Spartacus rebellion, p.1
About the Book
About the Author
Also by Ben Kane
About the Book
The mighty slave army, led by Spartacus, has carried all before it, shredding the legions of Rome. Who can stop him now, in his triumphant march towards the Alps and freedom?
Can Crassus, the richest man in Rome, raise an army big enough to stop him? Will the defection of Crixus the Gaul, and all his men, fatally weaken Spartacus? Or will murmurings of discontent within his vast army of slaves turn to outright rebellion?
While storm clouds mass on the horizon and spies and traitors stalk the land, Spartacus must face the most important choice of his life – forward, over the Alps to an an uncertain freedom, or back, to face the might of Rome and attempt to break its power over them forever.
About the Author
Ben Kane was born in Kenya and raised there and in Ireland. He qualified as a veterinary surgeon at University College Dublin, and worked in Ireland and the UK for several years. After that he travelled extensively, indulging his passion for seeing the world and learning more about ancient history, having been fascinated since childhood by Rome and its armies. Seven continents and more than 65 countries later, he decided to settle down, for a while at least. While working in Northumberland in 2001-2002, his love of ancient history was further fuelled by visits to Hadrian’s Wall. He naively decided to write bestselling Roman novels, a plan which came to fruition after several years of combining writing with his job as a vet. He now lives in North Somerset with his wife and family, where he has now given up veterinary medicine to write full time.
To find out more about Ben and his books, visit: www.benkane.net.
Also by Ben Kane
Spartacus: The Gladiator
Hannibal: Enemy of Rome
The Forgotten Legion Trilogy
The Forgotten Legion
The Silver Eagle
The Road to Rome
For Colm and Shane, oldest of friends, and the two finest products of ‘de town, hey!’
Mount Garganus, east coast of Italy, spring 72 BC
THE FURIOUS THRUMMING of blood in his ears dimmed the cacophony of battlefield noises: the screams of the wounded and maimed, the shouts of his bravest followers and the moans of his most fearful. Despite the awful clamour and his ravening anger – against the Romans, against the gods, against what had happened thus far that morning – the big man’s attention was all on the enemy lines, some hundred paces distant. Every fibre of his being wanted to charge up the rocky slope again, and hack as many of the massed legionaries into bloody chunks as he could. Calm down. If we’re to have any chance of succeeding, the men need time to recover their strength. They need to be rallied.
The blaring of bucinae shredded the air, and he scowled. The trumpets were ordering consul Gellius’ two legions to regroup. He breathed deeply, focusing on the metallic clatter of the enemy soldiers’ swords off their shields as they taunted his men, trying to provoke them into another fruitless attack uphill. The pathetic response of the few warriors left with voice enough to shout was infuriating.
It was no wonder their throats were raw. He was parched with thirst himself. The fighting had begun two hours after dawn, and had only stopped as each of their three previous assaults was repulsed. There had been no chance of relocating the water bag that he’d left on the ground by his initial position. He didn’t begrudge the man who’d found it. As a consequence, he was in the same situation as most of his followers. A quick glance at the sun’s position in the blue sky told him that it was close to midday. Three hours’ combat with no water. It’s as well that it is not summer, or half the army would have collapsed by now. Another sour smile creased his broad face. Much of his army lay dead or wounded on the crimson-coated ground before him. What need have they of water?
The area between the two hosts – a slope free of the peak’s covering of holm oak, turpentine trees and buckthorn bushes – was festooned with the dead. The thousands of mutilated corpses would provide weeks’ worth of pickings for the sharp-eyed vultures that already hung far overhead. Most of the fallen lay near the Roman lines. They lay so deeply in some spots that his men had been forced in subsequent attacks to clamber over the bodies, making them easy targets for the volleys of Roman javelins. Those who had not been cut down by the sky-blackening showers of pila had been halted by the legionaries’ gladii. The deadly double-edged swords had thrust out from the impregnable wall of shields, slicing men’s guts to ribbons, hacking off their legs or arms, running deep into their unprotected chests. He’d even seen some of his followers lose their heads.
In spite of their horrific casualties, they had broken through in a few places during the first frenzied attack. His memory of that small success soured in a heartbeat. All but one of their breaches – his – had quickly been repaired. His men’s lack of armour and shields, and the legionaries’ discipline and height advantage, had made the slaves easy targets. Seeing his men being butchered like sheep in a slaughterhouse, he had ordered the retreat. Had given up his own brutal assault which had so nearly smashed through the first Roman line.
For all the good it would have done. One breach of the enemy ranks doesn’t win a battle. What does is holding one’s position. Remaining disciplined. It was a harsh lesson for a Gaul. Although he had been born a slave, he’d grown up listening to tales of the terror-inducing charges by his forebears, men who had defeated Roman legions on numerous occasions, whose bravery had carried so many enemies before them. That tactic had failed miserably today.
He caught sight of a rider in a burnished helmet and scarlet cloak moving to and fro behind the centre of the Roman lines. He spat a bitter curse. Gellius might be old for a consul, but he picked his ground well. It was foolish to let him steal a march on us and take the high ground. Foolish to rely on the fact that my forces outnumbered his by more than two to one. The first feelings of despair stole into his mind, but he shoved them away with another oath. If he gathered the best of his men together, perhaps they could break through. If they slew the consul, the Romans would surely turn and run. The tide of battle could yet be changed.
‘Come on, lads! There are still more of us than them,’ he roared. ‘One last effort! Let’s make one final charge. If we kill that whoreson Gellius, the day will be ours. Who’s with me?’
Only a score or so of voices answered him.
He ripped his bronze-bowl helmet from his head and threw it to the ground. ‘Piece of Roman shit.’ Striding forward some thirty paces from the disorganised mass of men, still some ten to twelve thousand strong, he turned so that they could all see his face. He was now within range of a long javelin throw. His mail shirt would probably turn away the point, he thought, but he didn’t really care if it did or not. The pain would be welcome, would help him to focus his rage. ‘HEY! I’m talking to you!’
Clash, clash, clash went his sword off the metal rim of his scutum. Men who were standing out of earshot edged closer. ‘Now you listen to me,’ he shouted. ‘Three times we’ve charged them, and three times we’ve failed. Thousands of our comrades lie up there, dead or dying. Their bravery, their blood and their lives demand revenge. REVENGE!’ Clash, clash, clash on the shield. ‘REVENGE!’
There was a whirring noise in the air behind him. Despite his courage, his skin crawled. Someone’s thrown a pilum. He didn’t budge. ‘REVENGE!’ Thump. He glanced to his right, taking in the javelin that had buried itself in the earth not five paces from his foot. He threw back his head and howled like a wolf. ‘Is that the best they can do? The stinking Roman bastards couldn’t hit a pile of wheat in a grain shed!’
His men – at least those nearest him – looked more heartened.
Good. They’re not done yet. ‘I’m going up there, and I’m going to tear those bastards into little pieces. I’m going to hew Gellius’ head from his scrawny fucking neck, and then I’m going to laugh as his army runs away.’ His badly scarred nose and the Roman blood covering him from head to foot reduced his encouraging stare to a monster’s ravening leer, but the passion in his voice couldn’t be mistaken. ‘Who’s with me? Who’s with Crixus?’
‘I am!’ cried a Gaul with long braids of hair.
‘And me!’ bellowed a bull-necked man in a torn tunic.
More and more voices joined in. ‘CRIX-US! CRIX-US!’ they cried and, grinning, he clattered his longsword off his scutum in reply. The fearful mood that had hung over the slaves vanished. But their new-found bravery wouldn’t last. Crixus knew that. If they were going to succeed, they had to move at once. Turning to face the Romans, he screamed, ‘Come on then, boys! Let’s show them what courage means!’ Without looking back, he tore up the hill like a man possessed.
Roaring like maddened bulls, hundreds and hundreds of slaves followed.
Many more did not, however. They stayed put, mutely watching their comrades charge at the Roman lines. Preparing to run for the dense cover formed by the bushes and trees on the slopes below.
Crixus sensed the presence of his men at his back. He could tell that not everyone had joined in, but a warm glow filled him nonetheless. At least we’ll die well. There will be places in the warrior’s paradise for us all. One last thought struck before the battle madness took hold and reason left him.
Maybe Spartacus was right. Maybe I should have stayed.
A month later . . .
The Apennine Mountains, north-east of Pisae
SPARTACUS LOOKED OUT over the flat ground at Gellius’ legions, and then back at his own. Even though he was some hundred paces from the centre of his front ranks, he could feel his men’s confidence. It oozed from their very stance and the way their lines were swaying back and forth. Their weapons smacked off their shields, challenging the Romans to fight. They were eager, even desperate to begin the combat. It is a remarkable change. Until recently, his followers – the vast majority of them former slaves – had never fought a full-scale battle. Yes, they had defeated the forces of three praetors, but those clashes had been won in the main by subterfuge. They had never faced a large Roman army on open terrain, let alone a consular one of two legions. Two months previously, all that had changed when they had ambushed the consul Lentulus in a defile to the south of their present position.
Thanks to their succession of victories, the majority of his men were now as well equipped as the heavily armed legionaries. Pride filled him. How far they have come. He pictured the day a year and a half before when he’d been betrayed in his own village in Thrace and sold into slavery, his fate to die in an Italian gladiatorial arena. How far I have come. A Thracian warrior who fought for Rome, but who now leads an army of former slaves against it. It was ironic.
Striding closer to his soldiers, Spartacus caught the eye of a broad-shouldered man whose pleasant face was marred by a purple scar on his left cheek. One of the very first slaves to join us after we escaped from the ludus. ‘I see you, Aventianus! What hope have the Romans today, d’you think?’
Aventianus grinned. ‘Not a snowflake’s chance in Hades, sir.’
‘That’s what I want to hear.’ Spartacus had long since given up telling his men not to address him so. It made no difference. He scanned the faces of those nearest him. ‘Is Aventianus right, lads? Or will Gellius chase us home with our tails between our legs?’
‘We have no homes!’ roared Pulcher, Spartacus’ main armourer and one of his senior officers. A burst of ribald laughter met his comment. He waited until the noise died down. ‘But we have something far better than roofs over our heads. Something that no one can ever take away. Our freedom!’
‘Free-dom! Free-dom! Free-dom!’ the men yelled, stamping their feet and hammering their weapons off their shields again. It made a deafening, stirring rhythm. The clamour began to spread through Spartacus’ host. Most soldiers were too far away to know the reason for the uproar, but they didn’t care. Soon the din made speech impossible. ‘Free-dom! Free-dom! Free-dom!’
Relishing the cries of nearly fifty thousand men, and the fact that he was their leader, Spartacus encouraged them with great waves of his arms. The uproar would raise their morale even higher, and create unease in plenty of Roman bellies. He did not doubt that it would send a tickle of fear up the skin of Gellius’ wrinkled back. The consul was sixty-two years old, and reportedly had little experience of war.
‘We’ll smash the bastards into little pieces,’ cried Pulcher when the cheering had abated. ‘The same way we sent Lentulus and his lot packing!’ Right on cue, the men holding the pair of silver eagles raised their wooden poles aloft. More shouting erupted.
Spartacus raised his hands, and a hush fell. ‘There are two more of those to be had today!’ He drew his sica, a wickedly curved Thracian sword, and stabbed it at the places in Gellius’ forces where bright sunlight flashed off his legions’ metal standards. ‘Who wants to help me take them? Who wants the glory of saying that he took a Roman eagle in battle and, by doing so, shamed an entire legion?’
‘Me!’ roared Aventianus and a multitude of other voices.
‘Are you sure?’
‘YESSS!’ they bellowed at him.
‘You’d better be. Look at that lot.’ Spartacus swept his blade first to the left, and then to the right. On both fringes of his army, hundreds of men on shaggy mountain horses could be seen. ‘You’d better be sure,’ he repeated. ‘If we’re not careful, the cavalry might get there before us.’ Part of Spartacus longed to be with them. He had been a cavalryman from the age of sixteen; he had also helped to train the horsemen, but he knew that his presence in the centre of his host was vital. If his foot soldiers broke, complete defeat beckoned. Although his riders’ task was huge, they outnumbered the Roman horse at least four to one. Even if – by some misfortune – they failed to rout the enemy cavalry, his infantry could still win the battle. ‘Are you going to let that happen?’
‘Never!’ roared Pulcher, the veins standing out in his neck.
‘Not if I have anything to do with it!’ shouted Aventianus, jabbing his pilum back and forth.
‘And me!’ Carbo, who was Roman, was still surprised by the passion he felt when the Thracian spoke. About a year before, he had entered the gladiator school in Capua in a madcap attempt to pay off his family’s huge debts. In his desperation, he’d first tried to join the army, but had been turned down due to his youth. To Carbo’s surprise, he’d been accepted by the lanista as an auctoratus, a citizen who contracted to fight as a gladiator,
Life in the ludus had been unbelievably tough, and not just because of the training. One man alone, especially a rookie, had little hope of surviving on his own. If Spartacus hadn’t taken him under his wing, Carbo’s career in the ludus would have been short indeed. When the chance came to escape soon afterwards, he had followed his protector. Subsequently given the unthinkable choice between leaving the motley group of slaves and gladiators or staying to fight his own countrymen, Carbo had opted for the latter. He hadn’t known what else to do.
In the ensuing months, Spartacus’ actions had earned Carbo’s loyalty – and even love. The Thracian looked out for him. Cared for him. That was more than his own people had been prepared to do. This bitter pill had made it easier to fight against his own kind, but deep down, Carbo still felt some guilt at doing so. He regarded Gellius’ lines with a clenched jaw. It’s just another army to be swept aside, he told himself. Beyond them lie the Alps. Spartacus’ plan was to lead them over the mountains, away from the Republic’s influence. There any enemies they encountered would be foreign to him. And, if he had to admit it, easier to kill.
Before that, they had Gellius to defeat. He thought of Crassus, the man who had ruined his family and shattered his life. Hate surged through Carbo, made all the stronger by the knowledge that he’d never be revenged on the richest man in Rome. Instead he tried imagining that all the men opposite were related to the crafty politician. It helped.
His gaze was drawn back to the compact figure of Spartacus, clad in a polished mail shirt, gilded baldric and magnificent Phrygian helmet. To Carbo’s surprise, the Thracian’s piercing grey eyes caught his. Spartacus gave him a tiny nod, as if to say, ‘I’m glad that you’re here.’ Carbo’s shoulders went back. I’ll do what I have to today.