Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Stop the Calvary

Appropriately enough, I spent Easter watching lots of TV about a man who was crucified by the Romans. Spartacus the Thracian gladiator, that is - who did you think I meant?

I posted just over a year ago about the first series, and my orgy (and I do not use the term lightly) of viewing over Easter was of the second series, subtitled Spartacus: Vengeance. Whether due to ratings or simply a wise decision by the writers, the series consists only of three series (plus a Spartacus-free prequel set in the same gladiatorial school - Gods of the Arena). Considering that Spartacus' story has a somewhat... limited arc, this is almost certainly a good thing.

The first series dealt with the intrigues around the gladiatorial school and the city of Capua, and finally led up to the revolt and breakout. This unfortunately led to the death of John Hannah's character, Batiatus, which is a shame, as he was one of the best things in it, but it does illustrate one of the odd and - for a part-time Classicist - oddly invigorating things about the series, which is that whenever there is genuine recorded history (mostly Plutarch and Appian, who occasionally disagree), the series sticks to it very faithfully. While the CGI blood and gore, and non-CGI breasts and bums, are gloriously over the top in a '300' kind of way, the series takes far fewer liberties with history than you might expect. The owner of Spartacus' gladiatorial school was indeed one Lentulus Batiatus (played rather more slimily by Peter Ustinov in the Kubrick film), and he did indeed die during the breakout. The fate of his wife is not mentioned, which gave them the excuse to bring back Lucy Lawless, which is all to the good. Furthermore, rival praetors Gaius Claudius Glaber and Publius Varinius did indeed try to bring Spartacus and his slaves to heel in the early days, Glaber did indeed have to build a scratch force of local militia, criminals and neer-do-wells, since Rome would not allocate him legionaries, and the slaves did indeed hang out at the base of Vesuvius before being driven up the slopes by Glaber's siege of their camp. I'm one episode from the end of the series, and while Varinius appeared to have been killed this time around, the fact that we know he was around later in reality means I suspect he may only have been 'left for dead'. Conversely, Glaber is heard of no more after getting his arse kicked at Mount Vesuvius by Spartacus' very cinematic tactic of using vine ropes to rappel down behind Glaber's troops, and I suspect he may be among the fallen at the end of Series 2, although hopefully his evil wife and Lucy L will still be around, scheming with the now scarred Varinius.

I was also mildly astonished to learn that many of the prominent leaders among Spartacus' men; Crixus, Oenomaus and Gannicus, were also known to history. Crixus, as he is in the series, was apparently indeed a Gaul whom Spartacus had defeated in the arena but refused to kill, and Gannicus a Celt, Oenomaus was in fact also a Gaul rather than being African as depicted, but the ethnic tensions between Gauls, Thracians and Germans in Spartacus' slave army are quite convincingly drawn.

I am now really looking forward to the third series (currently showing on TV in the US), as we start to get major Roman personalities like Crassus, Lucullus and Pompey becoming involved, some higher level Senate manoeuvering, and some of the major battles of the Third Servile War, complete with Cilician pirates. 

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