Great Commanders in high relief. Mint of Poland launches impressive new series with Spartacus

It seems there’s going to be little in the way of ancient mythology coins losing any popularity in 2018 if the early roster of releases is to be believed. There are some quite superb new designs coming over the next couple of weeks as we head into Berlin for the World Money Fair and what better way to kick off a look at them than with a piece from one of the best in the business – the Mint of Poland. Responsible for some outstanding designs like the hit Ares issue, this producer is able to hit all the requirements for a top numismatic in this genre.

Not an addition to a current series but a new one, the mints latest piece remains firmly within the expected specification range for ancient history/mythology coins. This series is to be called Great Commanders and is an antique-finished, rimless, ultra-high relief silver coin of two ounces in weight. There are some rose-gold highlights (the red on our early images is not ink, but gilding), but in other respects the success of this coin rests exactly where it should – on the design. While we only have renders at present, the Ares coin proved they’re not overly ambitious and quite indicative of the finished article.

Shrouded in myth, there’s no question that Spartacus fits the bill as a commnader of note. He was able to take a largely untrained and inexperienced mix of slaves and former gladiators and go head-to-head with the Roman Army, the mightiest fighting force in the ancient world. Rampaging the whole length of Italy, his campaign came to its inevitable end in crushing defeat. The coin depicts Spartacus in gladiatorial garb and on rearing horseback getting stuck into a line of legionaires behind a shield wall. An army of gladiators fills the background in this mountain-set scene. Apart from the name ‘SPARTACUS’, the coin is free of intrusion. Red-gold gilding is used to highlight blood on swords and the unfortunate neck of a Roman.

The obverse is particularly noteworthy and follows this mints trend of not just filling this face with the obligatory effigy of Queen Elizabeth II (required as it’s issued for Niue Island), but of incorporating it into a custom design. This one is superb, depicting the route taken by Spartacus on his Italian package holiday covering all the best slaughtering resorts. A very impressive and imaginative use of space normally filled with little consideration to the reverse face.

The coin will be packaged in a wooden box inside a themed shipper sleeve and it comes with a certificate of authenticity. The mintage is capped at 999 pieces and given the overall design and the popularity of Ares, we can see this being very popular. You should see this appear at dealers shortly, the primary distributor being Mennica Gdanska (Mint of Gdansk), so be sure to check them out. A great debut and a series to watch.


Spartacus (c. 111–71 BC) was a Thracian gladiator who, along with the Gauls Crixus, Gannicus, Castus, and Oenomaus, was one of the escaped slave leaders in the Third Servile War, a major slave uprising against the Roman Republic. Little is known about Spartacus beyond the events of the war, and surviving historical accounts are sometimes contradictory and may not always be reliable. However, all sources agree that he was a former gladiator and an accomplished military leader.

According to the differing sources and their interpretation, Spartacus was a captive taken by the legions. Spartacus was trained at the gladiatorial school (ludus) near Capua belonging to Lentulus Batiatus. He was a heavyweight gladiator called a murmillo. These fighters carried a large oblong shield (scutum), and used a sword with a broad, straight blade (gladius), about 18 inches long. In 73 BC, Spartacus was among a group of gladiators plotting an escape. About 70 slaves were part of the plot. Though few in number, they seized kitchen utensils, fought their way free from the school, and seized several wagons of gladiatorial weapons and armor. The escaped slaves defeated legions sent after them, plundered the region surrounding Capua, recruited many other slaves into their ranks, and eventually retired to a more defensible position on Mount Vesuvius.

Once free, the escaped gladiators chose Spartacus and two Gallic slaves—Crixus and Oenomaus—as their leaders. Although Roman authors assumed that the escaped slaves were a homogeneous group with Spartacus as their leader, they may have projected their own hierarchical view of military leadership onto the spontaneous organization, reducing other slave leaders to subordinate positions in their accounts.

The response of the Romans was hampered by the absence of the Roman legions, which were already engaged in fighting a revolt in Spain and the Third Mithridatic War. Furthermore, the Romans considered the rebellion more of a policing matter than a war. Rome dispatched militia under the command of praetor Gaius Claudius Glaber, which besieged Spartacus and his camp on Mount Vesuvius, hoping that starvation would force Spartacus to surrender. They were surprised when Spartacus, who had made ropes from vines, climbed down the cliff side of the volcano with his men and attacked the unfortified Roman camp in the rear, killing most of them.

In these altercations Spartacus proved to be an excellent tactician, suggesting that he may have had previous military experience. Though the rebels lacked military training, they displayed a skillful use of available local materials and unusual tactics when facing the disciplined Roman armies. They spent the winter of 73–72 BC training, arming and equipping their new recruits, and expanding their raiding territory to include the towns of Nola, Nuceria, Thurii and Metapontum. The distance between these locations and the subsequent events indicate that the slaves operated in two groups commanded by the remaining leaders Spartacus and Crixus.

In the spring of 72 BC, the rebels left their winter encampments and began to move northward. At the same time, the Roman Senate, alarmed by the defeat of the praetorian forces, dispatched a pair of consular legions under the command of Lucius Gellius Publicola and Gnaeus Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus. The two legions were initially successful—defeating a group of 30,000 rebels commanded by Crixus near Mount Garganus—but then were defeated by Spartacus.

Alarmed by the unstoppable rebellion, the Senate charged Marcus Licinius Crassus, the wealthiest man in Rome and the only volunteer for the position, with ending the rebellion. Crassus was put in charge of eight legions, approximately 40,000 trained Roman soldiers, which he treated with harsh, even brutal, discipline, reviving the punishment of unit decimation. When Spartacus and his followers, who for unclear reasons had retreated to the south of Italy, moved northward again in early 71 BC, Crassus deployed six of his legions on the borders of the region and detached his legate Mummius with two legions to maneuver behind Spartacus. Though ordered not to engage the rebels, Mummius attacked at a seemingly opportune moment but was routed. After this, Crassus’ legions were victorious in several engagements, forcing Spartacus farther south through Lucania as Crassus gained the upper hand.

When the legions managed to catch a portion of the rebels separated from the main army, discipline among Spartacus’ forces broke down as small groups were independently attacking the oncoming legions. Spartacus now turned his forces around and brought his entire strength to bear on the legions in a last stand, in which the rebels were routed completely, with the vast majority of them being killed on the battlefield.

The final battle that saw the assumed defeat of Spartacus in 71 BC took place on the present territory of Senerchia on the right bank of the river Sele in the area that includes the border with Oliveto Citra up to those of Calabritto, near the village of Quaglietta, in High Sele Valley, which at that time was part of Lucania. In this area, since 1899, there have been finds of armour and swords of the Roman era.

Plutarch, Appian and Florus all claim that Spartacus died during the battle, but Appian also reports that his body was never found. Six thousand survivors of the revolt captured by the legions of Crassus were crucified, lining the Appian Way from Rome to Capua. (Source: Wikipedia)

COMPOSITION 0.999 silver
WEIGHT 62.2 grams
DIAMETER 50.00 mm
FINISH Antique
MODIFICATIONS High-relief, Red-gold gilding
BOX / COA Yes / Yes