Ancient money's silent witness to history and how it influences our lives today is the subject of today's post.
The image displayed above is from a coin was issued by a Roman Senator in 71 BC. In that year, Rome’s legions finally and violently quashed a massive slave rebellion on the Italian peninsula. The coin, as you can see, portrays a legionnaire holding a prostrate and defeated slave. The coin was a comfort to Rome’s citizens and a warning to its many slaves.
You may have heard about the rebellion. Bestselling author Howard Fast wrote about it in the 1950s and actor Kirk Douglas turned Fast’s book into a blockbuster movie in 1960. As the story goes, a Thracian mercenary named Spartacus is enslaved and sent to the gladiatorial school of Lentulus Batiatus in Capua in the year 73 BC. Plans were to include him in gladiatorial bouts hosted throughout Rome’s empire after his training.
Instead, he masterminds an escape and defeats all challenges thrown at him, dispatching Roman legion after Roman legion and accumulating over a two year period nearly 100,000 followers. His slave nation made camp on Mount Vesuvius near modern day Naples and earned international notoriety for its resilience.
Knowing Rome must crush them to survive, Spartacus and his army of former slaves made arrangements to escape from the peninsula. But they failed. While trying to depart, the legions of Marcus Crassus and Magnus Pompey converge on them and defeat Spartacus and his armies in a crushing battle.
After the defeat, Crassus crucifies 6,000 captives from the battle, all former slaves, while marching the rest of them 350 miles from the battle site to Rome. The number equates to about 17 crucifixions per mile, spreading them apart far enough so that the screams of each crucified slave could not be heard by the other slaves as they marched under the watchful eyes of Crassius’ legions.
What you probably don’t know is that Howard Fast had to self-publish his book about Spartacus because his name appeared on Senator McCarthy’s black list of communist sympathizers. The Committee thought Fast and the story were too sympathetic to communist ideals.
Even with the impediment of self-publishing, however, Spartacus quickly became a number one bestseller on the New York Times Bestseller List. And then the story of Spartacus’ struggle took on new meaning and managed to impact modern America in a surprising way.
Kirk Douglas, annoyed at losing the lead role in Ben Hur to Charleston Heston, bought the film rights to Fast’s book and hired the incomparable Dalton Trumbo to write the screen play for his movie. Trumbo had been imprisoned for refusing to testify to the McCarthy’s Un-American Affairs Committee and was blacklisted by the motion picture industry. When it came time to release the film, Douglas made another bold move and put Trumbo’s name in the movie credits.
Hedda Hopper and other influential media people panned Douglas and the move as un-American. Protesters appeared at the opening. But the movie nonetheless became an instant popular success marking a defeat for McCarthyism. When President Kennedy attended a showing and commented positively on the film, an important victory for American freedom was sealed.
Spartacus lost his own battle for freedom in 71 BC but centuries later his story helped free Dalton Trumbo and Americans everywhere from a tyranny of their own. The past matters. Ancient coins like the one above can remind us of important past events that can and do still impact our modern world.
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Next week we start our Kenyan Safari series. What is it like to spend two weeks in the African wild? What do you experience and see when you are there? Check out our Safari 1: The Hunt next Thursday.
The coins pictured are from the Ancient Selfie collection and featured in Ancient Selfies - History Revealed Through the World's First Social Media. All coin photos and text are copyright Clinton Richardson. See more coin images at TrekPick.com on the Coins page.
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The venture moola blog comes to you from Atlanta, Georgia. Find it at readjanus.com. Copyright Clinton Richardson.
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Clinton Richardson, has been writing and photographing for decades. His acclaimed venture strategy series is now in its 5th edition. His Ancient Selfies is an International Book Awards Finalist and an eLit Award Gold Medal Winner. Many of his images can be seen online at TrekPic.com.