Marcus Licinius Crassus

From Academic Kids

Marcus Licinius Crassus Dives (c. 11553 BC) was a Roman general and politician who suppressed the slave revolt led by Spartacus and entered into a secret pact, known as the First Triumvirate, with Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar. He was known as one of the richest men of the era ("Dives" is Latin for "rich") and was killed after a defeat at Carrhae.
Marcus Licinius Crassus
Marcus Licinius Crassus

Early Life

Marcus Licinius Crassus was born in the year 115 BC, the son of Publicus Licinius Crassus. Though his father had been censor and had celebrated a triumph, Crassus grew up in a small house which was home not only to him and his parents but also to his two elder brothers and their families.

When he was in his late twenties, Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Cinna captured Rome from Sulla's supporters in 87 BC. In the ensuing bloodbath, Crassus' father and one of his brothers were killed but Crassus himself escaped with three of his friends to Hispania, where his father had served as praetor.

Eight months later, after the death of Cinna, Crassus came out of hiding, collected an army of 2500 men, and joined forces with Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Crassus won a reputation for himself as a soldier in Sulla's campaigns in Italy by 83 BC, but fell out of favor because of his excessive greed in purchasing estates at knock-down prices during Sulla's proscriptions of his political opponents.

Crassus quickly began to build himself a vast fortune thanks to Sullas campaigns. By buying up property at risk from fire very cheaply and then putting his private fire brigade of over 500 men into action to save the property and later selling the property for a greater value, his fortune grew to immeasurable sizes. Soon, he came to own most of Rome. This later lead to his "nickname" of Dives, Latin for the richest.

Crassus grew to view the young general Pompey as his greatest rival, but knew he could not match Pompey's military achievements. So, he set about winning popularity by acting as an advocate in lawsuits where other advocates refused to act and lending money without charging interest, provided the loan was paid back on time.

The Spartacus Slave Revolt

In 73 BC the great slave revolt under Spartacus broke out. The praetor Clodius was sent against Spartacus. However, Spartacus' men surprised and defeated the army. Another army was sent out from Rome under the praetor Publius Varinus, but Spartacus defeated him as well.

Crassus was then given the command against Spartacus in 71 BC. Crassus levied eight legions from his personal fortune to combat the slave revolt. Crassus' legate, Mummius, engaged Spartacus in battle against Crassus' orders and was defeated by the slave army. Out of Mummius' men, 500 were considered to have shown cowardice in battle, so Crassus revived the ancient technique of decimation, killing one out of every ten men.

Spartacus attempted to sail for Sicily, but the pirates he hired to take his forces over the sea cheated him and sailed off with the payment he'd given them, leaving Spartacus' forces still in Italy. Spartacus established a camp for his men in the peninsula of Rhegium, whereupon Crassus built a wall across the neck of the peninsula, the likes of which had never been seen, leaving them trapped.

Crassus had written to the Senate to ask for help, but later regretted it since whoever the Senate sent would get the credit for defeating Spartacus. To Crassus' misfortune, the Senate sent Pompey the Great. In response, Crassus quickly attacked and inflicted a crushing defeat on Spartacus' troops and Spartacus himself was killed in the battle. Spartacus' remaining men fled north and were captured and killed by Pompey, who, as Crassus had predicted, claimed the credit for putting an end to the war.

To set an example to all the slaves of Rome and to make certain another slave revolt would never again take place, Crassus had over 6,000 recaptured slaves crucified along the Appian Way. For his efforts, Crassus was awarded, even with much argument in the Senate, an ovation, a minor kind of triumph, for helping to putting down the revolt.

Consulship and the First Triumvirate

Because of their work in the slave rebellion, Crassus and Pompey were both elected Consuls in 70 BC, though their rivalry continued through the term and little could get done. In an attempt to gain favor with the people of Rome, and display his wealth, Crassus entertained the populace at 10,000 tables and distributed sufficient grain to last each family three months. In 65 BC Crassus served as censor, but again could get nothing done because of the opposition of his colleague, Lutatius Catulus.

Being a mutual friend to both men, Julius Caesar persuaded Pompey and Crassus to settle their differences, and the three of them together formed the informal association referred to as the First Triumvirate in 60 BC. Pompey's and Crassus' money and influence made Caesar consul in 59 BC, and Caesar in turn used the powers of his office to protect Pompey's and Crassus' interests.

In elections disturbed by serious rioting, Pompey and Crassus were elected consuls again for 55 BC. They used their powers as consuls to extend Caesars proconsulship of Gaul for five more years. They also secured for themselves as proconsuls of Hispania for Pompey and of Syria for Crassus for five-year terms.

Proconsulship of Syria and Death

In the years that followed, the Triumvirate grew increasingly powerful. Caesars successful campaigns in Gaul gave him both popularity and wealth, and with Pompey governing Spain by proxy from Rome gave him eminent support in the Senate. While Caesar and Pompey furthered their reputations though military victories, Crassus merely accumulated more wealth. As this happened, Crassus worried that his more prevalent and younger colleagues would outshine him and his own accomplishments.

In an attempt to counter Caesars and Pompeys growing fame and power, Crassus had intended to use Syria as a base for operations against the Parthian Empire, something which aroused considerable opposition since Parthia had never done the Romans any harm.

When Crassus crossed the Euphrates into Mesopotamia, many cities with Greek populations came over to his side. He garrisoned them and then withdrew back to Syria for the winter. There he waited for his son, who had been serving with Julius Caesar in Gaul, to join him.

The Parthians attacked the garrisons Crassus had installed the previous year. Although his men were dismayed, Crassus left his winter quarters for Mesopotamia in 53 BC, encouraged by the support of Artavasdes II of Armenia, who brought over 6,000 horsemen and 30,000 foot soldiers into Crassus army. Artavasdes tried to persuade Crassus to invade Parthia from Armenia, where he could provision the army, but Crassus insisted on going through Mesopotamia. Crassus' own army consisted of seven legions (roughly 35,000 infantry), plus nearly 4,000 cavalry and about the same number of lightly armed troops.

Crassus marched into the desert, where he received pleas from Artabazes for him to come and help fight off the Parthians besieging Armenia, or at least keep to mountainous areas where the Parthian cavalry would be useless. Crassus took no notice of his warnings and continued on his path.

Soon, some of Crassus' scouts returned that they had been attacked and the enemy were on their way. Crassus continued his march, with himself commanding the center, his right wing commanded by his son, Publius, and the left by Cassius. When they came to a stream, and although Crassus was advised to let the men rest and make camp for the night, he was persuaded by his son to continue at a rapid pace.

On the march, the Romans had been drawn up in a hollow square formation with each cohort allotted cavalry as protection. When they met the enemy at the Battle of Carrhae they were soon surrounded and the Parthians started shooting them with their arrows, which smashed the Roman armor and pierced lesser coverings.

On his father's orders, Publius Crassus attacked the Parthians with a detachment of 1,300 cavalry, 500 archers, and eight cohorts of infantry. When the Parthians withdrew, the younger Crassus followed them for a long way, but then the detachment was surrounded and subjected to the devastating archery attacks of the Parthians. Realising there was no escape for his men, Publius Crassus and some of the other leading Romans with him committed suicide rather than fight on hopelessly. Of the forces with him, only 500 survived. The Parthians cut off Publius' head and took it back with them to taunt his father.

Crassus sent a band of 300 horsemen to the town of Carrhae, and told the Roman garrison there that there had been a battle between Crassus and the Parthians, before galloping off to Zeugma. The commander of the garrison marched out to meet the Crassus Roman force and brought them back to the city.

Surena, the Parthian general, sent a party to Carrhae to offer the Romans a truce and safe conduct out of Mesopotamia, provided Crassus and Cassius were handed over to him. Crassus and the Romans tried to escape from the city by night, but their guide betrayed them to the Parthians. Cassius distrusted the guide because of the circuitous route he was following and went back to the city, and managed to get away with 500 horsemen.

When Surena found Crassus and his men the next day, he again offered a truce, saying the king had ordered it. Surena supplied Crassus with a horse, but as Surena's men tried to make the horse go faster, a scuffle developed between the Romans, who were unwilling for Crassus to go unaccompanied, and the Parthians. Crassus was killed in the fighting. Surena ordered the rest of the Romans to surrender, and some did. The others who tried to get away by night were hunted down and killed the next day. Altogether, the Roman suffered over 20,000 killed on the campaign and 10,000 captured.

The historian Dio Cassius, writing in the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD, reported a story that after Crassus' death, Surena sent Crassus' body to the Parthian king Orodes II, who ordered molten gold poured down his throat as punishment for his greed. His head was then cut off and given to the king. According to some sources, this trophy was revealed to the king in a particularly dramatic fashion during a performance of the Bacchae of Euripides: it was used as a prop, standing in for Pentheus' head in the final scene.


Crassus' death accelerated the worsening of relations between Caesar and Pompey that had begun the previous year with the death of Julia Caesaris, Caesar's daughter and Pompey's wife. Over the ensuing five years, Caesar completed his conquest of Gaul while Pompey aligned himself with the Senate's anti-Caesarian faction. Eventually, civil war erupted when Caesar led his armies out of Gaul in an invasion of Italy, culminating in Caesar's defeat of Pompey at the battle of Pharsalus in Greece in 48 BC. Pompey was murdered shortly afterwards by the advisors of Pharaoh Ptolemy XIII, leaving Caesar as sole ruler of the Roman world. Caesar himself was eventually assassinated in 44 BC.



fr:Crassus hr:Marko Licinije Kras nl:Crassus ja:マルクス・リキニウス・クラッスス pt:Marco Licnio Crasso ru:Марк Лициний Красс zh:克拉苏


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