CRASSUS, MARCUS LICINIUS

112-53 B.C.

Roman soldier and administrator

Together with Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompey, Marcus Licinius Crassus formed the First Triumvirate*. By doing so, the three men planned to dominate Roman politics in the late Roman Republic* and reduce the power of the Senate.

Born into a noble family, Marcus Crassus fled to Spain after his father’s death at the hands of a political opponent in 87 B.C. Two years later, he joined the dictator Sulla and acquired a considerable fortune. He rose through the ranks of government to a position of leadership in the 70s B.C.Although he defeated the rebellion led by the slave Spartacus in 72-71 B.C., his rival Pompey took credit for the victory. Crassus was deeply offended and refused to support Pompey thereafter. Both men were elected consuls* in 70 B.C. While Pompey waged war against Rome’s enemies in the east, Crassus offered his patronage to Caesar, then a young political leader on the rise. Late in 60 B.C., Caesar asked Crassus and Pompey to join him in forming a triumvirate to dominate the government for their mutual advantage. Both agreed, and the First Triumvirate was established. In 56 B.C., Crassus, Caesar, and Pompey renewed their alliance. They agreed that Caesar would retain command of the army for five years, and that Crassus and Pompey would retain their positions as consuls and would be given special, long-term commands in Spain and Syria respectively. Ever ready to compete with Pompey and match his influence, Crassus set out for Syria in 53 B.C. to do battle with the Parthian empire. The Parthians were the only major power threatening Rome’s frontiers at that time, and Crassus hoped to achieve military glory and political power by defeating them. However, his army was outmaneuvered at the Battle of Carrhae in Mesopotamia. Crassus was killed, the Roman army annihilated, and its standards* lost. (Roman dignity would not recover until many years later under the rule of Augustus.) Crassus’s death brought Caesar and Pompey into an even more intense political duel that eventually led to civil war. {See also Rome, History of; Triumvirates, Roman.)

* triumvirate ruling body of three

* Roman Republic Rome during the period from 509 B.C. to 31 B.C., when popular assemblies annually elected their governmental officials

* consul one of two chief governmental officials of Rome, chosen annually and serving for a year

* standard flag or banner of an army

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