Weird History
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The Shocking & Bizarre Life of the Man Who Killed Spartacus

Updated November 16, 2020 34.9k views18 items

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

    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.

  • His Severed Head Was Used As A Prop In A Play

    Photo: Caravaggio / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    One story says that Crassus's severed, gilded head and his hands were presented as a gift to the king of Armenia. Once the head arrived, it was used in a production of The Bacchae. The head was thrown in as a prop, and Pomaxathres, Crassus's killer, joined in as an actor.

  • He Was One Of The Richest Men Who Ever Lived

    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 Made A Fortune Off Of House Fires

    Photo: Thomas Cole / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Fires were an all-too-common hazard in Rome, and no organized fire brigade existed to extinguish them. Once Crassus realized this, he created his own personal fire brigade (possibly the world's first) in order to put out fires.

    The move wasn't as selfless as it seemed. When Crassus saw a house on fire, he would approach the owners of the house and offer to buy the the burning building, as well as the ones in danger of fire next door, at rock bottom prices. If the owners sold the house to him, he would put out the fire. If the owners refused to sell, Crassus would let the structures burn.

    Historians think this scheme allowed Crassus to purchase the bulk of property in Rome.