When in 72 BCE the insurgent army of Spartacus’ slaves marched north through Italy, towards the Alps, the insurgent forces split up. Gauls and Germans, under the command of a certain Crixus, went ahead to plunder Apulia (eastern, central Italy) freely. However, Crixus’ army was defeated by the Roman army and he himself was killed; 20,000 insurgents were to die. It was the first major victory of the Romans in the fight against the slaves of Spartacus.
At the same time, the main army of Spartacus was engaged by other Roman troops, under the command of consul Lentulus, not to come to the aid of Crixus’ army. Spartacus finally defeated both the legions of Lentulus and later, the victorious troops of consul Gellius and praetor Arrius.
When the battles were over, Spartacus ordered his men to bury their fallen comrades with dignity. Moreover, as revenge for the destruction of his army and the killing of Crixus, he organized “gladiator fights” in his camp. This time, however, Roman prisoners fought to the death, who was to honour the fallen with their blood, including Crixus. It is worth mentioning that fights at funerals were the prototype of gladiator fights in Rome. High-ranking Romans organized slave fights to honour a deceased family member (called munera). Over time, however, Roman politicians noticed the electoral benefits of organizing games and gladiator fights became entertainment.
By organizing a gladiator fight with Roman prisoners, Spartacus mocked the torturers he fought with.