Who was Marcus Licinius Crassus in History?

01/05/2021

     Marcus Crassus was one of the most important politicians of his time and considered the richest man in Rome. Did you meet him on the Spartacus series? Well, know his story and death below.


Marcus Licinius Crassus in History:

     Descended from an aristocratic family in Rome, Marcus Licinius Crassus, known as "the richest man in Rome" during his lifetime, was partially credited for guaranteeing the Republic's victory over the forces of Spartacus during the Third War Servant and later became a founding member, along with Julius Caesar and Pompey, of the First Triumvirate. Some experts believe that Crassus' wealth during his lifetime was so great that, after considering exchange rates and inflation, he may have been the richest person who ever lived.

     In 87 BC, Gaius Marius' forces took control of Rome during what became known as The Social War. During this war, the Crassus family allied with Marius' enemy, Lucius Cornelius Sulla. So when Marius took control of the city, Crassus' father, a former consul of Rome named Licinius Crassus, took his own life. 

    His head, along with that of many other Roman nobles who allied with Sulla, were placed at the top of the Roman forum. Marius died shortly after taking over the city and his second in command, Lucius Cornelius Cinna (Caesar's father-in-law) rose to power. Cinna placed several proscriptions (rewards) on many of the remaining nobles who supported Sulla. Crassus found himself among these men and shortly thereafter left Rome and fled to the Hispanics, where he lived in hiding for almost a year.

How did Crassus' wealth come about?

     Much of Crassus' wealth was acquired through unethical means, including proscriptions from political opponents of the Sula regime. Crassus confiscated the property of several of the people marked for death, then sold it at an exorbitant price or took a share for himself. When Sula's political opponents were all dead or exiled, Crassus would have arbitrarily added names of citizens whose properties he coveted to the ban list to kill them, eventually fabricating charges against them to justify his ban.

     He then took his property and sold or saved it. Among his independent companies, he was in charge of his own private fire service (such services existed in the Roman Republic before the formation of Cohortes Vigiles by Augusto), where Crassus would force the homeowner to sell his property at a reduced price and order the their slaves to stop working to contain the fire until their client fulfilled their requirements.

     Crassus' personal fortune is believed to have reached two hundred million sesterces. Four sesterces added up to a denarius. A single denarius was considered the daily wages of an unskilled Roman worker or soldier. For a worker who currently earns a minimum wage in the United States, the wage for a single day is around $ 58. If we were to use that as a comparison, Crasson's wealth could have been somewhere around 2.9 billion of American dollars.

Crassus after the fall of Spartacus:

     In the year following the Roman victory over Spartacus, Crassus would continue with the Consulship of the Republic of Rome, with Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus as his co-consul. Despite occupying this position and several others throughout his life, Crassus was never considered a legitimate statesman because he did not have major military victories to call his own. He received his positions mainly through bribery, strong political weaponry and other manipulation tactics, and not through genuine merit and support.

     Although Crassus had military experience and was known for some small victories, he lacked the necessary martial respect for true political legitimacy in Rome. His goal (or at least one of them) in taking on the Roman efforts in the Third Servile War was to achieve an overwhelming and glorious victory against the rebels, earning him the reputation necessary to win a political office on his own merits.

     However, while besieging Spartacus behind Crassus' famous wall, the latter was warned by the Senate for taking too long to defeat the rebels, especially when most Romans wanted the blood of the rebels to be spilled, but Crassus resorted to the less rewarding method of starve. It was at this time that Pompey ended his campaign in Hispania, which led the Senate to entrust him with the responsibility of defeating Spartacus. Crassus was furious and cried out to claim Spartacus' life, taking credit for defeating the rebel army.

     Crassus went to great lengths and expense to crucify the six thousand prisoners taken during the battle. This was done in part to wage a psychological war against anyone with persistent thoughts of rebellion, but also to provide Rome with extravagant and graphic proof of Crassus' triumph and to consolidate his reputation as a winner and conqueror. The crosses were distributed along the Appian Way between Capua and Rome, approximately every 30 meters on both sides of the path. He also ordered the bodies not to be removed after the rebels perished, and the decomposing corpses would have remained on the Appian Way for several years before being dismantled by locals or eroded by weather conditions. Archaeologists continue to find traces of executions along the Appian Way, which follows the same path today as it did in 71 BC.

Pompey was smarter:

     While Crassus performed mass crucifixions, Pompey saw Spartacus' defeat and struggled to claim his own glory. He traveled very quickly to Rome, allegedly capturing and crucifying 5,000 more rebels along the way (although some question this and speculate that if he found them, they were summoned to his army). He claimed that this meant that he had won the war and, due to the pre-existing disappointment with Crassus, the Senate believed him.

     Pompey was declared the winner of the war, infuriating Crassus, who returned to Rome after Pompey to discover that he would receive only small honors for his participation in the defeat of the rebels. Furious, Crassus kept his army camped outside Rome to intimidate his opponents and compete with Pompey, whose army was also camped outside Rome.

     The two kept their forces there until, fearing that one or both would march on Rome and take power by force if they did not receive political power, the Senate chose them to be co-consuls. This event deepened Crassus' insecurities about his comparative lack of military honor and set the stage for the rest of his political career and life.

Triumvirate:

     In the year 60 BC, eleven years after the Third Servile War, Crassus, together with Julius Caesar and Pompey, formed an informal political alliance known in history as the First Triumvirate. He and Caesar had been friends and allies for much of their careers, but Crassus resented Pompey for stealing credit for ending the Third Servile War, and the two probably only tolerated each other as useful political allies. However, the three were considered to be the three most powerful men in Rome, but they believed that none of them would achieve their goals if they were constantly competing for power.

     They joined forces to pool their resources and power for the benefit of each man. This had important implications for the short and tumultuous future of the Roman republic in the future. Crassus' defeat and death at the Battle of Carrhae destabilized the triumvirate, leading Caesar and Pompey to war with each other.

The Death of Marcus Crassus:

     In 53 BC, about eighteen years after the conclusion of the Third Servile War, when Crassus occupied the Proconsulsor of Syria, he waged war with the Parthian Empire, as he longed for recognition as a general of the Senate; recognition he was denied despite his victory over Spartacus.

     He was jealous of Caesar's conquests in Gaul and Pompey's successes in Hispania and the eastern Mediterranean, and still bitter that Pompey received credit for the victory over Spartacus's army. In this sense, Crassus received help from King Artavazdes II of Hayasdan (Armenia), who offered Crassus a safer route to Mesopotamia through Armenian lands. But Crassus declined the offer and opted to approach the Parthians head-on, crossing the Euphrates River.

     In the infamous Battle of Carrhae, Crassus' forces suffered losses by the specialist Parthian cavalry. To get them out of their supply lines in the hope that they would run out of arrows, Crassus sent his adult son, Publius. But Publius' forces were cornered on a hill by the Parthians and Publius killed himself before he could be captured or executed. When Crassus learned that Publius encountered problems with the Parthian cavalry, he risked his entire surviving army to rescue his son, believing that he might still be alive. This proved to be wrong when Crassus himself discovered that the Parthians had cut Publius's head and placed it on a spear to insult Crassus.

     The resulting depression of Crassus negatively impacted his ability to lead, and almost all of his strength was killed by Parthian Spahbod (general) Surena, the few survivors were taken prisoner. Crassus 'quaestor, Gaius Longinus Cassius, would take 10,000 men back to security in the province of Syria, but that was only a fraction of Crassus' original strength. Crassus himself was to be captured and was soon executed by order of Surena, for having molten gold poured into his throat to mock his wealth and insatiable greed. After that, Surena would have sent Crassus' head to the Emperor from Orodes II, who was watching a Greek game of Agave. Crassus' head was sent to the actor on stage, who used it as a prop to represent the character Pentheus.