wealthy Roman who became one of the most powerful men in the
last days of the republic, but whose avarice robbed him of
popularity and frustrated his political ambitions. Marcus
Licinius Crassus' fortunes began inauspiciously. To escape the bloodbath that
claimed the lives of his father & brother when the populist Marius took
BCE) he abandoned
everything & fled to Spain. Four years later he returned
to Rome to aid the triumph of the autocrat Sulla. But his blatant capitalizing on the dictator's proscription of
Marius' supporters to enrich himself cost him popular support.
later, however, after Roman forces suffered a series humiliating defeats
trying to crush a slave rebellion (73 BCE)
led by the Thracian gladiator, Spartacus, a desperate Senate
accepted Crassus' offer to equip & command an army (71 BCE).
Though the initial engagement was a complete rout for the
Romans, Crassus eventually cornered the rebellious slaves at the
southern tip of Italy's boot, prevented them from crossing to
Sicily, & won a decisive battle in which Spartacus was
killed. Yet Romans credited the triumph to Pompey who
answered Crassus' call for reinforcements. To advertise his own
role in defeating the slaves, Crassus had 6000 of them crucified
along the Appian Way.
generals were made co-consuls the following year (70 BCE)
but their rivalry paralyzed their ability to work together.
After a decade of political wrangling, Julius Caesar persuaded
Crassus & Pompey to bury their differences & form a
three way alliance with him to rule the Roman world (60 BCE).
This so-called "first triumvirate" was an informal détente
in which old rivals agreed to divide spheres of influence rather
than to work together. Mutual distrust rather than co-operation
marked Crassus & Pompey's 2nd term as co-consuls (55 BCE).
The next year Crassus
claimed governorship of Syria, which he used as a base to launch
a campaign against the Parthian empire. With support from many
Hellenized centers, Crassus invaded Mesopotamia (54 BCE)
but returned to winter quarters in Syria. Rather than
cultivate support from local rulers, he threatened to conscript
native troops for the following year's campaign unless they
bribed him to refrain. Failing to receive tribute from the Jews,
he raided the temple in Jerusalem & confiscated all its
gold. Then, ignoring promised support from the
Armenian king Artabazes if he came through Armenia, Crassus was
misled into taking his seven legions directly through the Syrian
desert into Mesopotamia, where they were ambushed by Parthian
forces. Crassus' cavalry commander -- his son Publius --
committed suicide rather than face captivity & Crassus
himself was killed while trying to escape. After news of his
death reached Rome, rumors began to circulate that the Parthians
had poured molten gold into the mouth of his corpse to mock his
Plutarch, Parallel Lives:
11-14, 21, 28.
22-23, 43, 51-53.
Cassius Dio, Roman
37.31, 35, 54-58; 40.12-28.
Other online resources:
Historical Background - Barbara McManus' annotated
chronology sketches the course of the slave revolt &
Roman efforts to crush it [posted on VRoma
at College of New Rochelle]..