Battle of the Silarius River

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Battle of the Silarius River
Part of the Third Servile War
Date 71 BC
Location Near Sele River, Italy
Result Decisive Roman Victory
End of the Servile Wars
Roman Republic Army of escaped slaves
Commanders and leaders
Marcus Licinius Crassus Spartacus 
6 legions
4 consular legions
Casualties and losses
Appian claims about 1,000 killed, though modern estimates place Roman losses higher 36,000 killed
6,000 taken prisoner (later crucified)
5,000 of the survivors later captured by Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and crucified

The Battle of the Silarius River was the final, decisive action of the Roman Servile Wars. It occurred near the mouth of modern Sele River, southern Campania, southern Italy. Marcus Licinius Crassus trapped Spartacus in Bruttium by building a 60 kilometers long system of ditches and walls. After a failed truce, Spartacus gathered his army together for battle. He ordered his horse to be brought to him, drew his sword, and slew the animal. He proclaimed to his troops that if he should win the day, he would have many horses to choose from, but if he should lose the upcoming battle and the Romans should win the day, he would not need one.

Appian wrote that Spartacus then launched several skirmishing assaults upon the Roman defenders, striking them swiftly and almost with silence. After slaying a number of the Roman guards and penetrating the Roman defenses, Spartacus and about 50,000 rebels managed to slip past Crassus' defenses, while Gannicus and Castus remained behind with the remaining 12,000 soldiers of the rebel army.


On the banks of the Sele River, Spartacus' army finally met up with the Roman legions of Crassus on the open battlefield. The gladiators charged at the Roman ranks, colliding with a wall of shields and swords.

At the end of the battle, Crassus and his men were victorious, though they too had suffered some heavy casualties. According to Appian, the numbers of dead on both sides were extremely high and impossible to count. Appian pointed out in his sources that only about 1,000 Roman soldiers fell in the battle, but other historians believe that Roman casualties were much higher than this. Spartacus had also died in the battle, but his body was never recovered. Modern estimates suggest the number of rebel casualties were as high as 36,000 killed. Six thousand survivors of the revolt were captured and crucified on Crassus' orders, while 5,000 others who escaped from Crassus' troops were captured and killed by the Spanish legions under Pompey, possibly in northern Italy.