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Marcus Licinius Crassus

Marcus Crassus was born around 115 B.C., though this date is not certain. He was the son of Publius Crassus who had served as consul and held various other offices. When Marius the Younger captured the city in 87 B.C., Crassus fled from Rome to Spain where his father had been governor. Crassus’ father and brother became victims of Marius’ proscription list during this time.

Crassus was a successful officer during the Civil War from 83-82 B.C. He managed to win a key battle, the Battle of Colline Gate, which ensured Sulla a victory in the Civil War when he had thought all hope was lost. Even so, Crassus was never a big supporter of Sulla’s constitution. After Crassus supposedly tampered with proscription lists, Sulla never completely trusted him again.

After the defeat of Marius and his followers, Crassus made a fortune by confiscating their land. Since fires were common in Rome at this time, Crassus also set up his own fire brigade. When property would catch fire, Crassus and his fire brigade would rush to the scene, he would buy the property very cheaply, and the brigade would put out the fire. It is actually thought that Crassus’ men started many of these fires. It did not take Crassus long to become the wealthiest man in Rome.

In 72 B.C., a slave named Spartacus escaped from a gladiator school and led a slave revolt. After many attempts, Crassus managed conquer Spartacus and his army of 90,000 men. This was seen as a great victory in the eyes of the Senate, but Pompey managed to take most of the credit. This only fueled Crassus and Pompey’s hatred for one another.

Neither Crassus nor Pompey was popular with the Senate. Because of this, the two men saw a need to work together, even though they despised one another. In 70 B.C., Crassus and Pompey became consuls. Both retired after their yearlong service, but Pompey did not stay out of politics long.

Crassus refused to let Pompey steal the limelight. He also feared that if Pompey got too powerful, that his name would be on the top of Pompey’s proscription list. Crassus decided the only way to protect himself was to amass a huge army. He gained support for his army by loaning money to various individuals and by being a legal representative for the wealthy.

He hired a charismatic young man as his political manager by the name of Julius Caesar. Crassus hoped to use his own gold and Caesar’s brains to secure control of the democrats and an army. Caesar’s ambition had already placed him deeply in debt to Crassus and others, so their joining of forces only seemed natural.

In 65 B.C., Crassus became censor. During his service as Censor, he proposed to register the people of Cisalpine Gaul as Roman citizens. He thought that this would gain the support of those people for his army. His idea was not surprisingly blocked by the other censor, but the attempt was enough to gain the support of these people.

When Caesar decided to run for election as consul in 60 B.C., he knew that he needed the support of both Crassus and Pompey. Caesar’s great diplomatic abilities came to light as he managed to bring the two men together somewhat peaceably. It was at this point that the three men came together to form the First Triumvirate. Caesar was well on his way to political power, and Crassus saw this union as a way to get laws passed to help his business ventures in Asia.

Caesar was sent to Gaul in 59 B.C. as consul. Since he was gone most of the time, this


left Crassus and Pompey in Rome to quarrel violently with one another. From 58 to 56 B.C., Crassus made serious attempts to limit Pompey’s power. Caesar saw the need for his mediation to keep the Triumvirate from falling apart. With Caesar’s help in 55, Crassus and Pompey became consuls again.

Crassus was still jealous of Pompey. He was hungry for military glory like that of Pompey, and he managed to be placed as governor of Syria in 54 B.C. He began a war with the Parthians that same year. He was killed by Parthian archers in 53 B.C. in a major defeat at the Battle of Carrhae in southern Anatolia.

Gelzer, Matthias. Caesar: Politician and Statesman. Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1968.

Nardo, Don. The Importance of Julius Caesar. San Diego, Lucent Books, 1997.

“Crassus, Marcus Licinius,” Microsoft? Encarta? Online Encyclopedia 2001 http://encarta.msn.com ? 1997-2001 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

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