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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.

  • He Was The Reason Julius Caesar Came To Power

    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 Killed Part of His Own Army After Spartacus Defeated Him

    Photo: Henri-Paul Motte / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    When the Third Servile War happened in 73 BCE, the Romans were nervous. The rebelling slaves were led by Spartacus, a former slave, warrior, and gladiator, and he was so well loved that he was becoming the topic of story and song. They needed to crush the rebellion, and fast - so they put the wealthy Crassus in charge of the army.

    Crassus's initial attacks didn't do much good, and he was thoroughly defeated. Embarrassed and enraged that he had failed, Crassus decided to teach his men a lesson. He called the 500 of his men he decided had shown the most cowardice forward, and made them draw lots. Any of the men who were marked - one in ten - were separated, and Crassus killed all of them. This act, decimation, had been used by previous generals, but it was a dead practice at the time. It made the point that he was a ruthless leader, but it did nothing to inspire love or loyalty in his men.

  • He Crucified All Survivors Of The Slave Revolt

    Photo: Fyodor Andreyevich Bronnikov / via Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Following his initial failure in the Third Servile War, Crassus sent for help. He got word back that help was on the way, in the form of Pompey. Crassus did not like Pompey, and decided to attempt to win the war himself. His troops surrounded the rebel slaves and killed them, just as Pompey arrived. Pompey rounded up any escapees, but by that time, Crassus had made certain that Spartacus was, indeed, dead.

    As far as the remaining slaves, Crassus decided to make a statement to any who would dare to revolt in the future. He took six thousand of the surviving slaves and crucified each and every one of them. He then lined the entire Appian Way with those crucified men, and left them there to slowly die.

  • He Threw A Massive Party After Killing 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?"