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Marcus Licinius Crassus

Marcus Licinius Crassus (115 - 53 BC) was the son of a Censor and of a prestigious Plebeian family. While of the highest order of equestrian social standing, the Crassus family was of modest wealth, comparable to others of the same order. The family sided with the Optimates, and Sulla, in opposition to Marius and Cinna. This political turn of events was not only a dangerous set of circumstances for Crassus, but also his opportunity for fame and fortune.

While in his late 20's, in 87 BC, Marius and Cinna took control of Rome while Sulla was fighting the Mithridatic War. In the bloodbath that followed, the Crassus family was at the top of the list of targets. His father and one of his brothers were both killed, while he managed to escape with a small party to Spain. His father had served as Praetor and established a small client base there. One such client, Vibius Pacacius hid Crassus in a cave on his property for as long as eight months. Provided with food and daily needs through Pacacius' slaved, Crassus was able to wait out the Consulships of Cinna.

When Cinna died in 83 BC, and Sulla prepared to march on Rome, for the second time, Crassus eagerly prepared to join him. He personally raised a small force of 2,500 men and marched to Italy to join Sulla. At the Battle of the Colline Gate, Crassus was pivotal in turning the tide for Sulla, but favoritism showed towards Pompey began a life long rivalry between the two men. While Crassus built a solid reputation as a soldier, Pompey was dubbed with the title Magnus (the Great) and was a personal favorite of Sulla.

After Sulla took power in Rome his supporters fed on the opportunities provided by his policy of proscription and confiscation. None of these men took more advantage than Crassus. He bought up land and properties of the condemned at cheap prices and made a fortune in mining and slave trading. He maintained his own private force of slaves which he used as a fire-fighting brigade. However, his real intention was not providing a public service, but bargaining people into selling property cheaply. His troop would arrive at the scene of a burning building, and Crassus would bargain with the owner to buy the property. The longer the owner resisted, the longer Crassus would lower the price and let the property burn on. At times when an owner refused to sell, his slaves would let the property burn completely to the ground. While Crassus would eventually make himself the richest man in Rome through these less than the ethical methods, Pompey established himself as Rome's premier general.

Unable to match Pompey in sheer military capability, Crassus instead focused on pure politics. He followed the cursus honorum to the letter of the law and built a strong client base through good random acts of kindness. From influencing the courts to providing personal loans or support for political campaigns, Crassus built a powerful following. By the time Pompey was deeply embroiled with the formidable Sertorius in Spain, Crassus had himself elected as Praetor. Social conditions were deteriorating again with the slave population and Crassus was at the right place at the right time. As the Third Servile War, or Spartacus Slave Rebellion, broke out, Crassus was in prime position to increase his power base.

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Did you know?

An Equestrian (Latin eques, plural equites) was a member of one of the two upper social classes in the Roman Republic and early Roman Empire.


Marcus Licinius Crassus - Related Topic: Roman Tax


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