Home World Ancient Rome breakthrough as scientists solve Spartacus mystery

Ancient Rome breakthrough as scientists solve Spartacus mystery

Archaeologists have made a breakthrough in the mystery surrounding Spatacus, the escaped slave and former gladiator, who led a major slave uprising against the Roman Republic in southern Italy.

A recent study of the Dossone della Melia forest in south-central Calabria (16 miles north of Naples) has revealed a stone wall and earthwork extending over 1.6 miles.

Traces of a Roman defensive ditch – a Roman fossa – and embankment – agger – system have also been identified, according to Heritage Daily. 

Most historical accounts of Spartacus arise from the writings of Plutarch of Chaeronea (46 – 119 AD) and Appian of Alexandria (95 – 165 AD).

According to their texts, the uprising began in 73 BC when Spartacus and a group of gladiators escaped a gladiatorial school near Capua in the Campania region.

Spartacus and two Gallic (Celtic people) slaves – Crixus and Oenomaus – were chosen as leaders. They retired to a defensible position on Mount Vesuvius. From there, they roamed the countryside and freed slaves, until they had amassed an army of around 70,000. 

Spartacus’ motives remain a subject of contestation, with some suggesting he aimed to escape Italy, while others hit at broader social reform goals. His legacy is said to have endured, becoming a symbol for resistance and influencing figures including Karl Marx – the “Black Spartacus”.  

The rebellion became a significant threat to Roman authority, forcing the Senate to send a force of eight legions, led by Marcus Licinius Crassus. Though the rebels lacked military training, they displayed skillful use of available materials and unusual tactics against the Roman armies. Spartacus and his forces were defeated in 71 BC in the Senerchia region, which was part of Lucania. It came to be known as the Third Servile War or the War of Spartacus. 

Plutarch and Appian both state that Spartacus died in battle, aged 32. However, Appian also adds that the body was never found. In the aftermath of the revolt, 6,000 surviving rebels were crucified along the Appian Way, to act as a deterrent against any further thoughts of rebellion or sedition.

“The wall has now been conclusively identified as part of the structures built by the Roman general Marcus Licinius Crassus to contain the slave revolt leader Spartacus and his forces,” said a statement by the Archaeological Institute of America. 

Other excavations have also unearthed several broken iron weapons, sword handles, large curved blades, javelin points, a spearhead and other metal debris. Such discoveries indicate a pitched battle at the site between the Romans and the rebellion forces to break free of the trap. 

“The discovery was made possible by a tip from a local group of environmentalists who knew of the wall’s existence but were puzzled as to what it could be,” said Dr Visona. 

“The team investigated the wall and ditch using Ground-Penetrating Radar, LIDAR, magnetometry and soil core sampling.”


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