CRASSUS (literally "dense," "thick," "fat"), a family name in the Roman gens Licinia (plebeian). The most important of the name are the following:
1. Publius Licinius Crassus, surnamed Dives Mucianus, Roman statesman, orator and jurist, consul, 131 B.C. He was the son of P. Mucius Scaevola (consul 175) and was adopted by a P. Licinius Crassus Dives. An intimate friend of Tiberius Gracchus, he was chosen after his death to take his place on the agrarian commission (see Gracchus). In 131 when Crassus was consul with L. Valerius Flaccus, Aristonicus, an illegitimate son of Eumenes II. of Pergamum, laid claim to the kingdom, which had been bequeathed by Attalus III. to Rome. Both consuls were anxious to obtain the command against him; Crassus was pontifex maximus, and Flaccus a flamen of Mars. Crassus declared that Flaccus could not neglect his sacred office, and imposed a conditional fine on him in the event of his leaving Rome. The popular assembly remitted the fine, but Flaccus was ordered to obey the pontifex maximus. Crassus accordingly proceeded to Asia, although in doing so he violated the rule which forbade the pontifex maximus to leave Italy. Nothing is known of his military operations. But in the following year, when he was making preparations to return, he was surprised near Leucae. He was himself taken prisoner by a Thracian band, and provoked his captors, who were ignorant of his identity, to put him to death. Crassus does not seem to have possessed much military ability, but he was greatly distinguished for his knowledge of law and his accomplished oratory. He had acquired such a mastery of the Greek language that, when he presided over the courts in Asia, he was able to answer each suitor in ordinary Greek or any of the dialects in use.
Cicero, De oratore, i. 50; Philippics, xi. 8; Plutarch, Tib. Gracchus, 21; Livy, Epit. 59; Val. Max. iii. 2. 12, viii. 7. 6; Vell. Pat. ii. 4; Justin xxxvi. 4; Orosius v. 10.
2. Lucius Licinius Crassus (140-91 B.C.), the orator, of unknown parentage. At the age of nineteen (or twenty-one) he made his reputation by a speech against C. Papirius Carbo, the friend of the Gracchi. The law passed by him and his colleague Q. Mucius Scaevola during their consulship (95), to prevent those passing as Roman citizens who had no right to the title, was one of the prime causes of the Social War (Cicero, Pro Balbo, xxi., De officiis, iii. 11). During his censorship Crassus suppressed the newly founded schools of Latin rhetoricians (Aulus Gellius xv. 11). He died from excitement caused by his passionate speech against the consul L. Marcius Philippus, who had insulted the Senate. Crassus is one of the chief speakers in the De oratore of Cicero, who has also preserved a few fragments of his speeches.
3. Publius Licinius Crassus, called Dives, father of the triumvir. Little is known of him before he became consul in 97, except that he proposed a law regulating the expenses of the table, which met with general approval. During his consulship the practice of magic arts was condemned by a decree of the senate, and human sacrifice was abolished. He was subsequently governor of Spain for some years, during which he gained several successes over the Lusitanians, and on his return in 93 was honoured with a triumph. After the Social War, as censor with L. Julius Caesar, he had the task of enrolling in new tribes certain of the Latins and Italians as a reward for their loyalty to the Romans, but the proceedings seem to have been interrupted by certain irregularities. They also forbade the introduction of foreign wines and unguents. Crassus committed suicide in 87, to avoid falling into the hands of the Marian party.
Plutarch, Crassus, 4; Aulus Gellius ii. 24; Macrobius, Saturnalia, ii. 13; Livy, Epit. 80; Pliny, Nat. Hist. xxx. 3; Appian, Bell. Civ. i. 72; Festus, under Referri.
4. Marcus Licinius Crassus (c. 115-53 B.C.), the Triumvir, surnamed Dives (rich) on account of his great wealth. His wealth was acquired by traffic in slaves, the working of silver mines, and judicious purchases of lands and houses, especially those of proscribed citizens. The proscription of Cinna obliged him to flee to Spain; but after Cinna's death he passed into Africa, and thence to Italy, where he ingratiated himself with Sulla. Having been sent against Spartacus, he gained a decisive victory, and was honoured with a minor triumph. Soon afterwards he was elected consul with Pompey, and (70) displayed his wealth by entertaining the populace at 10,000 tables, and distributing sufficient corn to last each family three months. In 65 he was censor, and in 60 he joined Pompey and Caesar in the coalition known as the first triumvirate. In 55 he was again consul with Pompey, and a law was passed, assigning the provinces of the two Spains and Syria to the two consuls for five years. Crassus was satisfied with Syria, which promised to be an inexhaustible source of wealth. Having crossed the Euphrates he hastened to make himself master of Parthia; but he was defeated at Carrhae (53 B.C.) and taken prisoner by Surenas, the Parthian general, who put him to death by pouring molten gold down his throat. His head was cut off and sent to Orodes, the Parthian king. Crassus was a man of only moderate abilities, and owed his importance to his great wealth.
See Plutarch's Life; also Caesar, Gaius Julius; Pompey; Rome: History, II. "The Republic."
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)