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I Am Spartacus!

By       Message Richard Girard     Permalink
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But Thomas Jefferson was the author, and the words of our immortal Declaration were "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." Both Alexander Hamilton and John Adams did all that they could to steer the United States towards an oligarchy, headed by a hereditary aristocracy. The "Revolution of 1800," when Jefferson was elected President, put an end to that nonsense, at least for a time. But the wealthy and moneylenders have never completely surrendered their desire for an oligarchy.

The dominance of property over human beings in American law, including the recognition of corporations as persons under the law--up to and including the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC--has been at the heart of the oligarchs' attempts to subvert our democratic republic since our nation's founding.

The exaltation of property over human beings in law is as old as civilization itself. A system of law, without compassion for our fellow humans, whose primary concern is for things, not people, is far easier to administer than a system whose first concern is for the people affected by that law. Victor Hugo's classic Les Miserables, where Jean Valjean is hunted by the law for years--after stealing a loaf of bread when he is hungry--is the ultimate example of the wrongness of a system that puts things ahead of the needs of people.

Ayn Rand--with her concept of producers and parasites--would have found the Late Roman Republic to be a world very much to her taste, which shows why she was a very poor historian, and no friend of real universal human freedom.

Rome doomed her republican government by not preserving the human basis it was founded upon: the yeoman landholder who formed the backbone of both her legions and her middle class. The richest Romans--patrician and knight alike--manipulated the system to effectively wipe out Rome's middle class. The manpower shortage became so severe, that by the time of the multiple consulships of Gaius Marius at the end of the Second Century B.C.E., the Senate had to call upon and equip Rome's poor (the capite censi or "head count") to fill the legions' manpower requirements when an invasion by half-a-million Germans threatened Rome's very survival. These soldiers felt far more loyalty to their generals than they did to Rome, and the Republic's fate was effectively sealed.

Spartacus's Revolt--also called the Third Servile War--arrived at an inopportune moment for Rome. Rome was exhausted from the combined exertions of: fighting the Social War against the non-citizen Italian states fifteen years before; the First Civil War between optimate and populare, whose last act was being played out at that moment in the Spanish provinces; the Third and final Mithradatic War, where Mithradates VI of Pontus--who had invaded Rome's Eastern Provinces during the Social War fifteen years earlier--was battling against Roman Proconsul Lucius Licinius Lucullus for control of Asia Minor; finally, the numerous pirate fleets who controlled the Mediterranean, regularly threatening Rome's grain supply, and any vessel that was not a warship.

A large proportion of Spartacus's army--probably a majority--were not slaves at all, but Samnite freemen native to southern and eastern Italy, who hated the Romans with an unequalled passion after more than two centuries of wars and uprisings. Many of these Samnites were trained soldiers from the Social War, and with no trained Roman legions in Italy proper, you initially had veterans fighting against Rome's raw recruits. Rome's legions were initially badly overmatched in both quality and quantity, led by incompetents trying to put down the rapidly swelling ranks of Spartacus's force.

Spartacus had no grand strategy, no final goal for his force to achieve. He had started with a half-baked idea to join the rebel forces of Quintus Sertorius in Spain, but that plan fell apart when Spartacus discovered Sertorius had been murdered by his lieutenants in Spain. So, the Spartacani (as Spartacus's army came to be called) wandered the Italian Peninsula, beating the commanders sent against them by Rome, embarrassing the Senate again and again in their incompetence.

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Rome finally, after more than a year of incompetence and defeats, with great hesitation, chose a capable--if unpopular with the Senate--commander from among its Senators, Marcus Licinius Crassus, one of the richest men in Rome.

Crassus was able to call veterans who had served under him in the First Civil War out of retirement to join him. One and one-half legions of Roman survivors of a battle with the Spartacani were decimated: one in ten ritually executed by their comrades before the rest of Crassus's legions, as an object lesson for running away, and leaving their armor and weapons behind.

With eight legions--nearly 40,000 Romans--Crassus followed Spartacus and his 100,000+ up and down the Italian peninsula through the Fall and Winter of 72-71 B.C.E.. Crassus fought whenever he could achieve an advantage in position or numbers, and once, when he was ambushed by the Spartacani. An attempt by Spartacus to move the Spartacani to Sicily (the location of the First and Second Servile Wars) by ship failed when they were betrayed by the Sicilian pirates.

Finally, in the early Spring of 71 B.C.E. Spartacus was brought to bay. Part of his army, protecting the Spartacani flank, had been annihilated when Crassus swooped down on them after they had captured a Roman supply depot. A few days later, on the Via Popilla, near Brundisium, the two sides collided. The Spartacani lost.

The wonderful film moment in 1960's "Spartacus," with the survivors rising as one and saying "I Am Spartacus," is a pure fabrication. The historians of the time say that Spartacus was seen to fall in battle, but no one could find his body afterward. He probably escaped in the confusion. Fifteen thousand of the Spartacani succeeded in fleeing the battle. Six thousand going north ran into Pompey the Great returning with his army from Spain in Northern Italy, and were slaughtered. Nine thousand disappeared into the Bruttian Mountains, to be hunted down, starve, or die of exposure.

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The six thousand six hundred captured by Crassus met a horrible death--crucifixion: one every one hundred feet for the one hundred and thirty-two Roman miles of the Via Appia between Capua and Rome. There was no breaking of legs to make the deaths quicker, and the bodies hung on the crosses until they rotted off eighteen months later.

I went through this brief recapitulation of the history of Spartacus and his revolt to make a point. As much as I love the theory and practice of non-violence as stated by Gandhi and King, it could not always work throughout history. Non-violence, civil disobedience, and passive resistance can only work in a society or civilization where all human life is believed to have intrinsic value. The oligarchs are attempting to do away with that belief in the value of all human beings in America for that reason.

In Rome, and throughout history, a slave has had no intrinsic value. As Hegel stated above, "Thus in Roman law, for instance, no definition of man was possible, because it excluded the slave," (op. cit., p.22). The slave could be killed, mutilated, tortured, raped, starved, beaten and abused without any legal recourse, because they were property. This was equally true two thousand years later in the Antebellum South.

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Richard Girard is an increasingly radical representative of the disabled and disenfranchised members of America's downtrodden, who suffers from bipolar disorder (type II or type III, the professionals do not agree). He has put together a team to (more...)

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