The story begins with an unnamed Thracian's invovlement in a unit of Roman auxilliary in a campaign against the Getae (Dacaian tribes that occupied the regions of the Lower Danube, in what today is Bulgaria and Romania) under the command of the legatus,claudias Glaber. In 72-71 BC,Roman general Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus,proconsul of the Roman province of Macedonia, marched against the Getae,who were allies of Rome's enemy,Mithridates VI of pontus.
The Getae frequently raid the Thracian's lands,so the Thracians are persuaded by Glaber to enlist in the Romans' service as auxiliaries. Glaber is persuaded by his wife Ilithyia to seek greater glory,decides to break off attacking the Getae and directly confront the forces of Mithridates in Asia Minor. The Thracian,feeling betrayed,leads a mutiny against Glaber,and returns to find his village destroyed. The Thracian and his wife Sura,are captured by Glaber the next day;the Thracian is condemned to die in the gladiator arena for his crime,while sura is taken away,condemned to slavery. The Thracian is shipped to Capua in Italy, a center of gladiator training. Against all odds in the arena he slays the four gladiators appointed to execute him and becomes an instant sensation with the crowd. Senator Albinius commutes the punishment from death to slavery.