarizing the answer I have already in essence given.

Spartacus and his army was not the hero and his patriotic army of freedom fighters that tinsel town would have you believe they were. He was without doubt just another bandit leader with another army of loose cannons, the same as the east had already experienced, who wanted to spread more misery, and chaos on the earth.

While Caesar’s aims were for worldwide order under a government of local representative law enforcement, Spartacus was only another greedy bandit chieftain, who under the guise of curing society of what he thought was its chief ill, would only cause a thousand more to take its place, as the Isauri (whom Caesar had dealt with in his youth) 3 had done in the East.


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1 The views of slavery held today by people in the United States, are highlighted by the fact that slavery here was a type of racial discrimination where many of the white slave owners looked on their slaves as less than human, because they were from a race which they looked on as mere “animals”. This was not the case in the ancient times we consider. Here the slaves and their masters were of the same stock. True, greed was the primary motivating cause, but also, law enforcement was another and not inconsiderable motivation. Societies at the time we consider were devoid of ways of handling local brigandage except through some kind of caste system; and that is essentially what slavery was: a caste of society’s discards.

Of course Spartacus was also a gladiator. Since Spartacus was an ex-Roman auxiliary soldier, we might speculate that he was sent to the gladiatorial ring because he broke the law in the army (in essence he was court marshaled and convicted, and sent to a gladiator school in Capua). The gladiatorial ring was essentially, at this time, a place for incorrigibles, for people who were so wild they could not be used in domestic service. In a way the gladiatorial ring was a way to give a chance at honor and fame and freedom to hopeless loose cannons. Just as Rockey had a way to better himself through prizefighting in today’s world.

We must tend to leave our modern morality behind when we look back and study these times. We must remember that the whole world was not yet enlightened by the message of the Christ. Overall, society could benefit more by applying injustice to a few, then by allowing more misery for all, through correcting injustice for the few. This was the way of things then.

One more thing, slavery at this time, in the late Republic, was actually, as I have said, a sort of social tool, but under the Empire and its tyrant Caesars, it would be used as a form of persecution and discrimination, a true abomination, as it was in the South before the civil war.

2 Women slaves were mainly children who were abandoned as I mention further on, or who had been captured in battle, e. g. when whole cities were sold into slavery; or of tribes, like the Germans, where woman fought with their men. Another source was of women hostages taken by robber bands in the East.

In any case the women were mainly used as domestic slaves in the home, and as nannies, nurses and midwives.

3 The Isauri were a nation of bandits that held extensive rule in the area around Cilicia. Under his Commander Servilius, Caesar had fought these people, and presumably took part in the triumph given to Servilius for the final conquest of this band (see the book).



Originally Published:

October 11, 2007


June 24, 2014