In 73 BC, seventy-five gladiators led by the Thracian Spartacus broke out of their training school at Capua and proceeded to run amok. Burning and plundering, they gathered a huge force of runaway slaves as they rampaged through Italy, defeating every army fielded against them.
Fortune was on their side. The Roman legions were tied up fighting Mithridates in the east and putting down a rebellion in the West, leaving Italy relatively unprotected, but Spartacus and his divided army managed to turn fortune into defeat. Their greed and squabbling got the better of them and they came to a nasty end.
They started off fighting for freedom, but their revolt suffered from "mission drift" as time went by. Instead of crossing the Alps and returning to their lives when they got the chance--free at last--they decided to stay in Italy and grab all the booty they could get their hands on. In other words, they chose money over freedom.
Bad decision. Trapped in the heel of Italy by a couple of legions hurriedly recalled from the East, they ended up getting massacred when the Cilician pirates they hired to take them to Sicily never showed up. Thousands of slaves were crucified and left hanging along the Appian Way. Spartacus himself was killed in battle and his body was never recovered (so much for the Hollywood version of the story). On the Roman side, Pompey the Great stole credit for the victory from Marcus Crassus, whose frustrated search for glory eventually led him to invade Parthia, where he was captured and executed and his entire army was slaughtered.
The moral of the story? Hell if I know. Spartacus has become a symbol of heroic resistance to tyranny, but the real history, as usual, was a lot more complicated and ambiguous than that--to put it mildly. I've read that he was pressured into staying in Italy, but the fact remains that his army of glorious freedom fighters chose booty over freedom when they had a chance to escape. That turned out to be a fatal blunder.
Spartacus was a freedom fighter in some ways, but in other ways, his army was no different than any other barbarian horde plundering the countryside. Technically speaking, of course, that's exactly what they were: a horde of squabbling Gauls, Thracians, Goths, Roman farm slaves and general riffraff looking to get rich. They were brave enough, but they were short-sighted and greedy. Their early victories made them cocky and they gave the Romans time to get their act together. Not too bright. If there's any lesson here, it's probably this:
If you escape from slavery and decide to hang around to plunder the countryside, don't put your life in the hands of Cilician pirates.
Recommended reading: The Spartacus War, by Barry Strauss. Fantastic book.