Spartacus: Blood and Sand (STARZ, 2010): a necessary fiction?

Hobden, Fiona (2019). Spartacus: Blood and Sand (STARZ, 2010): a necessary fiction? In: van Helden, Daniël and Witcher, Robert eds. Researching the Archaeological Past through Imagined Narratives: A Necessary Fiction. Routledge Studies in Archaeology. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 238–254.



The STARZ television drama Spartacus (2010–2013), which retells the slave rebellion led by its titular hero in 73–71 bc, is renowned for its strong language and graphic scenes of sex and violence. With a strong commitment to visual, emotional and narrative excess, no one can mistake this for a documentary. Nonetheless, by representing and contributing to understanding of the ancient Roman past, Spartacus operates as history, as modern theorists define it. As such, it merits interrogation. Concentrating on the first season, Spartacus: Blood and Sand, this chapter examines the shape and character of this fictional television history. Working within longer-running visual and narrative traditions, Spartacus harnesses the potential of the medium to create a distinctive audio-visual version of ancient Roman society; the rebellion is morally framed, person-focused and emotionally driven. With the complexities and iniquities of Rome’s social hierarchy at its core, the series presents a past focused on human experience. With the potential to inform wider understanding of human behaviour, it thus constitutes a ‘practical past’, a designation that offers an impetus to revisit the relationship between professional and popular history and to consider the ways in which Spartacus might just be a necessary fiction.

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