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Marcus Licinius Crassus was a Roman politician. He was born in 105 BC and died 53 BC. Apparently he was quite charming, but unsurpassed were his greed and his ambition. He was in fact obscenely rich, even for Roman means, and this is most of what the world remembers of him. Even his nickname was Dives - "the rich guy". There is one biography by Plutarch, but it is quite sketchy in parts.

His grandfather Lucius Licinius Crassus and his father Publius Licinius Crassus had also been moderately successful as consules. As a young man he had to hide from Marius and Cinna in Spain, then became a military commander under Sulla.

After their victory in the civil war, he was extremely successful as real estate dealer, specialized in the ex-property of the victims of proscription. He also used to buy burning houses for cheap and then have the fire put out by his private firefighters. Who are rumored to have started some fires themselves - neat trick! But of course he had other businesses as well, slave trade, silver mines, money lending ...

Crassus made a name for himself by putting down the slave rebellion under Spartacus in 71 BC. He was the one responsible for the crucification of 6000 survivors of Spartacus' army (which had numbered up to 100000 men) along the Via Appia. He had under his command a promising young tribune called Julius Caesar, whose time was still to come. The other strong man of the time was Gnaeus Pompeius - he was a brilliant military commander, definitely superior to Crassus, and from the beginning the two were rivals. It infuriated Crassus no end that he only got an ovation for putting an end to Spartacus, while Pompey got a full-fledged triumph ceremony for his campaign in Spain.

Pompey and Crassus and were consules together in 70 BC. Crassus got to be censor in 65 BC, and worked on expanding his influence in Rome, while Pompey was fighting pirates and king Mithridates. Rumor also had him involved in the conspiracy of Catalina, but on the other hand, he was also involved in tipping off Cicero to foil it.

The deeply indebted Julius Caesar and the money-man Crassus were made for one another, and the three of them formed an uneasy and unconstitutional (as far as there was a constitution) alliance that became known as the first triumvirate in 60 BC. However, Crassus' constant envy of Pompey's military glory led to tensions while Caesar was busy with his legendary conquest of Gaul. Still, Caesar got the two to renew their deal in 56 BC. With a lot of violence and bribery, Crassus and Pompey were elected consules again in 55 BC. Crassus then became proconsul of Syria in 54 BC.

Already 60 and still seeking more military glory (and to plunder the fabulous riches of the Middle East), he started a war with the Parthians, against the will of the Senate. He did quite well initially, but an Arab chief named Ariamnes betrayed him and led his army of 7 legions into an ambush. After a bloody battle, heavy casualties and the death of his son in a sortie, he managed to retreat to a town called Carrhae. The Parthian general Serena offered negotiations, and Crassus, despite his distrust forced to go there by his own men, was again betrayed and beheaded. All in all one of Rome's greatest military defeats!

Crassus head and hand were then sent to Armenia and used as props in a theater performance of Euripides' Bacchae for the Parthian king Orodes. Cassius Dio passed on the legend that the king also poured molten gold into Crassus' mouth, saying as he did so, "Now sate thyself with the metal of which thou wert so greedy when alive."


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