The mighty slave army, led by Spartacus, has carried all before it, scattering the legions of Rome. Three praetors, two consuls and one proconsul have been defeated. Spartacus seems invincible as he marches towards the Alps and freedom.
But storm clouds are massing on the horizon. Crixus the Gaul defects, taking all his men with him. Crassus, the richest man in Rome, begins to raise a formidable army, tasked specifically with the defeat of Spartacus. And within the slave army itself, there are murmurings of dissent and rebellion.
Spartacus, on the brink of glory, must make a crucial decision -- to go forward over the Alps to freedom, or back to face the might of Rome and try to break its stranglehold on power forever.
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BEN KANE was born in Kenya and raised there and in Ireland. He studied veterinary medicine and University College, Dublin, but after that he travelled the world extensively, indulging in his passion for ancient history. He lives in North Somerset with his wife and two young children.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
A MONTH LATER …
THE APENNINE MOUNTAINS, NORTHEAST 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 center 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 armorer 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 clamor 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 center 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, but only after his courage had been tested by fighting Spartacus in a contest with wooden weapons.
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 afterward, 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 gray 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.
Spartacus was making an appraisal of his men’s mood. What he saw was pleasing. Organized into centuries and cohorts, trained and armed like the Romans, they were ready. He was ready. Here was another chance to shed Roman blood. To seize more vengeance for Maron, his brother who had died fighting the legions. The legions that had laid waste to their homeland, Thrace. I might yet see it again. Gellius and his men are about all that stand in the way. He half smiled. Kotys, the malevolent king of Spartacus’ tribe, the Maedi, and the reason for his enslavement, would get the shock of his life when he returned. I can’t wait. Spartacus placed the brass whistle that hung from a thong around his neck to his lips. When he blew, signaling the advance, the trumpeters would let the entire army know.
His plan was simple. He had arrayed his soldiers in two deep lines about thirty paces apart. Castus was in charge of the left wing: a Gaulish gladiator who had aided Spartacus in their escape; short, stubborn and with a temperament as fiery as his red hair. Gannicus, another Gaul from the ludus, commanded the right; he was as strong-willed as Castus, but more even-tempered, and Spartacus had more in common with him. At his signal, they would all move forward in one great bloc and, after throwing volleys of javelins, engage the Romans head on. If things went well, their superior numbers and high morale would quickly allow them to envelop Gellius’ legions. This while their cavalry swept away the enemy horse and then took the legionaries in the rear. The Romans’ defeat would be total, their casualties far higher than in any of the previous encounters.
By sunset, Rome will have learned another lesson. Great Rider, grant that it be so. Watch over us all in the hours to come, Spartacus prayed. Dionysus, lend us the strength of your maenads. While the Thracian hero god was his main guide in life, he had also learned to revere the deity associated with wine, intoxication and religious mania, whom his wife Ariadne worshipped. His remarkable dream, in which a venomous snake had wrapped itself around his neck, had marked him out as one of Dionysus’ own. May it always be thus.
He filled his lungs and prepared to blow.
Tan-tara-tara-tara went the Roman bucinae.
Spartacus held his breath, waiting for the legions to advance.
The enemy trumpets sounded again, but nothing else happened.
What the hell is Gellius playing at?
To his surprise, a horseman emerged from a gap in the center of the Roman line. Not a legionary stirred as he guided his mount straight at Spartacus.
Spartacus’ men were so keen to begin the fight that few noticed.
“Let’s be having them!” shouted Pulcher to a roar of approval.
“Stay where you are!” ordered Spartacus. “Gellius has something to say. A messenger comes.”
“What do we care?” cried a voice from the ranks. “It’s time to kill!”
“You won’t lose that opportunity. But I want to hear the rider’s message.” Spartacus gave his men a granite-hard stare. “The first fool who moves a muscle or throws a javelin will answer to me. Clear?”
“Yes,” came the muted reply.
“I can’t hear you!”
Spartacus watched the approaching horseman. I don’t like it. Fortunately, he didn’t have time to brood. Less than a quarter of a mile separated the two armies. As the Roman drew near, he slowed his horse, a fine chestnut, to a walk. He appeared unarmed. Spartacus noted his polished bronze cuirass, scarlet crested helmet and confident posture. This was a senior officer, probably a tribune, one of the six experienced men who assisted the consul in commanding each legion. “That’s close enough,” he called out when the envoy was twenty paces away.
Raising his right hand in a peaceful gesture, the Roman walked his mount several steps closer.
“Don’t trust the bastard!” shouted Aventianus.
The Roman smiled.
Spartacus lifted his sica menacingly. “Come any nearer and I’ll send you to Hades.”
There was no acknowledgment, but at last the Roman tugged hard on his reins. “I am Sextus Baculus, tribune of the Third Legion. And you are?” His tone couldn’t have been more patronizing.
“You know who I am. If you don’t, you’re a bigger sack of shit than you look.”
Spartacus’ men jeered with delight.
Baculus’ face went bright red, and he bit back an angry response. “I have been sent by Lucius Gellius, consul of Rome. I—”
“We met his colleague Lentulus a few weeks back,” Spartacus interrupted. “Did you hear about that little encounter?”
More gleeful cheers erupted. Baculus’ mount’s ears went back, and it skittered from side to side. The tribune regained control of it with a muttered curse. “You and this rabble of yours will pay dearly for that day,” he snapped.
“Will we indeed?”
“I am not here to bandy words with slaves—”
“Slaves?” Spartacus twisted his head around. “I see no slaves here. Only free men.”
The roar that went up this time was three times as loud as before.
“Listen to me, you Thracian savage,” hissed Baculus. He lifted his left hand, which had been held down by his side. Drawing back his arm, he tossed a leather bag at Spartacus. “A present from Lucius Gellius and Quintus Arrius, his propraetor,” he cried as it flew through the air.
Spartacus didn’t like the meaty thump that the sack made as it landed by his feet, or the faint stench that reached his nostrils. He made no move to pick it up. He had an idea of what might be inside. A number of his scouts had gone missing over the previous weeks; he’d assumed that they had been captured by the Romans. Which one is this, I wonder? Poor bastard. He won’t have had an easy death.
“Go on, take a look,” Baculus sneered. “We’ve kept them packed in salt especially for you.”
Not a scout then. I know who it is. “Have you anything else to say?”
“It can wait.”
“You arrogant prick.” The bag wasn’t tied shut, so Spartacus upended it. He wasn’t surprised that the first thing to fall out was a severed head, but didn’t expect the man’s hand that followed. Spartacus took in the blood-spattered blond hair, and his guts wrenched. He rolled over the head, which was partly putrefied. Granules of salt stuck to the eyeballs, the slack gray lips and the reddened stump of the neck. The once-handsome features were barely recognizable, but it was Crixus. There could be no doubt. The massive scar on the man’s nose was sufficient proof. Spartacus had inflicted the wound on the Gaul himself. Their fight had been inevitable from the first time they’d met—and disliked—each other. Yet he was still sorry to see Crixus dead.
After they had fought, and Spartacus had defeated Crixus, the Gaul and his followers had joined him. They had played a big part in their escape from the ludus. A dangerous and aggressive fighter, Crixus had been a thorn in Spartacus’ side, questioning his leadership and constantly trying to gain Castus’ and Gannicus’ support. Crixus had broken away from the main army after a battle at Thurii in which they had vanquished the praetor Publius Varinius. Between twenty and thirty thousand men had gone with him. Spartacus had heard rumors since of their progress through central Italy, but had had no further contact. Until now. This grisly trophy didn’t bode well for the fate of the men who had followed Crixus, but Spartacus kept his face impassive. “He didn’t deserve to be treated like this.”
“Did he not?” cried Baculus. “Crixus”—he smiled at the shocked reactions of Spartacus’ men—“yes, that’s who it is. Crixus was nothing but a murdering slave who maimed brave Roman soldiers for no good reason. He deserved everything that was done to him and more.”
Spartacus remembered how Crixus had ordered the hands of more than twenty legionaries at Thurii to be amputated. He had been disgusted but unsurprised by the Gaul’s act. The Romans wouldn’t forgive—or forget—such a deed. “You did this to his corpse! Crixus would never have been taken alive,” he shouted. His inclination was to slay Baculus on the spot, to prevent him from delivering his message, but the man was an envoy, and brave too. It had taken balls to ride up to his army, alone and unarmed.
“Crixus went to Hades knowing that more than two-thirds of the scum who trailed in his wake had died with him,” announced Baculus. He raised...
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Buchbeschreibung ARROW Mai 2013, 2013. Taschenbuch. Buchzustand: Neu. Neuware - Paperback edition of the 2nd book in the epic historical series of novels, which follows Spartacus, the gladiator slave general who held Rome to ransom through 2 years. Follows the success of 'Spartacus The Gladiator'. 'Ben Kane has managed to bring a freshness to the saga.' Kathy Stevenson, 'Daily Mail' Englisch. Artikel-Nr. 9781848092341