Money was not enough for Crassus, the richest man in Rome

Crassus may have had the most wealth but his greed for military glory destroyed him in the last days of the Roman Republic.

Roman coins envelop a bust of Crassus, who used his savvy to build an incredible fortune in Rome in the first century B.C.
Photograph by H. Lewandowski/RMN-Grand Palais; Schöfmann/AGE Fotostock

In 60 B.C. Marcus Licinius Crassus was one of the most powerful men in Rome. A military commander who crushed a slave rebellion, Crassus had become a respected orator, patron, and politician, serving as consul twice among other positions. Through a combination of savvy and ruthlessness, he amassed the largest fortune in Rome. With Crassus’ money and connections, many men would have been content, but Crassus was not one of them.

Crassus joined forces with two other men in 60 B.C. to form a political alliance that would come to dominate Rome: the so-called First Triumvirate. Alongside Crassus stood Gaius Julius Caesar, an ambitious military commander beginning a life in politics. Crassus had once been Caesar’s patron, and the two remained allies. The third member was the proud and powerful Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, Pompey the Great, a former rival and now an uneasy ally.

Crassus’ decision to unite with these two men could seem baffling. Rich and influential, he joined the triumvirate for both practical and emotional reasons. This alliance with Caesar and Pompey not only helped pass laws favorable to his economic interests, but also gave Crassus the chance to prove his mettle as a soldier and earn the love reserved for Rome’s great commanders. It was a desire that would cost him his life and thrust Rome into civil war. (See also: How Julius Caesar started a big war by crossing a small stream.)

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