Warning: The T.V. show being reviewed contains graphic images of violence, nudity, and sexual scenes. Viewer discretion is advised for anyone under eighteen or uncomfortable with such images.
For people who read about or study the Roman Republic, the name “Spartacus” should sound familiar. For people who are unaware, Spartacus was a Thracian gladiator who led a rebellion of slaves against the Roman Republic. This conflict between the rebels and the Romans, called the Third Servile War (73 BC – 71 BC), was significant in that it was the only time a slave rebellion that directly threatened the heartland of Rome (modern-day Italy). Although the Romans were able to finally defeat the rebellion, the legend of Spartacus endured and various books, TV shows, and video games depict it. Several sports teams in Eastern Europe also name themselves after him.
On Jan. 22, 2010, Spartacus: Blood and Sand premiered on the Starz channel. Blood and Sand is the first season of the Spartacus television series which concluded in April of 2013. I was introduced to it by my mother during winter break on Netflix. In the first season, we see the origins of the Thracian warrior known as Spartacus. An unnamed warrior and his tribe align themselves with the Roman military commander, Gaius Cladius Glaber, to fight the Getae, a rival tribe who is known to raid the villages of Spartacus’ people. However, Glaber betrays them to satisfy his political ambitions back in Rome. In return, the Thracian warrior leads a rebellion against the Roman officers and he deserts to rescue his wife, Sura. After escaping the destruction of their village by the Getae, the two are captured by Glaber, separated, and sold into slavery. Sentenced to die in the gladiator arena, the Thracian warrior surprises the Roman crowd by killing his executors. Impressed by his skills, the wealthy Roman elitist, Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Batiatus, purchases him for their gladiator school where he is to train as a gladiator and gives the Thracian a new name, “Spartacus”. From then on, as Spartacus trains to become a Roman gladiator, he must endure the intense and vigorous training his doctore Oenomaus gives him, deal with an intense rivalry with a fellow gladiator named Crixus, thwart the manipulations of Glaber’s wife Ilythia who comes to stay with Batiatus and his wife, Lucretia, who are just as manipulative and dangerous, and do his new master’s bidding to rescue his wife. At the same time, Batiatus desires to grow his power and influence. He is willing to do anything to achieve his goals.
I loved the first season so much that I could not stop watching it. All the characters in the story are connected that nearly every action by any individual affects them all in one way or another. The historical context is accurate to the point. Although the details of the origins of the real-life Spartacus are sparse, the first season takes the available details we have and make it historically reasonable and respectable to the source. I also enjoyed the fight scenes in the arena. While brutal, they are impressive in that it also explores the psychology of the gladiators participating in the events. At the same time, the show explores the politics of Rome, which are very cut-throat. Cunning behavior and money buys you respect and power. You see how Batiatus uses various methods, including assassinations, blackmail, and bribery to achieve his power and influence. When people tell him “No,” you see how he gets more lethal and frustrated and really does show the mindset of someone power-hungry and full of egomania. Additionally, the themes of brotherhood, particularly between the gladiators, and tragedy, which Spartacus deals with very significantly are very present. Overall, I liked the first season of Spartacus, and hopefully you will too.