Spartacus and His Early Soviet Theatrical Representation


  • Oleksii Rudenko Central European University, Vienna, Austria



Spartacus, Soviet Union, Raffaello Giovagnoli, Vladimir Mazurkevich, Vladimir Volkenstein


Spartacus became one of the key figures of Soviet dramaturgy in the 1920s. He was presented as the only ancient predecessor of the Bolsheviks and his theatrical image significantly shaped the later icon of the gladiator as a brave leader of the oppressed masses and a hero acting in the name of the proletariat. This article explores the image of Spartacus in early Soviet theater and mass performance and outlines the correlation between the template of Spartacus’ portrayal, Raffaello Giovagnoli’s novel Spartaco (1874), and the first dramatic adaptations by Vladimir Mazurkevich (1920) and Vladimir Volkenstein (1921). The article examines the use of the ancient hero in Bolshevik propaganda and traces the ways in which Spartacus’ image morphs and maps onto wider shifts of Soviet political and cultural policy in the early decades of the USSR.


Download data is not yet available.


A., Ia. “Moskva: Teatr Revolyutsii ‘Spartak.’” Zhizn Iskusstva, September 18, 1923, no. 37.

Ahl, Frederick. “Spartacus, Exodus, and Dalton Trumbo: Managing Ideologies of War.” In Spartacus: Film and History, edited by Martin M. Winkler, 65–86. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007. DOI:

Arkhangelskii, Pustynin, Alekseev. “Konkurs na Luchshuyu Semyu.” Sinyaya Bluza, 1928, no. 78.

Baryshnikov, Anton Ye. “New Threats, Old Challenges: Understanding Roman Imperialism in Post-Soviet Russia.” Theoretical Roman Archaeology Journal 5, no. 1 (2022): 1–22. DOI:

Billings, Joshua. Genealogy of the Tragic: Greek Tragedy and German Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. DOI:

“Bolshoi Teatr.” Kultura Teatra, February 1, 1921, no. 1.

Braginskaya, Nina. “Studying the History.” In Classics and Class: Greek and Latin Classics and Communism at School, edited by David Movrin and Elżbieta Olechowska, 35–50. Warsaw: Faculty of Artes Liberales, 2016.

Brandenberger, David, and Kevin M. F. Platt. Epic Revisionism: Russian History and Literature as Stalinist Propaganda. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006.

Chiesa, Lorenzo. “Lenin and the State of the Revolution.” Crisis and Critique 4, no. 2 (2017): 106–31.

“Decree On Monuments of the Republic.” April 12, 1918. In Dekrety Sovetskoy Vlasti, T. II. 17 Marta – 10 Iyulya 1918 g., 95–97. Moscow: Politizdat, 1959.

“Decree on the Approval of the List of Monuments to the Great People.” July 30, 1918. In Dekrety Sovetskoy Vlasti, T. III. 11 Iyulya – 9 Noyabrya 1918 g., 118–19. Moscow: Politizdat, 1964.

Edwards Jr., Mark U. Luther’s Last Battles: Politics and Polemics, 1531–46. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983.

Fernández, Zoa Alonso. “Choreographies of Violence: Spartacus from the Soviet Ballet to the Global Stage.” In Ancient Violence in the Modern Imagination: The Fear and the Fury, edited by Irene Berti, Maria G. Castello, and Carla Scilabra, 107–24. London: Bloomsbury Academic,

Fischer-Lichte, Erika. The Transformative Power of Performance: A New Aesthetics. Translated by Saskya Jain. London: Routledge 2008. DOI:

Fitzpatrick, Sheila. The Cultural Front: Power and Culture in Revolutionary Russia. New York: Cornell University Press, 1992. DOI:

Giovagnoli, Raffaello. Spartaco. Translated by Anatolii Illichevskyi. Kyiv: Shkola, 2006.

Greenspan, Daniel. The Passion of Infinity: Kierkegaard, Aristotle and the Rebirth of Tragedy. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2008. DOI:

Hall, Edith, and Steph Harrop, eds. Theorising Performance. London: Duckworth, 2010.

Hardwick, Lorna. Reception Studies: Greece & Rome. New Surveys in the Classics 33. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003. DOI:

Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. Werke in zwanzig Bänden. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1970.

Heller, Mikhail, and Aleksandr M. Nekrich. Utopia in Power: The History of the Soviet Union from 1917 to the Present. Translated by Phyllis B. Carlos. New York: Summit Books, 1986.

Henry, Hélene. “Les Errants de Vladimir Volkenstein au premier Studio du Théâtre d’Art.” Revue Russe 29 (2007): 79–90. DOI:

Hutcheon, Linda, and Siobhan O’Flynn. A Theory of Adaptation. 2nd edition. London: Routledge, 2013.

“Ivanovo-Voznesensk.” Zhizn Isskustva, 1924, no. 3.

Karpyuk, Sergei, and Oleg Malyugin. “Soviet Antiquity, a View from the 21st Century.” Vestnik drevney istorii 2 (2017): 459–64.

Khersonskii, Khrisanf. “Cinema: VUFKU at the Break.” Available online.

“Khronika: Moskva.” Zhizn Isskustva, 1923, no. 31.

“Khronika.” Rabochii i Teatr, 1924, no. 4.

“Konkurs Proletkulta.” Vestnik Teatra, October 22, 1920, no. 71.

Krikh, Sergey. “Obraz drevnosti v sovetskoy istoriografii: Konstruirovanie i transformatsiya.” PhD diss., Omskiy Gosudarstvennyy Universitet im. F. M. Dostoyevskogo, 2015.

“Kto-Gde.” Zrelishcha, 1923, no. 60. DOI:

Kugel, Aleksandr. “Teatralnyie Zametki.” Zhizn Iskusstva, October 23, 1923, no. 42.

Lapena Marchena, Óscar. “The Stolen Seduction: The Image of Spartacus in Riccardo Freda’s Spartaco, gladiatore della Tracia.” In Seduction and Power: Antiquity in the Visual and Performing Arts, edited by Silke Knippschild and Marta García Morcillo, 171–82. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.

Leach, Robert. Revolutionary Theatre. London: Routledge, 1994.

Lenin, Vladimir. “The State: A Lecture Delivered at the Sverdlov University.” Translated by George Hanna. In Lenin’s Collected Works, 4th English edition, vol. 29, 470–488. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1972. Available online.

——— . Polnoe sobranie sochinenij, 5th edition, vol. 37. Moscow: Polizdat, 1974.

Lunacharsky, Anatoly. Ob Izobrazitel’nom Iskusstve 2. Moscow: Isskustvo, 1982.

Luxemburg, Rosa. “On the Spartacus Programme (December 1918).” Archives of the Revolution: The New International 9, no. 3 (March 1943): 87–90. Available online.

M., S. “Teatr Prosvescheniya.” Zhizn Iskusstva, October 16, 1923, no 41.

Maksakov, S. “Teadelo na Ukraine.” Novyi Zritel,’ 1928, no. 19.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. Sochineniya, vol. 30. Moscow: Izdatelstvo politicheskoi literatury, 1963.

——— . “Marx to Engels, Manchester, 27 February 1861.” In Marx and Engels Collected Works, vol. 41 – Marx and Engels: Letters: 1860–1864. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1985.

Mass, Vladimir. “Nakaz Zimnemu Sezonu.” Zrelischa, 1923, no. 53.

Mazurkevich, Vladimir. Spartak. Saint Petersburg: Politicheskiy Otdel 7-i Armii, 1920.

Michalski, Sergiusz. Public Monuments: Art in Political Bondage 1870–1997. London: Reaktion Books, 1998.

Mishulin, Alexandr. “Drevniaia istoriia v srednei i vysshei shkole.” Borba Klassov 5–6 (1934): 9–15.

Morgan, Kevin. International Communism and the Cult of the Individual: Leaders, Tribunes and Martyrs under Lenin and Stalin. London: Palgrave Macmillan Ltd, 2016.

Morstein-Marx, Robert. Mass Oratory and Political Power in the Late Roman Republic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. DOI:

Mouritsen, Henrik. Plebs and Politics in the Late Roman Republic. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. DOI:

Movrin, David, and Elżbieta Olechowska, eds. Classics and Class: Greek and Latin Classics and Communism at School. Warsaw: Faculty of Artes Liberales, 2016.

Murray, Natalia. “Street Theatre as Propaganda: Mass Performances and Spectacles in Petrograd in 1920.” Studies in Theatre and Performance 36, no. 3 (2016): 230–41. DOI:

Nippel, Wilfried. “Marx and Antiquity.” In How to Do Things with History: New Approaches to Ancient Greece, edited by Danielle Allen, Paul Christesen, and Paul Millett, 185–208. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Osnos, Jurij. Sovetskaja istoricheskaja dramaturgija. Moscow: Sovetskij pisatel’, 1947.

Phillis, Keith. “Spartacus and Sports in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.” International Journal of Sport and Society 3, no. 2 (2013): 37–48. DOI:

“R.S.F.S.R. Pervoe Maya v Provintsiyah.” Vestnik Teatra, June 15, 1921, no. 91–92.

Rubinsohn, Wolfgang Zeev. Der Spartakus-Aufstand und die sowjetische Geschichtsschreibung. Konstanz: Universitätsverlag, 1983.

Rudenko, Oleksii. “The Making of a Soviet Hero: The Case of Spartacus.” The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review 47, no. 3 (2020): 333–56. DOI:

Searce, Anne. “The Recomposition of Aram Khachaturian’s Spartacus at the Bolshoi Theater, 1958–1968.” The Journal of Musicology 33, no. 3 (2016): 362–400. DOI:

Shaw, Brent D., ed. Spartacus and the Slave Wars: A Brief History with Documents. Boston: Palgrave Macmillan, 2001. DOI:

Shumskij, M. “Po Federatsii: Odessa.” Zhizn Isskustva, 1924, no. 4.

Siegelbaum, Lewis, and Andrei Sokolov. Stalinism as a Way of Life: A Narrative in Documents. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Stead, Henry, and Hanna Paulouskaya. “Classics, Crisis and the Soviet Experiment to 1939.” In Classicising Crisis: The Modern Age of Revolutions and the Greco-Roman Repertoire, edited by Barbara Goff and Michael Simpson, 128–47. London: Routledge, 2020. DOI:

Stepun, Fyodor. “O Suschnosti Tragedii.” Kultura Teatra, 1922, no. 1–2.

——— . Byvshee i nesbyvsheesja. Saint Petersburg: Aletejja, 1994.

Stites, Richard. Revolutionary Dreams: Utopian Vision and Experimental Life in the Russian Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Takho-Godi, Aza, and S. Rosenberg. “Classical Studies in the Soviet Union.” Arethusa 3, no. 1 (1970): 123–27.

“Teatralnaya Zhizn v Moskve.” Sovremennyi Teatr, July 29, 1928, no. 30–31.

“The List of Figures to Whom Monuments Should Be Erected in Moscow and Other Cities of RSFSR” [Spisok lits, koim predlozheno postavit monumenty v g. Moskve i drugikh gorodakh RSFSR]. Izvestiya VTsIK 427, no. 163 (August 2, 1918).

“Tragedii V. M. Volkensteina.” Kultura Teatra, May 20, 1921, no. 6.

Volkenstein, Vladimir. Spartak – Papessa Ioanna – Smert Linkolna. Moscow: Sovetskij Pisatel,’ 1971.

Von Szeliski, John. “Lunacharsky and the Rescue of Soviet Theatre.” Educational Theatre Journal 18, no. 4 (1966): 412–20. DOI:

VUFKU (All-Ukrainian Photo Cinema Administration). “Spartacus.” Available online.

Winkler, Martin M. Spartacus: Film and History. Malden: Blackwell, 2007. DOI:

Yakobson, Alexander. Elections and Electioneering in Rome: A Study in the Political System of the Late Republic. Stuttgart: Steiner, 1999.



23. 12. 2022




How to Cite

Rudenko, Oleksii. 2022. “Spartacus and His Early Soviet Theatrical Representation”. Clotho 4 (2): 69-99.