The response of the Romans was hampered by the absence of the Roman legions, which were already engaged in fighting a revolt in Spain and the Third Mithridatic War. Furthermore, the Romans considered the rebellion more a policing matter rather than a war. Rome dispatched militia under the command of praetor Gaius Claudius Glaberus, which besieged the slaves on the mountain, hoping that starvation would force the slaves to surrender. They were surprised when Spartacus had ropes made from vines, climbed down the cliff side of the volcano with his men and attacked the unfortified Roman camp in the rear, killing most of them. The slaves also defeated a second expedition, nearly capturing the praetor commander, killing his lieutenants and seizing the military equipment. With these successes, more and more slaves flocked to the Spartacan forces, as did “many of the herdsmen and shepherds of the region”, swelling their ranks to some 70,000.
In these altercations Spartacus proved to be an excellent tactician, suggesting that he may have had previous military experience. Though the slaves lacked military training, they displayed a skillful use of available local materials and unusual tactics when facing the disciplined Roman armies. They spent the winter of 73–72 BC training, arming and equipping their new recruits, and expanding their raiding territory to include the towns of Nola, Nuceria, Thurii and Metapontum. The distance between these locations and the subsequent events indicate that the slaves operated in two groups commanded by the remaining leaders Spartacus and Crixus.
In spring of 72 BC, the slaves left their winter encampments and began to move northwards. At the same time, the Roman Senate, alarmed by the defeat of the praetorian forces, dispatched a pair of consular legions under the command of Lucius Gellius Publicola and Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus. The two legions were initially successful—defeating a group of 30,000 slaves commanded by...
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