For two glorious years in ancient Rome, the rebel leader Spartacus led an army of slaves that defeated Roman legions and threatened the prestige of Rome itself. Spartacus was not born a slave; he was a freeborn man from Thrace, who was possibly a deserter from the Roman army. He was captured, sold into slavery, and then trained to be a gladiator. In 73 B.C. he escaped with 70 or 80 fellow gladiators; they gathered other escaped slaves to them, and as their force grew they defeated Roman troops in a series of increasingly large battles. By 72 B.C. Spartacus commanded a force of 120,000 slaves in what is now southern Italy, but that was the high-water mark. The next year Spartacus and his forces were cornered by Roman armies led by the general Crassus and wiped out in a colossal battle. Spartacus is presumed to have died there, though his body was never identified. According to the historian Appian, 6000 surviving slaves were captured by the Romans and crucified along the road from Capua to Rome in one of the great grisly revenge measures of all time. Spartacus was played by Kirk Douglas in a famous 1960 film (directed by Stanley Kubrick). His story was also the loose basis for the TV series Spartacus: Blood and Sand, with Andy Whitfield as Spartacus, which debuted on the Starz cable network in 2010.
Spartacus is also the name of a 1954 ballet by Soviet composer Aram Khachaturian.