A quick recap of Crassus Part 1 – 3: As Crassus became incredibly wealthy in Rome; his political aspirations never came to fruition. However, when he personally financed the force that put down a massive slave rebellion, he believed his time of glory had arrived.
He was wrong. His one-time friend, but eventual rival Pompey was given the credit and Triumph. Crassus had had enough…..
Even though he was not given glory he so long desired, Crassus’ time at battle were not a complete waste. His army had become battle hardened and experienced. Plus, he developed the perception of an competent field commander.
After the defeat of Spartacus, Crassus looked for opportunity and seized whatever power he could. He wisely did not disband his army and camped outside of Rome. This was a clear message to the senate that they had two choices; 1) Give him a political position or 2) Army outside their walls would attack. The Senate chose option 1: Crassus was give a consulship which was shared with Pompey. After more political maneuvering, Crassus was made governor of Syria for 5 years.
Syria was somewhat of a mixed bag for Rome: It was rich in natural resources and had healthy trading routes, however the neighboring Kingdom of Parthia had always been a thorn in Rome’s side. The Parthians had a powerful military centered on a strong cavalry. The Roman military always had its issues against them.
Crassus saw his governorship of Syria as a way to kill two birds with one stone. He planned to get even wealthier off the territory and he would be able to launch military campaigns against Parthia for the military glory he so desperately desired.
When Crassus arrived in Syria he wasted almost no time. He raised an Army, called his veterans into service and headed eastward to fight the Parthians.
To help him, The King of Armenia offered Crassus 40,000 troops and safe passage through their territory. Although this would take a little longer it guaranteed that Crassus would be safe, have more men and he could attack Parthia from the North with a clear exit strategy should he need it…
However, Crassus declined their offer. To this day historians don’t know why. He was not in terrible health, there was no rush to take the Parthians (he was the one invading them). The invasion was completely on his own accord. Historians speculate that Crassus expected a trap, but the Armenians had not really given him a reason to believe so. There was no history of treachery with the Armenians.
So instead, Crassus then marched his 50,000-man army into enemy territory with no backup and limited knowledge of both the land his was invading and army he would inevitably face.
As Crassus marched through Parthia, a small all cavalry unit of the Parthian military attacked them. The Parthians first attacked with horse archers so Crassus ordered his men to form the testudo (the popular shield turtle you’ve seen in movies). He sent his son and his scouting calvary to chase off the attackers. However, his son and his subordinate units were surrounded and instantly killed, by the Parthian heavy calvary. When the dust settled Crassus saw his son’s head on a spear. The Parthians then began raining arrows down on the Romans. Crassus hoped to keep his men in the Testudo and simply let the Parthians run out of Arrows. Unknown to Crassus, the Parthians had a good supply line of arrows and kept them coming the entire day. By mid-day Crassus was so demoralized and terrified he literally stopped speaking all together. He lost his son and now knew he was probably going to die. When nightfall came the Parthians withdrew and the Centurions took over and ordered everyone to march to the nearby city of Carrhae. The Romans left behind 4,000 wounded and lost 4 more cohorts marching through the night. Everyone except for around 50 Romans were killed.
The surviving Romans made it to the city of Carrhae and got inside. By morning, the Parthians instantly surrounded them. Crassus was forced by his men to parley with the Parthians. He was killed in the meeting and the remaining soldiers were enslaved or killed. The Legionary Golden eagles were captured and as legend tells it, a few of them were melted down and poured down Crassus throat. His head was then used in Parthia in the Kings court as a puppet for entertainment. The enslaved men were sold east. They even found a Roman solider who looked like Crassus, made him dress like woman and paraded him through the streets referring to him as “Crassus and Imperator”.
The loss at Carrhae was terrible for Rome. Close to 50,000 men were killed or captured. The invasion of Parthia was viewed as unnecessary, greedy and embarrassing. Plus, the defeat made the Crassus name synonymous with failure. It wouldn’t be until the reign of Augustus that the Legionary Eagles were negotiated back, and the bulk of the prisoners returned to Rome.
Thus, ends the legacy of Crassus; a man who wanted to be so rich and powerful he ultimately suffered from his own hubris. Going into an unfamiliar territory against an unfamiliar foe with no real tactics to fight them. Politically however Crassus bold moves motivated by political and personal greed set way for the Roman Republic to turn to Empire…
As mentioned in PART 2, a small group of about 70 slave gladiators led by Spartacus rebelled and destroyed their training facility, then escaped into the countryside around Capua.
At first, Spartacus’ rebellion was not given much attention. However, the local militia/police could not handle it and were quickly defeated and their weapons taken away. The Capuan government pleaded to Senate, who eventually agreed to send Gaius Claudius Glaber, a Praetor (think half congressman half Major), to deal with the rebellion.
Initially, Glaber was successful as his army of local militia surrounded Spartacus on Mount Vesuvius. His plan was starve out Spartacus and his men. However, Spartacus showing off his martial prowess, used vines to rappel down the side of the mountain under darkness and completely wiped out the Roman force.
This news sent shock waves throughout Rome and the Senate realized they were not dealing with just a band of runaways. The Senate responded by dispatching full Armies to put down Spartacus. However, he was able to defeat ALL OF THEM with amazing success.
We cannot state how much we are underselling Spartacus here. Think about it:
Spartacus was able to defeat a full Roman Legion and make them retreat during battle. Eventually, Spartacus and his men were holding entire Roman cities hostage. To put in perspective: the notion of a Roman Army losing to Spartacus’s ragtag gang of runaways was like Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls loosing to a JV high school team – but it was happening over and over again. With each victory Sparatcus got more and more slaves and freedmen to flock to him. Historians but his armies at around 120,000 men.
The Senate realized that this problem was more serious than they could ever have imagined. Naturally, the senate’s preferred choice to deal with Spartacus was Pompey, however Pompey was currently engaged elsewhere and could not make it to Rome. Crassus, seeing this opportunity, volunteered to take on Spartacus. And to the surprise of Rome, Crassus said he would pay for the entire campaign himself: the troops, the equipment, everything. As far as the senate was concerned it was a no brainier.
Crassus was not pleased with current Legions that he took over, they had embarrassed Rome not only in defeat but for the simple fact they had retreated in battle. Crassus knew that his Legions were demoralized and most likely terrified of the now near mythical Spartacus. Believing that his men should fear him more than the enemy, he re-instituted a punishment from the time of Roman Kings: “Decimation”. Decimation was normally reserved for units that had lost their nerve in battle. The punishment is brutal yet simple. The disgraced unit is picked by the Armies top officer, then Ten percent (10%) of the men are selected randomly or by their comrades, and then their comrades beat them to death. This was supposed to be an all encompassing punishment. The men picked paid the price for cowardice, and the rest of the men had to deal with the trauma of beating their former comrade to death. Even by ancient standards this was considered a putrid and unnecessarily harsh event.
However, this did seem to have worked. In the coming campaign Crassus's Army was generally successful against Spartacus and never faltered or retreated. Obviously, there were setbacks, but overall Crassus armies were causing more damage than they were taking. Slowly but surely, he was forcing Spartacus into a corner.
Although, to the Senate, the war was taking longer than expected and when Pompey returned to Rome he was sent to assist Crassus. Crassus, not wanting to share any glory with Pompey, pressed harder on Spartacus and met him in open battle. Crassus’s Armies were successful and defeated the bulk of Spartacus forces but a large number of them escaped to the nearby hills. The remainder of the Spartacus’ Army were then caught by Pompey’s forces and slaughtered. The captured survivors were then crucified and left along the Appian way as a warning for all slaves who dare think of rebellion.
At the end of this bloody war, both Crassus and Pompey claimed the glory. Crassus had done the bulk of the work, while Pompey dealt the final killing blow. However, Crassus almost reached his moment of glory, but was snubbed when Senate gave credit to Pompey for defeating Spartacus…
Crassus Ransacks the Temple of Jerusalem, by Giovanni Battista Pittoni 1743
With Sulla firmly in charge of Rome, Crassus sought to build his fortune. To do this, Crassus used a simple principal of investment that is still utilized today: buy low - sell high. The initial process was effective, yet morbid: As Sulla was eliminating his political enemies or “potential” enemies; Crassus would buy their estates for pennies on the dollar. These estates were usually left over property and assets (usually slaves and animals).
In terms of property, we don’t know the specifics of his business dealings, but it most likely he sold the bulk of his newly acquired properties to other rich Roman citizens. Plus, Crassus made his fortune even larger with his own sort of “Cash for Clunkers” program but with property instead of cars. Again, this program inherently simple: when a fire would strike a building, Crassus would dispatch a team of men armed with buckets of water and offer the owner of the property money to buy the burning building from them on the spot. If they accepted, Crassus would pay the agreed upon sum, put the fire out and then set his team of highly skilled slaves to rebuilding the property. Then he’d rent out the property or sell it at a profit. Stories about the devious lengths Crassus would go to get cheap properties were numerous even during the time of his life. Some Romans admired it while others held him in contempt for being so greedy.
At his height Crassus had amassed a fortune that rivaled the treasuries of Rome itself. Before Crassus left for his last military expedition his personal treasury was around 7.4 million troy ounces of gold - estimated at around 9 billion USD today.
Crassus wasn’t happy with just a massive fortune; he sought political power and military glory. Unfortunately for Crassus every political move he tried to make was constantly out maneuvered by his rival Gneaus Pompey Magnus. Both men had fought under Sulla and both men were well connected, but it seemed every time a military assignment came up, Crassus was glossed over.
Pompey was often chosen to deal with the issues and situations in the Roman territories: Uprising in Africa? Pompey was chosen. Unrest and small-scale war in Spain? Pompey was chosen. And with victory after victory the Senate knew they could always bet on him to get the job done. Pompey was given a Triumph in Rome and people in the streets would call him “Pompey The Great”. While all Crassus was known for was being the Rich guy who would buy your house when it burned down. Eventually political luck would sway towards Crassus, when a slave by the name of Spartacus started a small rebellion in Capua and was gaining victory after victory against any army the Roman Republic would throw at him…
“Greed is but a word jealous men inflict upon the ambitious"
- Marcus Licinius Crassus
During Sulla’s civil war one thing was becoming abundantly clear, the once sacred aurora of nonviolent politics was now over, infighting was throughout Rome. Roman's fighting Romans for power, was beginning to be accepted as common place and those who could swing a sword along with those able to afford an Army would be the ones to rule all of Rome. With all this infighting and abandonment of civil political discourse, one man emerged from the chaos Marcus Linus Crassus.
Because the Romans loved naming their sons with the EXACT SAME NAME as their Fathers, the historical record tends to get a bit messy. What we can figure out is that Crassus was Born around 115 BC to a wealthy patrician family. His father had been both consul and censor, while Crassus himself was known to be bright, outspoken in his beliefs, very energetic, and proficient in public speaking
Crassus came of age during the Civil Wars of Marius and Sulla, and his family allied themselves against Marius and the Marian faction. When Sulla entered Rome for the first time Crassus family gave Sully all the support they could give, later when the Marian faction retook Rome after Sulla had left, Crassus’s family was in the Marian crosshairs. Many powerful and rich members of Crassus’s family were targeted and killed. His family’s fortunes were plundered and Crassus himself had a bounty on his head. Fearing for his life and probably seeking a little revenge, Crassus fled Rome and went from province to province avoiding the purges of the Marian faction. Eventually he got to Africa, when he was finally able to meet up and join forces with Sulla himself.
Sulla understood the concept of loyalty and graciously accepted the young and bright Crassus into his army. Sulla held Crassus with “in a position of special honor”. Most likely Sulla used this to show that people who had risked it all to support him, would in turn be protected by Sulla.
While not much is recorded about Crassus during the Second Civil war, what is clear is that Crassus proved himself to be a competent (or at least loyal) Military man. He was present at the battle of Spoleto on which his detachment of soldiers defeated a Marian force. Crassus position in this is not exactly clear, but Sulla trusted him enough to be away from the main force and to lay siege to a rival city in mainland Italy. Crassus was victories and soon Sulla would be as well.
After Sulla took Rome for the second time and once and for all destroyed the remnants of the Marian faction Crassus set his eyes on rebuilding his fortune and putting his name among the most powerful ones in Rome…
"I forgive the many for the sake of the few, the living for the dead"
Lucius Cornelius Sulla
In our previous newsletter we discussed Sulla and his betrayal by Marius, Sulla had already marched on Rome once to prove he was not to be trifled with. Unfortunately for Sulla the supporters and allies of Marius again sought to declare Sulla an enemy of The Republic.
When Sulla left Rome after his first march, he assigned supporters to key political positions to ensure that his power would stay consolidated. While Sulla was locked in conflict in Greece, Marius's Son and his supporters began to seize political positions from Sulla’s appointees both by force and legal processes. This upheaval ended in over 100 Sulla supporters killed. The "Marians" then made all legal reforms under Sulla null and void and had him exiled from Rome. Sulla became infuriated and decided to bring his armies with him back to Rome. This time no one would be spared, Sulla was determined to eliminate all his enemy's...With extreme prejudice
The second "Social War" was a very bloody one, with practically every battle being in Sulla's favor. As Sulla gained more and more victories the noble men and military leadership left in mainland Italy began to flock with his banner. It soon came to the fact that the Marians were simply running out of men to fight the seemingly invincible Sulla. Sulla was even able to take the city of Rome before the war was over. Eventually in a final massive battle Sulla was able to completely wipe out the last of the opposing Marian forces with Marius The Young (Marius's son) committing suicide in a sewer.
Sulla was able to march back into Rome with no one left to challenge him. The gates opened for him and he was cheered as he rode through the streets. However, those now cheering his name were soon to learn that Sulla was not here to build libraries or brothels. Here is a quick note about the things to come from Wikipedia:
"Sulla subsequently entered the city as a victorious general. A meeting of the Senate was convened in the Temple of Bellona; as Sulla was addressing the senators, the sound of terrified screams drifted in from the Campus Martius. Sulla calmed the senators by attributing the screams to 'some criminals that are receiving correction.' What the Senate had heard was the sound of 8,000 prisoners who had surrendered the previous day being executed on Sulla's orders; none of the captured were spared from execution. Soon afterwards, Sulla had himself declared Dictator, and now held supreme power over Rome."
In a short amount of time, Sulla took this opportunity to have anyone he felt had betrayed him killed. He issued "proscriptions" on which people were killed and their property seized by the state of Rome. Historians of the time give an estimate of over 9,000 people killed purely because Sulla had named them. While in Rome, Sulla named himself dictator and implemented a series of political reforms, limiting powers of some offices and expanding others. Eventually Sulla gave up the power or dictator and disbanded his legions and eventually ran for other political offices. He later died at the age of 60.
He was buried as a national hero, on his tombstone was an epitath, which Sulla composed himself, reading: "No friend ever served me, and no enemy ever wronged me, whom I have not repaid in full".
No friend ever served me, and no enemy ever wronged me, whom I have not repaid in full"
Lucius Cornelius Sulla
In Part 1, we discussed Sulla and his initial successes implementing the Marius reforms to the Roman Military. This newsletter is the continuation of Lucius Cornelius Sulla and his 1st marched on Rome.
After Marius' reforms were implemented, the political landscape in Rome immediately changed. Power was shifted from the Senate to the Generals who were most successful in battle. These Generals wielded their power and commanded tens of thousands of loyal men.
Sulla was no exception to these circumstances. Being extremely successful in several theaters of war Sulla became popular with his men, and less popular in the political arena with Senates and other politicians. Feeling this threat, Sulla eventually found himself an enemy of Marius, who's political power had grown significantly during this time. Eventually, Marius sought to have Sulla declared enemy of state.
Sulla did not take this to well and decided to march on Rome. He seized the city and had Marius exiled to Africa. However, after growing restless and implementing a few political reforms, Sulla left Rome to fight more wars in Greece and elsewhere.
To make long story short, Marius seized this opportunity to put himself back in power in Rome. He once again labeled Sulla an outlaw and a traitor to the Roman Republic. Furious, Sulla decided to take his 6 legions back to Rome, however by the time he arrived Marius had died at the old age of 71. Sulla was not able to confront Marius when he returned to Rome for the Second time.
"No friend ever served me, and no enemy ever wronged me, whom I have not repaid in full"
Lucius Cornelius Sulla
In our previous newsletter we discussed Gaius Marius and his reform to the Roman Military. This newsletter is about the general who benefited most from these reforms, Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Ironically he used the reforms to eventually defeat Gauis and march on Rome not once, but twice.
Born in 139 BC, Sulla grew up in a poor yet well-connected family. He was able to receive a classical education and eventually ended up in the Roman Military where he quickly climbed the ranks.
Around 112 BC an African King tried to claim most of the North Africa territories for himself. After a series of failed military campaigns to defeat the king, Rome responded by appointing Marius as Consul (General) to the Legions in North Africa. Sulla was appointed as his 2nd in command where he quickly established himself as an excellent military leader, capturing the enemy King. This led to a faster victory for the Roman forces and by 106 BC the war was over.
Marius was given a Triumph in Rome, while Sulla sat quietly on the sidelines.
Then, in 104 BC another war broke out in northern Europe. Once more, the Marius-Sulla team was sent to put it down. And once again, while Sulla commanded the Roman Military to victory, other well-connect political Commanders took credit and receive the Triumphs of victory.
Sulla, smart and calculating, was satisfied to reap the rewards of battle and allow the politicians to play the political game. Eventually, he was given a province of his own to govern in northern Europe.
Later, in 91 BC the "Social War" broke out. However, this time it was cities from inside mainland Italy – close to Rome. These cities were rebelling for a lack of representation in the Roman Senate. Sulla was once again called to defend Rome from an enemy inside its occupied territories.
Yet again Sulla proved himself to be a superior Roman Commander winning multiple victories. He was awarded the highest Roman military honor for personal bravery in the field. He was given the ceremonial “Grass Crown,” which was woven from grasses and other plants taken from the actual battlefield.
The "Ides of March" refers to the assassination of Julius Caesar on March 15, 44 BC. He was murdered by a group of Roman senators who believed him to be a Tyrant with aspirations to end the Roman Republic and appoint himself Emperor.
The news of Caesar's death was not well received or viewed as any sort of "Liberation" by Rome and it's citizens. Immediately, a series of violent and costly civil wars erupted throughout the City and the Region.
Eventually, Caesar's chosen heir Gaius Octavius emerged victorious and through various reforms and grabs for power he became the first Emperor of Rome....effectively ending the Roman Republic.
The "Ides of March" gave birth to one of the most powerful Civilizations in the history of time. A Civilization which, at it's height, occupied a quarter of the world's population.
"This gave Marius time to toughen the bodies of his men and improve their morale and – most important of all – to make them understand what sort of man he was himself. That fierce manner of his in command and his inflexibility in imposing punishments seemed to them, once they got the habit of discipline and obedience, not only right and proper but a positive advantage. His angry temper, rough voice and that forbidding expression with which they gradually grew familiar, seemed more terrible to the enemy than to themselves."
- Plutarch, Life of Marius
The Marian Reforms refers to a complete restructuring of the entire Roman Military instituted by Gaius Marius in 107 BC. These reforms laid the foundation for the successful expansion of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. The most significant reform being: creating a a fully professional force ready for combat 24/7.
Prior to these reforms, Rome's senate would draft soldiers from their perspective social classes to form an Army and only do so in times of war. An eligible solider would have to have the following requirements:
- be a tax paying citizen
- have 3500 sesterces (about $5500) in property value
- supply his own weapons and equipment
The structure of the army was then essentially divided by those who could and who could not afford the better gear. With the poorest classes being unarmed javelin throwers and the wealthier classes making up the calvary.
In 108 BC, Marius was appointed a Consul (think combination; Speaker of House and General) to wage war in northern Africa. To Marius's frustration, he struggled to recruit an adequate force. He discovered that after years of constant war, inept leadership and the rise of land monopolies there was a shortage of men who qualified under these strict requirements. Dedicated to completing his mission, he implemented a series of reforms that allowed him to recruit from a wider pool of men and standardize military training.
The reforms were extensive and universally popular, especially with the lower classes. Marius allowed for the recruitment of landless peasants. He offered steady pay in return for their loyal service and if they were victorious they could benefit from the "spoils" of war. Furthermore, he was able to convince the Roman Senate to subsidize his war efforts; he standardized and manufactured weapons, armor and equipment for ALL soldiers, he instituted rigorous year-round training programs, and created "retirement packages” for men who had served their full 16 year enlistment. At the completion of their enlistment his veterans would be provided land in Rome’s new provinces, allowing them to join the middle or even upper class in their middle years.
Ultimately these reforms allowed Rome to be a nearly unstoppable military force in the ancient world. However, these reforms did mean that the duty of "Soldering" was no longer attached to the Senate, but their loyalty resided to the General who commanded them. The Senate soon learned that the power of Rome no longer resided in the senate halls, but in the War tent of the most successful General.
"Treasure. Bathtub... Treasure bath. I'm going to have a treasure bath! Treasure baaath!"
- Julius Caesar - History of the World Part 1
(Vercingetorix throws down his arms at the feet of Julius Caesar, by Lionel Royer, 1899)
The "Gallic Wars" refers to the conquering of almost all of Gaul (modern day France) by Julius Caesar, from around 58 - 50 BC. This expanded the Republic and secured strategic territories which benefited Rome and it's Citizens for many years.
Most of all the information we have today about these military campaigns is from "Commentaries" written primarily by Caesar. "Commentāriī dē Bellō Gallicō" is one of the most comprehensive pieces of Roman Military history. It is a detailed first person account of Caesar's time in Gaul. We recommend reading it, especially about the "Seige of Alesia" as it reads like a Hollywood script.
While Caesar was able overcome unbelievable odds and Conquer a massive territory such as Gaul, the war was politically complicated. As news of Caesar's successes reached Rome, is was not well received by all the Senators. Many of the tribes that Caesar conquered were allies and tax payers to Rome. His invasion was debated in the Senate for years and eventually deemed illegal by the Republic. Caesar was declared a war criminal and would face exile on his return to Rome.
However, after conquering Gaul, Caesar's did not accept banishment and marched with his veteran Legions to Rome to simply clear his name among political enemies. Eventually through a series of even more complicated civil wars and political infighting, Caesar emerged victorious and then claimed his self the "Perpetual Dictator of Rome".