Spartacus (1960)



Director: Stanley Kubrick.

Starring:  Kirk Douglas (Spartacus), Laurence Olivier (Marcus Lucinius Crassus), Jean Simmons (Varinia), Tony Curtis (Antonius), Charles Laughton (Sempronius Gracchus),  Peter Ustinov (Lentulus Batiatus), John Gavin (Julius Caesar), Nina Foch (Helena Glabrus),  Herber Lom (Tigranes Levantus),  John Ireland (Crixus),  John Dall (Marcus Publius Glabrus),  Charles McGraw (Marcellus),  Joanna Barnes (Claudia Marius),  Woody Strode (Draba). 

Spartacus (Kirk Douglas), leader in the Gladiatorial War (73-71) against Rome. Olivier plays Crassus.


Spoiler Warning:  summary of the entire film. 

"In the last century, before the birth of the new faith called Christianity, which was destined to overthrow the pagan tyranny of Rome and bring about a new society, the Roman Republic stood at the very center of the civilized world.  . . . Yet, even at the zenith of her pride and power, the Republic lay fatally stricken with a disease called human slavery.  The age of the dictator was at hand, waiting in the shadows for the events to bring it forth.  In that same century, in the conquered Greek province of Thrace, an illiterate slave woman added to her master's wealth by giving birth to a son whom she named Spartacus.  A proud, rebellious son who was sold to living death in the mines of Libya before his thirteenth birthday.  There, under whip and chain and sun, he lived out his youth and his young manhood dreaming of the death of slavery 2,000 years before it finally would die."

Spartacus chips away at rocks with a pick on top of a mountain ridge.  A fellow slave collapses from his heavy load of stones right in front of Spartacus.  He takes off his back his own basket of rocks and then takes the basket of rocks off the other slave.  Then he pulls him up on top of the ridge for his safety.  The Roman guards start yelling for Spartacus to get back to work.  A guard starts to beat Spartacus, but he bites the guard hard and long on his Achilles tendon.  The man yells out in pain.  The guards realize that it's Spartacus again and say that he will die this time.  They drag him away. 

The caravan of a slave buyer named Lentulus Batiatus comes to buy slaves to be used as gladiators.  Batiatus looks at the mouth of a slave.  He sees Spartacus chained to a rock.  Batiatus decides to take him.  It's a long journey back home. 

Batiatus talks to his main trainer Marcellus and then tells the new slaves that they have arrived at the gladiatorial school of Lentulus Batiatus.  The men will be trained to fight in pairs and to the death.  He says they will not fight to the death here at the school, obviously, and they will be pampered.  Those that please Batiatus may even receive a lady for companionship.  When the talk is over, Batiatus warns Marcellus of the Thracian.  After all, the guards were going to kill him for hamstringing another guard.  

The future gladiators are branded with a mark on the back of their right thigh. 

Marcellus looks over the new group of slaves.  Spartacus is the only one whose head is not bowed, so Marcellus chooses him for a demonstration.  He has a guard give Spartacus a sword and then tells the Thracian that he can kill him with his metal sword, while Marcellus only has a wooden sword.  Marcellus keeps hitting Spartacus with his sword trying to provoke him, but Spartacus does not try to kill the trainer.  Marcellus tells him that was wise of him. 

After training the men go downstairs.  They have access to a trough of water where they can use a wash cloth to clean themselves.  A fellow trainee, but one who has been here six months, tells Spartacus:  "You did the right thing.  Every once in a while, Marcellus likes to kill a man as an example.  I think he's picked you.  Better watch him."   A large black man comes to throw some water onto his face and Spartacus asks him his name.   The man, named Draba, tells him:  "You don't want to know my name.  I don't want to know your name!"  Spartacus replies:  "Just a friendly question."  Draba answers:  "Gladiators don't make friends.  If we're ever matched in the arena together, I'll have to kill you." 

Women walk down to be inspected by Marcellus and assigned to a trainee.  Batiatus is there and he overrules Marcellus and gives the pretty Varinia to Spartacus.  When she enters his cell, he doesn't say anything to her.  He just strokes the side of her face and her necks.  He then tells her:  "I've never had a woman."  Varinia drops the top of her dress (no nudity shown) to show Spartacus.  He stands there a bit dumbstruck and he hears laughter.  Looking at him through a grate in he ceiling are Marcellus and Batiatus.  They want to watch, but Spartacus gets angry and tries to grab at them saying:  "I am not an animal."  Batiatus tells him to save himself for the girl.  Spartacus repeats the refrain that he is not an animal twice as Marcellus and Batiatus leave.  Varinia tells him:  "Neither am I."  Spartacus asks Varinia her name and she tells him.  Just then Marcellus and Batiatus come into the cell and take Varinia out.  Batiatus tells Spartacus:  "You may not be an animal, Spartacus, but this sorry show gives me little hope that you'll ever be a man."

And now the training begins for the new trainees.  On a break Spartacus stares at Varinia while she helps to prepare the food.  She smiles at him. 

During training, Marcellus sees that Spartacus is watching Varinia.  She looks at him too.  So he tells Spartacus to turn his head and get a real good look at Varinia.  She quickly finishes her chore and leaves.  At night Varinia starts to come in, but Marcellus says no.  This woman goes to the Spaniard in the adjacent cell.  At breakfast Varinia serves a beverage to the gladiators.  When she gets to Spartacus, he asks her if they hurt her and she says no. 

The training continues.  Spartacus defeats his opponent in training in a short contest.  At night Varinia and Spartacus touch hands when she fills his cup. 

Marcus Lucinius Crassus is coming to look at the trainees with an intent to buy.  This impresses Batiatus and he is appropriately obsequious to Crassus and his wife.  With him is Lady Helena Glabrus, Lady Claudia Marius and Marcus Publius Glabrus.  They want to watch a gladiator contest as a celebration to honor the marriage of Helena's brother, Marcus Publius, to Lady Claudia.  Lady Helena wants to pick two pairs of fighters and she wants an exhibition of their gladiatorial skills by fighting to the death.   Batiatus says the trainees do not fight to the death here at the school.  But Lady Helena asks Crassus for his approval and he says he will pay the extra cost for the dead gladiators. 

The news circulates fast and gets back to the gladiators themselves.  Crixus asks Spartacus if he would fight to the death?  Spartacus tells him that they will both have to fight to kill.   Marcellus tells the gladiators to come up to the training area.  The two patrician women choose.  The first choice is Crixus, then Galino, then Draba and Spartacus, the so-called coward.  The wealthy now return to their box seats to see the contest.  Crassus takes off the cover of the bust of Gracchus, who Crassus hates so.  He says that Gracchus plays to the mob to gain power over the patrician class. 

Varinia comes and serves water to the guests.  Glabrus is a bit too touchy-feely for Varinia and she deliberately showers him with water from her container.  She says it was an accident, but few believe that.  Crassus says that this girl has spirit and buys her from Batiatus. 

Crassus gives Glabrus a promotion for his wedding present.  He will now be the commander of the garrison of Rome.  Glabrus and Lady Claudia are very pleased with the gift. 

The first pair to fight are Crixus and Galino.  Spartacus and Draba don't speak to each other.  Crixus wins his match.  And now its Spartacus versus Draba.  Varinia is scared that Spartacus might die in combat.  Draba defeats Spartacus but doesn't kill him.  Lady Helena insists that Draba kill Spartacus.  But Draba throws his trident at the patricians and tries to get at them by climbing up into their box seats.  A Roman guard wiybds Draba with a spear thrown in the gladiator's back.  Draba grabs hold of one of Crassus's feet, but Crassus just stabs Draba in the back and he falls to the ground. 

Draba's body is hung upside down in the gladiator quarters.  At breakfast Marcellus tells Spartacus to take a last look at Varinia because she's going to Rome.  She's been sold.  Spartacus gets so angry that he grabs Marcellus by the throat.  The gladiators see what's happening and they join in the fight and overpower the guards.  The warning goes out that the gladiators have killed Marcellus and maybe the two guards.  Batiatus tells his other guards to get in there and subdue the uprising.  The oh-so-brave Batiatus now decides to drive Varinia to Rome to get away from the uprising. 

The gladiators use something heavy as a battering ram and smash through the gates.  In the yard they start climbing up the tall fence to get over the side.  Spartacus jumps on a guard and hits him hard with a branch he finds.  With so many men climbing on the fence it's no wonder that a portion of the fence collapses.  Now the guards are vastly outnumbered.  The gladiators grab sections of the fence and lean them against the second story.  They climb up the fence and overpower the last of the guards.  Now the gladiators start running for their lives to get away from the pursuit that is sure to follow.

Rome.  The talk of the senate is that around Capua (16 miles north of Naples), the gladiators and slaves have ravished the country side.  They camp in the escarpments of Mount Vesuvius (5.6 miles east of Naples).  Over 100 estates have been burned. One senator says he wants Pompey and his men called back from Spain.  Gracchus gets up and says let Glabrus and the Roman garrison go after the slaves to give them a taste of steel.  Glabrus says that the garrison of Rome stands ready to fight.  Gracchus says when Glabrus is away, he proposes that Julius Caesar be the commander of the Roman garrison in Rome.  Outside the senate Gracchus tells Caesar that he thinks that Crassus wants to become the sole ruler of Rome. 

Crassus arrives at  home.  He has received a number of slaves from the Governor of Sicily.  He chooses Antoninus, a young man, as his body servant.  Glabrus is there to tell Crassus that he will lead Roman troops against the slaves at Vesuvius.  Crassus is not pleased at the news.  He says that Caesar is an ally of Gracchus and now that old man will be in charge of the mob, the senate and the Rome garrison.  Crassus goes on to tell Glabrus that he wants him and his six cohorts to sneak out of Rome with no fanfare, not even a drum. 

The slaves pillage an estate and pile up all the fancy loot on a huge table.  They hit the estate of Gracchus.  The estate is looted and abandoned.  Spartacus comes to see the places where he slept and trained as a gladiator and thinks of Varinia.  He hears a lot of cheering and jeering and finds that the men have pitted two patricians against each other in gladiatorial combat.  Spartacus tells the two fighting men to drop their swords.  That command is not appreciated by the blood-thirsty mob of men.  Crixus jumps down to complain to Spartacus that he wants to see the two men fight to the death.  Let one of them die, like Draba died right here in this arena.  Spartacus says both he and Draba swore that if they ever got out of being gladiators, they would never watch two men have to fight to the death.  He says Draba kept his word and now he, Spartacus, will keep the oath. 

He tells the men that they must become an army of gladiators.  They will free any slave they come across.  They will work their way down to the southern coast of today's Italy and get on the boats of the Silesians who now are at war with Rome.  One man yells:  "Spartacus is right.  Let's hire these pirates and march straight to Brundisium!"  A big cheer goes up for the plan. 

Now the men go out deliberately to get more slaves to come with them.  On one of these forays, Spartacus runs into Varinia.  The others go back to Vesuvius, but Spartacus stays to talk to Varinia.   He tells her he thought he would never see her again.  He thought she was in Rome.  Varinia says she jumped out of the cart and Bataitus was so fat he couldn't catch her.  She tells Spartacus that she loves him. Varinia also tells him to forbid her from ever leaving him.  So Spartacus forbids her. 

Batiatus is now a guest of Gracchus.  He tells the senator that he hate Crassus, who bought Varinia from him, but never said a word about payment.  And now Varinia is off somewhere with Spartacus slitting people's throats in their beds. 

Antoninus is with Crassus.  One of his duties is to scrub the back of the master in his bath.  Then he gets Crassus his robe.  Crassus says that sexually he likes women and men.  He looks around to find Antoninus gone.

From atop a mountain range Spartacus can see for miles around him.  Varinia helps take care of the small children.  Spartacus looks over a newly arrived group of slaves.  He spots Antoninus and asks him what did he do as a slave?  He was a singer of songs, says Antoninus.  He can also juggle and perform feats of magic.

Glabrus is on the move toward Mount Vesuvius.  Meanwhile, Spartacus continues the training of his troops  At night Antoninus entertains a small group of former slaves, including Spartacus and Varinia.  Antoninus can also recite long passages of poetry.   Later Spartacus and Varinia talk together and then start kissing. 

 On a night of pouring rain, Tigranes Levantus arrives to see Spartacus, the slave general.  He says he was sent by the Silesian Governor of Delos.  Levantus tells Spartacus that the Silesians have at least 500 ships.  Spartacus says they will take all 500.  The cost of that will be 50 million sesterces.  Spartacus says they will have have that sum of money by the time they reach Brundisium.  Levantus tells Spartacus that surely he must realize that he cannot win against Rome. The six cohorts from the Rome garrison are now approaching Vesuvius. 

The information that thd Romans are coming toward them is confirmed by Crixus and some other scouts.  Spartacus decides to attack the Romans at the camp at the mouth of the valley.  Spartacus and his men burn all the tents used by the Romans.  And Glabrus is captured.  The men want Glabrus to fight like a gladiator, but Glabrus says he won't do that.  Spartacus wants Glabrus to go back to Rome and tell the senate that all they want to do is get out of this country.  They are marching south to the sea. 

Glabrus reports to the senate on what Spartacus told him.  And he reports only 14 men so far have shown up alive from the surprise slave attack.  After finishing his report, Crassus gets up to say that Glabrus has disgraced Rome and let the senate pronounce his punishment.  Gracchus gets up to oppose the idea.  Another senator objects at the thought of Glabrus receiving no punishment.  So Gracchus tells the senate to let Crassus decide the man's fate.  Crassus says Glabrus is banished from Rome and 400 miles around it.  Crassus also says he will resign his command of his legions and retire to private life.

After Crassus has left the room, Gracchus gets up to say that he knows Crassus is too eager to become the dictator of Rome to leave the senate.  He will be back. 

The slave army is on the move along with old men, women and children.  They march through marshes and in the pouring rain.  They climb hills and tramp on through snow.  Babies die along the way and are buried. 

Varinia swims naked in a pond.  Spartacus watches her from the shore.  He wants to make love to her, but Varinia says he has to be careful with her now because she has a baby inside her. Spartacus is very happy with the news. 

The slave army has put a big strain on Rome.  Half the precincts of Rome are without bread!  And because of this, the city is close to panic!  Gracchus says the senate must must confirm Caesar as the commander of the garrison of Rome and send two legions to destroy Spartacus at the city of Metapontum (in today's hamlet of Metaponto, in the commune of Bernalda, in the Province of Matera, Basilicata region, in southern Italy).  

Spartacus and his slave army march pass the people of a village. 

In Rome the news is that the Romans lost 19,000 men at Metapontum, including Commodius and his officers.  And now Spartacus is nearing the seaport of Brundusium.  Crassus comes to talk with Caesar.  He urges Caesar to return to his own kind, abandon Gracchus and the mob and come with the patricians.  Caesar says Gracchus is his friend and he won't betray him.  Gracchus calls the two men over to him.  He tells them that they have eight legions ready, but no one to command them. Crassus says he will lead the legions but he must get in return elected as first consul, command of all the legions and the abolition of senatorial authority over the courts.  Gracchus says he is asking for dictatorship, but Crassus replies that he is just asking for order. 

Gracchus tells Caesar that he has arranged with the Silesians to help Spartacus and his army to escape from Italy.  

Crixus reaches the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.  He sends a message to Spartacus that tonight they camp by the sea.  He also sends a messenger to go fetch Tigranes Levantus. 

Spartacus and Levantus meet to talk and Levantus tells him that Pompey's army has landed on the toe of the southern Italian boot.  Spartacus says he knows that.  But, says Levantus, does he know that a Roman fleet carrying Lucullus and his army arrives tomorrow at Brundusium, at the heel of the boot.  As a consequence, the Silesian fleet has to withdraw.  Spartacus doesn't believe him and at knife point asks for a better reason.  Levantus says because they were paid to leave.  Crassus paid them. 

Spartacus says that Crassus is inviting the slave army to attack Rome.  He says the senator knows that Spartacus is not going to allow himself to be pinned between two armies.  If Crassus comes out from Rome with the garrison of Rome and defeats Spartacus, then Crassus will be the hero and will be able to dictate to the senate whatever he wants.  Levantus tells Spartacus that he can smuggle the leadership of the slave army out of Italy to an eastern country.  Spartacus tells him to go away.  Spartacus speaks to his people.  Two Roman armies propose to trap them with their backs to the sea. 

The senate announces that Crassus has been elected to be first consul of the Republic and commander in chief of the armies of Rome. 

Spartacus tells the people that they are going to march on Rome.  He shouts:  "We march tonight." 

The Roman legions march out of Rome headed for a battle with the slave army.  Crassus tells his staff of officers that Lucullus is force marching his men up from the south and Pompey is encamped just 20 miles to the west of them.  He says he is not just going to kill Spartacus, but also the legend of Spartacus.  The staff leaves and Batiatus comes in.  Crassus wants from Batiatus a physical descripton of Spartacus.  Batiatus reminds Crassus that he has already seen Spartacus for he visited his school with Ladies Helena and Claudia.  Crassus says he remembers Draba, but not Spartacus, so he asks Batiatus for a description.  Batiatus agrees, but only if he be authorized the agent for the sale of all slave survivors of the military confrontation.  Crassus grants him his wish, but tells him he will be forced to stay in the encampment until the battle is over so that Batiatus can help Crassus find the body of Spartacus. 

Spartacus walks among his people.  Then he goes to check on Varinia.  He tells her that he hopes for a son who will be born free.  And he tells Varinia to take care of their son and tell him about all the dreams they had together. 

In the morning Crassus and the slave face each other over a large plain.  The Romans start marching toward the slave army.  There are lots and lots of Roman soldiers on the filed.  They get closer and closer to the slave army.  Spartacus lights some logs and has them rolled down upon the Roman army.  The first ranks retreat.  The slaves shout hurrah and then they attack the fleeing Romans.  And now approaches the armies of Lucullus and Pompey.  Spartacus now pours his cavalry into the main army of the enemy.  Crixus is killed. 

And now all the Roman armies come together to surround the slave army.  Many thousands of slaves are killed on the battlefield.  Crassus walks out on the battlefield between the many corpses.  He looks for Spartacus, but Spartacus is alive and with the other slave prisoners.  With him is Antoninus.  A messenger tells the prisoner slaves that if they identify the dead or the living body of Spartacus, they will not be crucified, but just go back to being slaves. 

Spartacus stands up and says he is Spartacus, but he is joined by Antonius and another of his officers shouting:  "I am Spartacus!"  Now others jump up to claim that they too are Spartacus.  A tear rolls down the face of Spartacus. 

Crassus and Batiatus find Varinia and her child.  She tells them that Spartacus is dead and Crassus tells her that she is lying. Crassus tells his men that Varinia and the child are to be conveyed to his home in Rome.  And Batiatus is to be flogged out of camp.  Crassus identifies Antoninus and tells his soldiers to crucify the slaves from here to Rome, but leave these two men (Antoninus and Spartacus) until the end. 

Batiatus stay with Gracchus where his back wounds form the flogging are treated.  Gracchus wants to take Varinia and her child from the arrogant Crassus.  He enlists the help of Batiatus for money, of course.  Caesar comes into the house of Gracchus telling him that he has to come with him to the Roman senate. 

Crassus as dictator now fills the jails with his enemies and opponents.  A list of the enemies have been gotten together and more enemies of Rome will be arrested.  And the name of Gracchus is the first on the list.  Gracchus will be sent into exile.  A farmhouse in Picenum has been provided for his use.  Why is Gracchus going to be allowed to live?  Because Crassus says he will want to use the old man to talk to the senators and his supporters from time to time. 

It is near the time for Antoninus and Spartacus to be crucified.  Meanwhile, Crassus wines and dines Varinia.  She tells him that she does not care about her new life.  Crassus says that she cares about her child's new life, doesn't she?  Varinia asks him why he threatens her with her son?  After all, the master can have this slave any time he wishes.  Crassus says he doesn't want to take her, but rather that Varinia should give herself to him.  He adds that he wants her love. 

Antoninus and Spartacus still have not been crucified.  Crassus comes out to see the two men.  He guesses that the man with Antoninus is Spartacus.   He has the two men fight to the death.  Each one wants to kill the other to save them from the pain of crucifixion.  Crassus is now sure the man with Antoninus is Spartacus.  He gives the order to crucify him.  His body is to be burned and his ashes scattered in secret.

Varinia and her boy are with Batiatus and Gracchus now.  Gracchus is sending Batiatus and Varinia to Aquitania.  The governor there is a cousin to Gracchus.  For the journey Gracchus gives Batiatus two million sisterces.  Then Gracchus goes to his chambers to commit suicide. 

Varinia and Batiatus leave Rome.  They see the many crucifixes.  Varinia goes over to Spartacus and finds that he is still alive on the crucifix.  Varinia tells him that his son will be free.  And the son will remember his father, because she will tell their son all about his father.  Batiatus tells her they have to go now.  Varinia gets in the wagon and Batiatus drives onward. 


Great classic movie.  I saw the film when I was a teenager and have always remembered it.  Seeing it again now so many years later, I still can see why I liked it.  Kirk Douglas is great as the leader of the slave uprising, Spartacus.  I saw again the scene where the large black gladiator Draba (played by Woody Strode) sacrifices himself so he doesn't have to kill Spartacus.  Spartacus was a hero because he fought against a great social injustice, slavery.  It's a shame he didn't get away with his plans to free the Roman slaves, but at least he tried.  Live free or die could have been his motto.  Charles Laughton was just wonderful in his role as Gracchus.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:



149 to 146  --   Third Punic War

147  --   Roman forces destroy Corinth; Romans destroy Carthage: of 500,000 inhabitants only 50,000 remain alive; sold into slavery

147 --  Greece comes under Roman control

146 --  the Roman Empire consists of 7 provinces: Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, the two Spains, Gallia Transalpina, Africa, & Macedonia

133 --  Asia Minor becomes eighth Roman province

133  -- Tiberius Gracchus, Roman reformer, murdered at the call for it by the Senate

129  --  Scipio the Younger, destroyer of Carthage

123 --  Gaius Gracchus, brother of ?Tiberius, elected tribune & plans wide reforms

123 --  Carthage rebuilt

121 --  Gaius Gracchus killed in a riot; his reforms abolished

115 --  Marcus Licinus Crassus, Roman politician, born

112-105 --  war in Africa between Rome & Jugurtha, king of Numidia

111  --    Spartacus was born a Thracian [Thrace was made of southeastern Bulgaria (Northern Thrace), northeastern Greece (Western Thrace), and the European part of Turkey (Eastern Thrace)]; serves in the Roman Army, but he may have deserted

??  -- Spartacus leads bandit raids, caught and sold as a slave.

105  --  Marius, assisted by Sulla, defeats Jugurtha

103 --  Cimbri and Teutones become allies and decide to invade Italy

101 --  Marius, having defeated the Teutones at Aguae Sextiae, defeats the Cimbri at Vercellae

100  --  Marius consul for the sixth time

90  --   civil war in Rome; Marius driven out by Sulla.

89 --  Roman army, led by Sulla, regains control of Italy.

88  --  risings against Roman rule at Athens.

86  --  Marius dead.

85 --  Marcus Junius Brutus, Roman politician, Cato's nephew and son-in-law born.

82  --  Sulla defeats the younger Marius and is created dictator for life.

79 --  Sulla voluntarily resigns his dictatorship.

78 --  Sulla dead.

73 B. C.  --  with about 70 fellow gladiators Spartacus escapes a gladiatorial training school at Capua belonging to Lentulus Batiatus; takes refuge on Mount Vesuvius, where other runaway slaves join him.

He defeats two Roman forces in succession and overruns most of southern Italy, their numbers growing to 90,000.

72  --  Spartacus defeats the two consuls and fights his way northward toward the Alps, hoping to be able to disperse his soldiers to their homelands once they were outside Italy.

But his men refuse to leave Italy, so he returns to Lucania in the hope of crossing over to Sicily.  

71  --  This plan is thwarted by the new Roman commander sent against him, Marcus Licinius Crassus. Hemmed in by Crassus' eight legions, the Romans are able to pick off the parts of  Spartacus' army; the Gauls and Germans first, Spartacus next.  Spartacus is killed in battle. Pompey's army intercepts and kills many slaves escaping northward, and 6,000 prisoners are crucified by Crassus along the Appian Way.

Revolutionaries such as Adam Weishaupt in the late 18th century and Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg, and the other members of the German Spartacus League of 1916-19 drew inspiration from the life of Spartacus.


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