17. M. LICINIUS CRASSUS DIVES, P. F. M. N., the younger son of No. 14.
The date of his birth is not precisely recorded, but it is probable that he was born about the year B. C. 105, for Plutarch states, that he was younger than Pompey (Plut. Crass. 6
), and that he was more than sixty years old when he departed (in the year B. C. 55) to make war against the Parthians. (Ib.
In the year B. C. 87, when his father and brother suffered death for their resistance to Marius and Cinna, he was not considered of sufficient importance to be involved in the same doom; but he was closely watched, and after some time he thought it prudent to make his escape to Spain, which he had visited some years before, when his father had the command in that country. How he concealed himself in a cavern near the sea upon the estate of Vibius Paciaecus, and how he passed his life in this strange retreat, is related in detail by the lively and amusing pen of Plutarch.
After a retirement of eight months, the death of Cinna (B. C. 84) relieved him from his voluntary confinement.
He put himself at the head of a needy rabble, for whose sustenance he provided by marauding excursions, and, with 2500 men, made his way to Malaca. Thence, seizing the vessels in the port, he set sail for Africa, where he met Q. Metellus Pius, who had escaped from the party of Marius.
He soon quarrelled with Metellus, and did not remain long in Africa, for when Sulla (B. C. 83) landed in Italy, Crassus proceeded to join that successful general.
He was now brought into competition with Pompey, who also served under Sulla.
The mind of Crassus was of an essentially vulgar type. He was noted for envy, but his envy was low and cavilling: it was not energetic enough to be cruel and revengeful, even when successful, and it was so far under the control of pusillanimity and selfinterest, as to abstain from the open opposition of manly hatred.
It was with such feelings that Crassus regarded Pompey; and Sulla played off the rivals against each other.
He understood his tools.
He gratified Pompey by external marks of honour, and Crassus with gold.
The ruling passion of Crassus was avarice, and to repair and increase the fortunes of his family he was willing to submit to servile dependence, to encounter any risk, and undergo any hardship.
He undertook a service of considerable danger in levying troops for Sulla among the Marsi, and he afterwards (B. C. 83) distinguished himself in a successful campaign in Umbria.
He was personally brave, and, by fighting against the remains of the Marian faction, he was avenging the wrongs of his house. Sulla put him in mind of this, and rewarded him by donations of confiscated property, or by allowing him to purchase at an almost nominal value the estates of those who were proscribed. Crassus was reported to have sought for gain by dishonest means.
He was accused of unduly appropriating the booty taken at Tuder (an Umbrian colony not far from the Tiber), and of placing, without authority, a name in the proscribed lists, in order that he might succeed to an inheritance.
The desire of wealth which absorbed Crassus was neither the self-sufficing love of possession, which enables the miser to despise the hiss of the people while he contemplates the coin in his chest, nor did it spring from that voluptuousness which made Lucullus value the means of material enjoyment, nor from that lofty ambition which made Sulla and Caesar look upon gold as a mere instrument of empire. Crassus sought wealth because he loved the reputation of being rich, liked to have the power of purchasing vulgar popularity, and prized the kind of influence which the capitalist acquires over the debtor, and over the man who wants to borrow or hopes to profit. To these objects the administration of civil affairs and warlike command were, in his view, subordinate.
He possessed very great ability and steady industry in obtaining what he desired, and soon began to justify his hereditary surname, Dives.
He extended his influence by acting as an advocate before the courts, by giving advice in domestic affairs, by canvassing for votes in favour of his friends, and by lending money.
At one time of his life, there was scarcely a senator who was not under some private obligation to him.
He was affable in his demeanour to the common people, taking them by the hand, and addressing them by name. Rich legacies and inheritances rewarded his assiduity and complaisance to the old and wealthy.
He was a keen and sagacious speculator.
He bought multitudes of slaves, and, in order to increase their value, had them instructed in lucrative arts, and sometimes assisted personally in their education. Order and economy reigned in his household.
He worked silver-mines, cultivated farms, and built houses, which he let at high rents.
He took advantage of the distresses and dangers of others to make cheap purchases. Was there a fire in the city, Crassus might be seen among the throng, bargaining for the houses that were burning or in danger of being burnt.
From such pursuits Crassus was called to action by that servile war which sprang from and indicated the deplorable state of domestic life in Italy, and was signalized by the romantic adventures and reverses of the daring but ill-fated Spartacus. Spartacus had for many months successfully resisted the generals who had been sent to oppose him.
A revolt so really dangerous had begun to create alarm, and no confidence was placed in the military talents of the consuls for the year B. C. 71, who regularly, according to a still-prevailing custom, would have divided between them the command of the army.
But the occasion called for more experienced leaders, and, in the absence of Pompey, who was fighting in Spain, the command of six legions and of the troops already in the field was given to Crassus, who was created praetor.
After several engagements fought with various success [SPARTACUS], Crassus at length brought the rebel chief to a decisive battle in Lucania. Spartacus was slain with 12,300 (Plut. Pomp. 21
), or, according to Livy (Liv. Epit. 97
), 60,000 of his followers; and of the slaves that were taken prisoners, 6000 were crucified along the road between Rome and Capua. Crassus had hastened operations in order to anticipate the arrival of Pompey, who he feared might reap the credit without having shared the dangers of the campaign. His fears were in some degree verified, for Pompey came in time to cut off 5000 fugitives, and wrote to the senate, " Crassus, indeed, has defeated the enemy, but I have extirpated the war by the roots." Though the victory of Crassus was of great importance, yet, as being achieved over slaves, it was not thought worthy of a triumph; but Crassus was honoured with an ovation, and allowed the distinction of wearing a triumphal crown of bay (laurus
) instead of the myrtle, which was appropriate to an ovation.
Crassus now aspired to the consulship, and was not above applying for assistance to his rival Pompey, who had also announced himself a candidate. Pompey assumed with pleasure the part of protector, and declared to the people that he should consider his own election valueless, unless it were accompanied with that of Crassus. Both were elected. (B. C. 70.) Already had Pompey become a favourite of the people, and already begun to incur the distrust of the optimates, while Caesar endeavoured to increase the estrangement by promoting a union between Pompey and Crassus in popular measures.
With their united support, the lex Aurelia was carried, by which the judices were selected from the populus (represented by the tribuni aerarii) and equites as well as the senate, whereas the senate had possessed the judicia exclusively during the preceding twelve years by the lex Cornelia of Sulla.
The jealousy of Crassus, however, prevented any cordiality of sentiment, or general unity of action.
He saw himself overborne by the superior authority of his colleague. To gain favour, he entertained the populace at a banquet of 10,000 tables, and distributed corn enough to supply the family of every citizen for three months; but all this was insufficient to outweigh the superior personal consideration of Pompey.
The coolness between the consuls became a matter of public observation, and, on the last day of the year, the knight C. Aurelius (probably at the instigation of Caesar) mounted the tribune, and announced to the assembled multitude that Jupiter, who had appeared to him in a dream the night before, invited the consuls to be reconciled before they left office. Pompey remained cold and inflexible, but Crassus took the first step by offering his hand to his rival, in the midst of general acclamations.
The reconciliation was hollow, for the jealousy of Crassus continued.
He privily opposed the Gabinian rogation, which commissioned Pompey to clear the sea of pirates ; and Cicero's support of the Manilian law, which conferred the command against Mithridates upon Pompey, rankled in the mind of Crassus. When Pompey returned victorious, Crassus, from timidity or disgust, retired for a time from Rome.
In the year B. C. 65, Crassus was censor with Q. Catulus, the firm supporter of the senate; but the censors, in consequence of their political discordance, passed the period of their office without holding a census or a muster of the equites.
In the following year, Crassus failed in his wish to obtain the rich province of Egypt.
Crassus was suspected by some, probably without sufficient reason, of being privy to the first conspiracy of Catiline; and again, in the year B. C. 63, L. Tarquinius, when he was arrested on his way to Catiline, affirmed that he was sent by Crassus with a message inviting Catiline to come with speed to the rescue of his friends at Rome ; but the senate denounced the testimony of L. Tarquinius as a calumny, and Crassus himself attributed the charge to the subornation of Cicero. (Sall. B. C. 48.)
The interests of Crassus were opposed to the success of the conspiracy; for it would have required a man of higher order to seize and retain the helm in the confusion that would have ensued.
In the whole intercourse between Crassus and Cicero may be observed a real coldness, with occasional alternations of affected friendship. (Comp. Cic. Att. 1.14
and 16, ad Fam.
14.2, pro Sext.
17, ad Fam.
In his intercourse with others, Crassus was equally unsteady in his likings and enmities. They were, in fact, not deeply-seated, and, without the practice of much hypocrisy, could be assumed or withdrawn as temporary expediency might suggest.
It was from motives of self-interest, without actual community of feeling or purpose, that the so-called triumvirate was formed between Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. Each hoped to gain the first place for himself by using the others for his purposes, though there can be no doubt that the confederacy was really most profitable to Caesar, and that, of the three, Crassus would have been the least able to rule alone. Caesar had already found Crassus a convenient friend; for in B. C. 61, when Caesar was about to proceed to his province in Further Spain, Crassus became security for his debts to a large amount.
It may, at first view, excite surprise that a person of so little independent greatness as Crassus should have occupied the position that he filled, and that men of wider capacity should have entered into a compact to share with him the honours and profits of the commonwealth.
But the fact is to be accounted for by considering, that the character of Crassus represented in many points a large portion of the public. While the young, the daring and the ambitious, the needy, the revolutionary, and the democratic, adhered to Caesar,--while the aristocracy, the party of the old constitution, those who affected the reputation of high principle and steady virtue, looked with greater favour upon Pompey,--there was a considerable mass of plain, moderate, practical men, who saw much that they liked in Crassus. Independently of the actual influence which he acquired by the means we have explained, he had the sympathy of those who, without being noble, were jealous of the nobility, and were rich or were occupied in making money. They sympathised with him, because the love of gain was a strong trait in the Roman character, and they saw that his unequivocal success in his pursuit was a proof of at least one unquestionable talent--a talent of the most universal practical utility.
He was not without literary acquirement, for, under the teaching of the Peripatetic Alexander, he had gained a moderate proficiency in history and philosophy.
There was no profligacy in his private conduct to shock decent and respectable mediocrity.
He was not above ordinary comprehension.
The many could appreciate a worldly and vulgar-minded but safe
man, whose principles sat loosely but conveniently upon him, who was not likely to innovate rashly, to dazzle by eccentric brilliancy, or to put to shame by an overstrained rigidity of virtue. Thus it was more prudent to combine with Crassus as an ally, than to incur the opposition of his party, and to risk the counter-influence of an enormous fortune, which made the name of Crassus proverbial for wealth. Pliny (Plin. Nat. 33.47
) values his estates in the country alone at two hundred millions of sesterces.
He might have maintained no despicable army at his own cost. Without the means of doing this, he thought that no one deserved to be called rich.
In other less stirring times he might have lived and died without leaving in history any marked traces of his existence; but in the period of transition and commotion which preceded the fall of the republic, such elements of power as he possessed could scarcely remain neglected and quiescent.
It was part of the triumviral contract--renewed at an interview between the parties in Luca--that Pompey and Crassus should be a second time consuls together, should share the armies and provinces of the ensuing year, and should exert their influence to secure the prolongation for five years of Caesar's command in Gaul. Notwithstanding the strenuous opposition of L. Domitius Ahenobarbus, backed by all the authority of Cato of Utica (who was forced on the day of election to leave the Field of Mars with his followers after a scene of serious riot and uproar), both Pompey and Crassus were elected consuls, B. C. 55.
A law was passed at the rogation of the tribune C. Trebonius, by which Syria and the two Spains, with the right of peace and war, were assigned to the consuls for five years, while the Gauls and Illyricum were handed over to Caesar for a similar period.
In the distribution of the consular provinces, Crassus took Syria.
Crassus was anxious to distinguish himself in war. Pompey, he saw, had subjugated the Pirates and Mithridates : Caesar had conquered Gaul, and was marching his army victoriously to Germany and Britain. Mortified at successes which made him feel his inferiority to both, he chose rather to enter upon an undertaking for which he had no genius than to continue the pursuit of wealth and influence at home. Armed by the lex Trebonia with power to make war, he determined to exercise his authority by attacking the Parthians.
This was a stretch and perversion of the law, for the Parthians were not expressly named in the lex Trebonia, and the Senate, who constitutionally were the proper arbiters of peace and war, refused to sanction hostilities by their decree. Indeed there was not the slightest pretext for hostilities, and nothing could be more flagrantly unjust than the determination of Crassus.
It was in express violation of treaties, for in the year B. C. 92, Sulla had concluded a treaty of peace with the Parthians, and the treaty had been renewed by Pompey with their king Phraates. The Romans were not very scrupulous in their career of conquest, and they often fought from motives of gain or ambition, but their ostensible reasons generally bore some show of plausibility, and a total disregard of form was offensive to a people who were accustomed in their international dealings to observe certain legal and religious technicalities.
It was not surprising, therefore, that, apart from all political considerations, the feelings of common justice should excite a strong repugnance to the plans of Crassus, who, having gained his immediate object in obtaining Syria as his province, broke out into a display of childish vanity and boastfulness, which were alien from his usual demeanour. C. Ateius Capito, the tribune, ordered his officer to arrest Crassus. but was obliged to release him by the intercession of his colleagues. However, he ran on to the gate of the city to intercept the consul, who was anxious without delay to proceed to his destination, and resolved to set out at once without waiting for the termination of his year of office. Posted at the gate, Ateius kindled a fire, and with certain fumigations and libations and invocations of strange and terrible deities, mingled the most awful curses and imprecations against Crassus.
This was done in pursuance of an ancient Roman rite, which was never solemnized on light grounds; for, while it was believed to be fatal to the person devoted, it was also thought to bring calamity upon the person who devoted another. But Crassus was not deterred.
He proceeded on his way to Brundusium.
The evil omen daunted the army, and seems to have occasioned an unusual attention to disastrous auguries and forebodings, for Plutarch is copious in his account of tokens of misfortune in almost every stage of the expedition.
The route of Crassus lay through Macedonia, Thrace, the Hellespont, Galatia, and the northern part of Syria to Mesopotamia. Throughout the whole campaign he exhibited so much imprudence and such a complete neglect of the first principles of military art, that premature age may be thought to have impaired his faculties, though he was now but little more than sixty years old.
He was deaf, and looked older than he really was.
The aged Deiotarus, whom he met in Galatia, rallied him on his coming late
into the field.
He was accompanied by some able men, especially the quaestor C. Cassius Longinus (afterwards one of Caesar's murderers) and the legate Octavius, but he did not profit by their advice.
He was quite uninformed as to the character and resources of the enemy he was going to attack; fancied that he should have an easy conquest over unwarlike people ; that countless treasures lay before him, and that it would be a matter of no difficulty to outstrip the glory of his predecessors, Scipio, Lucullus, Pompey, and push on his army to Bactria and India.
He did not attempt to take advantage of the intesime dissensions in Parthia, did not form any cordial union with the Armenians and other tribes who were hostile to the Parthians, and did not obtain correct information as to the position of the enemy's force, and the nature of the country. On the contrary, he listened to flatterers; he suffered himself to be grossly deceived and misled, and he alienated, by ill-treatment and insolence, those who might have been useful, and were disposed to be friendly.
After crossing the Euphrates, and taking Zenodotium in Mesopotamia (a success on which he prided himself as if it were a great exploit), he did not follow up the attack upon Parthia, but gave time to the enemy to assemble his forces and concert his plans and choose his ground.
He was advised by Cassius to keep the banks of the Euphrates, to make himself master of Seleuceia (which was situate on a canal connecting the Euphrates and the Tigris), and to take Babylon, since both these cities were always at enmity with the Parthians.
He chose, however, after leaving 7000 infantry and 1000 cavalry in garrison in Mesopotamia, to recross the Euphrates with the rest of his forces, and to pass the winter in northern Syria. In Syria he behaved more like a revenue officer than a general.
He omitted to muster and exercise the troops, or to review the armour and military stores.
It is true that he ordered the neighbouring tribes and chieftains to furnish recruits and bring supplies, but these requisitions he willingly commuted for money. Nor was his cupidity satisfied by such gains. At Hierapolis there was a wealthy temple, dedicated to the Syrian goddess Derceto or Atargatis (the Ashtaroth of Scripture), who presided over the elements of nature and the productive seeds of things. (Plin. Nat. 5.19
; Strab. xvi. ix fin.
) This temple he plundered of its treasures, which it took several days to examine and weigh. One of the ill omens mentioned by Plutarch occurred here. Crassus had a son Publius, who had lately arrived from Italy with 1000 Gallic cavalry to join his father's army.
The son, on going out of the temple, stumbled on the threshold, and the father, who was following, fell over him. Josephus (J. AJ 14.7
, Bell. Jud.
1.8) gives a circumstantial account of the plunder of the temple at Jerusalem by Crassus, but the narrative is not free from suspicion, for Jerusalem lay entirely out of the route of Crassus, and was at a distance of between 400 and 500 Roman miles from the winter quarters of the army; and we believe that no historian but Josephus mentions the occurrence, if we except the author of the Latin work " De Bello Judaico," (1.21,) which is little more than an enlarged translation of Josephus, and passes under the name of Hegesippus. To the divine judgment for his sacrilege on this occasion, Dr. Prideaux (Connexion,
part 2) attributes the subsequent infatuation of Crassis.
According to this account, Eleazar, treasurer of the temple, had, for security, put a bar of gold of the weight of 300 Hebrew minae into a hollowed beam, and to this beam was attached the veil which separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. Perceiving that Crassus intended to plunder the temple, Eleazar endeavoured to compound with him, by giving him the bar of gold on condition that he would spare the other treasures. This Crassus promised with an oath, but had no sooner received the gold, than he seized, not only 2000 talents in money, which Pompey had left untouched, but everything else that he thought worth carrying away, to the value, of 8000 talents more.
Orodes (Arsaces XIV.), the king of Parthia, was himself engaged with part of his army, in an invasion of Armenia, but he despatched Surenas, the most illustrious of his nobles and a young accomplished general, into Mesopotamia with the rest of his forces, to hold Crassus in check.
Before proceeding to hostilities, he sent ambassadors to Crassus to say that if the Roman general made war by the authority of the senate, the war could only terminate by the destruction of one or other of the parties, but if at the prompting of his own desire, the king would take compassion on his old age, and allow him to withdraw his troops in safety. Crassus replied that he would give his answer at Seleuceia. " Sooner," said the ambassador, Vagises, " shall hair grow on the palm of this hand, than thy eyes behold Seleuceia." Artavasdes, the king of Armenia, requested Crassus to join him in Armenia, in order that they might oppose Orodes with their united forces; he pointed out to the Roman general that Armenia being a rough mountainous country, the cavalry, of which the Parthian army was almost wholly composed, would there be useless, and he promised to take care that in Armenia the Roman army should be supplied with all necessaries. In Mesopotamia, on the other hand, the Romans would be exposed to extreme danger on their march through sandy deserts, where they would be unable to procure water and provisions. Crassus, however, determined to march through Mesopotamia, and engaged Artavasdes to supply him with auxiliary troops ; but the king never sent the promised forces, excusing himself on the ground that they were necessary for his own defence against Orodes.
Crassus, in pursuing the imprudent course which he determined upon, was misled by a crafty Arabian chieftain, called by Plutarch, Ariamnes. 1
This Arab had formerly served under Pompey, and was well known to many in the army of Crassus, for which reason he was selected by Surenas to betray the Romans.
He offered himself as a guide to conduct them by the shortest way to the enemy.
He told the Roman general, that the Parthians durst not stand before him ; that unless he made haste, they would escape from him, and rob him of the fruits of victory. Cassius, the legate, suspected Ariamnes of treachery, and warned Crassus, instead of following him, to retire to the mountains; but Crassus, deceived by his fair words and fooled by his flattery, was led by him to the open plains of Mesopotamia. Ariamnes, having accomplished his object, seized a frivolous pretext, and rode off to inform Surenas that the Roman army was delivered into his hands, and Crassus soon learned from his scouts, that the Parthians were advancing.
The conduct of Crassus in this emergency was marked by irresolution.
He first drew up his infantry in line, and placed his cavalry at the wings--an arrangement which would have obviated the murderous success of the Parthian archers, and would have prevented the troops from being outflanked by the Parthian horse; but he then altered his mind, and formed the infantry in a solid square flanked by squadrons of cavalry. To his son he gave one wing, to Cassius the other, and placed himself in the centre.
In the battle that ensued, the Parthians exhibited their usual tactics, advancing with terrific shouts and the noise of kettle-drums. They worried the densely marshalled Romans with showers of arrows and javelins. every one of which struck its man. Crassus was disheartened at finding that there was no chance of their missiles being exhausted, as a number of camels were laden with a large supply.
By feigned retreats, during which they continued to discharge their arrows, they led the Romans into disadvantageous positions; then they suddenly rallied and charged, while the enemy was in disorder and blinded by dust.
For the details of the engagement, which was distinguished by errors and misfortunes and unavailing bravery, we must refer to the account of Plutarch. Crassus lost his son in the battle, and endeavoured to encourage the soldiers under a calamity which, he said, concerned him alone.
He talked to them of honour and their country, but the faint and languid shout with which they responded to his harangue, attested their dejection. When night came on the Parthians retired, it being contrary to their custom to pass the night near an enemy, because they never fortified their camps, and because their horses and arrows could be of little use in the dark.
In this miserable state of affairs, Octavius and Cassius found Crassus lying upon the ground, as if he were stunned and senseless. They held a council of war, and determined to retreat at once, leaving the wounded on the field. Crassus, with such of the troops as had strength to march, retired to Carrhae (the Haran of Scripture), and, on the following morning, the Parthians entered the Roman camp, and massacred the sick and wounded, to the number of 4000. They then pursued and overtook four cohorts, which had lost their way in the dark, and put all but twenty men to the sword.
Surenas, having ascertained that Crassus and the principal officers of the Roman army were shut up in Carrhae, and fearing that they might altogether escape, again had recourse to stratagem and treachery. Crassus was induced to take a guide, Andromachus, who acted as a traitor, and led the army into dangerous defiles. Having escaped from this snare, he was forced by the mutinous threats of the troops, though his eyes were open to the inevitable result, to accept a perfidious invitation from Surenas, who offered a pacific interview, and held out hopes that the Romans would be allowed to retire without molestation.
At the interview, a horse, with rich trappings, was led out as a present from the king to Crassus, who was forcibly placed upon the saddle. Octavius, seeing plainly that it was the object of the Parthians to take Crassus alive, seized the horse by the bridle.
A scuffle ensued, and Crassus fell by some unknown hand. Whether he was despatched by an enemy, or by some friend who desired to save him from the disgrace of becoming a prisoner is uncertain. In the course of this expedition,--one of the most disastrous in which the Romans were ever engaged against a foreign enemy,--Crassus is said to have lost 20,000 men killed, and 10,000 taken prisoners.
At the time of his death, Artavasdes had made peace with Orodes, and had given one of his daughters in marriage to Pacorus, the son of the Parthian. They were sitting together at the nuptial banquet, and listening to the representation of the Bacchae of Euripides, when a messenger arrived from Surenas, and brought in the head and hand of Crassus. To the great delight of the spectators, passages from the drama (1. 1168 &c.) were applied by the actors to the lifeless head. Orodes afterwards caused melted gold to be poured into the mouth of his fallen enemy, saying, " Sate thvself now with that metal of which in life thou wert so greedy." (D. C. 40.27
; Floius, in. 11.)
(Plutarch, Crassus ;
Dio Cass. xxxvii.--xl. ; Cic. Epist.
passim. The Historia Romanorum Parthica,
usually attributed to Appian, is a compilation from Plutarch. All the authorities are collected in Drumann, Gesch. Roms
iv. pp. 71-115.)