The Servile Wars are a collection of three rebellions lead by gladiators against the Roman Empire that kept them enslaved. The efforts of the gladiators were ultimately met with failure for a multitude of reasons, chief among them their lack of military training compared to that of Roman soldiers. However, the third conflict posed a direct threat to Italy as the band of gladiators grew from an initial seventy men to over one-hundred thousand. Their army also found leadership in Spartacus, a soldier turned gladiator. The gladiators wandered through the empire, raiding whenever they pleased and generally making good with the whole rebellion thing. The band won many battles against all forms of Roman military, from patrol to legions, and the public lived in a constant state of fear.
The Slip-Up: In the face of continued losses on the battlefield the Roman Senate created eight legions strictly to bring the gladiators down and end the war. Each legion contained nearly six-thousand men and was placed under the command of Marcus Licinius Crassus, who was immortalized with a large disembodied head, as was the fashion at the time.
The battle that would ultimately be the end of the war was, at first, in the gladiators’ favor. Spartacus’ forces routed two legions before Crassus stepped in with the remaining six. The gladiators suffered heavy losses, but it got worse: legions returning from Pompey were called upon for reinforcements. Spartacus attempted to negotiate with Crassus but wasn’t successful. In the face of certain “gonna’ get messed up” Spartacus and his army charged against the approaching legion and were promptly messed up.
Before the charge many of the gladiators had decided to call it a day and fled the battlefield. Pair that with the losses they suffered in combat and the gladiators were easily outmatched.
At the time of the Yellow Turban Rebellion the Han Dynasty of China was facing growing dissent from farmers who had been forced to seek employment in the face of famine, landowners who exploited the farmers to expand their fortunes, and floods along the Yellow River. Across the board taxes had been raised to pay for various fortifications. These taxes primarily target the poor. Soon the peasant class began forming private armies to serve up some poor people justice. Meanwhile, most people accepted that the government was corrupted from within and that the wealthy had gained almost total control of the emperor. If that’s not the perfect set up for rebellion then I don’t know what is.
The Slip-Up: Zhang Jiao was the ultimate leader of the rebellion. Originally a religious healer, many of the people he treated were the abused under class citizens that would eventually make up his army. The Yellow Turban Army was concentrated to three different provinces throughout the country and easily established footholds in these locations. Initially they earned easy military victories because the government was preoccupied with finding traitors in the capital city. However, once the army organized the rebels’ strength also proved to be their weakness; they held their three locations and rarely moved beyond them. As a result their numbers grew slowly. One by one their bases were lost to advancing government forces and the rebellion was put down. Remaining Yellow Turbans tried to spark rebellions after the defeat but were too small to cause much opposition.
Before the ratification of the United States Constitution the still-developing America met expenses by borrowing money abroad because the government itself lacked a reliable form of income. However, the country and individual states quickly amassed a huge debt. As a practical solution to this problem president George Washington levied a new tax on whiskey. Simple, right?
Wrong. Westerners felt that the tax unfairly targeted them. Whiskey, already a popular drink in the region, was also a secondary means of income for farmers. States began organizing conventions to make their grievances known while actively not paying the tax. The newly born United States of America had it’s first hissy fit, and it was over alcohol.
The Slip-Up: Non-violent protesting was short lived. Acts of violence against tax collectors ensured that the taxes would go unpaid for years. The peak of the resistance was the “battle” of Bower Hill; protestors surrounded and fired into the home of army General Neville who had been assigned to issue subpenas in Pennsylvania. On the second day of the conflict the rebel forces were six-hundred strong. Neville’s own force consisted of ten men. The two clashed, only to see the home destroyed and at least one U.S. soldier killed. After Bower Hill the resistance gained more momentum, especially in Pennsylvania.
However, one thing the rebels weren’t counting on was George Washington using his tremendous balls. After raising an army of twelve-thousand men Washington attempted negotiations with the rebels. He knew the talks were going to fail, however, and sent the army soon after. Before the troops even arrived the rebels surrendered. A love of booze simply doesn’t trump guns.
The notion that history repeats itself holds true with the Taiping Rebellion. Many of the elements that sparked the Yellow Turban Rebellion were present and caused the public to view their government as being ineffective. After embarrassing defeats by foreign armies the people of China had all but lost faith in those who were in control. Normally this wouldn’t be all that notable. However, if you throw a crazy guy into the mix and things get interesting.
Hong Xiuquan suffered a long illness after failing the imperial examinations. This illness eventually became a vision from God: Hong was the younger brother of one Jesus Christ and was tasked with the mission of riding China of its corrupt government. People began flocking to him and soon this sect began to combat bandits and pirates as a means to arm themselves. In light of these successes Hong’s message spread and the sect grew.
The Slip-Up: In their first year the Heavenly Kingdom (as the sect became to be known) had successfully routed imperial troops out of the Guangxi province. As Hong made new allies he quickly grew suspicious and had them axed, leaving much of the group in his direct command. Eventually a cousin of Hong’s joined the rebellion and helped expand their power into more provinces. Still, this one ally did little to filter Hong’s ideas into usable tactics or long term plans.
Imperial forces gained the upper-hand after gaining reinforcements from western armies. In the face of increasing losses, Hong declared that God would protect the city of Nanjing, a stronghold for the Heavenly Kingdom. God then killed Hong via food poisoning and the city fell to the imperial army, crushing the rebellion with it. Hong’s remains were eventually fired out of a cannon as a means of punishment for causing one of the deadliest wars in human history.