Study Guide for Plutarch's Life of Crassus
Text taken from Thomas North and/or John Dryden
Study Guide by Anne White
Crassus (ca. 115 B.C. - 53 B.C.)
You are about to meet a wealthy and powerful ruler from the last days of the Roman Republic; someone who crushed a world-famous slave rebellion; and someone who, as the Roman governor of Syria, led his army to one of the worst defeats in Roman history. You may admire him or not; you may like him or not; but you will not forget him.
Who was Crassus?
Marcus Licinius Crassus, also called Marcus Licinius Crassus Dives, was a general, a politician, and one of the richest men in history (Dives means "wealthy"). He was one of the First Triumvirate, a group of three leaders that also included Julius Caesar and Pompey.
The World of Crassus
The first century B.C. in Rome was a period of huge growth, but also of economic and military upheaval. Overseas conquests meant a great number of foreign captives; so small, family-run farms competed with larger operations based on slave labour. The lack of small land owners forced the army to accept soldiers from the poorer classes, who then had to be paid more so that they could afford weapons. These soldiers considered themselves employees of the army (rather than citizens who occasionally had to fight): their loyalty was to their general, perhaps even more than to Rome itself.
Rome also became a dangerous place, as power shifted back and forth between Gaius Marius and his former lieutenant Lucius Cornelius Sulla, and as political "enemies" were repeatedly punished by proscription (see the Top Vocabulary Terms).
The Government of the Roman Republic
The Roman Empire did not formally exist until Octavius Caesar (later Caesar Augustus) became Emperor in 27 B.C. However, though it was still the era of the Roman Republic, Rome did have an empire because of the large amount of foreign territory it had acquired. For clarity, we will call it the small-e empire.
One class division was family-based, between the patricians (the nobility) and the plebeians (common people). There were also property- or wealth-based classes such as the senatores, who owned large amounts of land. The next level down, the equestrian class (in North's translation, the knights of Rome), was a "business class," made up of those who could afford horses and who therefore made up the cavalry in times of war. Besides the equestrian class, there were three lower classes of property owners; and, lowest of all, the proletarii.
Were the senatores the same as the senators?
Often, but the two were not identical. Over the centuries, and even within the Republic era, both the size of the Senate and the requirements for membership (such as age and wealth) changed. Some plebeians became senators along with the patricians. Those elected to magistracies (see below) were also included in the Senate.
What was an aedile, a quaestor, a consul, a censor?
The elected positions, or magistracies, in Rome included, starting at the bottom, quaestor, aedile, praetor, and consul. There were various numbers of each of these: for example, two consuls were elected each year. Ex-consuls could become censors; and a consul could become dictator if the need (usually a great emergency) arose.
Censors were technically ranked below consuls and praetors, but the office was considered sacred and carried more dignity than that of the other magistracies. Their power in the area of morality allowed them to make decisions that did not have to be approved by the consuls. Two censors were elected for a period of five years, and they had to be chosen at the same time; if one censor died, the other had to step down as well, and two others would be chosen. There were often periods of time when there were no censors at all.
What was the praetor urbanis?
The praetor urbanis was next in rank only to the consuls. He could summon the Senate or organize military defenses in their absence.
Who were the tribunes?
The duty of a non-military tribune (tribune of the plebeians, or tribune of the people) was to protect the common people from any individual or group (such as the nobles) who might suppress their rights. This position was not part of the junior-senior ranking of magistrates such as quaestor and consul; it was an office voted on by the common people (plebeians).
Who Was Gaius Julius Caesar?
Julius Caesar was a political leader and general during the last days of the Roman Republic. Over his long career, he held every possible high civic, military, and even religious position in Rome. He was also a noted orator and writer. (An orator was a public speaker, usually someone who used those skills in political or legal matters.)
Who was Pompey?
Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus or Pompey the Great, a Roman statesman and general, and the subject of Plutarch's Life of Pompey.
The Relatives of Crassus
The names of the men in Crassus's family are confusing in their similarity; however, most of them will not be referred to after the first two lessons.
Publius Licinius Crassus (#1): father of Crassus; censor in 89 B.C.
Publius Licinius Crassus (#2): one of his brothers
Lucius Licinius Crassus (#2): his other brother. Both brothers died at around the same time, and Plutarch says that Crassus married Tertullia, the widow of one of the brothers.
Lucius Licinius Crassus (#1): another member of the Crassus family, and a famous orator; the teacher and mentor of the orator Cicero. He was consul in 95 B.C., and censor in 92 B.C.
Marcus Licinius Crassus (#2): one of Crassus's sons
Publius Licinius Crassus (#3): his other son
Who were all those other people whose names started with "C?"
Cassius (#1): Gaius Cassius Longinus, consul in 73 B.C. with Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus. He then acted as proconsul (governor) of the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul in 72 B.C. He may have been the father of Cassius (#2) who fought with Crassus at the Battle of Carrhae, and who is better known as one of the assassins of Julius Caesar.
Cato: Marcus Porcius Cato Uticensis, or Cato the Younger, was a Roman statesman and the subject of one of Plutarch's Lives.
Catulus: Quintus Lutatius Catulus, censor along with Crassus in 65 B.C.
Cicero: Marcus Tullius Cicero was a Roman statesman and orator.
Cinna: Lucius Cornelius Cinna, a military general who was consul four times, and who was known for his support of Gaius Marius against Sulla. He died during a mutiny of his soldiers in 84 B.C.
On the Map
Place names are listed under this heading. For consistency, I have used Dryden's spelling for places instead of North's. Charlotte Mason suggested using resources such as Dent's Atlas of Ancient & Classical Geography, which can be found online.
Top Vocabulary Terms in the Life of Crassus
If you become familiar with these words, you are well on the way to understanding the vocabulary of the Life of Crassus. They will not be repeated in the lessons.
1. avarice: greed; extreme desire for wealth
2. divers: several, various; various people
3. the Forum: the large public space in Rome where business was done and speeches were made; sometimes translated "the marketplace"
4. footmen: foot soldiers, also called /infantry// or simply /foot//. Soldiers mounted on horses are /cavalry//, but are also referred to as /horse//.
5. gladiator: also translated "fencer." Gladiators were slaves who were trained to fight against each other or against wild animals, for the entertainment of the citizens.
6. lictor(s): In the Roman Republic, the lictors were official bodyguards who carried the fasces, bundles of rods with axe heads sticking out of them. These were mainly a symbol of power, but they could also be used as weapons.
7. ostentation: ceremony, lavish display; "showing off"
8. praetor: an elected position in Rome, ranked just below consul (see What was an aedile, a quaestor, a consul, a censor?) However, the word is also used in this story to refer to a praetor's frequent posting as governor of a province such as Spain.
9. proscription: confiscation of property and a death warrant, or exile if they could escape.
10. retire: In this Life, it almost always means to retreat (from battle).
11. spoil or spoils: loot, treasure. To spoil a place is to raid it for supplies or treasure.
12. succour: aid, help; occasionally "safety"
13. talent: an amount of money, measured by its weight in gold or silver. The Roman talent was a third larger than the Athenian version, and about half the size of the talent mentioned in the New Testament; one Roman talent weighed just over 71 lb. (32.3 kg).
14. usury: unfair financial advantage; charging very high interest on loans
15. valiant: brave, courageous. One who is valiant shows valour.
16. victuals (pronounced "vittles"): food, supplies
Plutarch begins the Life of Crassus with very general notes, which may be confusing for those unfamiliar with the story. Lesson One does give some hints about Crassus's life just before and after General Sulla took power in Rome. Lesson Two moves into a flashback that makes Crassus's goals a bit clearer.
censor: see introductory notes. The fact that Crassus was the son of a censor who had also been honoured with a triumph suggests that, although he is described as living frugally with his siblings, his family must have been of fairly high status. Crassus was actually from the plebeian rather than the patrician class (see the introductory notes for this study); but he belonged to the new class of "plebeian nobles" who had earned "nobility" for their families.
triumph: A celebration parade to honour success in battle
temperance: self-control, without extremes or extravagances
vice: sin, fault
corn: grain such as wheat or barley
his Parthian expedition: Crassus, late in his life, fought against the Parthians (Lesson Seven).
Sulla seized the city: see introductory notes and Historic Occasions.
accounting them booty and spoils: viewing what he had seized as loot taken from a defeated enemy
eminent: respected, prominent
scriveners: scribes, secretaries
For economy, which in things inanimate is but money-making, when exercised over men becomes policy: The art (or science) of managing a household is basically economics when you are handling only things, but politics when you are dealing with people.
his own proper goods: his personal wealth
called it in: called for its repayment
eloquence: the art of public speaking. Dryden translates this "rhetoric."
pains and industry: hard work
a thing indifferent: something that didn't matter
Sulla: A Roman general, the rival of Marius. When Sulla took power in 82 B.C., he needed a way to pay back those in his army who had helped him gain the victory; so he began a time of tyranny in which many of his enemies were executed and their properties seized.
Marius: A consul and military general. In 87 B.C., the leaders of the Marian party ordered the deaths of many enemies, including Crassus's father and brother.
Pompey, Caesar, and Cicero: see introductory notes
Alexander: A close companion of Crassus; possibly a longtime member of the household who may have had a hand in Crassus's education.
c. 115 B.C.: Birth of Crassus
106 B.C.: Birth of Pompey
100 B.C.: Birth of Julius Caesar
91 B.C.: Death of Crassus's relative Lucius Licinius Crassus (#1) (see introductory notes)
91-89 B.C.: The Social War, in which one of Crassus's brothers, Publius Licinius Crassus (#2), died
89 B.C.: Publius Licinius Crassus (#1) (father of Crassus) was censor
87 B.C.: Death of Crassus's father and his second brother
87-84 B.C.: Crassus hid himself in Spain
Between 86-82 B.C.: Possible birthdates of Crassus's two sons.
82/81 B.C.-79 B.C.: Sulla's dictatorship in Rome
On the Map
A map showing the Roman Republic in its final years (in the first century B.C.) should be referred to as needed.
Parthia, a region of northeastern Iran, is mentioned in this lesson but does not become central to the story until later.
Marcus Crassus was the son of a censor, who had also received the honour of triumph: but he himself was brought up in a little house with his two brothers, which were both married in their father's and mother's lifetime, and kept house together; all which, perhaps, was not the least reason of his own temperance and moderation in diet. One of his brothers dying, he married his widow, by whom he had his children; neither was there in these respects any of the Romans who lived a more orderly life than he did.
[omission for mature content]
People were wont to say that the many virtues of Crassus were darkened by the one vice of avarice; and indeed he seemed to have no other but that; as the note of that only did hide and cover all his other vices. The arguments in proof of his avarice were the vastness of his estate, and the manner of raising it; for whereas at first he was not worth above three hundred talents, yet, though in the course of his political life he dedicated the tenth of all he had to Hercules, and feasted the people, and gave to every citizen corn enough to serve him three months, upon casting up his accounts before he went upon his Parthian expedition, he found his possessions to amount to seven thousand one hundred talents; most of which, if we may scandal him with a truth, he got by fire and blood, making his advantages of the public calamities.
For when Sulla seized the city, and exposed to sale the goods of those that he had caused to be slain, accounting them booty and spoils, and, indeed, calling them so too; and was desirous of making as many, and as eminent men as he could, partakers in the crime; Crassus never left off taking of gifts, nor buying of things of Sulla for profit. Moreover, observing how extremely subject the city was to fire and falling down of houses, by reason of their height and their standing so near together, he bought slaves that were builders and architects; and he collected these to the number of more than five hundred. Afterwards, when the fire took any house, he would buy the house while it was a-burning, and the next houses adjoining to it, which the owners sold for little, being then in danger as they were: so that by process of time, the most part of the houses in Rome came to be his. But notwithstanding that he had so many slaves as his workmen, he never built any house from the ground, saving his own house wherein he dwelt. He used to say that those that were addicted to building would undo themselves soon enough without the help of other enemies.
And though he had many silver mines, and much valuable land, and labourers to work in it, yet all this was nothing in comparison of his slaves, such a number and variety did he possess of excellent readers, scriveners, gold and silversmiths, bankers, receivers, stewards and table-waiters, whose instruction he always attended to himself, superintending in person while they learned, and teaching them himself, accounting it the main duty of a master to look over the servants that are, indeed, the living tools of housekeeping; and in this, indeed, he was in the right, in thinking, as he used to say, that servants ought to look after things, and the master after them. For economy, which in things inanimate is but money-making, when exercised over men becomes policy.
But as his judgement was good in the other, so was it very bad in this: that he thought no man rich, and wealthy, that could not maintain a whole army with his own proper goods. For the war (as King Archidamus was wont to say) is not made with any certainty of expense: and therefore there must no sufficiency of riches be limited for the maintenance of the same. But herein Marius and he differed far in opinion; for when he had distributed fourteen acres of land a man, and understood that some desired more, he made them this answer: "The gods forbid any Roman should think that land little which indeed is enough to suffice for his maintenance."
Crassus, however, was very eager to be hospitable to strangers, for his house was open to them all; and he lent his friends money without interest, but called it in precisely at the time; so that his kindness was often thought worse than the paying the interest would have been.
Indeed when he bade any man to come to his table, his fare was but even ordinary, without all excess: but his fine and cleanly service, and the good entertainment he gave every man that came to him, pleased them better than if he had been more plentiful of diet and dishes.
As for his learning and study, he chiefly studied eloquence, and what would be serviceable with large numbers; so that he became the best-spoken man in Rome of all his time, and by his pains and industry excelled all them that even by nature were most apt unto it. For some say that he had never so small nor little a cause in hand, but he always came prepared, having studied his case before for pleading; and oftentimes also when Pompey, Caesar, and Cicero refused to rise, and speak to matters, Crassus would defend every cause if he were requested. And therefore was he generally beloved and well thought of, because he showed himself as a diligent and careful man, ready to help and succour his fellow citizens. Besides, the people were pleased with his courteous and unpretending salutations and greetings, for he never met any citizen, however humble and low, but he returned him his salute by name.
He was looked upon as a man well-read in history, and pretty well versed in Aristotle's philosophy, in which one Alexander instructed him, a man that became very gentle and patient of nature by using of Crassus's company: for it were hard to say whether Alexander was poorer when he came to Crassus, or made poorer while he was with him; for being his only friend that used to accompany him when travelling, he used to receive from him a cloak for the journey, and when he came home had it demanded from him again: poor, patient sufferer, when even the philosophy he professed did not look upon poverty as a thing indifferent. But of that we will speak more hereafter.
Narration and Discussion
In the Life of Nicias, Plutarch said that his purpose in writing was "to decipher the man and his nature." How does he attempt to decipher Crassus's attitude towards money?
Thus all consent to that maxim of Crassus, that a prince cannot have treasure enough, since he must maintain his armies out of it. . . (Sir Thomas More, Utopia)
For further thought: Plutarch gives us an interesting description of Crassus's learning and study, especially in the art of effective and persuasive speaking. How did he surpass orators who seemed to have stronger natural gifts than he did?
Creative narration: Most of this lesson seems to be about Crassus's obsession with making money and finding bargains. However, he had some positive traits which made him "beloved and well thought of." Write or act out a conversation between two Romans, one of whom has seen Crassus at his worst (perhaps having lost money to him), and the other who has seen his better side.
Part One begins with a flashback to 87 B.C., when Crassus was almost thirty years old. To make a complicated story as short as possible, Marius, who had been exiled in Africa, re-entered Rome along with Cinna and an army which they had collected along the way. They then began a purge of their enemies, including the father and brother of Crassus. Plutarch says that because Crassus was young, he wasn't high on the "wanted" list, but that he was still in some danger; so he escaped to Spain until he heard that both Marius and Cinna were dead.
Part Two covers Crassus's return from hiding, and his role in Sulla's civil war against the Marians. Part Three describes the beginnings of the long-running rivalry between Crassus and Pompey.
When Cinna and Marius . . . : see Introduction (above). The Marians were supporters of Marius.
being very young: Plutarch makes it sound as if Crassus was a child, but he was almost thirty years old. Most Romans did not get seriously involved in politics until they were thirty.
steward: servant, especially the manager of a household
despatched: sent off. Occasionally it means "killed."
nettled: irritated, annoyed
strife and contention: disagreement, enmity
Imperator: "Commander" or "Captain."
galled Crassus to the heart: made him unbearably angry
misery and covetousness: Dryden translates this "sordidness and avarice." Crassus, as we have read in Lesson One, often used his money to benefit the citizens or show devotion to the gods; but he always wanted more, and (more sordidly) came by much of his wealth in somewhat unscrupulous ways.
in the last and greatest battle before Rome itself: the Battle of the Colline Gate
proscriptions and sequestrations: severe punishments for Sulla's enemies (and anyone else suspected of disloyalty)
capable: qualified by age
feats of arms: brave military deeds
canvassing: going from house to house to get support for a cause
renown in war: military success
superciliousness: air of superiority
emulation: rivalry, jealousy
to stay and arrest his carriage: When Caesar was about to leave for Spain, his way out of the city was blocked by those to whom he owed money, and Crassus came to his financial rescue.
trimmed: took a neutral or safe position
implacable: impossible to please
animosities: things or people he disliked
Vibius Paciacus: or possibly Pacianus
Metellus Pius: Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius was a Roman general and supporter of Sulla.
Cato: see introductory notes
Note: There are some overlaps here with Lesson One.
87 B.C.: Death of Crassus's father and his second brother
87-84 B.C.: Cinna was repeatedly elected consul; this was also the time that Crassus hid himself in Spain.
86 B.C.: Marius took office as consul, along with Cinna, but died immediately afterwards
84 B.C.: Death of Cinna
November 82 B.C.: Sulla's victory at the Battle of the Colline Gate
82-79 B.C.: Sulla held power in Rome
78 B.C.: Death of Sulla
61 B.C.: Caesar was praetor in Spain (mentioned in Part Three)
On the Map
Malaca: now Málaga, in Spain
Marruvium: the region now called Marsica, belonging to a tribe called the Marsi or Marsians.
Bruttians (or Bruttii): a tribe of the Italian region of Calabria
When Cinna and Marius got the power in their hands it was soon perceived that they had not come back for any good they intended to their country, but to effect the ruin and utter destruction of the nobility. And as many as they could lay their hands on they slew, amongst whom were Crassus's father and brother; he himself, being very young, for the moment escaped the danger; but understanding that he was every way beset and hunted after by the tyrants, taking with him three friends and ten servants, with all possible speed he fled into Spain, having formerly been there and secured a great number of friends, while his father was praetor of that country.
Nevertheless, seeing everybody afraid, and trembling at the cruelty of Marius, as if he was already standing over them in person, he dared not reveal himself to anybody, but hid himself in a large cave which was by the seashore, and belonged to Vibius Paciacus, to whom he sent one of his servants to sound him; his provisions, also, beginning to fail. Vibius was well pleased at his escape, and inquiring the place of his abode and the number of his companions, he went not to him himself, but commanded his steward to provide every day a good meal's meat, and carry it and leave it near such a rock, and make no words of it, neither be inquisitive for whom it was, for if he did, he should die for it: and otherwise, for keeping the thing secret as he commanded, he promised to make him a free man [omission for content].
After Crassus had lain concealed there eight months, on hearing that Cinna was dead, he appeared abroad; and a great number of people flocking to him, out of whom he selected a body of two thousand five hundred, he visited many cities, and, as some write, sacked Malaca; which he himself, however, always denied, and contradicted all who said so.
Afterwards, getting together some ships, he passed into Africa, and joined with Metellus Pius, an eminent person that had raised a very considerable force; but upon some difference between him and Metellus, he stayed not long there, but went over to Sulla, who welcomed and honoured him as much as any that he had about him.
When Sulla passed over into Italy, he was anxious to put all the young men that were with him in employment; and as he despatched some one way, and some another, Crassus, on its falling to his share to raise men among the Marsians, demanded a guard, having to pass through the enemy's country; upon which Sulla replied sharply, "I give you for guard your father, your brother, your friends and kindred, whom they most wickedly have slain and murdered, and whose deaths I pursue with hot revenge of mine army, upon those bloody murderers that have slain them." Crassus, being nettled, went his way, broke boldly through the enemy, collected a considerable force, and was ever after ready at Sulla's commandment in all his wars.
Here began first (as they say) the strife and contention betwixt him and Pompey. For Pompey being younger than Crassus, and born of a wicked father in Rome, whom the people hated as much as ever man was, yet in these actions he shone out and was proved so great that Sulla always used, when he came in, to stand up and uncover his head, an honour which he seldom showed to older men and his own equals; and always saluted him as Imperator. And this galled Crassus to the heart, though, indeed, he could not with any fairness claim to be preferred; both because he lacked experience, and because also these two vices that were bred in him, misery and covetousness, drowned all his virtue and welldoing.
For when he had taken Tudertia, a town of the Umbrians, he converted, it was said, all the spoils to his own use, and this was complained of, to Sulla. But in the last and greatest battle before Rome itself, when Sulla was being worsted, some of his battalions giving ground, and others being quite broken, Crassus got the victory on the right wing, which he commanded, and pursued the enemy till night, and then sent to Sulla to acquaint him with his success, and demand provision for his soldiers. In the time, however, of the proscriptions and sequestrations, he lost his repute again by making great purchases for little or nothing, and asking for grants. Nay, they say he proscribed one of the Bruttians without Sulla's order, only for his own profit; and that, on discovering this, Sulla never after trusted him in any public affairs.
Surely this is a strange thing, that Crassus himself being a great flatterer of others, and could creep into any man's favour, was yet himself easy to be won through flattery, of any man that would seek him that way. Furthermore, it is said of him that he had this property: that though he himself was as extremely covetous as might be, yet he habitually disliked and cried out against others who were so.
It troubled him to see Pompey so successful in all his undertakings; that he had had a triumph before he was capable to sit in the Senate, and that the people had surnamed him Magnus, or "The Great." When somebody was saying Pompey the Great was coming, he smiled, and asked him, "How big is he?" Despairing to equal him by feats of arms, he gave himself unto the affairs of the city, where by doing kindnesses, pleading, lending money, by speaking and canvassing among the people for those who had objects to obtain from them, he gradually gained as great honour and power as Pompey had from his many famous expeditions.
And it was a curious thing in their rivalry, that Pompey's name and interests in the city were greatest when he was absent, for his renown in war; but when present he was often less successful than Crassus, by reason of his superciliousness and haughty way of living, shunning crowds of people, and appearing rarely in the Forum, and assisting only some few, and that not readily, that his influence might be the stronger when he came to use it for himself. Whereas Crassus, being "a friend always at hand," ready to be had and easy of access, and always with his hands full of other people's business, with his freedom and courtesy, got the better of Pompey's formality. (In dignity of person, eloquence of language, and attractiveness of countenance, they were pretty equally excellent.)
And this envy and emulation never carried Crassus away with any open malice and ill-will. For though he was sorry to see Pompey and Caesar honoured above him, yet the worm of ambition never bred malice in him. No, though Caesar when he was taken by pirates in Asia (as he was once), and being kept prisoner, cried out aloud: "O Crassus, what joy will this be to thee, when thou shalt hear I am in prison." This notwithstanding, they were afterwards good friends, as it appeareth. For Caesar being ready on a time to depart out of Rome to be praetor into Spain, and not being able to satisfy his creditors that came flocking all at once about him, to stay and arrest his carriage: Crassus in that time of need forsook him not, but became his security for the sum of eight hundred and thirty talents.
And in general, Rome being divided into three great interests, those of Pompey, Caesar, and Crassus (for as for Cato, his fame was greater than his power, and he was rather admired than followed): the sober and quiet part were for Pompey, the restless and hot-headed followed Caesar's ambition, but Crassus trimmed between them, making advantages of both, and changed sides continually, being neither a trusty friend nor an implacable enemy, and easily abandoned both his attachments and his animosities, as he found it for his advantage. So that in a moment they saw him praise and reprove, defend and condemn the same laws, and the same men.
He was much liked, but was feared as much or even more. At any rate, when Sicinius, who was the greatest troubler of the magistrates and ministers of his time, was asked how it was he let Crassus alone, "Oh," said he, "he carries hay on his horns," alluding to the custom of winding hay about the head of the bull that would strike with his horn, that people might keep out of his way.
Narration and Discussion
What irritated Crassus most about the treatment that Pompey received?
Why did Crassus seem unable to win Sulla's full trust and respect? What finally ended his association with Sulla?
How did Crassus gain such great honour and power in Rome?
For further thought: "Surely this is a strange thing, that Crassus himself being a great flatterer of others, and could creep into any man's favour: was yet himself easy to be won through flattery, of any man that would seek him that way." Dryden translates it like this: "As no man was more cunning than Crassus to ensnare others by flattery, so no man lay more open to it, or swallowed it more greedily than himself." Do you think it is true that those who flatter are most vulnerable to being tricked in the same way?
Have you ever heard of Spartacus, the leader of a first-century B.C. slave rebellion? The army he raised did an unheard-of thing: they took on the Roman Republic in an attempt to fight their way out of Italy. They won several battles, and it seemed they were almost unstoppable, until troops led by Crassus were brought in.
This reading covers the first part of the rebellion; Lesson Four will finish the story.
insurrection: uprising, rebellion
gladiators: see Top Terms in the introductory notes
superior to his condition: better than the "average slave"
portending: foretelling, prophesying
vile and unseemly: beneath their dignity
precipices: steep cliffs
consuls: Consuls were also generals of the army.
he sallied out upon him: To make a sally means to rush out the gate of a besieged fort or city and attack the besiegers.
Publius Varinius: a military commander who was a praetor in 73 B.C. and proconsul (governor) in 72 B.C.
Lucius Furius, Cossinius: subordinates of Publius Varinius
Gellius and Lentulus: consuls in 72 B.C.
Cassius (#1): Gaius Cassius Longinus, consul in 73 B.C. with Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus. He then governed Cisalpine Gaul in 72 B.C. He may have been the father of Cassius (#2) who fought with Crassus at the Battle of Carrhae, and who is better known as one of the assassins of Julius Caesar.
73 B.C.: Crassus was elected praetor (at the age of about 42)
73-71 B.C.: Third Servile War (Rebellion of slaves led by Spartacus)
On the Map
Capua: a city in southern Italy
Gaul (Gauls): a large territory to the north (covering much of western Europe), inhabited by Celtic tribes known for skill in war
Thrace (Thracians): a region of southeastern Europe, now split between Greece, Bulgaria, and Turkey
Alps: a large mountain range, part of which forms a physical boundary in northern Italy
the Po: the longest river in Italy, flowing eastward across northern Italy
The insurrection of the gladiators and the devastation of Italy, commonly called the War of Spartacus, began upon this occasion. One Lentulus Batiates trained up a great many gladiators in Capua, most of them Gauls and Thracians, who, not for any fault by them committed, but simply through the cruelty of their master, were kept in confinement for this object of fighting one with another. Two hundred of these formed a plan to escape, but being discovered, those of them who became aware of it in time to anticipate their master, being seventy-eight, got out of a cook's shop chopping-knives and spits, and made their way through the city. By the way they fortuned to meet with carts laden with gladiators' weapons; they seized upon them and armed themselves.
And seizing upon a defensible place, they chose three captains, of whom Spartacus was chief: a Thracian of one of the nomad tribes, and a man not only of high spirit and valiant, but in understanding, also, and in gentleness, superior to his condition [omission]. It is reported that when Spartacus came first to Rome to be sold for a slave, there was found, as he slept, a snake wound about his face. His wife seeing it, being his own countrywoman; a kind of prophetess [omission], declared that it was a sign portending that he would have great power, much dread, and very good success.
First, then, routing those that came out of Capua against them, and thus procuring a quantity of proper soldiers' arms, they gladly threw away their own as vile and unseemly. After that, the Romans sent Clodius the praetor against them, with three thousand men, and they besieged them within a mountain, accessible only by one narrow and difficult passage, which Clodius kept guarded, encompassed on all other sides with steep and slippery precipices. Upon the top, however, grew a great many wild vines, and cutting down as many of their boughs as they had need of, they twisted them into strong ladders long enough to reach from thence to the bottom; by which, without any danger, they got down all but one, who stayed there to throw them down their arms, and after this succeeded in saving himself. The Romans were ignorant of all this, and, therefore, coming upon them in the rear, they assaulted them unawares and took their camp. Several, also, of the shepherds and herdsmen that were there, stout and nimble fellows, revolted over to them; to some of whom they gave complete arms, and made use of others as scouts and light-armed soldiers.
Publius Varinius, the praetor, was now sent against them, whose lieutenant, Lucius Furius, with two thousand men, they fought and routed. Then Cossinius was sent with considerable forces, to give his assistance and advice, and him Spartacus missed but very little of capturing in person, as he was bathing at Salinae (the Salt Pits). He made his escape with great difficulty, while Spartacus possessed himself of his (Cossinius's) baggage, and following the chase with a great slaughter, stormed his camp and took it, where Cossinius himself was slain.
After many successful skirmishes with the praetor himself, in one of which Spartacus took his lictors and his own horse, he began to be great and terrible; but wisely considering that he was not to expect to match the force of the empire, he marched his army towards the Alps, intending, when he had passed them, that every man should go to his own home, some to Thrace, some to Gaul. But they, grown confident in their numbers, and puffed up with their success, would give no obedience to him, but went about and ravaged Italy; so that now the Senate was not only moved at the indignity and baseness, both of the enemy and of the insurrection, but, looking upon it as a matter of alarm and of dangerous consequence, sent out both the consuls together, Gellius and Lentulus, as unto as difficult and dangerous a war as any that could have happened unto them.
The consul Gellius, falling suddenly upon a party of Germans who, through contempt and confidence, had straggled from Spartacus, cut them all to pieces. But when Lentulus with a large army besieged Spartacus, he sallied out upon him, and, joining battle, defeated his chief officers, and captured all his baggage. As he made toward the Alps, Cassius, who was praetor of that part of Gaul that lies about the Po, met him with ten thousand men; but being overcome in battle, he had much ado to escape himself, with the loss of a great many of his men.
Narration and Discussion
How did the Romans underestimate the gladiators?
Why did the escaped slaves begin to rebel against Spartacus when he marched them toward the Alps? Would they have been more successful if they had obeyed his orders?
Creative narration: The story of Spartacus has inspired writers, artists, film makers, and even composers (Camille Saint-Saëns wrote the "Spartacus Overture" in 1863). Many of these versions are, of course, quite violent. Retell some aspect of the story in a creative format; but keep it appropriate for your audience.
When does a skirmish become an official war, or a bunch of rebels become an army? Would it sound impressive to say that Crassus (or Pompey) won the war against the slaves, or could it somehow be embarrassing?
legion: the largest unit of the Roman army, made up of about 4,500 soldiers.
wheel about: turn around
engage or skirmish: get into a fight, even a small one
straits: narrow channels of water
attempting Sicily: paying the pirates to transport his soldiers there
received his gifts: taken his money
isthmus: a narrow strip (or neck) of land
forage: a raid for supplies such as food. It is used here as a noun, but it can also be a verb.
furlongs: A furlong is an eighth of a mile (201 m). 300 furlongs would be 37.5 miles (about 60 km).
slighted and despised: mocked as a waste of time
brackish: salty, briny
fallen out together: had a disagreement among themselves
redound: come back upon
cast a trench: dig a ditch
supplies: reinforcements; replacement soldiers
I shall have horse enow . . . : I will have all the horses I want
centurion: at that time, the commander of about eighty soldiers
Scrofa: Gnaeus Tremellius Scrofa, quaestor in 72 B.C.
On the Map
Picenum: a region of ancient Italy (and the birthplace of Pompey)
Lucania: a region of southern Italy
Sicily: the very large island across from the toe of Italy's "boot"
Rhegium: now Reggio Calabria, located at the "toe of the boot"
Mountains of Petelia: a group of mountains in Calabria
The Senate, hearing of Cassius's overthrow, were marvellously offended with the consuls, and ordering them to meddle no further, they appointed Crassus general of the war; and a great many of the nobility went as volunteers with him, partly out of friendship, and partly to get honour. He stayed himself on the borders of Picenum, expecting Spartacus would come that way; and sent his lieutenant, Mummius, with two legions, to wheel about and observe the enemy's motions, but upon no account to engage or skirmish. But Mummius, upon the first opportunity, joined battle, and was routed, having a great many of his men slain, and a great many only saving their lives with the loss of their armour and weapons.
[Omission: Crassus punished his soldiers with extreme severity not only for their disobedience by engaging in battle, but for their cowardice in running from it.]
Crassus then led his army against Spartacus; but Spartacus retreated through Lucania toward the sea, and in the straits meeting with some Cilician pirate ships, he had thoughts of attempting Sicily, where, by landing two thousand men, he hoped to kindle anew the war of the slaves, which was but lately extinguished, and seemed to need but little fuel to set it burning again. But after the pirates had struck a bargain with him, and received his gifts, they deceived him and sailed away. He thereupon retired again from the sea, and established his army in the peninsula of Rhegium; there Crassus came upon him, and considering the nature of the place, which of itself suggested the undertaking, he (Crassus) set to work to build a wall across the isthmus; thus keeping his soldiers at once from idleness and his foes from forage.
This great and difficult work he perfected, in a short space of time, beyond all expectation, making a ditch from one sea to the other, over the neck of land, three hundred furlongs long, fifteen feet broad, and as much in depth, and above it built a wonderfully high and strong wall. All which Spartacus at first slighted and despised, but when provisions began to fail, and on his proposing to pass further, he found he was walled in, and no more was to be had in the peninsula: taking the opportunity of a snowy, stormy night, he filled up part of the ditch with earth and boughs of trees, and so passed the third part of his army over.
Crassus was afraid lest he should march directly to Rome; but he was soon put out of that fear when he heard they were fallen out together, and that a great number of them rebelling against Spartacus, went and camped by themselves by the lake of Lucania. This lake, they say, changes at intervals of time, and is sometimes sweet, and sometimes so salt and brackish as no man can drink it. Crassus, falling upon these, beat them from the lake, but he could not pursue the slaughter, because of Spartacus suddenly coming up and checking the flight.
Now he began to repent that he had previously written to the Senate to call Lucullus out of Thrace, and Pompey out of Spain; so that he did all he could to finish the war before they came, knowing that the honour of the action would redound to him that came to his assistance. Wherefore he first determined to assail them that had revolted from Spartacus, and camped by themselves: who were led by Gaius Canicius, and another called Castus. So Crassus sent six thousand footmen before to take a hill, commanding them to lie as close as they could, that their enemies might not discover them, which that they might do they covered their helmets; but being discovered by two women that were sacrificing for the enemy, they had been in great hazard, had not Crassus immediately appeared, and engaged in a battle which proved a most bloody one. Of twelve thousand three hundred whom he killed, two only were found wounded in their backs, the rest all having died standing in their ranks and fighting bravely.
Spartacus, after this overthrow, drew towards the Mountains of Petelia; but Quintius, one of Crassus's officers, and Scrofa, the quaestor, pursued and overtook him. But when Spartacus turned suddenly upon them, they were utterly routed and fled, and had much ado to carry off their quaestor, who was wounded. This success, however, ruined Spartacus, because it encouraged the slaves, who now disdained any longer to avoid fighting, or to obey their officers, but as they were upon the march, they came to them with their swords in their hands, and compelled them to lead them back again through Lucania, against the Romans, the very thing which Crassus was eager for.
For news was already brought that Pompey was at hand; and people began to talk openly that the honour of this war was reserved to him, who would come and at once oblige the enemy to fight and put an end to the war. Crassus, therefore, eager to fight a decisive battle, encamped very near the enemy, and made his men one day cast a trench, which the bondmen seeking to prevent, came with great fury, and set upon them that wrought. Whereupon fell out a hot skirmish, and still supplies came on of either side: so that Spartacus, in the end, perceiving he was forced unto it, put his whole power in battle array.
And when he had set them in order, and that they brought him his horse he was wont to fight on: he drew out his sword, and before them all slew the horse dead in the place, saying: "If it be my fortune to win the field, I know I shall have horse enow to serve my turn: and if I chance to be overcome, then shall I need no more horses." And so making directly towards Crassus himself, through the midst of arms and wounds, he missed him, but slew two centurions that fell upon him together. At last being deserted by those that were about him, he himself stood his ground, and, surrounded, by the enemy, bravely defending himself, was cut in pieces.
Now though Crassus's fortune was very good in this war, and that he had shown himself a noble and valiant captain, venturing his person in any danger, yet he could not keep Pompey from the honour of ending this war: for the slaves that escaped from this last battle where Spartacus was slain, fell into Pompey's hands, who made an end of all those rebellious rascals. Pompey hereupon wrote to the Senate that Crassus had overcome the slaves in battle, but that he himself had pulled up that war even by the very roots.
Pompey was honoured with a magnificent triumph for his conquest over Sertorius and Spain; while Crassus could not himself so much as desire a triumph in its full form, and indeed it was thought to look but meanly in him to accept a lesser honour, called the "ovation," for a servile war, and perform a procession on foot [omission].
Narration and Discussion
Plutarch says that Crassus was a good general; do you agree? Should he have been honoured for his victory over Spartacus as Pompey was for his victory in Spain? Did he want to be honoured?
Creative narration: You are a journalist interviewing Crassus. Your top question: "How were you able to stop this rebellion when other commanders had failed?"
For historical puzzlement: Historians have wondered about the fact that Spartacus did not lead his troops over the Alps to freedom, but turned south instead. Does Plutarch's account suggest any reasons?
For older students: The historian Appian includes something in his writing that Plutarch omits: the fact that, at the end of the battle, 6,000 slaves were taken prisoner by Crassus and then crucified. Can you give any reasons why Plutarch left out this fact?
For further thought: Imagine that, rather than continuing to fight against the Romans, the slaves escaped out of Italy. Some of them might have established a new state outside of Italy, perhaps with Spartacus as king. Do you think he would have been a good ruler?
On-and-off friends . . . or simply co-conspirators? Pompey and Crassus found they had greater political power when they helped each other, though they continued to be personal rivals. They also discovered someone else who shared their desire for power: Julius Caesar.
did not scruple: did not hesitate to act, even if the action might have been considered morally doubtful.
lay some obligation upon Crassus: wanted Crassus to owe him a favour
at (a) jar: at odds, in disagreement
effecting any measure of consequence: doing anything important or worthwhile
When their command . . . : about a year later, at the end of their term
mounted the hustings: got up on the platform
before he was capable of sitting in the Senate: Pompey had his first triumph at the age of twenty-five, and the minimum age to sit in the Senate was thirty.
censorship: Crassus was censor about five years later (see introductory notes)
he neither made a scrutiny of the Senate . . . : These were the responsibilities of a censor, so Crassus was not carrying out his duty very well.
conspiracy of Catiline: an election scandal in which Crassus was suspected to have taken part
further his suit: improve his chances of winning the election
make spoil: make great profit
prowess: skill, expertise (combined, in this case, with valour)
infamous: well-known, but not in a good way
Lutatius Catulus: see introductory notes
Publius Crassus (#3): one of the sons of Crassus
70 B.C.: Crassus and Pompey were consuls
65 B.C.: Crassus was censor along with Catulus (at the age of fifty)
November 63 B.C.: The Catiline conspiracy was exposed by Cicero
December 63 B.C.: Lentulus and other conspirators were put to death for their part in the Catiline Conspiracy
62 B.C.: Lucius Licinius Murena was consul, but was put on trial for election bribery, and was defended by Crassus and Cicero
61 B.C.: Pompey's third triumph
59 B.C.: First Triumvirate formed by Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus
56 B.C.: Meeting of the First Triumvirate at Lucca
On the Map
Lucca: a city in Tuscany (in central Italy)
Now Pompey being called to be consul, Crassus, though he stood in good hope to be chosen consul with him, did not scruple to request his assistance. Pompey most readily seized the opportunity, as he desired by all means to lay some obligation upon Crassus, and zealously promoted his interest; and at last he declared in one of his speeches to the people that he would no less thank the people to appoint Crassus his companion and fellow consul with him, than for making himself consul.
[Plutarch does not explicitly say so, but they won the election.]
But when they were both consuls together in office, their friendship held not, but they were ever at jar, differing almost in everything, disagreeing, quarrelling, and contending, they spent the time of their consulship without effecting any measure of consequence, except that Crassus made a great sacrifice to Hercules, and feasted the people at ten thousand tables, and measured them out corn for three months.
When their command was now ready to expire, and they were, as it happened, addressing the people, a Roman knight, one Onatius Aurelius, an ordinary private person, living in the country, mounted the hustings, and declared a vision he had in his sleep. "Jupiter," said he, "appeared to me, and commanded me to tell you that you should not suffer your consuls to lay down their charge before they are made friends."
When he had spoken, the people cried out that they should be reconciled. Pompey stood still and said nothing, but Crassus, first offering him his hand, said, "I cannot think, my countrymen, that I do anything humiliating or unworthy of myself, if I make the first offers of accommodation and friendship with Pompey, whom you yourselves styled ‘The Great' before he had any hair upon his face, and decreed him a triumph before he was capable of sitting in the Senate."
This is what was memorable in Crassus's consulship; but as for his censorship, that was altogether idle and inactive, for he neither made a scrutiny of the Senate, nor took a review of the horsemen, nor a census of the people, though he had as mild a man as could be desired for his colleague, Lutatius Catulus. It is said, indeed, that when Crassus intended a violent and unjust measure, which was the reducing of Egypt to pay tribute to Rome, Catulus did stoutly withstand him; whereby dissension falling out between them, they both did willingly resign their office.
In that great conspiracy of Catiline, which was very near subverting the government, Crassus was not without some suspicion of being concerned, and one man came forward and declared him to be in the plot; but nobody credited him. Yet Cicero, in one of his orations, clearly charges both Crassus and Caesar with the guilt of it, though that speech was not published till they were both dead. But in his speech upon his consulship, he declares that Crassus came to him by night, and brought a letter concerning Cataline, stating the details of the conspiracy. Crassus hated him ever after, but was hindered by his son from doing him any injury; for Publius Crassus (#3) was a great lover of learning and eloquence, and a constant follower of Cicero, insomuch that he put himself into mourning when he was accused, and induced the other young men to do the same. And at last he reconciled him to his father.
Caesar now returning to Rome from the province he had in government, intended to sue for the consulship: and perceiving that Pompey and Crassus were again at a jar, thought thus with himself that to make the one of them his friend to further his suit, he should but procure the other his enemy. Minding therefore to attain his desire with the favour of them both, he sought first the means to make them friends, and persuaded with them that by their controversy, the one seeking the other's undoing, they were promoting the interest of such men as Cicero, Catulus, and Cato, who would really be of no account if they would join their interests and their factions, and act together in public with one policy and one united power.
And so reconciling them by his persuasions, out of the three parties he set up one irresistible power, which utterly subverted the government both of Senate and people. For he made them not only greater than they were before, the one by the other's means: but himself also of great power through them. For when they began to favour Caesar, he was straight chosen consul without any denial: and so behaved himself in the consulship, that at the length they gave him charge of great armies, and then sent him to govern the Gauls: which was, as a man may say, a way to put him into the castle that should keep all the city in subjection: imagining that they two should make spoil of the rest, since they had procured him such a government.
Now for Pompey, the cause that made him commit this error was nothing else but his extreme ambition. But as for Crassus, besides his old vice of covetousness rooted in him, he added to that a new avarice and desire of triumphs and victories, which Caesar's fame for prowess and noble acts in wars did thoroughly kindle in him, that he being otherwise his better in all things, might not yet in that be his inferior: which fury took such hold as it never left him, till it brought him unto an infamous end, and the commonwealth to great misery.
Thus Caesar being come out of his province of Gaul unto Lucca, divers Romans went thither to see him, and among others, Pompey and Crassus. They, having talked with him in secret, agreed among them to devise to have the whole power of Rome in their hands: so that Caesar should keep his army together, and Crassus and Pompey should take other provinces and armies to them. Now to attain to this, they had no way but one: that Pompey and Crassus should again sue the second time to be consuls, and that Caesar's friends at Rome should stand with them for it, sending also a sufficient number of his soldiers to be there at the day of choosing the consuls.
Narration and Discussion
Crassus obviously didn't consider this less-than-memorable decade a complete disaster! In fact, Plutarch says that he was now chasing "a new avarice and desire of triumphs and victories," or as Dryden translates it, "a new passion after trophies and triumphs." Explain.
Pompey and Crassus hadn't been very friendly in the past. Why was Pompey now so willing to promote Crassus's political career?
Creative narration: Write a wish list or a set of life goals for Crassus. What "trophies and triumphs" did he most desire?
Crassus and Pompey went through two more changes of occupation: a year's consulship together, and then moving on to govern foreign provinces. But like many people who get one nice new thing, Crassus wanted even more. He planned to be not only the richest man in Rome, but also the greatest general the people had ever seen.
to that end: so that Crassus and Pompey would win the two consul positions, and that Caesar would use his influence to help them do so
tyranny: complete control over the government
his hap: his good fortune
Not that he was called: His job was only to govern, not to start a war.
commending his resolution: applauding his plan
amity: peace, friendship
to let Crassus of his departure: to prevent him from leaving
chafing-dish: a pan that included a heating device
Domitius: Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. Although he was not elected consul at that time, he did win the position the next year.
Ateius: Gaius Ateius Capito, tribune of the people in 55 B.C.
King Mithridates: Mithridates VI Eupator, the king of Pontus (not Mithridates IV of Parthia who is referred to later on)
55 B.C.: The year began without any consuls or praetors (for complicated reasons). Pompey and Crassus were elected consuls early in the year.
November 55 B.C.: Crassus left Rome to be governor of Syria
On the Map
Syria: Syria had become a Roman province in 64 B.C.
both the Spains: Spain was divided into two provinces.
Bactria: a region of central Asia
Thereupon Pompey and Crassus returned to Rome to that end, but not without suspicion of their practice: for there ran a rumour in the city that their meeting with Caesar in Lucca was for no good intent. When Marcellinus and Domitius asked Pompey, in the Senate, if he intended to stand for the consulship, Pompey answered them: peradventure he did, peradventure he did not. They asked him again the same question: he answered he would sue for the good men, not for the evil. Pompey's answers were thought very proud and haughty. Howbeit Crassus answered, more modestly, that if he saw it necessary for the commonwealth, he would sue to be consul: if not, that he would not do so.
Upon this some others took confidence and came forward as candidates, among them Domitius. But when Pompey and Crassus now openly appeared for it, the rest were afraid and drew back; only Cato encouraged Domitius, who was his friend and relation, to proceed. For he persuaded him that it was to fight for the defense of their liberty, and how that it was not the consulship Crassus and Pompey looked after, but that they went about to bring in a tyranny; and it was not a petition for office, but a seizure of provinces and armies. Thus spoke and thought Cato, and almost forcibly compelled Domitius to appear in the Forum, where many sided with them. For there was, indeed, much wonder and question among the people: "Why should Pompey and Crassus want another consulship? And why they two together, and not with some third person? We have a great many men not unworthy to be fellow-consuls with either the one or the other."
Pompey, fearing he should be prevented of his purpose, fell to commit great outrage and violence. As amongst other things, when the day came to choose the consuls, Domitius going early in the morning before day, accompanied with his friends to the place where the election should be: his man that carried the torch before him was slain, by some whom Pompey had laid in wait; and many of his company were hurt, and among others, Cato. And these being beaten back and driven into a house, Pompey and Crassus were proclaimed consuls. Not long after, they surrounded the house with armed men, thrust Cato out of the Forum, killed some that made resistance, and decreed Caesar his command for five years longer, and provinces for themselves, Syria and both the Spains, which being divided by lots, Syria fell to Crassus and the Spains to Pompey.
Every man was glad of their fortune. For the people, on the one side, were loath that Pompey should go far from Rome: and himself also loving his wife well, was glad he had occasion to be so near her, that he might remain the most of his time at Rome. But Crassus of all other rejoiced most at his hap, that he should go into Syria: and it appeared plainly that he thought it was the happiest turn that ever came to him, for he would ever be talking of the journey, were he in never so great or strange company. Furthermore, being among his friends and familiars, he would give out such fond boasts of it, as no young man could have made greater vaunts: which was clean contrary to his years and nature, having lived all his lifetime as modestly, and with as small ostentation as any man living.
But then forgetting himself too much, he had such fond conceits in his head, as he not only hoped after the conquest of Syria, and of the Parthians, but flattered himself that the world should see all that Lucullus had done against King Tigranes, and Pompey against King Mithridates, were but trifles (as a man would say) to that which he intended. For he looked to pass as far as Bactria, and India, and the utmost ocean. Not that he was called upon by the decree which appointed him to his office to undertake any expedition against the Parthians; but it was well known that he was eager for it, and Caesar wrote to him out of Gaul commending his resolution.
And when Ateius, the tribune of the people, designed to stop his journey, and many others murmured that one man should undertake a war against a people that had done them no injury, and were at amity with them, he desired Pompey to stand by him and accompany him out of the town, as he had a great name amongst the common people. For, though multitudes of people were gathered together of purpose to let Crassus of his departure, and to cry out upon him: yet when they saw Pompey go before him, with a pleasant smiling countenance, they quieted themselves, and made a lane for them, suffering them to pass on, and said nothing.
This notwithstanding, Ateius the tribune stepped before them, and commanded Crassus he should not depart the city, with great protestations if he did the contrary. But perceiving Crassus still held on his way notwithstanding, he commanded then one of the officers to lay hold of him, and to arrest him: howbeit the other tribunes would not suffer the officer to do it. So the sergeant dismissed Crassus.
Then Ateius running towards the gate of the city, got a chafing-dish with coals, and set it in the midst of the street. When Crassus came against it, he cast in certain perfumes, and made sprinklings over it, pronouncing horrible curses, and calling upon terrible and strange names of gods. The Romans say that those manner of curses are very ancient, but yet very secret, and of so great force: as he that is once cursed with that curse can never escape it, nor he that useth it doth ever prosper after it. And therefore few men do use it, and never but upon urgent occasion. And Ateius was blamed at the time for resorting to them, as the city itself, in whose cause he used them, would be the first to feel the ill effects of these curses and supernatural terrors.
Narration and Discussion
Compare the responses of Pompey and Crassus when they were asked if they would be running for the consulship. What do you think Pompey's answer meant?
What do you think caused Crassus to become so boastful and conceited about his abilities?
For students who have read the Life of Pyrrhus: Cineas said (to King Pyrrhus), "And what hinders us now, sir, if we have a mind to be merry, and entertain one another, since we have at hand without trouble all those necessary things, to which through much blood and great labour . . . we design at last to arrive?" Do you think Crassus would be any more likely to take this advice than Pyrrhus was?
Creative narration: Write an account of the elections from two different points of view, e.g. Cato, Domitius, Pompey, Crassus, or a friend of Domitius who accompanied him on election day.
Although Crassus continued to show his cleverness in business, and managed to hold onto political power, he began to show his weaker side as a general.
plundered the goods: robbed it of everything valuable
of a base mind: low-minded; thinking about unworthy things
usurer: unscrupulous money-lender
computing the revenue of the cities: adding up how much treasure could be taken from the places he had conquered
to furnish him with a certain number of men of war: The point seems to be that those towns then had the "option" of paying him off instead of sending soldiers. Dryden says that by this "he lost his credit and became despised."
taking pity upon Crassus's dotage: "Dotage" refers to his "advanced" age (Crassus was about sixty), but the word implies that he must be suffering from senility as well, to think that he could successfully overcome the Parthians, and especially so if he was not waging war on behalf of Rome but for his own profit. In any case, the message seems to be, "If you are acting on your own behalf, we can negotiate something to satisfy both of us; but if you represent Rome, that's another matter." Another possible interpretation is, "Go home while you can, or we'll make you wish you had."
adverse: against them
who, however, were said to be only the king's life-guard and suit: This king was so wealthy that these were just his personal bodyguards and horses, and he was able to supply many more.
King Deiotarus: king of Galatia from about 105 B.C. until his death in about 40 B.C.
Apollonius: nothing is known about him except that he ruled Zenodotion.
Cassius (#2): Gaius Cassius Longinus, better known as the "lean and hungry" co-conspirator in the assassination of Julius Caesar
Artavasdes II: King of Armenia from 55-34 B.C. Trivia: his grandfather was the powerful king Mithridates VI Eupator, mentioned in Lesson Six.
57-37 B.C.: Orodes II (sometimes spelled Hyrodes) was king of the Parthians.
57-54 B.C.: Mithridates IV, Orodes' brother, was also king, after the brothers conspired to murder their father. The two struggled for power, and Mithridates fled to Syria for safety, putting himself under the protection of the Roman governor there. He was briefly able to retake the throne; but was besieged in Seleucia by Orodes' general Surena, and was afterwards put to death.
54 B.C.: Roman campaign against the Parthians
On the Map
Brundisium: or Brundusium; a port city in southern Italy
Galatia: a region of central Anatolia, part of modern-day Turkey
Mesopotamia: the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, now part of Iraq
Zenodotion: or Zenodotia; a city in Mesopotamia
Babylon: a city which had been the center of an ancient empire, but which was now ruled by the Parthians
Seleucia: (pronounced Se-loo-ki-a) an ancient city on the Tigris river
Armenia: The kingdom of Armenia had been made a Roman protectorate by Pompey, but it did not become a full province until 114 A.D. (so it still had its own king).
Crassus arrived at Brundisium, and though the sea was very rough, he had not patience to wait, but went on board, and lost many of his ships. With the remnant of his army he marched rapidly through Galatia, where meeting with King Deiotarus, who, though he was very old, was about building a new city, Crassus scoffingly told him, "Your majesty begins to build at the twelfth hour." "Neither do you," said he, "O general, undertake your Parthian expedition very early." For Crassus was then sixty years old, and he seemed older than he was.
At his first coming, things went as he would have them, for he made a bridge over the Euphrates without much difficulty, and passed over his army in safety, and occupied many cities of Mesopotamia, which yielded voluntarily. But a hundred of his men were killed in one, in which Apollonius was tyrant; therefore, bringing his forces against it, he took it by storm, plundered the goods, and sold the inhabitants. The Greeks call this city Zenodotion; upon the taking of which, he permitted the army to salute him as Imperator; which turned to his shame and reproach, and made him to be thought of a base mind, as one that had small hope to attain to great things, making such reckoning of so small a trifle.
Putting garrisons of seven thousand foot and one thousand horse in the new conquests, he return to take up his winter quarters in Syria, where his son was to meet him, coming from Caesar out of Gaul, decorated with rewards for his valour, and bringing with him one thousand select horse. Here Crassus seemed to commit his first error, and except, indeed, the whole expedition, his greatest; for wherein he ought to have gone forward and seized Babylon and Seleucia, cities that were ever at enmity with the Parthians, he gave the enemy time to provide against him.
Besides, he spent his time in Syria more like an usurer than a general: not in taking an account of the arms, and in improving the skill and discipline of his soldiers, but in computing the revenue of the cities, wasting many days in weighing by scale and balance the treasure that was in the temple of Hierapolis. And worse than that: he sent to the people, princes, and cities about him to furnish him with a certain number of men of war; and then he would discharge them, for a sum of money. All these things made him to be both ill spoken of, and despised of everybody. Here, too, he met with the first ill omen from that goddess whom some call Venus, others Juno, others Nature, or the Cause that produces out of moisture the first principles and seeds of all things, and gives mankind their earliest knowledge of all that is good for them. For as they were going out of the temple, Crassus the younger fell first on his face, and the father afterwards fell upon his son.
When he drew his army out of winter quarters, ambassadors came to him from the king of the Parthians, with this short speech:
"If the army was sent by the people of Rome, this meant mortal war; but if, as he understood was the case, against the consent of his country, Crassus for his own private profit had invaded his territory, then their king would be more merciful, and taking pity upon Crassus's dotage, would send those soldiers back who had been left, not so truly to keep guard on him as to be his prisoners."
Crassus boastfully told them he would return his answer at Seleucia, upon which Vagises, the eldest of them, laughed and showed the palm of his hand, saying, "Hair will grow here before you will see Seleucia": so they returned to their king, Orodes, telling him it was war.
Several of the Romans that were in garrison in Mesopotamia, with great hazard made their escape, and brought word that the danger was worth consideration, urging their own eye-witness of the numbers of the enemy, and the manner of their fighting, when they assaulted their towns; and, as men's manner is, they made all seen greater than it really was. They said that by flight it was impossible to escape them, and just as impossible to overtake them when they fled; and they had a new and strange sort of darts, as swift as sight, for they pierced whatever they met with, before you could see who threw them; their men-at-arms were so provided that their weapons would cut through anything, and their armour give way to nothing.
All which, when the soldiers heard their hearts failed them; for till now they thought there was no difference between the Parthians and Armenians or Cappadocians, whom Lucullus grew weary with plundering; and they had been persuaded that the main difficulty of the war consisted only in the tediousness of the march and the trouble of chasing men that dared not come to blows, so that the danger of a battle was beyond their expectation; accordingly, some of the officers advised Crassus to proceed no further at present, but reconsider the whole enterprise, amongst whom in particular was Cassius (#2), the quaestor. The soothsayers, also, told him privately the signs found in the sacrifices were continually adverse and unfavourable. But he paid no heed to them, or to anybody who gave any other advice than to proceed.
Nor did Artavasdes II, king of Armenia, confirm a little, who came to his aid with six thousand horse, who, however, were said to be only the king's life-guard and suit, for he promised ten thousand more horsemen all armed and barbed, and thirty thousand foot, at his own charge. He urged Crassus to invade Parthia by the way of Armenia, for not only would he be able there to supply his army with abundant provision, which he would give him, but his passage would be more secure in the mountains and hills, with which the whole country was covered, making it almost impassable to horse, in which the main strength of the Parthians consisted. Crassus returned him but cold thanks for his readiness to serve him, and for the splendour of his assistance, and told him he was resolved to pass through Mesopotamia, where he had left a great many brave Roman soldiers; whereupon the Armenian went his way.
Narration and Discussion
The Roman forces seemed to have hit the jackpot in possible allies when they connected with King Artavasdes. Should they have accepted his assistance?
For further thought: "But Crassus gave no ear to them, neither would hear any other that told him as much, but only listened to them that counselled him to make haste." See Proverbs 16:18; 17:10, 12. How do these verses apply to Crassus?
Creative narration #1: Dramatize the events at the temple of Hierapolis.
Creative narration #2: Taking the role of one of the garrison, send home a letter describing how you have been spending the winter.
Through hurricanes and drought, and "helped" by Ariamnes, the Roman army seemed to be headed for nothing but trouble. Crassus knew his army would be safer moving along the river, but Ariamnes persuaded him to take a detour through the desert. No wonder the eagle on the Roman standard is said to have turned his head backward!
caparisoned: wearing an ornamental covering
standard: a banner or flag, attached to a pole, carried by a Roman cavalry or infantry unit. It was largely symbolic, but also functioned as a means of communication: lowering the flag or waving it in a certain way might act as a command for the troops. The banner of a cavalry unit usually showed a serpent, but infantry units used other animals such as the eagle.
lentils: a small legume, something like dried peas
exhorting: making a speech to urge them on
there should not a man of them return back again: That wasn't exactly what he meant to say.
entrails: inner organs (of the sacrificial animal)
suborned by: working for
For the Parthians desired anything rather than be obliged to meet the Romans face to face: This is Dryden's translation; North says "for they meant nothing less than to fight with the Romans at the sword's point," which sounds quite the opposite. Which do you think rings more true? (Or is that just what Ariamnes was saying?)
goods and chattels: belongings
retinue: people who accompanied him
he had restored King Orodes . . . : that is, by defeating his brother Mithridates
At the same time came messengers from Artavasdes: Orodes sent Surena to deal with Crassus, but he himself invaded Armenia.
Surena: chief general to King Orodes; he led the Parthian defense against the Roman invasion
Ariamnes: "a cunning and wily fellow" who had once been a friend to the Romans but who was now working for the Parthians
On the Map
Zeugma: a city of Anatolia (now Turkey)
Scythia (Scythians): a large region to the north and east of Parthia
Hyrcania (Hyrcanians): a region southeast of the Caspian Sea
As Crassus was taking the army over the river at Zeugma, there fell out sudden strange and terrible cracks of thunder, with fearful flashes of lightning full in the soldiers' faces: moreover, out of a great black cloud came a wonderful storm and tempest of wind upon the bridge, that the marvellous force thereof overthrew a great part of the bridge, and carried it quite away. Besides all this, the place where he appointed to lodge was twice stricken with two great thunderclaps. One of the general's horses, magnificently caparisoned, dragged away the groom into the river and was drowned. It is said, too, that when they went to take up the first standard, the eagle of itself turned its head backward; and after he had passed over his army, as they were distributing provisions, the first thing they gave was lentils and salt, which with the Romans are the food proper to funerals, and are offered to the dead. After all this, when Crassus was exhorting his soldiers, a word escaped his mouth that troubled the army marvellously. For he told them that he had broken the bridge which he had made over the river of Euphrates, of purpose, because there should not a man of them return back again. Where indeed when he had seen that they took this word in ill part, he should have called it in again, or have declared his meaning, seeing his men so amazed thereat: but he made light of it, he was so willful. And when at the last general sacrifice the priest gave him the entrails, they slipped out of his hand, and when he saw the standers-by concerned at it, he laughed and said, "See what it is to be an old man; but I shall hold my sword fast enough."
So he marched his army along the river with seven legions, little less than four thousand horse, and as many light-armed soldiers; and the scouts returning declared that not one man appeared, but that they saw the footing of a great many horses which seemed to be retiring in flight, whereupon Crassus conceived great hopes, and the Romans began to despise the Parthians as men that would not come to combat, hand to hand. But Cassius spoke with him again, and advised him to refresh his army in some of the garrison towns, and remain there till they could get some certain intelligence of the enemy; or at least to make toward Seleucia, and keep by the river, that so they might have the convenience of having provision constantly supplied by the boats, which might always accompany the army, and the river would secure them from being environed, and, if they should fight, it might be upon equal terms.
While Crassus was still considering, and as yet undetermined, there came one Ariamnes unto him, a captain of the Arabians, a fine subtle fellow, which was the greatest mischief and evil that Fortune could send to Crassus at that present time, to bring him to utter ruin and destruction. For there were some of Crassus's soldiers that had served Pompey before in that country, who knew him very well, and remembered that Pompey had done him great pleasures: whereupon they thought that he bore great goodwill to the Romans. But Ariamnes was now suborned by the king's generals, and sent to Crassus to entice him if possible from the river and hills into the wide open plain, where he might be surrounded. For the Parthians desired anything rather than be obliged to meet the Romans face to face. He, therefore, coming to Crassus (and he had a persuasive tongue), highly commended Pompey as his benefactor, and admired the forces that Crassus had with him, but seemed to wonder why he delayed and made preparations, as if he should not use his feet, more than any arms, against men that, taking with them their best goods and chattels, had designed long ago to fly for refuge to the Scythians or Hyrcanians. He said,
"If you meant to fight, you should have made all possible haste, before the king should recover courage, and collect his forces together; at present you see Surena and Sillaces opposed to you, to draw you off in pursuit of them, while the king himself keeps out of the way."
But all this was a lie, for Orodes had divided his army in two parts; with one he in person wasted Armenia, revenging himself upon Artavasdes; and sent Surena against the Romans, not out of contempt, as some pretend, for there is no likelihood that he should despise Crassus, one of the chiefest men of Rome, to go and fight with Artavasdes, and invade Armenia; but I think rather he did it of purpose to avoid the greater danger, and to keep far off, that he might with safety see what would happen; and therefore sent Surena before to hazard battle, and to turn the Romans back again.
For Surena was no mean man, but the second person of Parthia next unto the king: in riches, reputation, valour, and experience in wars, the chiefest of his time among all the Parthians, and for execution, no man like him. Whenever he travelled privately, he had one thousand camels to carry his baggage [omission], one thousand completely armed men for life-guards, and a great many more light-armed; and he had at least ten thousand horsemen altogether, of his servants and retinue. The honour had long belonged to his family that, at the king's coronation, he put the crown upon his head. Moreover, he had restored King Orodes, that then reigned, to his crown, who had been before driven out of his realm; and had won him also the great city of Seleucia, himself being the first man that scaled the walls, and overthrew them with his own hands that resisted him. And though at this time he was not above thirty years old, he had a great name for wisdom and sagacity; and, indeed, by these qualities chiefly, he overthrew Crassus, who first through his overweening confidence, and afterwards for very fear and timorousness, which his misfortune had brought him unto, was easy to be taken and entrapped, by any policy or deceit.
Now this barbarous captain Ariamnes having then brought Crassus to believe all that he said, and drawn him by persuasion from the river of Euphrates unto a goodly plain country, meeting at the first with very good way, but after with very ill, by reason of the depth of the sand; no tree, nor any water, and no end of this to be seen; so that they were not only spent with thirst, and the difficulty of the passage, but were dismayed with the uncomfortable prospect of not a bough, not a stream, not a hillock, not a green herb, but in fact a sea of sand, which encompassed the army with its waves. Then they began to suspect that they were betrayed. At the same time came messengers from Artavasdes, saying that he was fiercely attacked by Orodes, who had invaded his country, so that now it was impossible for him to send any succour; and that he therefore advised Crassus to turn back, and with joint forces to give Orodes battle, or at least that he should march and encamp where horses could not easily come, and keep to the mountains. Crassus, out of anger and perverseness, wrote him no answer, but told them, at present he was not at leisure to mind the Armenians, but he would call upon them another time, and revenge himself upon Artavasdes for his treachery.
Cassius and his friends began again to complain, but when they perceived that it merely displeased Crassus, they gave over, but privately railed at the barbarian,
"What evil genius, O thou worst of men, brought thee to our camp, and with what charms and potions has thou bewitched Crassus, that he should march his army through a vast and deep desert, through ways which are rather fit for a captain of Arabian robbers, than for the general of a Roman army?"
Ariamnes, being crafty and subtle, speaking gently unto Cassius, did comfort him, and prayed him to have patience, and going and coming by the bands, seeming to help the soldiers, he told them merrily:
"O my fellows, I believe you think to march through the country of Naples, and look to meet with your pleasant springs, goodly groves of wood, your natural baths, and the good inns round about to refresh you, and do not remember that you pass through the deserts of Arabia and Assyria."
Thus he managed them like children, and before the cheat was discovered, he rode away. Crassus was aware of his going, but he had persuaded him that he would go and contrive how to disorder the affairs of the enemy.
Narration and Discussion
The passage begins with a listing of many "bad omens" that happened around Crassus and his troops at this time. Why did Crassus choose to ignore them? Should he have paid more attention?
How did Crassus become so "easy to be taken and entrapped?"
Creative narration: Write or act out the "What evil genius" scene.
Creative narration for older students: Have you ever read a book where you are given choices about what action to take? "If you decide to fight the monster, turn to page 15. If you decide to run away, turn to page 20." As an extended activity for this study, create a "Choose Your Own Destiny: Parthian Edition," or, as more detailed project, "Crassus Edition." "If you choose to follow Ariamnes, go to page 3." This might be done in partners or with a group, and could be continued throughout the remaining lessons.
If you play checkers, what is your favourite strategy for moving your pieces? Does it work better to bunch them all together, or to line them up across the board? At the Battle of Carrhae (pronounced "Carry"), Cassius advised Crassus to spread the army out; but Crassus changed his mind and moved everyone into a square formation. Which do you think would be more effective against the Parthians?
opened their ranks and files: spread them out
cohort: a Roman military unit made up of about 480 soldiers
set upon the enemy presently: attack as soon as they could
the first ranks: those in the front
beside(s) himself: distraught, distracted
vehemence: energy, power
53 B.C.: The Battle of Carrhae
On the Map
Carrhae: Now called Harran, in Turkey.
It is reported that Crassus the very same day came out of his tent not in his coat armour of scarlet (as the manner was of the Roman generals), but in a black coat: howbeit, remembering himself, he straight changed it again. And the standard-bearers had much ado to take up their eagles, which seemed to be fixed to the place. Crassus laughed at it, and hastened their march, and compelled his infantry to keep pace with his cavalry, till some few of the scouts returned and told them that their fellows were slain and they hardly escaped, that the enemy was at hand in full force, and resolved to give them battle.
On this all was in an uproar; Crassus was struck with amazement, and for haste could scarcely put his army in good order. First, as Cassius advised, he opened their ranks and files that they might take up as much space as could be, to prevent their being surrounded, and distributed the horse upon the wings, but afterwards changing his mind, he drew up his army in a square, and made a front every way, each of which consisted of twelve cohorts, to every one of which he allotted a troop of horse, that no part might lack the assistance that the horse might give, and that they might be ready to assist everywhere; as need should require. Then he gave Cassius the leading of one wing, his son Publius Crassus the other, and he himself led the battle in the midst.
Thus they marched on till they came to a little river named Baliussus, a very inconsiderable one in itself, but yet happily lighted on for the soldiers, for the great thirst and extreme heat they had abidden all that painful way, where they had met with no water before. There the most part of Crassus's captains thought best to camp all night, that they might in the meantime find means to know their enemies, what number they were, and how they were armed, that they might fight with them in the morning. But Crassus, yielding to his son's and his horsemen's persuasion, who entreated him to march on with his army, and to set upon the enemy presently, commanded that such as would eat, should eat standing, keeping their ranks. Yet on the sudden, before this commandment could run through the whole army, he commanded them again to march, not fair and softly, but with speed, till they spied the enemies, who seemed not to the Romans at the first to be so great a number, neither so bravely armed as they thought they had been.
For Surena had hid his main force behind the first ranks, and ordered them to hide the glittering of their armour with coats and skins. But when they approached and the general gave the signal, immediately all the field rang with a hideous noise and terrible clamour. For the Parthians do not encourage themselves to war with trumpets, but with a kind of kettle-drum, which they strike all at once in various quarters. With these they make a dead, hollow noise, like the bellowing of beasts, mixed with sounds resembling thunder, having, it would seem, very correctly observed that hearing is one of the senses that soonest moveth the heart and spirit of any man, and maketh him soonest besides himself.
When they had sufficiently terrified the Romans with their noise, they threw off the covering of their armour, and shone like lightning in their breastplates and helmets of polished Marganian steel, and with their horses covered with brass and steel trappings [omission]. Surena's face was painted, and his hair parted after the fashion of the Medes, whereas the other Parthians made a more terrible appearance, with their shaggy hair gathered in a mass upon their foreheads, after the Scythian mode. Their first design was with their lances to beat down and force back the first ranks of the Romans; but when they perceived the depth of their battle formation, and that the soldiers firmly kept their ground, they made a retreat; and, pretending to break their order and disperse, they encompassed the Roman square before they were aware of it. Whereupon Crassus commanded his shot and light-armed men to assail them, which they did: but they went not far, they were so beaten in with arrows, and driven to retire to their force of the armed men. And this was the first beginning that both feared and troubled the Romans, when they saw the vehemence and great force of the enemies' shot, which broke their armours, and ran through anything they hit, were it never so hard or soft.
The Parthians thus still drawing back, shot all together on every side, not aiming at any particular mark (for, indeed, the order of the Romans was so close, that they could not miss if they would), but simply sent their arrows with great force out of strong bent bows, the strokes from which came with extreme violence. The position of the Romans was a very bad one from the first; for if they kept their ranks, they were wounded; and if they tried to charge, they hurt the enemy none the more, and themselves suffered none the less. For the Parthians threw their darts as they fled, an art in which none but the Scythians excel them; and it is, indeed, a cunning practice. For by their flight they best do save themselves, and fighting still, they thereby shun the shame of their flying.
Narration and Discussion
Crassus began the day in what seemed almost a good mood (in spite of the fact that he almost wore his black robe): he laughed, kept everyone marching, and didn't seem to be worried. When the scouts came to tell them that the enemy was right there and ready to fight, though, he was "struck with amazement," and didn't seem to know quite what to do. Is it because he trusted Ariamnes to go and "disorder" the enemy that he seemed not to be prepared for a battle? Was there some other reason?
For further thought: Plutarch says that Crassus yielded to "his son's and his horsemen's persuasion, who entreated him to march on with his army, and to set upon the enemy presently.". If he had not been swayed by them, what do you think he might have done?
Creative narration #1: Describe, in words or pictures, the scene at the Battle of Carrhae.
Creative narration #2: If you are working on the "Choose Your Own Destiny" project, you may want to add to that.
The story continues of the disastrous Battle of Carrhae. Arrows, even especially painful Parthian ones, must run out at some point, thought the Romans. But they didn't count on the arrival of reinforcements.
cast themselves away: caused their own deaths
valiancy: valour, bravery
but cast away: close to being killed
Censorinus, Megabacchus: friends of Publius Crassus (#3)
The Romans still defended themselves, and held it out, so long as they had any hope that the Parthians would leave fighting when they had spent their arrows, or would join battle with them. But after they understood that there were a great number of camels laden with quivers full of arrows, where the first that had bestowed their arrows fetched about to take new quivers: then Crassus, seeing no end of their shot, was out of all heart, and sent to Publius Crassus (#3) his son that he should endeavour to fall in upon them before he was quite surrounded; for the enemy advanced most upon that quarter, and seemed to be trying to ride round and come upon the rear. Therefore, the young man, taking with him thirteen hundred horsemen (one thousand of which he had from Caesar), five hundred archers, and eight cohorts of the full-armed soldiers that stood next him, led them up with design to charge the Parthians.
Whether it was that they found themselves in a piece of marshy ground, as some think, or else designing to entice young Crassus as far as they could from his father, they turned and began to fly; whereupon he, crying out that they dare not stand, pursued them, and with him Censorinus and Megabacchus (both famous, the latter for his courage and prowess, the other for being of a senator's family, and an excellent orator, both intimates of Publius Crassus, and of about the same age). The horse thus pushing on, the infantry stayed a little behind, being exalted with hopes and joy, for they supposed they had already conquered, and now were only pursuing; till when they were gone too far, they perceived the deceit. For the horsemen that fled before them suddenly turned again, and a number of others besides came and set upon them.
Upon this they made a halt, for they doubted not but now the enemy would attack them, because they were so few. But they merely placed their men at arms with their barbed horse to face the Romans; and with the rest of their horse rode about scouring the field, and thus stirring up the sand, they raised such a dust that the Romans could neither see nor speak to one another, and being driven in upon one another in one close body, they were thus hit and killed, and died of a cruel lingering death, crying out for anguish and pain they felt: and turning and tormenting themselves upon the sand, they brake the arrows sticking in them. Again, striving by force to pluck out the forked arrowheads, that had pierced far into their bodies through their veins and sinews, thereby they opened their wounds wider, and so cast themselves away. Many of them died thus miserably martyred: and such as died not, were not able to defend themselves.
Then when Publius Crassus prayed and besought them to charge the men at arms with their barbed horse, they showed him their hands fast nailed to their targets with arrows, and their feet likewise shot through and nailed to the ground: so as they could neither flee, nor yet defend themselves. He charged in himself boldly, however, with his horse, and came to close quarters with them; but was very unequal, whether as to the offensive or defensive part; for with his weak and little javelins, he struck against targets that were of tough rawhide and iron, whereas the lightly-clad bodies of his Gaulish horsemen were exposed to the strong spears of the enemy. For upon these he mostly depended, and with them he wrought wonders; for they received the Parthians' pikes in their hands, and took them about the middles, and threw them off their horses, where they lay on the ground, and could not stir for the weight of their harness; and there were divers of them also that lighting from their horse, lay under their enemies' horse bellies, and thrust their swords into them. Their horses flinging and bounding in the air for very pain threw their masters under their feet, and their enemies one upon another, and in the end fell dead among them.
The Gauls were chiefly tormented by the heat and drought, being not accustomed to either; and most of their horses were slain by being spurred on against the spears, so that they were forced to retire among the foot, bearing off Publius, who was grievously wounded. Observing a sandy hillock not far off, they made to it; and, tying their horses to one another, and placing them in the midst, and joining all their shields together before them, they thought they might make some defense against the barbarians. But it fell out quite contrary, for the country being plain, they in the foremost ranks did somewhat cover them behind, but they that were behind, standing higher than they that stood foremost (by reason of the nature of the hill that was highest in the midst) could by no means save themselves, but were all hurt alike, as well the one as the other, bewailing their own misery and misfortune, that must needs die without revenge, or declaration of their valiancy.
There were with Publius two Greeks that lived near there at Carrhae, Hieronymus and Nicomachus; these men urged him to retire with them and flee to Ichnae, a town not far from thence, and friendly to the Romans. "No," said he, "there is no death so terrible, for the fear of which Publius would leave his friends that die upon his account"; and bidding them to take care of themselves, he embraced them and sent them away; and, because he could not use his arm, for he was run through with a dart, he opened his side to his armour-bearer, and commanded him to run him through with a sword.
It is reported Censorinus did the like. But Megabacchus slew himself with his own hands, and so did the most part of the gentlemen that were of that company. And for those that were left alive, the Parthians got up the sand hill, and fighting with them, thrust them through with their spears and pikes, and took but five hundred prisoners. Cutting off the head of Publius, they rode off directly towards Crassus.
His condition was thus. When he had commanded his son to fall upon the enemy, and word was brought him that they fled and that there was a distant pursuit, and perceiving also that the enemy did not press upon him so hard as formerly, for they were mostly gone to fall upon Publius, he then began to be lively again, and keeping his men close, retired with them the best he could by a hillside, looking ever that his son would not be long before that he returned from the chase.
But Publius, seeing himself in danger, had sent divers messengers to his father, to advertise him of his distress, whom the Parthians intercepted and slew by the way; and the last messengers he sent, escaping very hardly, brought Crassus news that his son was but cast away, if he did not presently aid him, and that with a great power.
Crassus was terribly distracted, not knowing what counsel to take, and indeed no longer capable of taking any; overpowered now by fear for the whole army, now by desire to help his son. At last he resolved to move with his forces. Just upon this, up came the enemy with their shouts and noises more terrible than before, their drums sounding again in the ears of the Romans, who now feared a fresh engagement.
But the Parthians that brought Publius Crassus's head upon the point of a lance, coming near to the Romans, showed them his head, and asked them in derision if they knew what house he was of, and who were his parents: for it is not likely (said they) that so noble and valiant a young man should be the son of so cowardly a father as Crassus.
This sight above all the rest dismayed the Romans, for it did not incite them to anger as it might have done, but to horror and trembling; though they say Crassus outdid himself in this calamity, for he passed through the ranks and cried out to them:
"The grief and sorrow of this loss, O my countrymen, is no man's but mine, mine only: but the noble success and honour of Rome remaineth still invincible, so long as you are yet living. Now, if you pity my loss of so noble and valiant a son, my good soldiers, let me entreat you to turn your sorrow into fury. Take away their joy, revenge their cruelty, nor be dismayed at what is past; for whoever tries for great objects must suffer something. Lucullus overcame not Tigranes, nor Scipio Antiochus, but their blood did pay for it . . . For the empire of Rome came not to that greatness it now is at by good fortune only, but by patience and constant suffering of trouble and adversity, never yielding or giving place to any danger."
Narration and Discussion
Why does Plutarch say that Crassus "showed greater courage in this misfortune than he before had done in all the war beside," or in Dryden's words, "outdid himself in this calamity?"
Who showed more courage at this time: Publius Crassus, or his father?
For further thought: Read 2 Samuel 18:24-33 (David's reaction to the death of his son). Note any similarities to the story of Crassus and Publius, though David's relationship with Absalom was somewhat different.
Creative narration #1: If you are continuing the "Choose Your Own Destiny" project, you may want to add to that.
Creative narration #2: How might Shakespeare have dramatized this scene?
The Parthians kindly gave the Romans a night off from fighting; but it was not a time to rest. Attempting to escape from their camp without notice, the Romans fell into confusion and disorder; but somehow many of them, including Crassus, did make it to the Roman-ruled town of Carrhae. Might there be a last chance now for Crassus to negotiate peace with the Parthians?
despondency: low spirits
flushed: excited, happy
let their flight: prevent them from escaping
the meanest of all other: the worst off of all
sat in council for their departure: had a meeting to plan the breakup of the camp
the foremost rank that first dislodged: the first to leave
quality or estimation: noble standing
While Crassus thus spoke exhorting them, he saw but few that gave much heed to him, and when he ordered them to shout for battle, he could no longer mistake the despondency of his army, which made but a faint and unsteady noise, while the shout of the enemy was clear and bold. And when they came to the business, the Parthian servants and dependents riding about shot their arrows, and the horsemen in the foremost ranks with their spears drove the Romans close together, except those who rushed upon them for fear of being killed by their arrows. Neither did these do much execution, being quickly despatched with the great lances that ran them through, head, wood and all, with such a force, as oftentimes they ran through two at once.
Thus when they had fought the whole day, night drew on, and made the Parthians retire, saying they would give Crassus that night's respite, to lament and bewail his son's death; unless upon better consideration he would rather go to Arsaces than be carried to him. These, therefore, took up their quarters near him, being flushed with their victory.
But the Romans had a sad night of it; for neither taking care for the burial of their dead, nor the cure of the wounded, nor the groans of the expiring, everyone bewailed his own fate. For there was no means of escaping, whether they should stay for the light, or venture to retreat into the vast desert in the dark. On the other side, their wounded men did grieve them much, because, to carry them so away, they knew it would let their flight: and yet to leave them so behind, their pitiful cries would give the enemies knowledge of their departure.
Now, though they all thought Crassus the only author of their misery, yet were they desirous to see his face, and to hear him speak. But Crassus went aside without light, and laid him down with his head covered, because he would see no man, showing thereby to the common sort an example of unstable Fortune, and to the wise men, a good learning to know the fruits of ill counsel and vain ambition, that had so much blinded him as he could not be content to command so many thousands of men, but thought (as a man would say) himself the meanest of all other, and one that possessed nothing, because he was accounted inferior unto two persons only, Pompey and Caesar.
Notwithstanding, Octavius, one of his chieftains, and Cassius the treasurer, made him rise, and sought to comfort him the best they could. But in the end, seeing him so overcome with sorrow, and out of heart, that he had no life nor spirit in him: they themselves called the captains and centurions together, and sat in council for their departure, and so agreed that there was no longer tarrying for them. Thus of their own authority at the first they made the army march away without any sound of trumpet or other noise.
But immediately after, they that were left hurt and sick, and could not follow, seeing the camp remove, fell a-crying out and tormenting themselves in such sort, that they filled the whole camp with sorrow, and put them out of all order with their great moans and loud lamentation: so as the foremost rank that first dislodged fell into a marvellous fear, thinking they had been the enemies that had come and set upon them. By which means, now and then turning out of their way, now and then standing to their ranks, sometimes taking up the wounded that followed, sometimes laying them down, they wasted the time, except for three hundred horsemen, whom Egnatius brought safe to Carrhae about midnight. Calling in the Latin tongue to the watch, as soon as they heard him, he bade them tell Coponius, the governor, that Crassus had fought a very great battle with the Parthians; and having said but this, and not so much as telling his name, he rode away at full speed to Zeugma. And by this means he saved himself and his men, but lost his reputation by deserting his general.
However, his message was for the advantage of Crassus; for Coponius, suspecting by this hasty and confused delivery of the message that all was not well, immediately ordered the garrison to be in arms; and as soon as he understood that Crassus was upon the way towards him, he went out to meet him, and brought him and his army into the city of Carrhae.
The Parthians knew well enough of the removing of the Romans' camp, but yet would not follow them in the night. But the next morning, entering into their camp where they lay, they slew all that were left behind, which were about four thousand men: and riding after them that were gone, took many stragglers in the plain. Among them there was Varguntinus, one of Crassus's lieutenants, who strayed in the night out of the army with four whole cohorts, and having lost his way, got to a hill, where the Parthians besieged him, slew him and all his company, though he valiantly there defended himself: yet twenty of them only escaped, who with their swords drawn in their hands, running forward with their heads, thrust in among the thickest of the Parthians: they wondering at their desperation, opened their ranks, and suffered them to march on towards the city of Carrhae.
In the meantime false news was brought to Surena, how Crassus with all the chiefest men of his host was fled, and that the great number that were received into the city of Carrhae were men of all sorts gathered together, and not a man of any quality or estimation. Surena thereupon thinking he had lost the honour of his victory, yet standing in some doubt of it, because he would know the truth, that he might either besiege the city of Carrhae or follow Crassus, he sent one of his interpreters to the walls, commanding him in Latin to call for Crassus or Cassius, for that the general Surena desired a conference.
The interpreter did as he was commanded. Word was brought to Crassus, and he accepted the proposal; and soon after there came up a band of Arabians, who very well knew the faces of Crassus and Cassius, as having been frequently in the Roman camp before the battle. They, having espied Cassius from the wall, told him that Surena desired a peace, and would give them safe convoy, if they would make a treaty with the king his master, and withdraw all their troops out of Mesopotamia; and this he thought most advisable for them both, before things came to the last extremity. Cassius, embracing the proposal, desired that a time and place might be appointed where Crassus and Surena might have an interview. The Arabians, having charged themselves with the message, went back to Surena, who was not a little rejoiced that Crassus was there to be besieged.
Narration and Discussion
Why was it so difficult to organize the breakup of the camp? (What hard choices had to be made?)
"But Crassus went aside without light, and laid him down with his head covered, because he would see no man." (Dryden: "But he wrapped his cloak around him, and hid himself.") Plutarch says that this was a doubly bad example of poor leadership: how so?
What was the real reason that Surena sent messengers to Carrhae? Was he actually interested in negotiating with Crassus?
Creative narration: If you are continuing the "Choose Your Own Destiny" project, you may want to add to that.
Do you remember Ariamnes, "the most faithless of men?" Another "helpful" guide, Andromachus, appeared now as the Romans' guide out of Carrhae. Like Ariamnes, he led them in circles, while keeping the Parthians informed of their every move.
Historic Sidenote: Did the Romans ever conquer the Parthians?
Yes: the Roman emperor Trajan conquered the Parthian capital city in 114/115 AD.
design: scheme, plan
infatuated: While this word usually means "deeply in love," in this case it is more like "trusting completely"
punctual intelligence: speedy news
hither and thither: all over the place
sign of Sagittary (Sagittarius): Sagittarius is symbolized by an archer
cohort: about 480 soldiers
to give colour to this bruit: to sell his story
crafty fetches and devices: tricks
profound reverence: deep bow
capitulations: things agreed to give up; terms of surrender
deserts: what they deserved
Andromachus: All we know about him is from Plutarch's account.
53 B.C.: Death of Crassus. He is officially said to have died at the Battle of Carrhae, although these events took place just afterwards.
Next day, therefore, he came up with his army, insulting over the Romans, and haughtily demanded of them Crassus and Cassius, bound, if they expected any mercy. The Romans, seeing themselves deluded and mocked, were much troubled at it, but advising Crassus to lay aside his distant and empty hopes of aid from the Armenians, resolved to flee for it; and this design ought to have been kept private, till they were upon their way, and not have been told to any of the people of Carrhae.
But Crassus let this also be known to Andromachus, the most faithless of men; nay, he was so infatuated as to choose him for his guide. The Parthians then, to be sure, had punctual intelligence of all that passed; but it being contrary to their usage and also difficult for them to fight by night, and Crassus having chosen that time to set out, Andromachus, lest he should get the start too far of his pursuers, led him hither and thither, and at last conveyed him into the midst of morasses and places full of ditches, so that the Romans had a troublesome and perplexing journey of it, and some there were who, supposing by these windings and turnings of Andromachus that no good was intended, resolved to follow him no further.
And at last Cassius himself returned to Carrhae; and when his guides (who were Arabians) counselled him to tarry there, till the moon were out of the sign of Scorpio, he answered them: "I fear the sign of Sagittary more"; and so with five hundred horse he went off to Syria. Others there were who, having got honest guides, took their way by the hills of Sinnaca, and got into places of security by daybreak; these were five thousand under the command of Octavius, a very gallant man. But the day stole upon Crassus, hunting up and down yet in the marsh, in those ill-favoured places into which Andromachus, that traitor, had of purpose brought him, having with him four cohorts of footmen, and very few horsemen, and five lictors, with whom having great difficulty got into the road, and not being a mile and a half from Octavius, instead of going to join him, although the enemy were already upon him, he retreated to another hill, neither so defensible nor impassable for the horse, but lying under the hills at Sinnaca; and continued so as to join them in a long ridge through the plain.
Octavius plainly saw the danger Crassus was in, and himself, at first but slenderly followed, hurried to the rescue. Soon after, the rest, upbraiding one another with baseness in forsaking their officers, marched down, and falling upon the Parthians, drove them from the hill; and compassing Crassus about, and fencing him with their shields, declared proudly that no arrow in Parthia should ever touch their general, so long as there was a man of them left alive to protect him.
Hereupon Surena perceiving the Parthians were not so courageous as they were wont to be, and that if night came upon them, and that the Romans did once recover the high mountains, they could never possibly be met withal again: he thought cunningly to beguile Crassus once more by this device. He let certain prisoners go of purpose, before whom he made his men give out this speech: that the king of Parthia would have no mortal war with the Romans; but far otherwise, he rather desired their friendship, by showing them some notable favour, as to use Crassus very courteously. And to give colour to this bruit, he called his men from fight, and going himself in person towards Crassus, with the chiefest of the nobility of his host, in quiet manner, his bow unbent: he held out his right hand, and called Crassus to talk with him of peace, and said unto him that though the Romans had felt the force and power of their king, it was against his will, for he could do no less but defend himself: howbeit that now he was very willing and desirous to make them taste of his mercy and clemency, and was contented to make peace with them, and to let them go safely where they would.
All the Romans besides Crassus were glad of Surena's words. But Crassus that had been deceived before by their crafty fetches and devices, considering also no cause apparent to make them change thus suddenly: would not hearken to it, but first consulted with his friends.
Howbeit the soldiers cried out on him to go, and fell at words with him, saying that he cared not though they were all slain, and that himself had not the heart only to come down and talk with the enemies that were unarmed. Crassus proved first to pacify them by fair means, persuading them to bear a little patience but till night, which was at hand, and then they might safely depart at their pleasure, and recover the mountains and strait passages, where their enemies could not follow them: and pointing them the way with his finger, he prayed them not to be fainthearted, nor to despair of their safety, seeing they were so near it.
But when they mutinied and clashed their shields in a threatening manner, he was overpowered and forced to go, and only turning about at parting, said, "You, Octavius and Petronius, and rest of the officers who are present, see the necessity of going which I lie under, and cannot but be sensible of the indignities and violence offered to me. Tell all men when you have escaped, that Crassus perished rather by the subtlety of his enemies than by the disobedience of his countrymen."
Octavius, however, would not stay there, but with Petronius went down from the hill; as for the lictors, Crassus bade them be gone.
The first that met him were two half-blood Greeks, who, leaping from their horses, made a profound reverence to Crassus, and desired him, in Greek, to send some before him, who might see that Surena himself was coming towards them, his retinue disarmed, and not having so much as their wearing swords along with them.
But Crassus answered that if he had the least concern for his life, he would never have entrusted himself in their hands, but sent two brothers of the name of Roscius to inquire on what terms and in what numbers they should meet.
These Surena ordered immediately to be seized, and himself with his principal officers came up on horseback, and greeting him, said, "How is this, then? A Roman commander is on foot, whilst I and my train are mounted." But Crassus replied that there was no error committed on either side, for they both met according to the custom of their own country. Surena replied: "As for the treaty of peace, that was already agreed upon between the King Orodes and the Romans." He said, however, that they were to go to the river, and there to set down the articles in writing. "For you Romans," said he, "do not greatly remember the capitulations you have agreed upon." With those words he gave him his right hand. As Crassus was sending for a horse: "You shall not need," said Surena, "for look, the king doth present you this." And straight away one was brought him with a steel saddle richly gilt, upon the which his gentlemen mounted Crassus immediately, and following him behind, lashed his horse to make him run the swifter.
Octavius, seeing that, first laid hand on the bridle; then Petronius, colonel of a thousand footmen; and after them, all the rest of the Romans also gathered about Crassus to stay the horse, and to take him from them by force, that pressed him on of either side. So they thrust one at another at the first very angrily, and at the last fell to blows.
Then Octavius drew out his sword, and slew one of the barbarous noblemen's horsekeepers; and another came behind him, and slew Octavius. Petronius was not armed, but being struck on the breastplate, fell down from his horse, though without hurt. Crassus was killed by a Parthian, called Pomaxathres; others say by a different man, and that Pomaxathres only cut off his head and right hand after he had fallen. But this is conjecture rather than certain knowledge, for those that were by had not leisure to observe particulars, and were either killed fighting about Crassus, or ran off at once to get to their comrades on the hill.
But the Parthians coming up to them, and saying that Crassus had the punishment he justly deserved, and that Surena bade the rest come down from the hill without fear, some of them came down and surrendered themselves, others were scattered up and down in the night, a very few of whom got safe home; and others the Arabians, beating through the country, hunted down and put to death. It is generally said that, in all, twenty thousand men were slain and ten thousand taken prisoners.
[omission for length]
Such was the success of Crassus's enterprise and voyage, much like unto the end of a tragedy. But afterwards, Orodes' cruelty, and Surena's foul perjury and craft, were in the end justly revenged upon them both, according to their deserts. For Surena not long after was put to death by Orodes, out of mere envy to his glory; and Orodes himself, having lost his son in a battle with the Romans, was murdered by his second son [omission].
Rather Horrific Footnote for Older Students (summarized from Plutarch's text)
When Orodes invaded Armenia, he immediately arranged a marriage between Artavasdes' sister and the Parthian crown prince. The story goes that while they were watching a Greek tragedy, The Bacchae, produced in honour of the wedding, the news of the Roman defeat at Carrhae was announced, and the head of Crassus was displayed as a "prop" in the play. "The king was greatly pleased, and gave presents, according to the custom of the Parthians, to the [actors]. Such was the burlesque that was played, they tell us, as the afterpiece to the tragedy of Crassus's expedition."
Narration and Discussion
"Hereupon Surena perceiving the Parthians were not so courageous as they were wont to be . . . " What might have happened if Surena had ignored the mood of his men and simply forced them to fight the Romans?
Discuss Crassus's statement: "Yet I pray you if your fortunes be to escape this danger, that ye will report wheresoever you come, that Crassus was slain, not delivered up by his own soldiers into the hands of the barbarous people, as I am: but deceived by the fraud and subtlety of his enemies." Dryden translates this, "Tell all men when you have escaped, that Crassus perished rather by the subtlety of his enemies, than by the disobedience of his countrymen." Was this true? Why did Crassus want this said about him?
Creative narration: If you are continuing the "Choose Your Own Destiny" project, you may want to add to that.
1. Tell about the final meeting between Crassus and the Parthian general Surena.
2. "People were wont to say that the many virtues of Crassus were darkened by the one vice of avarice." What is avarice, and how did it lead to the downfall of Crassus?
3. Tell what you know of the war against Spartacus.
1. See (2) or (3) above.
2. (High school) Open Book Exam: Go back through this Life, and choose two or three quotes that describe the most important points about Crassus. Be prepared to explain why you chose the ones you did.
AmblesideOnline Plutarch Readings:
Aemilius Agis Alcibiades Alexander Aristides Brutus Julius Caesar Camillus Cato Cicero Coriolanus Crassus Demetrius Demosthenes Dion Fabius Gracchus Nicias Pericles Philopoemen Phocion Pompey, Pt 1 Pompey, Pt 2 Publicola Pyrrhus Solon Themistocles Timoleon Titus Flamininus
Aemilius Agis Alcibiades Alexander Aristides Brutus Julius Caesar Camillus Cato Cicero Coriolanus Crassus Demetrius Demosthenes Dion Fabius Gracchus Nicias Pericles Philopoemen Phocion Pompey, Pt 1 Pompey, Pt 2 Publicola Pyrrhus Solon Themistocles Timoleon Titus Flamininus