Spartacus by Howard Fast

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I wanted to continue with the theme I had going with my recent review of Gates of Fire. As you may know I have always been interested in ancient Greece and Rome, and the TV show Spartacus a few years back also renewed my interest in the subject. I searched the web for a book about Spartacus because I wanted to know more about what actually happened to him, and why nearly 2,000 years later we are still talking about him.

Fast was born in New York in 1914 and he died in 2003. During his life he has written many novels, short fiction, and television scripts. His most famous novel is Spartacus which ironically is infamous as well. As far as I can tell Howard was a Communist, which now a days I don’t think matters as much, but during the 1950’s that would have been a big issue. He had some fame from his earlier novels and after serving a three year prison sentence he was “blacklisted” by other publishers so they would not publish his works. While in prison he wrote Spartacus, but upon its completion no publisher would print his novel. He would later publish it one his own and it would go on to be quite famous. Later in the 1960’s a movie would be made based on the novel.

First, a brief history lesson about Spartacus before we get stIMG_1158arted. Believe it or not he was actually a real person and the inspiration of many oppressed societies in our time. Him, along with Crixus, Oenomaus, Castus and Gannicus led what is known as the Third Servile War, Servile means slave. After a few victories against overconfident Roman legions the uprising was finally put down by a general named Marcus Licinius Crassus who was also a real person and one of the wealthiest people in recorded history even in today’s dollars. After the war Crassus crucified the survivors along the Appian Way to show what would happen to those how stood against the might of Rome.  Shew, now that was not so bad was it, on to the story.

Oddly enough this story opens after all the craziness and the uprising has been put down, basically where I left off above. A group of wealthy Roman citizens are making a journey to Capua along the Appian Way. The road is lined with the crucified slaves that survived the revolt. The citizens stay a few nights at a villa along the way where the meet some famous and made up characters and discuss the revolt. During their discussions the book flashes back to before the revolt filling in what happened and giving large details about Spartacus’ early life, including his time as a gladiator as well as working in the mines that were a guaranteed death sentence. The ending of the story deals with the final battles to put down the revolt and the aftermath. Also, there is somewhat of an epilogue that deals with what happens to Spartacus’ wife and son.

When I first started reading this book I was a little shocked at how it started. I did not expect for it to start after all the action had ended, but it actually worked really well for the story. It was something unexpected but a nice addition that really gave the story a lot more depth than just a simple traditional tale of a slave uprising.

The characters in the story are great as well. The author does a great job of mixing actual Roman figures in with the ones he creates. This is what I found fascinating as when I finished reading this story I looked up the actual Sevile Revolts as they are known and it was neat to see the names of Crassus and Cicero and how they played a part in the overall story. I will say that I read this one a while back and I can still remember a quote from Cicero in the story. “There are so few things to be serious about,” or something like that. I cannot remember the exact wording but for some reason I have not forgotten it. How true his words are and I think they still hold true almost 2,000 years late. It is important to note that the real Cicero probably never said that but I still like the quote. I always remember it because it keeps me grounded when things get a little crazy sometimes.

The other interesting thing in this one is the depiction of Roman life. I felt this book did a great job of giving the reader a view of what it was like living under Roman rule and the cruelty that took place. There are quite a few good quotes from Roman citizens and slaves on what it is like to live under their rule.

Spartacus is remembered for many things but almost all historians all agree that he was one of the most brilliant tacticians history has ever seen. He basically took a few thousand peasants and defeated Roman legions on multiple occasions. Hi strategy was simple, he never fought the Romans at their own game, but attacked them when they were most vulnerable. That is like taking a team of walk-ons and winning the Super Bowl, it just does not happen.

Another cool fact is that after the war was over the Romans could not find the body of Spartacus, which I think is bizarre. Yet all historians mostly agree that he most certainly died during the final battle, but his body was never found.

Spartacus is one of the most powerful and influential figures to come out of ancient Rome, and arguable in history. He was a powerful yet approachable leader and by all accords a military genius. This book although mostly fiction does a really great job of portraying what the man Spartacus might have been like and tries to fill in the blanks where the actual history is missing. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in ancient Rome or Spartacus. Also, if you just have a general interest in history you will not be disappointed, because of all the historical events and the famous Romans that fill its pages. This book is also a great read and is brilliantly written. This is something I have not touched on, but the style and how the book goes from present events to the past may seem confusing as I am explaining it, but it is masterfully done and adds another level of superb writing technique to the story. Check this one out if you get a chance.

Manik

 

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