Blood and Sand
Batiatus is a bitter man. He has come, for some reason, to the erroneous conclusion that Roman society is a meritocracy. He truly believes that be reaching, or associating himself with greatness, he will be allowed into the upper echelon. When he finds that this isn’t the case, his bitterness turns to rage.
The society of ancient Rome consisted of two groups, the Patricians (the rulers) and the Plebeians (everyone else). As a linista (the owner of a gladiatorial training school and manager of its star gladiators), Batiatus had the esteem of the Plebeians. His champions, Spartacus and Crixus, were loved by the people, and his fortunes rose with theirs.
The Patricians, wanting the support of the people, would put on shows of gladiatorial combat to entertain them. Thus, they came to Batiatus, the purveyor of the most popular gladiators; and he began to believe that this was his way in to higher society.
Batiatus thought that the love of the people mattered, but it didn’t. To the Patricians, the people were just cattle. A herd that needed to be managed so that they could remain comfortable. Batiatus’ position, as the most highly regarded by the unregarded, meant nothing to them; indeed it may even have been a detriment to him, as associations with the dregs of society were a cause for derision.
Spartacus, in some ways, benefited from Batiatus’ world view. He was granted special rights as a result of his victories. His merit earned him a higher position from Batiatus, contrary to Batiatus’ own experiences. Batiatus’ sense of superiority prevented Spartacus from attaining any real position, and his ambitions drove him to break Spartacus’ spirit, so that he would be a more dedicated fighter, a more effective means to his ends. But even this, in the mind of Batiatus, was of aide to Spartacus. Everything he did was to help the other achieve glory in the arena.
Still, the minor freedoms granted to Spartacus were the eventual downfall of Batiatus.
Spartacus is a prisoner of fate. He comes to believe, partway through the season, that his current situation is as the gods willed. Whatever horrible things have happened to him or those he loves, are simply what is meant to be; and that his pain is a result of fighting against the current of destiny.
As it turns out, it isn’t the gods that have maneuvered Spartacus into this position, it was the Patricians and Batiatus. Even the Plebeians cheer for his death in the arena. He, along with the other gladiators and slaves, are mere objects, toys to be used and broken for the enjoyment of Rome. Never is that more clear than during a boy’s birthday party hosted by Batiatus, during which the child orders the death of a gladiator during an exposition match. This was a particularly biting incident for Batiatus as well, as he had invited them into his home, convincing himself that they wished to associate with him, that he wasn’t just hired help there to amuse a boy.
So, the central conflict of Spartacus: Blood and Sand is that between the modern concept of freedom, in which everyone is equally free to pursue a better life; and the form of ancient society, which was devoted to maintaining existing power structures.