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Crassus, Clau'dius

23. L. Licinius Crassus, L. F., the orator. His pedigree is unknown. He was born B. C. 140, was educated by his father with the greatest care, and received instruction from the celebrated historian and jurist, L. Caelius Antipater. (Cic. Brut. 26.) At a very early age he began to display his oratorical ability. At the age of twenty-one (or, according to Tacitus, Dial. de Orat. 100.34, two years earlier) he accused C. Carbo, a man of high nobility and eloquence, who was hated by the aristocratic party to which Crassus belonged. Val. Maximus (6.5.6) gives an instance of his honourable conduct in this case. When the slave of Carbo brought to Crassus a desk filled with his master's papers, Crassus sent back the desk to Carbo with the seal unbroken, together with his slave in chains. Carbo escaped condemnation by poisoning himself with cantharides (Cic. Fam. 9.21, Brut. 27) ; and Crassus, pitying his fate, felt some remorse at the eagerness and success of his accusation. (Cic. Ver. 3.1.) In the following year (B. C. 118) he defended the proposal of a law for establishing a new colony at Narbo in Gaul. The measure was opposed by the senate, who feared that by the assignation of lands to the poorer citizens, the aerarium would suffer from a diminution of the rents of the ager publicus; but, on this occasion, Crassus preferred the quest of popularity to the reputation of consistent adherence to the aristocracy. (Cic. Brut. 43, de Off 2.18.) By eloquence above his years, he succeeded in carrying the law, and proceeded himself to found the colony. In B. C. 114, he undertook the defence of his kinswoman, the vestal Licinia, who, with two other vestals, Marcia and Aemilia, were accused of incest ; but, though upon a former trial his client had been acquitted by L. Caecilius Mettius, pontifex maximus, and the whole college of pontiffs, the energy and ability of his defence were unable to prevail against the severity of L. Cassius, the scopulus reorum, who was appointed inquisitor by the people for the purpose of reviewing the former lenient sentence. (Vell. 1.15; Cic. de Orat. 2.55, de Off. 2.18; Macrob. 1.10; Clinton, Fasti, B. C. 114; Ascon. in Mil. p. 46, ed. Orelli.) In his quaestorship he was the colleague of Q. Mucius Scaevola, with whom, as colleague, be served every other office except the tribunate of the plebs and the censorship. In his quaestorship he travelled through Macedonia to Athens on his return from Asia, which seems to have been his province. In Asia he had listened to the teaching of Scepsius Metrodorus, and at Athens he received instruction from Charmadas and other philosophers and rhetoricians; but he did not remain so long as he intended in that city, from unreasonable resentment at the refusal of the Athenians to repeat the solemnization of the mysteries, which were over two days before his arrival. (Cic. de Orat. 3.20.) After his return to Rome, we find him engaged in pleading the causes of his friends. Thus, he defended Sergius Orata, who was accused of appropriating the public waters for the use of his oyster fisheries. (V. Max. 9.1.1.) He was engaged, on behalf of the same Orata, in another cause, in which the following interesting question arose :--How far is a vendor, selling a house to a person from whom he had previously purchased it, liable to damages for not expressly mentioning in the conveyance a defect in title that existed at the time of the former sale, and of which the purchaser might therefore be supposed to be congnizant? (Cic. de Off. 3.16, de Orat. 1.39.) He was tribune of the people in B. C. 107, but the period of this office was not distinguished by anything remarkable. In B. C. 106 he spoke in favour of the lex Servilia, by which it was proposed to restore to the equites the judicia, which were then in the hands of the senatorian order. The contests for the power of being selected as judices, which divided the different orders, prove how much the administration of justice was perverted by partiality and faction. As there is much confusion in the history of the judicia, it may be proper to mention some of the changes which took place about this period. In B. C. 122, by the lex Sempronia of C. Gracchus, the judicia were transferred from the senate to the equites. In B. C. 106, by the lex Servilia of Q. Servilius Caepio, they were restored to the senate; and it is not correct to say (with Walter, Gesch. des Romischen Rechts, i. p. 244, and others), that by this lex Servilia both orders were admitted to share the judicia. The lex Servilia of Caepio had a very brief existence ; for about B. C. 104, by the lex Servilia of C. Servilius Glaucia, the judicia were again taken from the senate and given to the knights. Much error has arisen from the existence of two laws of the same name and of nearly the same date, but exactly opposite in their enactments. The speech of Ceasgus for the lex Servilia of Caepio was one of remarkable power and eloquence (Cic. Brut. 43, de Orat. 1.52), and expressed the strength of his devotion to the aristocratic party. It was probably in this speech that he attacked Memmius (Cic. de Orat. 2.59, 66) who was a strenuous opponent of the rogation of Caepio. In B. C. 103 he was curule aedile, and with his colleague, Q. Scaevola, gave splendid games, in which pillars of foreign marble were exhibited, and lion fights were introduced. (Cic. de Off. 2.16; Plin. Nat. 36.3, 8.16. s.20.) After being praetor and augur, he became a candidate for the consulship, but he studiously kept away from the presence of his father-in-law, Q Scaevola, the augur, not wishing that one whom he so respected should be a witness of what he considered the degradation of his canvass. (V. Max. 4.5.4.) He was elected, B. C. 95, with his constant colleague, Q. Seaevola, the pontifex maximus, who must be carefully distinguished from the augur of the same name. During their consulship was passed the Lex Licinia Mucia de Civibus regundis, to prevent persons passing as citizens who were not entitled to that character, Vand to compel all who were not citizens to depart from Rome. The rigour and inhospitality of this law seems to have been one of the promoting causes of the social war. (Ascon. in Cic. pro Cornel. ; Cic. de Off. 3.11.) During the term of his office, he had occasion to defend Q. Servilius Caepio, who was hated by the equites, and was accused of majestas by the tribune C. Norbanus (Cic. Brut. 35); but Caepio was condemned. Crassus was now anxious to seek for renown in another field. He hastened to his province, Hither Gaul, and explored the Alps in search of an enemy; but he found no opposition, and was obliged to content himself with the subjugation of some petty tribes, by whose depredations he asserted that the province was disturbed. For this trifling success he was not ashamed to ask a triumph, and would perhaps have obtained his demand from the senate, had not his colleague Scaevola opposed such a misapplication of the honour. (V. Max. 3.7.6 ; Cic. in Pison. 26.) With this exception, his conduct in the administration of his province was irreproachable. This was admitted by C. Carbo (the son of the Carbo whom he had formerly accused), who accompanied him to Gaul, in order to seek out the materials of an accusation; but Crassus disarmed his opposition by courting inquiry, and employing Carbo in the planning and execution of affairs.

One of the most celebrated private causes in the annals of Roman jurisprudence was the contest for an inheritance between M. Curius and M. Coponius, which was heard before the centumviri under the presidency of the praetor T. Manilius, in the year B. C. 93. Crassus, the greatest orator of the day, pleaded the cause of Curius, while Q. Scaevola, the greatest living lawyer, supported the claim of Coponius. The state of the case was this. A testator died, supposing his wife to be pregnant, and having directed by will that if the son, who should be born within the next ten months, should die before becoming his own guardian, 1 M. Curius should succeed as heir in his place. (Cic. Brut. 52, 53.) No son was born.--Scaevola argued that this was a casus omissus, and insisted upon the strict law, according to which Curius could have no claim unless a son were first born, and then died while under guardianship. Crassus contended for the equitable construction, according to which the testator could not be supposed to intend any difference between the case of no son being horn, and the case of a son being born and dying before arriving at the age of puberty. The equitable construction contended for by Crassus was approved, and Curius gained the inheritance.

In B. C. 92 he was made censor with Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus. A new practice had sprung up in Rome of sending youths to the schools of persons who called themselves Latin rhetoricians. Crassus disapproved the novelty, as tending to idleness, and calculated rather to encourage effrontery than to sharpen intellect. He thought that the Latins in almost every valuable acquirement excelled the Greeks, and was displeased to see his countrymen stoop to an inferior imitation of Grecian customs. The censors suppressed the schools by a proclamation, which may be found in the Dialogue de Oratoribus and in Gellius (15.11), and deserves to be referred to as an example of the form of a censorian edict. Though the two censors concurred in this measure, they were men of very different habits and tempers, and passed the period of their office in strife and discord. Crassus was fond of elegance and luxury. He had a house upon the Palatium, which, though it yielded in magnificence to the mansion of Q. Catulus upon the same hill, and was considerably inferior to that of C. Aquilius upon the Viminal, was remarkable for its size, the taste of its furniture, and the beauty of its grounds. It was adorned with pillars of Hymettian marble, with expensive vases, and triclinia inlaid with brass. He had two goblets, carved by the hand of Mentor, which served rather for ornament than for use. His gardens were provided with fish-ponds, and some noble lotus trees shaded his walks with their ample foliage. Ahenobarbus, his colleague, found fault with such corruption of manners (Plin. Nat. 17.1), estimated his house at a hundred million (sestertium millies), or according to Valerius Maximus (9.1.4) six million (sexagies sestertio) sesterces, and complained of his crying for the loss of a lamprey, as if it had been a daughter. It was a tame lamprey, which used to come at the call of Crassus, and feed out of his hand. Crassus made a public speech against his colleague, and by his great powers of ridicule, turned him into derision ; jested upon his name (Sueton. Nero, 2), and to the accusation of weeping for a lamprey, replied, that it was more than Ahenobarbus had done upon the loss of any of his three wives. (Aelian, Ael. NA 8.4.) On many occasions, he availed himself of his power of exciting a laugh against his opponent (Cic. de Or. 2.59, 60, 70), and was not scrupulous as to the mode. Thus, though he carefully avoided everything that might impair his own dignity, and might seem to his audience to savour of buffoonery, he sometimes jested upon personal deformities, as may be seen by reference to his sally upon L. Aelius Lamia in his speech for C. Aculeo (Cic. de Or. 2.65), and his answer to the troublesome witness, as reported by Pliny. (H.N. 35.4.) Shortly before his death, he spoke in favour of Cn. Plancus in opposition to the charge of M. Junius Brutus the Accuser. [BRUTUS, No. 14.] Brutus, in allusion to his fine house and effeminate manners, called him the Palatine Venus, and taunted him with political inconsistency for depreciating the senate in his speech for the Narbonese colony, and flattering that body in his speech for the lex Servilia. The successful repartee of Crassus is well known from being recorded by Cicero (Cic. de Orat. 2.54, pro Cluent. 51) and Quintilian (6.3.44). His last speech was delivered in the senate in B. C. 91, against L. Marcius Philippus, the consul, an enemy of the optimates. Philippus, in opposing the measures of M. Livius Drusus, imprudently asked how, with such a senate, it was possible to carry on the government of the commonwealth. Crassus fixed upon this expression, and on that day seemed to excel himself in the vehemence of his assault upon the consul. Philippus was so irritated by his bitter words, that he ordered his lictor to seize some of the goods of Crassus by way of pledge,--a strong measure, adopted usually by the highest magistrates to constrain the performance of public duties, or to punish contumacious contempt of public authority. Crassus repelled the lictor, and said that he could not respect the character of consul in a man who refused to treat him as a senator. “If you want to restrain me, it will not do to seize my goods. 2 You must tear out this tongue. Even then, with my very breath I will continue to denounce your lawless conduct.” At his dictation a vote of the senate was passed by which they vindicated their own patriotism; but the passionate vehemence of this contention shattered his health and brought on a fever. He returned to his dwelling, was seized with a shivering fit, and in seven days was dead.

Assessments of the

Such was the end of one of the greatest orators that Rome ever produced. In an age abounding with orators he stood pre-eminent. (Vell. 2.9.) The rougher style of Coruncanius, Cato, and the Gracchi, had been succeeded by a medium style, which, without sacrificing strength to artificial rules, was more polished and ornamented. His sentences were short and well-turned. In debate he was self-possessed and pertinacious, and his lively wit gave a peculiar zest to his reply. He employed words in common use, but he always employed the best and most proper words. His mode of stating his facts and arguments was wonderfully clear and concise. Though perornatus, he was perbrevis. In early life he had disciplined his taste by the excellent practice of carefully translating into Latin the most celebrated specimens of Grecian eloquence. In the treatise De Oratore, Cicero introduces him as one of the principal speakers, and he is understood to express Cicero's own sentiments. Few of his speeches were preserved in writing, and of those few the greater part, if we may judge from the fragments that remain, consisted of senatorial orations and harangues to the people. His chief excellence seems to have lain in this style rather than in judicial oratory; yet, in the judgment of Cicero, he was eloquentium jurisperitissimus..

Further Information

Guil. Grotius, de Vit. JCtorum, i. 7.9; Meyer, Oratorum Romanorum Fragmenta, pp. 291-317; Drumann, Gesch. Roms. iv. p. 62.

1 * " Antequam in suam tutelam pervenisset," i. e. before attaining the age of 14 years, at which age a son would cease to be under the guardianship of another. The phrase has been misunderstood by Drumann.

2 * " Non tibi illa sunt caedenda." (Cic. de Or. 3.1.) Caedenda here implies seizure not sale. It is probable that, as a symbol of taking legal possession, the officer struck the goods, or marked them with notches, and that the ceremony was analogous to the manus injectio in personal arrest.

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