During the Roman Republic's Third Servile War (73–71 BC), a gladiator named Spartacus lead an army of escaped slaves in revolt against Rome. Spartacus was a Thracian from an area in Eastern and South-eastern Europe.

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This revolt lasted for nearly 3 years inside Rome's home territory of Italia. The Revolt ended when the Roman senate sent 8 legions under Marcus Crassus against Spartacus which eventually trapped his army and defeated it in Southern Italy.

Plutarch in the Life of Crassus claims the motivation for the "War of Spartacus" was to escape captivity. If we look at the path of Spartacus's army:

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We see that in the second year of the revolt Spartacus reached his northern most point, the Roman town of Mutina. Here Spartacus was confronted by by an army of 10,000 soldiers, lead by Gaius Cassius Longinus who were attempting to block his path north. Spartacus defeated this army but then turned south anyway.

My Question: Why did Spartacus turn South at Mutina? Why didn't he continue North? North towards Thrace. North the only foot path out of Rome.


From TomasBy: And Thrace is not north of Italy. It would be a bit of a hike to get there.

The only way to walk to Thrace from Mutina is to head North. The Italian Peninsula is about 600 miles long and Sparticus's army nearly traversed it twice. From the city of Rome to Northern Thrace(Bulgaria) is roughly 1200 miles. Likewise inside Rome Spartacus's army survived another year and a half after turning South at Mutina. Given the distance Spartacus's army covered Thrace appears to be a realistic goal.

From TomasBy: Towards the end of the 1st century BC Thrace lost its status as a client kingdom as the Romans began to directly appoint their kings." (wiki)

71bc is closer to the beginning of the first century BC than it is to the end. Under the Roman Empire Thrace was independent and became a province during the reign of Vespasian (69-79 A.D.). Roman Empire - Thrace

  • 1
    And Thrace is not north of Italy. It would be a bit of a hike to get there.
    – Tomas By
    Feb 20, 2020 at 19:37
  • 1
    If the idea was to escape from the Romans then it would probably have been easier to just continue north into Germany.
    – Tomas By
    Feb 20, 2020 at 20:05
  • 2
    This looks like a good question to me - don't get why the down votes. Feb 20, 2020 at 20:41
  • 4
    @axsvl77 good question, but I am not sure that it is answerable. The available histories are unclear in terms of motive, or perhaps a lack of a motive to return to Thrace, and the sources are already discussed at wikipedia Feb 20, 2020 at 20:53
  • 2
    I think Wikipedia answers this. It says we don't know and the ancient sources have different accounts. Feb 21, 2020 at 2:25

1 Answer 1


I hesitate to try and answer this because I am not really sure there is an answer. I like to read about Roman history and I have heard of multiple theories as to why he turned back. I think the most believable is stated in the 2013 LiveScience article Spartacus: History of Gladiator Revolt Leader by Owen Jarus:

“Many theories have been proposed, but the best explanation was already hinted at in the ancient sources. Spartacus’s own men probably vetoed him,” writes Barry Strauss, a Classics professor at Cornell University, in his book The Spartacus War (Simon & Schuster, 2009). “In the past, they had never wanted to leave Italy; now success might have gone to their heads and aroused visions of Rome in flames.”

I have also heard these other reasons.

  1. Spartacus was never fully in control of his men, he had already lost a large portion of his army to a rival commander Crixus, so it appears there were multiple individuals leading this group and the decision may not have ultimately been his to make. (also as rs.29 points out, his group was not all Thracian, why would a German or Briton want to go to Thrace.)

  2. Once they saw the Alps they decided it would be easier to continue to plunder in Italy than to attempt to cross the mountains.

  3. They had heard of other slaves (and revolts) in Sicily and were attempting to unite their two groups, possibly believing that it would be easier to defend Sicily.

  4. They were greedy and overconfident and knew the best plunder was near at hand and not in Thrace.

  5. He wanted to recruit more and believed the most "fertile" recruiting grounds were located in the south where Hannibal had successes and where the Samnites still had lingering resentments left over from the very recent "Social Wars."

  6. There never was a plan at all to head to Thrace.

Unfortunately I think this is going to be one of those answers that we will never really know for sure.

  • 1
    Good answer, but there is one more point. Slaves in Spartacus's army were of different ethnicities and nationalities. Therefore, going to Thracia (via Alps) probably did not appeal to majority of them.
    – rs.29
    Feb 22, 2020 at 19:47
  • very good point, he had also recruited disaffected non-slave locals who im sure also had no desire to head to thrace, they wanted revenge and plunder.
    – ed.hank
    Feb 23, 2020 at 14:21

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