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Stuff you should know: Crassus, the Legendary Roman Leader

Marcus Crassus (115 – 53 BC) was a Roman leader and general. He is considered to be the richest person in Roman history and one of the wealthiest people ever. However, Crassus is not nearly as famous as other leaders from his time, namely Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great. Crassus reached the top of the Roman political ladder and commanded armies that conquered land and staunched rebellions, and yet not many people know his name.

Crassus grew up in Rome during a time of civil war. After General Marius won against General Sulla, Marius ordered anyone who supported Sulla to be killed. As Crassus’ family had supported Sulla, Crassus had to flee Rome and spend many years hiding in Spain. After Lucius Cinna’s death, who was an ally of Marius, Crassus came out of hiding and reunited with his ally Sulla. Sulla was victorious in his battles and rewarded Crassus for his assistance, making Crassus powerful in Rome.

Crassus made much of his wealth by selling real estate, trading slaves, and mining silver. Crassus was infamous for finding desperate land owners with buildings in poor conditions and taking advantage of them by buying their land for very low prices. He also created the first Roman fire brigade. However, upon arriving at the fire, the brigade would only put out the fire if the owner agreed to sell the property to Crassus at a terribly low price. Using slaves to rebuild the buildings allowed Crassus to make a large amount of money.

Crassus was a strong ally of Julias Caesar. Crassus would typically lend money to Roman senators who were in debt, and Caesar was no different. Early on, Crassus acted as a mentor for Caesar. However, Crassus did not get along with Pompey – another leader and general during Crassus’ time.

During Spartacus’ revolt (73 -71 BC) Crassus stepped up to assist in stopping Spartacus. Crassus himself was sent into battle but had trouble when a section of his army deserted. When that day’s battles were over, Crassus had one of every ten of his men be killed publicly as punishment for fleeing. Troops’ spirit strengthened dramatically at the show. Spartacus’ army was eventually defeated and six thousand slaves were captured alive; they, however, were crucified in a show of Rome’s power.

In 65 BC, Crassus was elected censor and actively aided Caesar’s military campaigns. Crassus, Caesar, and Pompey informally became allies in a triumvirate that lasted until Crassus died. In 55 BC Crassus was a consul, someone who looks after a foreign country to protect the interests of their home country, and he was given control of Syria.

Crassus used Syria as a base of operations to attack Parthia, which nowadays is mainly Iran, desiring riches and military greatness. The senate did not want Crassus to attack Parthia, as the Parthians had never attacked the Romans. Nevertheless, following false knowledge fed to him by someone under the pay of the Parthians, Crassus crossed the Euphrates and engaged in combat with Parthia. In 53 BC, at the battle of Carrhae, Crassus was faced with hit and run tactics from Parthian cavalry. The Parthian’s archery tactics proved disastrous to Crassus as he perished during the battle. Legends have popped up about Crassus’ death, the most famous being that he was captured alive and had molten gold poured down his throat, mocking his obsession for wealth.

Marcus Crassus should have been legendary. As a general who crushed a rebellion, as part of a triumvirate that dominated Roman politics, and as the wealthiest person of that time, yet most people don’t know who he is. Nevertheless, Crassus was important. Even if his name didn’t stand the test of time as well as the Roman giants he stood toe to toe with, the effect he had on the Roman people can not be overstated.

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