What do you know about the Man Who Killed Spartacus?

Most people have heard the name of the slave-turned-gladiator Spartacus, thanks to Hollywood movies and a popular television series. But this seemingly larger-than-life character actually existed – and he was killed by a man named Marcus Licinius Crassus. Facts about Roman General Crassus reveal that he was rich, devious, maybe a little evil, and, in the …

Most people have heard the name of the slave-turned-gladiator Spartacus, thanks to Hollywood movies and a popular television series. But this seemingly larger-than-life character actually existed – and he was killed by a man named Marcus Licinius Crassus. Facts about Roman General Crassus reveal that he was rich, devious, maybe a little evil, and, in the end, a foolish man. Every piece of trivia from the Marcus Licinius Crassus biography shows a man who is every bit as compelling as Spartacus, if not as well known.

Crassus was a shrewd businessman, but his methods were more than a little questionable. He wasn’t above letting people die to make money, and he bought fame and adoration rather than attempting to earn them. He allied with Julius Caesar, squabbled with Pompey, and violently ended slave rebellions in Rome. But Crassus’s military ambitions were bigger than his abilities, and he ultimately caused his own downfall. Once the richest man in Rome, he ended up decapitated and mocked by his enemies.

Who was Marcus Licinius Crassus? An influential politician? A savage military commander? A loathed public figure? Whatever your opinion of him, there’s no denying that he’s a fascinating historical figure.

According to One Legend, His Mouth Was Filled With Molten Gold

According to One Legend,... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list The Shocking & Bizarre Life of the Man Who Killed Spartacus
Photo: Jean-Léon Gérôme/via Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Crassus was ultimately killed while waging war against the Parthians. According to one story, soldiers cut off his head to take back as a trophy. They knew well Crassus’s reputation for loving money more than anything else, and decided to make a fitting tribute to his memory. They melted gold and poured it into the head. Then, the soldiers paraded the head through the streets. 

In some accounts, Crassus was captured alive, and then had gold poured into his mouth until it overflowed. Either way, the legend served as a cautionary tale to many children throughout Rome: don’t be greedy, because greedy men get what they deserve.

He Was One Of The Richest Men Who Ever Lived

He Was One Of The Riches... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list The Shocking & Bizarre Life of the Man Who Killed Spartacus
Photo: La case photo de Got/flickr/CC-BY 2.0

Although Crassus was best known for his military and political careers, it should also be noted that he was incredibly wealthy. He was rumored to own the majority of property in Rome, and supposedly amassed more money in his lifetime than any Roman ever would. Crassus liked to strategically spend in order to gain power, and he loved luxury.

But just how rich was Crassus, exactly? Sources disagree on the amount of money he had, but the highest estimates value his fortune at 200 million sesterces. That would make him a billionaire by current standards, and perhaps even a trillionaire.

He Bought His Own Private Army

He Bought His Own Private Army is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list The Shocking & Bizarre Life of the Man Who Killed Spartacus
Photo: Giuseppe Cesari/via Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Crassus financed his own personal fighting force, comprised of thousands of men – likely mostly slaves – as well as a sailing fleet. He served as the army’s general, just like his father had. However, unlike his father, Crassus was more interested in profit, and wouldn’t enter into a conflict unless it would financially benefit him.

According to some stories, Crassus declared that no man could be considered wealthy until he could buy his own private army.

He Was The Reason Julius Caesar Came To Power

He Was The Reason Julius Caesa is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list The Shocking & Bizarre Life of the Man Who Killed Spartacus
Photo: Cesare Maccari/via Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Julius Caesar likely wouldn’t have come to power if it wasn’t for Crassus. As a wealthy man, Crassus enjoyed playing patron to those he thought could further his political, military, and financial career.

In order to gain power in ancient Rome, one had to climb the cursus honorum, a political ladder of sequential offices. Crassus liked Caesar’s drive and ambition, and decided to fund all his endeavors, since Caesar wasn’t wealthy himself. Crassus paid the right people, gave Caesar all the right opportunities, and soon Caesar held the office of consul, the highest political position in Rome.

He Helped Purge The Senate In Order To Take Political Power

He Helped Purge The Senate In  is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list The Shocking & Bizarre Life of the Man Who Killed Spartacus
Photo: Cesare Maccari/via Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Once Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar joined together, the First Triumvirate began their massive bid for power. Rome was in turmoil, and the time was right for them to take center stage in government.

First, the three agreed to stand together to oppose any legislation they might dislike. Then, they bumped out Bibulus, who was co-consul with Caesar, so that Caesar could be consul all on his own. It wasn’t long before both Crassus and Pompey became high-ranking officials in the senate, and from there it was a process of elimination. The three men purged the senate of anyone they disliked, and passed laws to benefit them. They even cleared most of the debt Crassus owed on property, making him even richer.

He Threw A Massive Party After Killing Spartacus

He Threw A Massive Party After is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list The Shocking & Bizarre Life of the Man Who Killed Spartacus
Photo: Lawrence Alma-Tadema/via Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Crassus assumed he would receive glory for crushing Spartacus, but he wasn’t welcomed home the way he expected. On the contrary, he was shamed by a few politicians for requesting help, and for letting slaves escape. His rival Pompey got all the glory for stopping the slave rebellion, and was decorated with the highest of honors. Crassus, on the other hand, received lesser honors and a lesser office for his hard work.

Crassus was outraged. He had been overshadowed, unappreciated, and slandered, and he wasn’t going to take that sitting down. So, he threw a series of elaborate feasts to win favor with the people, all celebrating himself and his accomplishments. Upon hearing the name “Pompey the Great” uttered at his party, he supposedly responded by laughing and saying “Why, how big is he?”

He Was A Poor Military Strategist

He Was A Poor Military Strateg is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list The Shocking & Bizarre Life of the Man Who Killed Spartacus
Photo: Jean Bardin/via Wikimedia Commons

Crassus succeeded at business and politics – albeit through cutthroat means – but wasn’t a great military leader. He lost a lot of battles. He stumbled during the slave revolt, and often had to withdraw troops he sent abroad because he could not care for them. Crassus would advance recklessly and quickly, and even lost his son in battle during a hasty advance.

Many of Crassus’s soldiers were slaves or had been bought, so they harbored no love for him. He would stress their health with grueling marches, and neglected food and supplies in favor of faster movement. It’s no wonder, then, that Crassus was on the receiving end of multiple mutiny threats during his military career.

A Botched Negotiation Attempt Lead To His Death

A Botched Negotiation Attempt  is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list The Shocking & Bizarre Life of the Man Who Killed Spartacus
Photo: Évariste Vital Luminais/via Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

During Crassus’s fight against the Parthians, things went south in a hurry. Crassus advanced too far and too fast, thinning out his men drastically. His son was killed in battle, and his men lost heart. They told Crassus that surrender was the only option, and when he refused, they threatened to mutiny. Crassus decided to go on horseback to negotiate with the Parthian leader.

The horse struggled as Crassus mounted it, and Crassus’s men panicked. During the confusion, both sides resumed fighting. Many of Crassus’s men were killed and, eventually, he too was felled. Some say a man named Pomaxathres was the one who eventually beheaded his fallen body, though there’s some debate over exactly what happened.

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