NATIONAL daily ABC recently reminded readers that the Roman soldiers in Spartacus were actually Spanish.
Spain was an ideal location for Stanley Kubrick’s 1960 Oscar winner, thanks to its climate, sun and cheapness, but as shooting progressed the American director realised that the film needed an epic battle scene between the rebelling slaves and the Roman army.
Francisco Franco, who then governed Spain, agreed to hire out 8,000 soldiers, enabling Kubrick to create one of the most impressive and iconic battle scenes ever seen on film.
“It was better to use real soldiers who understood military formation, than try to train extras,” explained Eugenio Rodríguez Rigo, director of Peplum, a documentary about the making of Spartacus.
His grandfather, then a 23-year-old corporal, was one of the 8,000 soldiers who earned $8 a day plus food and has never forgotten the discomfort of his flea-ridden costume.
At one point, however, it looked as though the battle due to be filmed in Colmenar Viejo outside Madrid would not take place, when Franco ordered his Defence minister to cancel the project.
This potentially enormous setback was nevertheless overcome after a charity supported by Franco’s wife Carmen Polo received a generous cheque and the late dictator decided to allow the deal to ahead.
Franco’s only proviso, Kirk Douglas wrote later in I am Spartacus, was that none of his soldiers should be seen to die.
“Spanish pride,” Douglas assumed.