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The Third Servile War, also called by Plutarch the Gladiator War and The War of Spartacus, was the last in a series of slave rebellions against the Roman Republic, known collectively as the Servile Wars. The Third was the only one directly to threaten the Roman heartland of Italia. It was particularly alarming to Rome because its military seemed powerless to suppress it.

The revolt began in 73 BC, with the escape of around 70 slave-gladiators from a gladiator school in Capua; they easily defeated the small Roman force sent to recapture them. Within two years, they had been joined by some 120,000 men, women and children; the able-bodied adults of this band were a surprisingly effective armed force that repeatedly showed they could withstand or defeat the Roman military, from the local Campanian patrols, to the Roman militia, and to trained Roman legions under consular command. The slaves wandered throughout Italia, raiding estates and towns with relative impunity, sometimes dividing their forces into separate but allied bands under the guidance of several leaders, including the famous gladiator-general Spartacus.

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