The Spartacus Uprising is one of the better known episodes in the history of the Roman Republic, and thanks to the film Spartacus (1960) the results of ultimate defeat are also well known today. After continuing the fight for around two years, Spartacus and his army were finally and comprehensively defeated by Marcus Licinius Crassus in 71 BCE, and an estimated 6,000 or more of the slave army were taken captive. A few others fled to the countryside to take up banditry, and around 5,000 headed north, where they were intercepted and executed by Pompey, but this set clearly concentrates on the fate of those that fell into the hands of Crassus. The sentence for them all was crucifixion, a particularly horrible but fairly standard form of execution for slaves that had revolted, and given the seriousness of the uprising a very public example was felt necessary. Crucifixes were set up along the entire length of the road from Capua to Rome - a distance of over 200 kilometres - and the 6,000 men were duly crucified, enduring an agonising death and with their bodies being left for weeks or months as a warning to others.
This was never going to be a set for the squeamish, but let's look in detail at what it contains. The top row begins with a Roman soldier apparently kicking a kneeling captive in an act of casual violence that must have been normal as the prisoners were processed. The captive has his hands bound and is minimally dressed, while his hairstyle underlines his 'foreign' origins, suggesting he was originally a prisoner of war sold into slavery. Next we have a lector holding a fasces, which was a bundle of sticks surrounding an axe as properly done here. The fasces was a symbol of magisterial or political power and jurisdiction, and officials such as a praetor, consul, general or governor were entitled to them. It’s presence here is a surprise, and it may be a symbol of the judicial process we see going on in the rest of the set. Equally, several of these items had been captured by the slave army and were recovered later, so this may be one of those. The lector holding it wears an unusual garment over his tunic which we could not identify - normally as a state official he would wear either an ordinary tunic or a toga for formal occasions. Lastly on the top row there is a line of three men with hands bound and chained together, presumably awaiting their fate.
It was common for a crucifixion to be preceded by scourging, and that is what seems to be going on in the second row. First there is a soldier out of armour holding an enormously thick whip, and next there are two captives tied to posts. We were not sure of the reason behind the first, but the second is in a more conventional position and clearly shows the signs of the whipping on his back. The fourth man is being held in some sort of frame which we could not verify, but although his feet touch the ground he looks to be in distress so presumably he too is being scourged.
The bottom row is of course the final act. Two armoured soldiers are in the act of nailing an individual to a cross. Sometimes a victim was tied with ropes, but here the large square-headed nails are clearly being used in the conventional places of the wrists and feet. The man would be fixed to the cross, which is also correctly done, whilst on the ground, and then the whole would be brought upright and planted in the ground. One thing to say here is that it appears that some more 'fortunate' victims were held higher on the cross, so their bodies were at least safe from dogs etc., but slaves such as these would have been placed near the bottom of the cross as their crimes were considered so vile, so ideally you should either trim off some of the upright or expect to embed it deep in the ground. The doomed man is properly posed and is a separate piece from the cross, and would work equally well if displayed upright.
All the captives are minimally dressed of course, and in fact it was common for people to be crucified naked, though here we have been spared that sight at least. The soldiers are also reasonably dressed, and only the lector gave us any concern for accuracy. The frame seems a bit elaborate for a whipping, but perhaps it is a doorway pressed into service for the mass execution at hand. All that having been said however there is nothing we could find here that seems unreasonable, which is always good.
Many of the usual characteristics are visible on these figures - quick chunky, unrefined detail and some smaller parts exaggerated in size. However these figures are noticeably more slender than what usually comes from this stable, and a little better for it. The subject is much more forgiving of the lack of delicate detail than many others, so these are not too bad in terms of sculpting. Some of the poses are quite flat, in particular the man with the hammer and the kneeling captive in the first row, but again the sculptor gets away with it on many of the figures so this is less obvious than usual. We found a relatively clean line where the moulds meet, and no areas of extra plastic to remove, so the mould-making process is good.
The Romans were well aware of the horror of this form of execution, and reserved it for those that had severely offended the state, which Spartacus and his army certainly had. One thought on the figure tied to the stake with his back to it is that he could make a good figure being burned to death. This form of punishment was sometimes used for slaves who had conspired against their masters, and while there is no record of it being used in the immediate aftermath of the slave defeat it has a place in the wider sphere of Roman justice. Of course the same goes for most of the rest of this set - there is nothing here that is unique to the Spartacus revolt, or indeed any of the slave uprisings. While it is hardly one of the more savoury aspects of the Roman period, this set depicts its chosen subject pretty well and while it is not a particularly attractive exercise in sculpting it is properly researched and well designed.