The Spartacus War, By Barry Strauss

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Spartacus is suddenly hot. The UK is braced for the arrival of a "sexed-up" TV series on the slave rebel, which according to one report has already "sparked an outcry in America because of its gore and genitalia."

Fortunately, this book is no tie-in but a thrilling account by a Professor of Classics at Cornell. Despite our hazy knowledge of Spartacus, Strauss brilliantly illuminates his background as a murmillo or heavyweight gladiator and his ability as a natural commander who "freed tens of thousands of slaves and built them into an army that even some freed people joined."

Spartacus defeated the forces of Rome for two years before dying in battle. Stauss maintains that the legendary crucifixion of 6,000 rebels was feasible considering the fearsome reputation of the Roman victor, Crassus.