History offers the thrill of the chase. Start, for instance, with a well-known myth, depicted in a scene in the Hollywood classic “Spartacus.” The Romans offer the rebel slaves their lives if they give up their leader, Spartacus. Before the real Spartacus can identify himself, every man gets up, one by one, and proclaims, “I’m Spartacus.” The music swells. It’s a corny but effective piece of cinema.
It never happened, of course. In truth, Spartacus was killed in battle, his body never found. But what became of it? Was it just lost in the fog of battle or did someone carry it off to keep the enemy from finding it? The Romans won the battle and crushed the slave revolt that Spartacus had led, but a small group of his followers fled to the mountains. There they lived in freedom for about another decade.
Spartacus’s body was never found but his name lived on. Five hundred years later St. Augustine still captured the fear that he raised among Roman slaveholders. In modern times Spartacus continues to symbolize struggle and rebellion. And looking for the facts behind the dream factory makes the story come alive.
History is even better than myth.
Barry Strauss is the author of The Spartacus War (2009).
Professor Strauss teaches Ancient Greece from Helen to Alexander this fall: HIST 2650.
Check out what history has to offer, WATCH Make the Click, Visit History.