Marcus Licinius Crassus

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Marcus Licinius Crassus
Bust of Marcus Licinius Crassus from The Louvre, Paris
Consul of the Roman Republic
In office
70 BC, 55 BC – 53 BC
Personal details
Born 115 BC
Roman Republic
Died 53 BC (aged 62)
Carrhae, Parthian Empire
Spouse(s) Tertulla
Children Marcus Licinius Crassus, Publius Licinius Crassus

Marcus Licinius Crassus (c. 115 BC – 53 BC) was a Roman general and politician.

He commanded the left wing of Sulla's army at the Battle of the Colline Gate. It was he who finally suppressed the slave revolt led by Spartacus. The Third Servile War began with three defeats of Roman armies against Spartacus and his followers. The revolt was finally destroyed by the concentrated military effort of a single commander, Marcus Licinius Crassus.

The last stage of his career was as a triumvir, one of the First Triumvirate, with Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Gaius Julius Caesar. One of the richest men of the era, he was killed after a defeat at the Battle of Carrhae. His death led to the civil wars between Julius Caesar and Pompey, the other two triumvirs.

Brutal discipline[change | change source]

When Crassus formed his army, in addition to six new legions, he was given other legions which had been beaten by Spartacus. He decimated them. This was the brutal method of executing one man in ten to encourage the others to fight harder. Each group of ten men drew lots to decide who would die. This punishment had not been used since the early days of Rome.

Crassus's punishment of Spartacus's surviving men was just as brutal. They were crucified.

Battle of Carrhae[change | change source]

Crassus arranged to govern the Roman province of Syria, with the transparent intention of going to war with Parthia. In fact, he set out on a war against Parthia, using his own money, and without the Senate's official approval.[1]

After being informed of the presence of the Parthian army, Crassus panicked. His general Cassius recommended that the army be deployed in the traditional Roman fashion, with infantry forming the center and cavalry on the wings. At first Crassus agreed, but he soon changed his mind and redeployed his men into a hollow square, each side formed by twelve cohorts.[2] This formation would protect his forces from being outflanked, but at the cost of mobility.

The day went badly for the Romans, who were repeatedly outflanked by the Parthian cavalry. The next day they received a message, offering to negotiate with Crassus. A truce was proposed, allowing the Roman army to return to Syria safely, in exchange for Rome giving up all territory east of the Euphrates.[3] Crassus was reluctant to meet with the Parthians, but his troops threatened to mutiny if he did not.[4] At the meeting, a Parthian pulled at Crassus' reins, sparking violence. Crassus and his generals were murdered. After his death, the Parthians allegedly poured molten gold down his throat, in a symbolic gesture mocking Crassus' renowned greed.[5] The remaining Romans at Carrhae attempted to flee, but most were captured or killed. Roman casualties amounted to about 20,000 killed and 10,000 captured,[6] making the battle one of the costliest defeats in Roman history. Parthian casualties were minimal.

References[change | change source]

  1. This political overview primarily derives from Erich S. Gruen 1969.Pompey, the Roman aristocracy, and the conference of Luca. Historia 18 71–108, especially 107–108. The literature on the triumvirate's political deal-making in 56 BC is vast. Other works consulted include Ronald Syme 1939. The Roman Revolution Oxford University Press, reissued 2002. limited preview online, particularly Chapter 3, "The Domination of Pompeius"; J.P.V.D. Balsdon 1939. Consular Provinces under the Late Republic, II. Journal of Roman Studies 29 167–183; G.R. Elton 1946. The terminal date of Caesar's Gallic Proconsulate. Journal of Roman Studies 36 18–42; Thomas N. Mitchell 1969. Cicero before Luca (September 57–April 56 BC). Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association. 100 295–320; Colm Luibheid 1970. The Luca Conference. Classical Philology 65 88–94; Anthony J. Marshall 1978. Review of Crassus: a political biography by B.A. Marshall (Amsterdam 1976) and A.M. Ward 1977. Marcus Crassus and the late Roman Republic. University of Missouri Press, Phoenix 32 (1978) 261–266; Christian Meier 1982. Caesar, translated by David McLintock. BasicBooks. 270–273. To balance an historical tradition generally hostile toward Crassus, see T.J. Cadoux 1956. Marcus Crassus: a revaluation. Greece & Rome 3 153–161.
  2. Plutarch. Life of Crassus, 23.3
  3. Dio, Cassius. Roman History: Book 40, 26.1.
  4. Plutarch. Life of Crassus, 30.5.
  5. Dio, Cassius. Roman History: Book 40, 26.3.
  6. Plutarch. Life of Crassus, 31.7.