Disasters waiting to happen: Marcus Licinius Crassus

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Disasters waiting to happen: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Olivier plays Crassus in the film Spartacus / morphsplace.com

Olivier plays Crassus in the film Spartacus / morphsplace.com

Crassus was not the first man to combine business with politics and, through lack of foresight, or because he was too proud to think, come a terrible cropper. He was born around 115 BC, both parents patrician. Naturally he went into the Roman army.

Still a young and inexperienced officer, he supported Lucius Cornelius Sulla during a civil war between Sulla and Gaius Marius. When the latter seized the city of Rome in 87 BC, Crassus vanished as fast as he could, but came back to help Sulla take power in 82. Historians agree that the origin of Crassus’ hatred of Pompey lie in the latter’s clear preference for Sulla.

Crassus was Praetor in 72 and 71 when he demolished the slaves’ rebellion led by Spartacus. You can see a romanticised version of this rebellion in an old Hollywood movie, made by Kirk Douglas’s company, directed by Stanley Kubrick, and starring himself as Spartacus. The part of Crassus is played by Laurence Olivier; the scriptwriters had decided Crassus was cruel, weak, jealous of Pompey, and possibly gay as well (there is a dubious scene with Olivier and Tony Curtis together in a bath). Pompey, historically speaking, tried to take the credit for defeating the army of slaves, though Crassus achieved it by sheer force of arms. Pour encourager les autres he arranged two lines of crucifixions lining the Appian Way – slave soldiers who had briefly survived the battles.

In the year 70 however Crassus and Pompey actually cooperated to force the Senate to elect them to the consulship; once they achieved this kind of power they used it to overthrow the last of the Sullan reforms to the Constitution.

During the 60s while Pompey was covering himself with glory outside Rome, Crassus was hard at work selling property that had been held by Sulla. He then became very rich indeed by using the capital to extend credit (at abnormally high interest) to senators in debt. He made the mistake of advancing credit to the young Julius Caesar in this manner – making him an enemy for life. In 65 Crassus was Censor, and probably encouraged the conspiracies of Cataline against the government in 65 and 64. He withdrew this support in the nick of time before Cataline’s unsuccessful coup in 63 BC.

In the year 60 he joined Caesar and Pompey to form the first Triumvirate. He entered into this coalition in order to smooth the passage of laws helpful to his business ventures in Asia. From 58 to 56 he plotted to neutralize Pompey’s power, but in 56 he and Pompey were Consuls. Off went Crassus to become Governor of Syria in 54, and everything would have been rosy had he not attempted to gain the military glory he had always wanted, by sacking Jerusalem and starting an inexplicable and unwarranted invasion of Parthia. He was defeated and killed in Southern Anatolia. Julius Caesar is said to have exclaimed that it was about time too.

By | 2012-10-14T16:21:16+00:00 October 14th, 2012|History of Rome, History of the Cinema, Jewish History, World History|0 Comments

About the Author:

‘Dean Swift’ is a pen name: the author has been a soldier; he has worked in sales, TV, the making of films, as a teacher of English and history and a journalist. He is married with three grown-up children. They live in Spain.

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