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Crassus


1.

Lucius Licinius, a Roman orator and man of consular rank. In B.C. 119, being only twenty-one years of age, he made his debut in the Forum, in a prosecution against C. Carbo. Cicero says that he was remarkable, even at this early period, for his candour and his great love of justice. Crassus was but twenty-seven years old when his eloquence obtained the acquittal of his relation, the Vestal Licinia. Being elevated to the consulship in 95, he was the author of a law by which numbers of the allies, who passed for Roman citizens, were sent back to their respective cities. This law alienated from him the affections of the principal Italians, so that he was regarded by some as the primary cause of the Social War, which broke out three years after. Having Hither Gaul for his province, Crassus freed the country from the robbers that infested it, and for this service had the weakness to claim a triumph. The Senate were favourable to his application; but Scaevola, the other consul, opposed it, on the ground that he had not conquered foes worthy of the Roman people. Crassus conducted himself, in other respects, with great wisdom in his government, and not only did not remove from around him the son of Carbo , who had come as a spy on his conduct, but even placed him by his side on the tribunal, and did nothing of which the other was not a witness. Being appointed censor in 92, he caused the school of the Latin rhetoricians to be closed, regarding them as dangerous innovators for the young. Crassus left hardly any orations behind him, and he died while Cicero was yet in his boyhood; but still that author, having collected the opinions of those who had heard him, speaks with a minute and apparently perfect intelligence of his style of oratory. He was what may be called the most ornamental speaker that had hitherto appeared in the Forum. Though not without force, gravity, and dignity, these were happily blended with the most insinuating politeness, urbanity, ease, and gayety. He was master of the most pure and accurate language and of perfect elegance of expression, without any affectation or unpleasant appearance of previous study. Great clearness of language distinguished all his harangues; and, while descanting on topics of law or equity, he possessed an inexhaustible fund of argument and illustration. Some persons considered Crassus as only equal to Antonius, his great contemporary; others preferred him as the more perfect and accomplished orator. The most splendid of all the efforts of Crassus was the immediate cause of his death, which happened in B.C. 91, a short while before the commencement of the civil wars of Marius and Sulla , and a few days after the time in which he is supposed to have borne his part in the dialogue De Oratore. The consul Philippus had declared, in one of the assemblies of the people, that some other advice must be resorted to, since, with such a Senate as then existed, he could no longer direct the affairs of the government. A full Senate being immediately summoned, Crassus arraigued, in terms of the most glowing eloquence, the conduct of the consul, who, instead of acting as the political parent and guardian of the Senate, sought to deprive its members of their ancient inheritance of respect and dignity. Being further irritated by an attempt on the part of Philippus to force him into compliance with his designs, he exerted, on this occasion, the utmost effort of his genius and strength; but he returned home with a pleuritic fever, of which he died seven days after. This oration of Crassus, followed, as it was, by his almost immediate death, made a deep impression on his countrymen; who, long afterwards, were wont to repair to the Senate-house for the purpose of viewing the spot where he had last stood, and where he fell, as it may be said, in defence of the privileges of his order.


2.

Marcus, who was praetor B.C. 105. He was surnamed by his friends Agelastus (Ἀγέλαστος), because, according to Pliny (vii. 19), he never laughed during the whole course of his life; or because, according to Lucilius, he laughed but once (De Fin. v. 30).


3.

Marcus Licinius, called the Rich (Dives), the son of the preceding, and the most opulent Roman of his day, was of a patrician family, and the son of a man of consular rank. His father and brother perished in the proscriptions of Marius and Cinna while he was still quite young, and, to avoid a similar fate, he took refuge in Spain until the death of Cinna , when he returned to Italy and served under Sulla. Crassus proved very serviceable to this commander in the decisive battle (B.C. 83) that was fought near Rome; but afterwards, making the most unjust and rapacious use of Sulla 's proscriptions, that leader, according to Plutarch, gave him up and never employed him again in any public affair. The glory which was then beginning to attend upon Pompey, though still young and only a simple member of the equestrian order, excited the jealousy of Crassus, and, despairing of rising to an equality with him in warlike operations, he betook himself to public affairs at home, and, by paying court to the people, defending the impeached, lending money, and aiding those who were candidates for office, he attained to an influence almost equal to that which Pompey had acquired by his military achievements. It was at the bar, in particular, that Crassus rendered himself extremely popular. He was not, it would seem, a very eloquent speaker, yet by care and application he eventually exceeded those whom nature had more highly favoured. When Pompey, or Caesar, or Cicero declined speaking in behalf of any individual, he often arose and advocated the cause of the accused. Besides this promptness to aid the unfortunate, his courteous and conciliating deportment acquired for him many friends, and made him very popular with the lower orders. There was not a Roman, however humble, whom he did not salute, or whose salutation he did not return by name.

The great defect, however, in the character of Crassus was his inordinate fondness for wealth; and, although he could not strictly be called an avaricious man, since he is said to have lent money to his friends without demanding interest, yet he allowed the love of riches to exercise a paramount sway over his actions, and it proved at last the cause of his unhappy end. Plutarch informs us that his estate at first did not exceed three hundred talents, but that afterwards it amounted to the enormous sum of seven thousand one hundred talents (nearly $8,500,000). The means by which he attained to this are enumerated by the same writer, and some of them are singular enough. Observing, says Plutarch, how liable the city was to fires, he made it his business to buy houses that were on fire and others that joined upon them; and he commonly got them at a low price, on account of the fear and distress of the owners about the result. A band of his slaves thereupon, regularly organized for the purpose, exerted themselves to extinguish the flames, and, after this was done, rebuilt what had been destroyed, and in this way Crassus gradually became the owner of a large portion of Rome. He gained large sums also by educating and then selling slaves. Plutarch, in fact, regards this as his principal source of revenue. With all this eager grasping after wealth, however, Crassus appears to have been no mean soldier, even though he displayed so few of the qualities of a commander in his Parthian campaign. Created praetor in B.C. 71, he was sent to terminate the war with Spartacus. He accordingly met, defeated him in several encounters, and at last, bringing him to a decisive action, ended the war by a single blow, Spartacus and forty thousand of his followers being left on the field. Not venturing to demand a triumph for a victory over gladiators and slaves, he contented himself with an ovation.

In 70, Crassus obtained the consulship, having Pompey for his colleague. At a subsequent period we find him implicated by an informer in the conspiracy of Catiline, but acquitted by acclamation the moment the charge was heard by the Senate. We now come to the closing scene in the career of Crassus. When Caesar, on returning from his government to solicit the consulship, found Pompey and Crassus at variance (which had been the case also during almost all the time that they were colleagues in the consular office), and perceived that, for the furtherance of his own ambitious views, the aid of these two individuals would be needed by him for opposing the influence of the Senate, as well as that of Cicero, Cato , and Catulus, he managed to reconcile them, and soon, in conjunction with both of them, formed the well-known league usually styled the First Triumvirate (B.C. 60), which proved so fatal to the liberties of the Roman people. By the terms of this compact Crassus obtained the government of Syria. In the law that was passed relative to this government of Crassus, no mention was indeed made of any war in its neighbourhood; still every one knew that he had connected with it an immediate invasion of Parthia (B.C. 55). Plutarch even states that he had fixed upon neither Syria nor Parthia as the limits of his expected good fortune, but intended to penetrate even to Bactria, India, and the shores of the Eastern Ocean. The only motive to this memorable and unfortunate undertaking was the rapacious love of wealth.

It was not, however, without considerable opposition from the people and the tribunes that Crassus was allowed to proceed on this expedition. All the influence of Pompey was necessary to prevent an expression of popular wrath, for no good was expected to result from hostilities against a people who had done the Romans no injury, and who were, in fact, their allies. When Crassus, moreover, had reached the gate of the city, the tribune Ateius attempted to stop him by force; but, failing in this, he immediately proceeded to perform a religious ceremony of the most appalling nature, by which he devoted the commander himself and all who should follow him on that service to the wrath of the infernal gods and a speedy destruction. Undismayed, however, by either denunciations or omens ( Div. ii. 40), Crassus, embarking at Brundisium, proceeded into Asia by Macedonia and the Hellespont. As the enemy were not prepared for this unprovoked invasion, the Romans met with no resistance. At first Crassus overran the greater part of Mesopotamia; and, had he taken advantage of the consternation into which his sudden appearance had thrown the Parthians, he might, with the greatest ease, have extended his conquest to Babylonia itself. But, the season being far advanced, he did not think it expedient to proceed. On the contrary, having left in the different towns and strongholds a detachment of 7000 foot and 1000 horse, he returned into Syria and took up his winter quarters in that province. This retrograde movement was a fatal error. His occupations, too, during the winter were highly censurable, having more of the trader in them than the general. Instead of improving the discipline of the soldiers, and keeping them in proper exercise, he spent his time in making inquiry relative to the revenues of the cities, and in weighing the treasures which he found in the temple of Hierapolis. In the spring the Roman commander took the field, on the frontiers of Syria, with seven legions, four thousand horse, and an equal number of light or irregular troops. With this force he again passed the Euphrates, when he was joined by an Arabian chief, whom Plutarch calls Ariamnes, but who is elsewhere named Acbarus or Abgarus; and in this barbarian, owing to his knowledge of the country and his warm and frequent expressions of attachment to the Romans, Crassus unfortunately placed the utmost confidence. The result may easily be foreseen. Crassus intended to have followed the course of the Euphrates till he should reach the point where it approaches nearest to Seleucia and Ctesiphon, the capital of the Parthian Empire; but being dissuaded from this by his crafty guide, and directing his march across the plains, he was led at last into a sandy desert, where his army was attacked by the Parthian forces under Surenas. An unequal conflict ensued. The son of Crassus, sent with a detachment of Gallic horse to repel the Parthian cavalry, lost his life after the most heroic exertions; and his loss was first made known to his father by the barbarians carrying his head on a spear. Crassus himself, not long after, being compelled by his own troops to meet Surenas in a conference, was treacherously slain by the barbarians, and his head and right hand sent to the Parthian king, Orodes, who is said to have poured molten gold down the dead man's throat, saying, in allusion to his avarice, “Sate thyself now with that of which in life thou wert so greedy!” The whole loss of the Romans in this disastrous campaign was 20,000 killed and 10,000 taken prisoners. See Plut. Crass.; Dio Cass. xl. 13 foll.; and the article Parthia.

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