Born: 115 BC
Died At Age: 62
Also Known As: Marcus Licinius Crassus
Born in: Roman Republic
Famous as: Roman General
father: Publius Licinius Crassus Dives
siblings: Publius Licinius Crassus
children: Marcus Licinius Crassus, Publius Licinius Crassus
Died on: 53 BC
Who was Marcus Licinius Crassus?
Marcus Licinius Crassus was a renowned Roman general and politician. He played a key role in the formation of the First Triumvirate along with Julius Caesar and Pompey to challenge the power of the Senate. His public career began as a military commander under Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Eventually Crassus amassed massive wealth for himself through real estate speculations. He also earned political prominence after his victory over the slave revolt which was led by Spartacus. Along with Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great, who was considered the greatest military commander of the time, he formed the First Triumvirate. Though the three differed in their political ideals and ambitions, the alliance gave them a personal advantage and allowed them to dominate the Roman political system. However, the alliance collapsed later on because of their different ambitions and egos. Crassus was popular in his own time and his fame continues to endure in the present era. He was a major character in Howard Fast’s novel ‘Spartacus’. He was also characterized in the 1960 feature film and 2004 TV film of the same name.
Childhood & Early Life
Marcus Licinius Crassus was born in 115 BC in the Roman Republic. He was the second son of the renowned senator Publius Licinius Crassus. His father committed suicide and his brother was killed during the uprising of Cornelius Cinna in 87 BC. Following this, Young Marcus went into hiding.
After Cinna’s death, Marcus came out of hiding and gathered a small military force, after which he joined Lucius Cornelius Sulla, when he was returning to Italy from the East. During Sulla’s second civil war, he fought against Gnaeus Papirius Carbo, who was the leader of the Marian forces.
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Rise to Power
Following the war, Marcus Licinius Crassus wanted to rebuild to the lost fortunes of his family. Crassus started acquiring the properties of Sulla’s victims, which were cheaply auctioned off. In this endeavor, he received full support from Sulla.
Over the next few years, Crassus gathered a huge amount of wealth through various means. While some of his wealth was acquired conventionally, he also gained some through slave trafficking, silver production, as well as his speculative real estate purchases. According to an estimate by Pliny, his wealth was approximately 200 million sestertii. According to Plutarch, his wealth had increased to 7100 talents from just less than 300 talents.
Crassus then began to buy properties which were confiscated in proscriptions. He also became known for buying burnt and collapsed buildings. A large part of Rome was bought by him this way. He rebuilt them using slave labor. He was also known to have befriended Licinia, a priestess just in order to covet her property.
After building his fortune, he next focused on building his political career. Though he seemed to have a bright political career because of his wealth and background, he faced a problem because of Pompey the Great who blackmailed Sulla into granting him a victory in Africa.
The Slave Rebellion
Crassus soon rose up the cursus honorum, which was the sequence of offices held by those seeking political power in Rome. It was during this time that the famous two-year slave rebellion broke out under the leadership of Spartacus.
Though initially the slave rebellion wasn’t taken seriously by the Senate, they soon realized that it was a major issue that posed a threat to Rome itself. After the defeat of several legions, and the death and imprisonment of the numerous Roman commanders, Crassus offered to equip, train, as well as lead new troops at his own expense.
His rival in the battle, Spartacus, turned out to be quite skilled, and a portion of Crassus’ army eventually fled from the battle. In order to punish his men, Crassus used the practice of decimation. It included executing one out of ten men, by selecting one by drawing lots. Thus, Crassus proved that he was far more dangerous than the enemy, and this resulted in a major improvement in the fighting spirit of the soldiers.
Though initially Spartacus managed to escape, he ultimately decided to fight back when Pompey and Varro Lucullus lent their support to Crassus. Later in the final battle, the Battle of the Siler River, Crassus turned out victorious; he also successfully captured six thousand slaves alive. Spartacus did try to kill Crassus during the battle; though the failed, he managed to kill two centurions guarding him.
Though Spartacus was presumed to have been killed during the battle, his body, however, was never found. Crassus also ordered the six thousand slaves to be crucified in order to teach a lesson to those who might plan to rebel against Rome in future. Pompey, often considered the greatest political rival of Crassus, also earned some credit for suppressing the slave rebellion, as he killed the remaining slaves who had managed to escape.
In 65 BC, Crassus was made the censor along with Quintus Lutatius Catulus. Soon he also became the financial patron of Julius Caesar, supporting him in his election to become the Pontifex Maximum. Crassus supported Caesar’s attempt to win command of military campaigns as well.
Caesar soon gained prominence as a populares, while Pompey earned reputation as a great military commander. Meanwhile, Crassus was the greatest landlord as well as the richest man in Rome. Since the three had a common goal, which was to counter the stranglehold which the Roman Senate had over politics, they decided to form an alliance known as the First Triumvirate.
The three planned that Crassus and Pompey would be made consuls once more, with Crassus being given a command in Syria for five years, and Pompey in Spain for the same time. They would also call for a renewal of Caesar’s command, which would give him another term as governor of Gaul for five years. Things went as planned, and Crassus eventually left for Syria in 54 BC.
After Crassus received Syria as his province, he acquired huge wealth by extorting riches from the local population as well as through his military victories. He also later attempted to conquer Parthia because it was a great source of riches. He wanted to match the military achievements of Caesar and Pompey as well.
Crassus was however defeated at Carrhae, though his enemy forces were fewer in number. Since he had no cavalry or logistical support, his men were unable to beat the skilled mounted enemy archers. This forced his men to surrender. After Crassus was captured alive, he is said to have been killed with molten gold poured down his throat, as a punishment for his humongous greed for wealth.
Marcus Licinius Crassu was married to Tertulla, who was the daughter of Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus, who was also involved in the war against Spartacus. He had two children named Publius Licinius Crassus and Marcus Licinius Crassus.
In the recent years, the character of Crassus has appeared in multiple films, dramas, novels as well as video games.