Life of Crassus, 1–33

Plutarch  translated by Bernadotte Perrin

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1Marcus Crassus was the son of a man who had been censor and had enjoyed a triumph; but he was reared in a small house with two brothers. His brothers were married while their parents were still alive, and all shared the same table, which seems to have been the chief reason why Crassus was temperate and moderate in his manner of life. When one of his brothers died, Crassus took the widow to wife, and had his children by her, and in these relations also he lived as well-ordered a life as any Roman. 2And yet when he was further on in years, he was accused of criminal intimacy with Licinia, one of the vestal virgins, and Licinia was formally prosecuted by a certain Plotius. Now Licinia was the owner of a pleasant villa in the suburbs which Crassus wished to get at a low price, and it was for this reason that he was forever hovering about the woman and paying his court to her, until he fell under the abominable suspicion. And in a way it was his avarice that absolved him from the charge of corrupting the vestal, and he was acquitted by the judges. But he did not let Licinia go until he had acquired her property.

2The Romans, it is true, say that the many virtues of Crassus were obscured by his sole vice of avarice; and it is likely that the one vice which became stronger than all the others in him weakened the rest. The chief proofs of his avarice are found in the way he got his property and in the amount of it. 2For at the outset he was possessed of not more than three hundred talents;[1] then during his consulship he sacrificed the tenth of his goods to Hercules, feasted the people, gave every Roman out of his own means enough to live on for three months, and still, when he made a private inventory of his property before his Parthian expedition, he found that it had a value of seventy-one hundred talents. 3The greatest part of this, if one must tell the scandalous truth, he got together out of fire and war, making the public calamities his greatest source of revenue.

For when Sulla took the city and sold the property of those whom he had put to death, considering it and calling it spoil of war, and wishing to defile with his crime as many and as influential men as he could, Crassus was never tired of accepting or of buying it.[2] 4And besides this, observing how natural and familiar at Rome were such fatalities as the conflagration and collapse of buildings, owing to their being too massive and close together, he proceeded to buy slaves who were architects and builders. Then, when he had over five hundred of these, he would buy houses that were afire, and houses which adjoined those that were afire, and these their owners would let go at a trifling price owing to their fear and uncertainty. In this way the largest part of Rome came into his possession. 5But though he owned so many artisans, he built no house for himself other than the one in which he lived; indeed, he used to say that men who were fond of building were their own undoers, and needed no other foes. And though he owned numberless silver mines, and highly valuable tracts of land with the labourers upon them, nevertheless one might regard all this as nothing compared with the value of his slaves; 6so many and so capable were the slaves he possessed,—readers, amanuenses, silversmiths, stewards, table-servants; and he himself directed their education, and took part in it himself as a teacher, and, in a word, he thought that the chief duty of the master was to care for his slaves as the living implements of household management.

7And in this Crassus was right, if, as he used to say, he held that anything else was to be done for him by his slaves, but his slaves were to be governed by their master. For household management, as we see, is a branch of finance in so far as it deals with lifeless things; but a branch of politics when it deals with men.[3] He was not right, however, in thinking, and in saying too, that no one was rich who could not support an army out of his substance; 8for “war has no fixed rations,” as King Archidamus said,[4] and therefore the wealth requisite for war cannot be determined. Far different was the opinion of Marius, who said, after distributing to each of his veterans fourteen acres of land and discovering that they desired more, “May no Roman ever think that land too small which suffices to maintain him.”

3However, Crassus was generous with strangers, for his house was open to all; and he used to lend money to his friends without interest, but he would demand it back from the borrower relentlessly when the time had expired, and so the gratuity of the loan was more burdensome than heavy interest. When he entertained at table, his invited guests were for the most part plebeians and men of the people, and the simplicity of the repast was combined with a neatness and good cheer which gave more pleasure than lavish expenditure.

2As for his literary pursuits, he cultivated chiefly the art of speaking which was of general service, and after making himself one of the most powerful speakers at Rome, his care and application enabled him to surpass those who were most gifted by nature. For there was no case, they say, however trifling and even contemptible it might be, which he undertook without preparation, but often, when Pompey and Caesar and Cicero were unwilling to plead, he would perform all the duties of an advocate. And on this account he became more popular than they, being esteemed a careful man, and one who was ready with his help. 3He pleased people also by the kindly and unaffected manner with which he clasped their hands and addressed them. For he never met a Roman so obscure and lowly that he did not return his greeting and call him by name. It is said also that he was well versed in history, and was something of a philosopher withal, attaching himself to the doctrines of Aristotle, in which he had Alexander[5] as a teacher. This man gave proof of contentedness and meekness by his intimacy with Crassus; 4for it is not easy to say whether he was poorer before or after his relations with his pupil. At any rate he was the only one of the friends of Crassus who always accompanied him when he went abroad, and then he would receive a cloak for the journey, which would be reclaimed on his return. But this was later on.

4When Cinna and Marius got the upper hand,[6] it was at once apparent that they would re-enter the city not for the good of their country, but for the downright destruction and ruin of the nobles; those who were caught were slain, and among them were the father and brother of Crassus. Crassus himself, being very young, escaped the immediate peril, but perceiving that he was surrounded on all sides by the huntsmen of the tyrants, he took with him three friends and ten servants and fled with exceeding speed into Spain, where he had been before, while his father was praetor there, and had made friends. 2But finding all men filled with fear and trembling at the cruelty of Marius as though he were close upon them, he had not the courage to present himself to any one. Instead, he plunged into some fields along the sea-shore belonging to Vibius Paciacus. In these there was a spacious cave, where he hid himself. However, since his provisions were now running low, and wishing to sound the man, he sent a slave to Vibius. 3But Vibius, on hearing the message, was delighted that Crassus had escaped, and after learning the number of his party and the place of their concealment, did not indeed come in person to see them, but brought the overseer of the property near the place, and ordered him to bring a complete meal there every day, put it near the cliff, and then go away without a word; he was not to meddle in the matter nor investigate it, and was threatened with death if he did meddle, and promised his freedom if he co-operated faithfully.

4The cave is not far away from the sea, and the cliffs which enclose it leave a small and indistinct path leading inside; but when one has entered, it opens out to a wonderful height, and at the sides has recesses of great circumference opening into one another. 5There is no lack of water or of light, but a spring of purest flow issues from the base of the cliff, and natural fissures in the rock, where its edges join, admit the light from outside, so that in the day-time the place is bright. The air inside is dry and pure, owing to the thickness of the rock, which deflects all moisture and dripping water into the spring.

5Here Crassus lived, and day by day the man came with the provisions. He himself did not see the party of the cave, nor even know who they were, but he was seen by them, since they knew and were on the watch for the time of his coming. Now, the meals were abundant, and so prepared as to gratify the taste and not merely satisfy hunger. 2For Vibius had made up his mind to pay Crassus every sort of friendly attention, and it even occurred to him to consider the youth of his guest, that he was quite a young man, and that some provision must be made for the enjoyments appropriate to his years; the mere supply of his wants he regarded as the work of one who rendered help under compulsion rather than with ready zeal. So he took with him two comely female slaves and went down towards the sea. When he came to the place of the cave, he showed them the path up to it, and bade them go inside and fear nothing. 3When Crassus saw them approaching, he was afraid that the place had been discovered and was now known. He asked them, accordingly, who they were and what they wanted. They answered, as instructed, that they were in search of a master who was hidden there. Then Crassus understood the kindly joke which Vibius was playing upon him, and received the girls; 4and they lived with him the rest of the time, carrying the necessary messages to Vibius. Fenestella[7] says that he saw one of these slaves himself, when she was now an old woman, and often heard her mention this episode and rehearse its details with zest.

6Thus Crassus passed eight months in concealment; but as soon as he heard of Cinna’s death, he disclosed himself. Many flocked to his standard, out of whom he selected twenty-five hundred men, and went about visiting the cities. One of these, Malaca, he plundered, as many writers testify, but they say that he himself denied the charge and quarrelled with those who affirmed it. 2After this he collected sailing vessels, crossed into Africa, and joined Metellus Pius, an illustrious man, who had got together a considerable army. However, he remained there no long time, but after dissension with Metellus set out and joined Sulla, with whom he stood in a position of special honour. But when Sulla crossed into Italy, he wished all the young men with him to take active part in the campaign, and assigned different ones to different undertakings. Crassus, being sent out to raise a force among the Marsi, asked for an escort, since his road would take him past the enemy. 3But Sulla was wroth, and said to him vehemently: “I give thee as an escort, thy father, thy brother, thy friends, and thy kinsmen, who were illegally and unjustly put to death, and whose murderers I am pursuing.” Thus rebuked and incited, Crassus set out at once, and forcing his way vigorously through the enemy, raised a considerable force, and showed himself an eager partisan of Sulla in his struggles.

4Out of these activities first arose, as they say, his ambitious rivalry with Pompey for distinction. For although Pompey was the younger man, and the son of a father who had been in ill repute at Rome and hated most bitterly by his fellow-citizens, still, in the events of this time his talents shone forth conspicuously, and he was seen to be great, so that Sulla paid him honours not very often accorded to men who were older and of equal rank with himself, rising at his approach, uncovering his head, and saluting him as Imperator. 5All this inflamed and goaded Crassus, although it was not without good reason that Sulla thus made less of him.

For he was lacking in experience, and his achievements were robbed of their favour by the innate curses of avarice and meanness which beset him. For instance, when he captured the Umbrian city of Tuder, it was believed that he appropriated to himself most of the spoil, and charges to this effect were laid before Sulla. 6But in the struggle near Rome, which was the last and greatest of all, while Sulla was defeated and his army repulsed and shattered, Crassus was victorious with the right wing,[8] pursued the enemy till nightfall, and then sent to Sulla informing him of his success and asking supper for his soldiers. However, during the proscriptions and public confiscations which ensued, he got a bad name again, by purchasing great estates at a low price, and asking donations. 7It is said that in Bruttium he actually proscribed a man without Sulla’s orders, merely to get his property, and that for this reason Sulla, who disapproved of his conduct, never employed him again on public business. And yet Crassus was most expert in winning over all men by his flatteries; on the other hand, he himself was an easy prey to flattery from anybody. And this too is said to have been a peculiarity of his, that, most avaricious as he was himself, he particularly hated and abused those who were like him.

7Now it vexed him that Pompey was successful in his campaigns, and celebrated a triumph before becoming a senator, and was called Magnus (that is, Great) by his fellow-citizens. And once when some one said: “Pompey the Great is coming,” Crassus fell to laughing and asked: “How great is he?” 2Renouncing, therefore, all efforts to equal Pompey in military achievements, he plunged into politics, and by his zealous labours, his favours as advocate and money-lender, and his co-operation in all the solicitations and examinations which candidates for office had to make and undergo, he acquired an influence and a repute equal to that which Pompey possessed from his many and great expeditions. 3And the experience of each man was peculiar. For Pompey’s name and power were greater in the city when he was away from it, owing to his campaigns; but when he was at home, he was often less powerful than Crassus, because the pomp and circumstance of his life led him to shun crowds, retire from the forum, and render aid to a few only of those who asked it of him, and then with no great zest, that he might keep his influence the more unimpaired for use in his own behalf. 4But Crassus was continually ready with his services, was ever at hand and easy of access, and always took an active part in the enterprises of the hour, and so by the universal kindness of his behaviour won the day over his rival’s haughty bearing. But in dignity of person, persuasiveness of speech, and winning grace of feature, both were said to be alike gifted.

5However, this eager rivalry did not carry Crassus away into anything like hatred or malice; he was merely vexed that Pompey and Caesar should be honoured above himself, but he did not associate this ambition of his with enmity or malevolence. It is true that once when Caesar had been captured by pirates in Asia and was held a close prisoner by them,[9] he exclaimed: “O Crassus, how great a pleasure wilt thou taste when thou hearest of my capture!” 6But afterwards, at least, they were on friendly terms with one another, and once when Caesar was on the point of setting out for Spain as praetor, and had no money, and his creditors descended upon him and began to attach his outfit, Crassus did not leave him in the lurch, but freed him from embarrassment by making himself his surety for eight hundred and thirty talents. 7And when all Rome was divided into three powerful parties, that of Pompey, that of Caesar, and that of Crassus (for Cato’s reputation was greater than his power, and men admired him more than they followed him), it was the thoughtful and conservative part of the city which attached itself to Pompey, the violent and volatile part which supported the hopes of Caesar, 8while Crassus took a middle ground and drew from both. He made very many changes in his political views, and was neither a steadfast friend nor an implacable enemy, but readily abandoned both his favours and his resentments at the dictates of his interests, so that, frequently, within a short space of time, the same men and the same measures found in him both an advocate and an opponent. 9And he had great influence, both from the favours which he bestowed and the fear which he inspired, but more from the fear. At any rate, Sicinnius, who gave the greatest annoyance to the magistrates and popular leaders of his day, when asked why Crassus was the only one whom he let alone and did not worry, said that the man had hay on his horn. Now the Romans used to coil hay about the horn of an ox that gored, so that those who encountered it might be on their guard.[10]

8The insurrection of the gladiators and their devastation of Italy, which is generally called the war of Spartacus,[11] had its origin as follows. A certain Lentulus Batiatus had a school of gladiators at Capua, most of whom were Gauls and Thracians. Through no misconduct of theirs, but owing to the injustice of their owner, they were kept in close confinement and reserved for gladiatorial combats. 2Two hundred of these planned to make their escape, and when information was laid against them, those who got wind of it and succeeded in getting away, seventy-eight in number, seized cleavers and spits from some kitchen and sallied out. On the road they fell in with waggons conveying gladiators’ weapons to another city; these they plundered and armed themselves. Then they took up a strong position and elected three leaders. The first of these was Spartacus, a Thracian of Nomadic stock, possessed not only of great courage and strength, but also in sagacity and culture superior to his fortune, and more Hellenic than Thracian. 3It is said that when he was first brought to Rome to be sold, a serpent was seen coiled about his face as he slept, and his wife, who was of the same tribe as Spartacus, a prophetess, and subject to visitations of the Dionysiac frenzy, declared it the sign of a great and formidable power which would attend him to a fortunate issue. This woman shared in his escape and was then living with him.

9To begin with, the gladiators repulsed the soldiers who came against them from Capua, and getting hold of many arms of real warfare, they gladly took these in exchange for their own, casting away their gladiatorial weapons as dishonourable and barbarous. Then Clodius the praetor was sent out from Rome against them with three thousand soldiers, and laid siege to them on a hill which had but one ascent, and that a narrow and difficult one, which Clodius closely watched; 2everywhere else there were smooth and precipitous cliffs. But the top of the hill was covered with a wild vine of abundant growth, from which the besieged cut off the serviceable branches, and wove these into strong ladders of such strength and length that when they were fastened at the top they reached along the face of the cliff to the plain below. On these they descended safely, all but one man, who remained above to attend to the arms. When the rest had got down, he began to drop the arms, and after he had thrown them all down, got away himself also last of all in safety. 3Of all this the Romans were ignorant, and therefore their enemy surrounded them, threw them into consternation by the suddenness of the attack, put them to flight, and took their camp. They were also joined by many of the herdsmen and shepherds of the region, sturdy men and swift of foot, some of whom they armed fully, and employed others as scouts and light infantry.

4In the second place, Publius Varinus, the praetor, was sent out against them, whose lieutenant, a certain Furius, with two thousand soldiers, they first engaged and routed; then Spartacus narrowly watched the movements of Cossinius, who had been sent out with a large force to advise and assist Varinus in the command, and came near seizing him as he was bathing near Salinae. 5Cossinius barely escaped with much difficulty, and Spartacus at once seized his baggage, pressed hard upon him in pursuit, and took his camp with great slaughter. Cossinius also fell. By defeating the praetor himself in many battles, and finally capturing his lictors and the very horse he rode, Spartacus was soon great and formidable; but he took a proper view of the situation, and since he could not expect to overcome the Roman power, began to lead his army toward the Alps, thinking it necessary for them to cross the mountains and go to their respective homes, some to Thrace, and some to Gaul. 6But his men were now strong in numbers and full of confidence, and would not listen to him, but went ravaging over Italy.

It was now no longer the indignity and disgrace of the revolt that harassed the senate, but they were constrained by their fear and peril to send both consuls into the field, as they would to a war of the utmost difficulty and magnitude. 7Gellius, one of the consuls, fell suddenly upon the Germans, who were so insolent and bold as to separate themselves from the main body of Spartacus, and cut them all to pieces; but when Lentulus, the other consul, had surrounded the enemy with large forces, Spartacus rushed upon them, joined battle, defeated the legates of Lentulus, and seized all their baggage. Then, as he was forcing his way towards the Alps, he was met by Cassius, the governor of Cisalpine Gaul, with an army of ten thousand men, and in the battle that ensued, Cassius was defeated, lost many men, and escaped himself with difficulty.

10On learning of this, the Senate angrily ordered the consuls to keep quiet, and chose Crassus to conduct the war, and many of the nobles were induced by his reputation and their friendship for him to serve under him. Crassus himself, accordingly, took position on the borders of Picenum, expecting to receive the attack of Spartacus, who was hastening thither; and he sent Mummius, his legate, with two legions, by a circuitous route, with orders to follow the enemy, but not to join battle nor even skirmish with them. 2Mummius, however, at the first promising opportunity, gave battle and was defeated; many of his men were slain, and many of them threw away their arms and fled for their lives. Crassus gave Mummius himself a rough reception, and when he armed his soldiers anew, made them give pledges that they would keep their arms.Five hundred of them, moreover, who had shown the greatest cowardice and been first to fly, he divided into fifty decades, and put to death one from each decade, on whom the lot fell, thus reviving, after the lapse of many years, an ancient mode of punishing the soldiers. 3For disgrace also attaches to this manner of death, and many horrible and repulsive features attend the punishment, which the whole army witnesses.

When he had thus disciplined his men, he led them against the enemy. But Spartacus avoided him, and retired through Lucania to the sea. At the Straits, he chanced upon some Cilician pirate craft, and determined to seize Sicily. By throwing two thousand men into the island, he thought to kindle anew the servile war there,[12] which had not long been extinguished, and needed only a little additional fuel. 4But the Cilicians, after coming to terms with him and receiving his gifts, deceived him and sailed away. So Spartacus marched back again from the sea and established his army in the peninsula of Rhegium. Crassus now came up, and observing that the nature of the place suggested what must be done, he determined to build a wall across the isthmus, thereby at once keeping his soldiers from idleness, and his enemies from provisions. 5Now the task was a huge one and difficult, but he accomplished and finished it, contrary to all expectation, in a short time, running a ditch from sea to sea through the neck of land three hundred furlongs in length and fifteen feet in width and depth alike. Above the ditch he also built a wall of astonishing height and strength. 6All this work Spartacus neglected and despised at first; but soon his provisions began to fail, and when he wanted to sally forth from the peninsula, he saw that he was walled in, and that there was nothing more to be had there. He therefore waited for a snowy night and a wintry storm, when he filled up a small portion of the ditch with earth and timber and the boughs of trees, and so threw a third part of his force across.

11Crassus was now in fear lest some impulse to march upon Rome should seize Spartacus, but took heart when he saw that many of the gladiator’s men had seceded after a quarrel with him, and were encamped by themselves on a Lucanian lake. This lake, they say, changes from time to time in the character of its water, becoming sweet, and then again bitter and undrinkable. Upon this detachment Crassus fell, and drove them away from the lake, but he was robbed of the slaughter and pursuit of the fugitives by the sudden appearance of Spartacus, who checked their flight.

2Before this Crassus had written to the senate that they must summon Lucullus[13] from Thrace and Pompey from Spain, but he was sorry now that he had done so, and was eager to bring the war to an end before those generals came. He knew that the success would be ascribed to the one who came up with assistance, and not to himself. Accordingly, in the first place, he determined to attack those of the enemy who had seceded from the rest and were campaigning on their own account (they were commanded by Caius Canicius and Castus), and with this in view, sent out six thousand men to preoccupy a certain eminence, bidding them keep their attempt a secret. 3And they did try to elude observation by covering up their helmets, but they were seen by two women who were sacrificing for the enemy, and would have been in peril of their lives had not Crassus quickly made his appearance and given battle, the most stubbornly contested of all; for although he slew twelve thousand three hundred men in it, he found only two who were wounded in the back. The rest all died standing in the ranks and fighting the Romans.

4After the defeat of this detachment, Spartacus retired to the mountains of Petelia, followed closely by Quintus, one of the officers of Crassus, and by Scrophas, the quaestor, who hung upon the enemy’s rear. But when Spartacus faced about, there was a great rout of the Romans, and they barely managed to drag the quaestor, who had been wounded, away into safety. This success was the ruin of Spartacus, for it filled his slaves with over-confidence. 5They would no longer consent to avoid battle, and would not even obey their leaders, but surrounded them as soon as they began to march, with arms in their hands, and forced them to lead back through Lucania against the Romans, the very thing which Crassus also most desired. For Pompey’s approach was already announced, and there were not a few who publicly proclaimed that the victory in this war belonged to him; he had only to come and fight and put an end to the war. Crassus, therefore, pressed on to finish the struggle himself, and having encamped near the enemy, began to dig a trench. Into this the slaves leaped and began to fight with those who were working there, 6and since fresh men from both sides kept coming up to help their comrades, Spartacus saw the necessity that was upon him, and drew up his whole army in order of battle.

In the first place, when his horse was brought to him, he drew his sword, and saying that if he won the day he would have many fine horses of the enemy’s, but if he lost it he did not want any, he slew his horse. Then pushing his way towards Crassus himself through many flying weapons and wounded men, he did not indeed reach him, but slew two centurions who fell upon him together. 7Finally, after his companions had taken to flight, he stood alone, surrounded by a multitude of foes, and was still defending himself when he was cut down. But although Crassus had been fortunate, had shown most excellent generalship, and had exposed his person to danger, nevertheless, his success did not fail to enhance the reputation of Pompey. For the fugitives from the battle[14] encountered that general and were cut to pieces, so that he could write to the senate that in open battle, indeed, Crassus had conquered the slaves, but that he himself had extirpated the war. 8Pompey, accordingly, for his victories over Sertorius and in Spain, celebrated a splendid triumph; but Crassus, for all his self-approval, did not venture to ask for the major triumph, and it was thought ignoble and mean in him to celebrate even the minor triumph on foot, called the ovation, for a servile war. How the minor triumph differs from the major, and why it is named as it is, has been told in my life of Marcellus.[15]

12After this, Pompey was at once asked to stand for the consulship, and Crassus, although he had hopes of becoming his colleague, did not hesitate to ask Pompey’s assistance. Pompey received his request gladly (for he was desirous of having Crassus, in some way or other, always in debt to him for some favour), and eagerly promoted his candidature, and finally said in a speech to the assembly that he should be no less grateful to them for the colleague than for the office which he desired. 2However, when once they had assumed office,[16]they did not remain on this friendly basis, but differed on almost every measure, quarrelled with one another about everything, and by their contentiousness rendered their consulship barren politically and without achievement, except that Crassus made a great sacrifice in honour of Hercules, feasted the people at ten thousand tables, and made them an allowance of grain for three months. 3And when at last their term of office was closing, and they were addressing the assembly, a certain man, not a noble, but a Roman knight, rustic and rude in his way of life, Onatius Aurelius, mounted the rostra and recounted to the audience a vision that had come to him in his sleep. “Jupiter,” he said, “appeared to me and bade me declare in public that you should not suffer your consuls to lay down their office until they become friends.” 4When the man said this and the people urged a reconciliation, Pompey, for his part, stood motionless, but Crassus took the initiative, clasped him by the hand, and said: “Fellow-citizens, I think there is nothing humiliating or unworthy in my taking the first step towards good-will and friendship with Pompey, to whom you gave the title of ‘Great’ before he had grown a beard, and voted him a triumph before he was a senator.”

13Such, then, were the memorable things in the consulship of Crassus, but his censorship[17] passed without any results or achievements whatever. He neither made a revision of the senate, nor a scrutiny of the knights, nor a census of the people, although he had Lutatius Catulus, the gentlest of the Romans, for his colleague. But they say that when Crassus embarked upon the dangerous and violent policy of making Egypt tributary to Rome, Catulus opposed him vigorously, whereupon, being at variance, both voluntarily laid down their office.

2In the affair of Catiline,[18] which was very serious, and almost subversive of Rome, some suspicion attached itself to Crassus, and a man publicly named him as one of the conspirators, but nobody believed him. 3Nevertheless, Cicero, in one of his orations,[19] plainly inculpated Crassus and Caesar. This oration, it is true, was not published until after both were dead; but in the treatise upon his consulship,[19] Cicero says that Crassus came to him by night with a letter which gave details of the affair of Catiline,[20] and felt that he was at last establishing the fact of a conspiracy. 4And Crassus, accordingly, always hated Cicero for this, but was kept from doing him any open injury by his son. For Publius Crassus, being given to literature and learning, was attached to Cicero, so much so that he put on mourning when Cicero did at the time of his trial, and prevailed upon the other young men to do the same. And finally he persuaded his father to become Cicero’s friend.

14Now when Caesar came back from his province and prepared to seek the consulship, he saw that Pompey and Crassus were once more at odds with each other. He therefore did not wish to make one of them an enemy by asking the aid of the other, nor did he have any hope of success if neither of them helped him. 2Accordingly, he tried to reconcile them by persistently showing them that their mutual ruin would only increase the power of such men as Cicero, Catulus, and Cato, men whose influence would be nothing if Crassus and Pompey would only unite their friends and adherents, and with one might and one purpose direct the affairs of the city. He persuaded them, reconciled them, and won them both to his support, and constituted with that triumvirate an irresistible power, with which he overthrew the senate and the people, not by making his partners greater, the one through the other, but by making himself greatest of all through them. 3For owing to the support of both he was at once triumphantly elected consul.[21] And during his consulship they voted him armies to command, and put Gaul into his hands, and so, as it were, established him in an acropolis, thinking to share the rest with one another at their leisure if they secured to him his allotted province.

4Now Pompey did all this from an unbounded love of power; but to that ancient infirmity of Crassus, his avarice, there was now added a fresh and ardent passion, in view of the glorious exploits of Caesar, for trophies and triumphs. In these alone he thought himself inferior to Caesar, but superior in everything else. And his passion gave him no rest nor peace until it ended in an inglorious death and public calamities. 5For when Caesar came down to the city of Luca[22] from Gaul, many Romans came thither to meet him, and among them Pompey and Crassus. These held private conferences with Caesar, and the three determined to carry matters with a higher hand, and to make themselves sole masters of the state. Caesar was to remain in his command, while Pompey and Crassus were to take other provinces and armies. 6But the only way to secure this end was by soliciting a second consulship. Since Pompey and Crassus were candidates for this, Caesar was to co-operate with them by writing letters to his friends and by sending many of his soldiers home to support them at the elections.

15With this understanding, Crassus and Pompey returned to Rome, and were at once objects of suspicion; report was rife through the whole city that their meeting with Caesar had been for no good purpose. In the senate, also, when Marcellinus and Domitius asked Pompey if he was going to be a candidate for the consulship, he replied that perhaps he was, and perhaps he was not; and when asked the question again, he said he should solicit the votes of the good citizens, but not those of the bad. 2Since his answers were thought to have been made in pride and arrogance, Crassus said, more modestly, when the question was put to him, that if it was for the interest of the city, he would be a candidate for the office, but otherwise he would desist. For this reason divers persons were emboldened to sue for the consulship, one of whom was Domitius. When, however, Pompey and Crassus openly announced their candidature, the rest took fright and withdrew from the contest; but Cato encouraged Domitius, who was a kinsman and friend of his, to proceed, urging and inciting him to cling to his hopes, assured that he would do battle for the common freedom. For it was not the consulate, he said, which Crassus and Pompey wanted, but a tyranny, nor did their course of action mean simply a canvass for office, but rather a seizure of provinces and armies.

3With such words and such sentiments Cato all but forced Domitius to go down to the forum as a candidate, and many joined their party. Many, too, voiced their amazement thus: “Why, pray, should these men want a second consulship? And why once more together? Why not have other colleagues? Surely there are many men among us who are not unworthy to be colleagues of Pompey and Crassus!” 4Alarmed at this, the partizans of Crassus and Pompey abstained from no disorder or violence, however extreme, and capped the climax by waylaying Domitius, as he was coming down into the forum before day-break with his followers, killing his torch-bearer, and wounding many, among whom was Cato. 5After routing their opponents and shutting them up at home, they had themselves proclaimed consuls,[23] and a short time afterwards they once more surrounded the rostra with armed men, cast Cato out of the forum, slew several who made resistance, and then had another five years added to the proconsulship of Caesar in Gaul, and the provinces of Syria and both Spains voted to themselves. When the lot was cast, Syria fell to Crassus, and the Spains to Pompey.

16Now the lot fell out to the satisfaction of everybody. For most of the people wished Pompey to be not far away from the city; Pompey, who was passionately fond of his wife,[24] intended to spend most of his time there; and as for Crassus, as soon as the lot fell out, he showed by his joy that he regarded no piece of good fortune in his whole life as more radiant than the one which had now come to him. Among strangers and in public he could scarcely hold his peace, while to his intimates he made many empty and youthful boasts which ill became his years and his disposition, for he had been anything but boastful or bombastic before this. 2But now, being altogether exalted and out of his senses, he would not consider Syria nor even Parthia as the boundaries of his success, but thought to make the campaigns of Lucullus against Tigranes and those of Pompey against Mithridates seem mere child’s play, and flew on the wings of his hopes as far as Bactria and India and the Outer Sea.

3And yet in the decree which was passed regarding his mission there was no mention of a Parthian war. But everybody knew that Crassus was all eagerness for this, and Caesar wrote to him from Gaul approving of his project, and inciting him on to the war. And when Ateius, one of the tribunes of the people, threatened to oppose his leaving the city, and a large party arose which was displeased that anyone should go out to wage war on men who had done the state no wrong, but were in treaty relations with it, then Crassus, in fear, begged Pompey to come to his aid and to join in escorting him out of the city. 4For great was Pompey’s reputation with the crowd. And now, when the multitude drawn up to resist the passage of Crassus, and to abuse him, saw Pompey’s beaming countenance in front of him, they were mollified, and gave way before them in silence. But Ateius, on meeting Crassus, at first tried to stop him with words, and protested against his advance; then he bade his attendant seize the person of Crassus and detain him. 5And when the other tribunes would not permit this, the attendant released Crassus, but Ateius ran on ahead to the city gate, placed there a blazing brazier, and when Crassus came up, cast incense and libations upon it, and invoked curses which were dreadful and terrifying in themselves, and were reinforced by sundry strange and dreadful gods whom he summoned and called by name. 6The Romans say that these mysterious and ancient curses have such power that no one involved in them ever escapes, and misfortune falls also upon the one who utters them, wherefore they are not employed at random nor by many. And accordingly at this time they found fault with Ateius because it was for the city’s sake that he was angered at Crassus, and yet he had involved the city in curses which awakened much superstitious terror.

17But Crassus came to Brundisium.[25] And though the sea was still rough with wintry storms, he would not wait, but put out, and so lost a great number of his vessels. With what was left of his forces, however, he hurried on by land through Galatia. And finding that King Deiotarus, who was now a very old man, was founding a new city, he rallied him, saying: 2“O King, you are beginning to build at the twelfth hour.” The Galatian laughed and said: “But you yourself, Imperator, as I see, are not marching very early in the day against the Parthians.” Now Crassus was sixty years old and over, and looked older than his years. On his arrival, things went at first as he had hoped, for he easily bridged the Euphrates and led his army across in safety, and took possession of many cities in Mesopotamia which came over to him of their own accord. 3But at one of them, of which Apollonius was tyrant, a hundred of his soldiers were slain,[26] whereupon he led up his forces against it, mastered it, plundered its property, and sold its inhabitants into slavery. The city was called Zenodotia by the Greeks. For its capture he allowed his soldiers to salute him as Imperator, thereby incurring much disgrace and showing himself of a paltry spirit and without good hope for the greater struggles that lay before him, since he was so delighted with a trifling acquisition. 4After furnishing the cities which had come over to his side with garrisons, which amounted in all to seven thousand men-at-arms and a thousand horsemen, he himself withdrew to take up winter quarters in Syria, and to await there his son, who was coming from Caesar in Gaul, decorated with the insignia of his deeds of valour, and leading a thousand picked horsemen.

This was thought to be the first blunder which Crassus committed,—after the expedition itself, which was the greatest of all his blunders,—because, when he should have advanced and come into touch with Babylon and Seleucia, cities always hostile to the Parthians, he gave his enemies time for preparation. 5Then, again, fault was found with him because his sojourn in Syria was devoted to mercenary rather than military purposes. For he made no estimate of the number of his troops, and instituted no athletic contests for them, but reckoned up the revenues of cities, and spent many days weighing exactly the treasures of the goddess in Hierapolis, and prescribed quotas of soldiers for districts and dynasts to furnish, only to remit the prescription when money was offered him, thereby losing their respect and winning their contempt. 6And the first warning sign came to him from this very goddess, whom some call Venus, others Juno, while others still regard her as the natural cause which supplies from moisture the beginnings and seeds of everything, and points out to mankind the source of all blessings. For as they were leaving her temple, first the youthful Crassus stumbled and fell at the gate, and then his father fell over him.

18No sooner had he begun to assemble his forces from their winter quarters than envoys came to him from Arsaces[27] with a wonderfully brief message. They said that if the army had been sent out by the Roman people, it meant war without truce and without treaty; but if it was against the wishes of his country, as they were informed, and for his own private gain that Crassus had come up in arms against the Parthians and occupied their territory, then Arsaces[28] would act with moderation, would take pity on the old age of Crassus, and release to the Romans the men whom he had under watch and ward rather than watching over him. 2To this Crassus boastfully replied that he would give his answer in Seleucia, whereupon the eldest of the envoys, Vagises, burst out laughing and said, pointing to the palm of his upturned hand: “O Crassus, hair will grow there before thou shalt see Seleucia.”[29]

The embassy, accordingly, rode away to King Hyrodes, to tell him there must be war. But from the cities of Mesopotamia in which the Romans had garrisons, certain men made their escape at great hazard and brought tidings of serious import. 3They had been eyewitnesses both of the numbers of the enemy and of their mode of warfare when they attacked their cities, and, as is usual, they exaggerated all the terrors of their report. “When the men pursued,” they declared, “there was no escaping them, and when they fled, there was no taking them; and strange missiles are the precursors of their appearance, which pierce through every obstacle before one sees who sent them; and as for the armour of their mail-clad horsemen, some of it is made to force its way through everything, and some of it to give way to nothing.” 4When the soldiers heard this, their courage ebbed away. For they had been fully persuaded that the Parthians were not different at all from the Armenians or even the Cappadocians, whom Lucullus had robbed and plundered till he was weary of it, and they had thought that the most difficult part of the war would be the long journey and the pursuit of men who would not come to close quarters; but now, contrary to their hopes, they were led to expect a struggle and great peril. Therefore some of the officers thought that Crassus ought to call a halt and reconsider the whole undertaking. Among these was Cassius,[30] the quaestor. 5The seers, also, quietly let it become known that the omens for Crassus which came from their sacrifices were always bad and inauspicious. But Crassus paid no heed to them, nor to those who advised anything else except to press forward.

19And most of all, Artabazes the king of Armenia gave him courage, for he came to his camp with six thousand horsemen. These were said to be the king’s guards and couriers; but he promised ten thousand mail-clad horsemen besides, and thirty thousand footmen, to be maintained at his own cost. 2And he tried to persuade Crassus to invade Parthia by way of Armenia, for thus he would not only lead his forces along in the midst of plenty, which the king himself would provide, but would also proceed with safety, confronting the cavalry of the Parthians, in which lay their sole strength, with many mountains, and continuous crests, and regions where the horse could not well serve. Crassus was tolerably well pleased with the king’s zeal and with the splendid reinforcements which he offered, but said he should march through Mesopotamia, where he had left many brave Romans. 3Upon this, the Armenian rode away.

Now, as Crassus was taking his army across the Euphrates at Zeugma,[31] many extraordinary peals of thunder crashed about them, and many flashes of lightning also darted in their faces, and a wind, half mist and half hurricane, fell upon their raft, breaking it up and shattering it in many places. 4The place where he was intending to encamp was also smitten by two thunderbolts. And one of the general’s horses, richly caparisoned, violently dragged its groom along with it into the river and disappeared beneath the waves. It is said also that the first eagle which was raised aloft, faced about of its own accord.[32] 5Besides all this, it happened that when their rations were distributed to the soldiers after the crossing of the river, lentils and salt came first, which are held by the Romans to be tokens of mourning, and are set out as offerings to the dead. Moreover, Crassus himself, while haranguing his men, let fall a phrase which terribly confounded them. He said, namely, that he should destroy the bridge over the river, that not one of them might return. And although he ought, as soon as he perceived the strangeness of his expression, to have recalled it and made his meaning clear to his timorous hearers, he was too obstinate to do so. 6And finally, when he was making the customary sacrifice of purification for the army, and the seer placed the viscera in his hands, he let them fall to the ground; then, seeing that the bystanders were beyond measure distressed at the occurrence, he smiled and said: “Such is old age; but no weapon, you may be sure, shall fall from its hands.”

20After this, he marched along the river with seven legions of men-at-arms, nearly four thousand horsemen, and about as many light-armed troops. Some of his scouts now came back from their explorations, and reported that the country was destitute of men, but that they had come upon the tracks of many horses which had apparently wheeled about and fled from pursuit. Wherefore Crassus himself was all the more confident, and his soldiers went so far as to despise the Parthians utterly, believing that they would not come to close quarters. 2But, nevertheless, Cassius once more had a conference with Crassus, and advised him above all things to recuperate his forces in one of the garrisoned cities, until he should get some sure information about the enemy; but if not this, then to advance against Seleucia along the river. For in this way the transports would keep them abundantly supplied with provisions by putting in at their successive encampments, and, by having the river to prevent their being surrounded, they would always fight their enemies on even terms and face to face.

21While Crassus was still investigating and considering these matters, there came an Arab chieftain, Ariamnes by name, a crafty and treacherous man, and one who proved to be, of all the mischiefs which fortune combined for the destruction of the Romans, the greatest and most consummate. 2Some of the soldiers who had served under Pompey in these parts knew that the fellow had profited by the kindness of that commander and was thought to be a friend of Rome; but now, with the knowledge of the royal generals, he tried to work his way into the confidence of Crassus, to see if he could turn him aside as far as possible from the river and the foothills, and bring him down into a boundless plain where he could be surrounded. For nothing was farther from the thoughts of the Parthians than to attack the Romans in front. 3Accordingly, coming to Crassus, the Barbarian (and he was a plausible talker, too) lauded Pompey as his benefactor, and complimented Crassus on his forces. But then he criticised him for wasting time in delays and preparations, as if it was arms that he needed, and not hands and the swiftest of feet to follow after men who had for some time been trying to snatch up their most valuable goods and slaves and fly with them into Scythia or Hyrcania. 4“And yet,” said he, “if you intend to fight, you ought to hasten on before all the king’s forces are concentrated and he has regained his courage; since, for the time being, Surena and Sillaces have been thrown forward to sustain your pursuit, but the king is nowhere to be seen.”

5Now this was all false. For Hyrodes had promptly divided his forces into two parts and was himself devastating Armenia to punish Artavasdes, while he despatched Surena to meet the Romans. And this was not because he despised them, as some say, for he could not consistently disdain Crassus as an antagonist, a man who was foremost of the Romans, and wage war on Artavasdes, attacking and taking the villages of Armenia; on the contrary, it seems that he was in great fear of the danger which threatened, and therefore held himself in reserve and watched closely the coming event, while he sent Surena forward to make trial of the enemy in battle and to distract them. 6Nor was Surena an ordinary man at all, but in wealth, birth, and consideration, he stood next the king, while in valour and ability he was the foremost Parthian of his time, besides having no equal in stature and personal beauty. He used to travel on private business with a baggage train of a thousand camels, and was followed by two hundred waggons for his concubines, while a thousand mail-clad horsemen and a still greater number of light-armed cavalry served as his escort; and he had altogether, as horsemen, vassals, and slaves, no fewer than ten thousand men. 7Moreover, he enjoyed the ancient and hereditary privilege of being first to set the crown upon the head of the Parthian king; and when this very Hyrodes was driven out of Parthia, he restored him to his throne, and captured for him Seleucia the Great,[33] having been the first to mount its walls, and having routed with his own hand his opponents. And though at this time he was not yet thirty years of age, he had the highest reputation for prudence and sagacity, and it was especially by means of these qualities that he also brought Crassus to ruin, who, at first by reason of his boldness and conceit, and then in consequence of his fears and calamities, was an easy victim of deceits.

22At this time, accordingly, after the Barbarian had persuaded Crassus, he drew him away from the river and led him through the midst of the plains, by a way that was suitable and easy at first, but soon became troublesome when deep sand succeeded, and plains which had no trees, no water, and no limit anywhere which the eye could reach, so that not only did thirst and the difficulties of the march exhaust the men, but also whatever met their gaze filled them with an obstinate dejection. 2For they saw no plant, no stream, no projection of sloping hill, and no growing grass, but only sea-like billows of innumerable desert sand-heaps enveloping the army. This of itself was enough to induce suspicion of treachery, and soon messengers came from Artavasdes the Armenian declaring that he was involved in a great war with Hyrodes, who had attacked him with an overwhelming force, and could not therefore send Crassus aid, 3but advised him above all things to turn his course thither, join the Armenians, and fight the issue out with Hyrodes; but if not this, then to march and encamp always where mountains were near and cavalry could not operate. Crassus sent no reply in writing, but answered at once in rage and perversity that for the present he had no time to waste on the Armenians, but that at another time he would come and punish Artavasdes for his treachery.

4But Cassius was once more greatly displeased, and though he stopped advising Crassus, who was angry with him, he did privately abuse the Barbarian. “Basest of men,” he said, “what evil spirit brought you to us? With what drugs and jugglery did you persuade Crassus to pour his army into a yawning and abysmal desert and follow a route more fit for a robber chief of Nomads than for a Roman imperator?” 5But the Barbarian, who was a subtle fellow, tried to encourage them with all servility, and exhorted them to endure yet a little while, and as he ran along by the side of the soldiers and gave them his help, he would laughingly banter them and say: “Is it through Campania that you think you are marching, yearning for its fountains and streams and shades and baths (to be sure!) and taverns? But remember that you are traversing the border land between Assyria and Arabia.” 6Thus the Barbarian played the tutor with the Romans, and rode away before his deceit had become manifest, not, however, without the knowledge of Crassus, nay, he actually persuaded him that he was going to work in his interests and confound the counsels of his enemies.

23It is said that on that day Crassus did not make his appearance in a purple robe, as is the custom with Roman generals, but in a black one, and that he changed it as soon as he noticed his mistake; also that some of the standard-bearers had great difficulty in raising their standards, which seemed to be imbedded, as it were, in the earth. 2Crassus made light of these things and hurried on the march, compelling the men-at-arms to keep up with the cavalry, until a few of those who had been sent out as scouts came riding up and announced that the rest of their number had been slain by the enemy, that they themselves had with difficulty escaped, and that their foes were coming up to fight them with a large force and great confidence. 3All were greatly disturbed, of course, but Crassus was altogether frightened out of his senses, and began to draw up his forces in haste and with no great consistency. At first, as Cassius recommended, he extended the line of his men-at-arms as far as possible along the plain, with little depth, to prevent the enemy from surrounding them, and divided all his cavalry between the two wings. Then he changed his mind and concentrated his men, forming them in a hollow square of four fronts, with twelve cohorts on each side. 4With each cohort he placed a squadron of horse, that no part of the line might lack cavalry support, but that the whole body might advance to the attack with equal protection everywhere. He gave one of the wings to Cassius, and one to the young Crassus, and took his own position in the centre.

Advancing in this formation, they came to a stream called Balissus, which was not large, to be sure, nor plentiful, but by this time the soldiers were delighted to see it in the midst of the drought and heat and after their previous toilsome march without water. 5Most of the officers, accordingly, thought they ought to bivouac and spend the night there, and after learning as much as they could of the number and disposition of the enemy, to advance against them at day-break. But Crassus was carried away by the eagerness of his son and the cavalry with him, who urged him to advance and give battle, and he therefore ordered that the men who needed it should eat and drink as they stood in the ranks. 6And before they were all well done with this, he led them on, not slowly, nor halting from time to time, as is usual on the way to battle, but with a quick and sustained pace until the enemy came in sight, who, to the surprise of the Romans, appeared to be neither numerous nor formidable. For Surena had veiled his main force behind his advance guard, and concealed the gleam of their armour by ordering them to cover themselves with robes and skins. But when they were near the Romans and the signal was raised by their commander, first of all they filled the plain with the sound of a deep and terrifying roar. 7For the Parthians do not incite themselves to battle with horns or trumpets, but they have hollow drums of distended hide, covered with bronze bells, and on these they beat all at once in many quarters, and the instruments give forth a low and dismal tone, a blend of wild beast’s roar and harsh thunder peal. They had rightly judged that, of all the senses, hearing is the one most apt to confound the soul, soonest rouses its emotions, and most effectively unseats the judgment.

24While the Romans were in consternation at this din, suddenly their enemies dropped the coverings of their armour, and were seen to be themselves blazing in helmets and breastplates, their Margianian steel glittering keen and bright, and their horses clad in plates of bronze and steel. 2Surena himself, however, was the tallest and fairest of them all, although his effeminate beauty did not well correspond to his reputation for valour, but he was dressed more in the Median fashion, with painted face and parted hair, while the rest of the Parthians still wore their hair long and bunched over their foreheads, in Scythian fashion, to make themselves look formidable. 3And at first they purposed to charge upon the Romans with their long spears, and throw their front ranks into confusion; but when they saw the depth of their formation, where shield was locked with shield, and the firmness and composure of the men, they drew back, and while seeming to break their ranks and disperse, they surrounded the hollow square in which their enemy stood before he was aware of the manoeuvre. 4And when Crassus ordered his light-armed troops to make a charge, they did not advance far, but encountering a multitude of arrows, abandoned their undertaking and ran back for shelter among the men-at-arms, among whom they caused the beginning of disorder and fear, for these now saw the velocity and force of the arrows, which fractured armour, and tore their way through every covering alike, whether hard or soft.

5But the Parthians now stood at long intervals from one another and began to shoot their arrows from all sides at once, not with any accurate aim (for the dense formation of the Romans would not suffer an archer to miss his man even if he wished it), but making vigorous and powerful shots from bows which were large and mighty and curved so as to discharge their missiles with great force. 6At once, then, the plight of the Romans was a grievous one; for if they kept their ranks, they were wounded in great numbers, and if they tried to come to close quarters with the enemy, they were just as far from effecting anything and suffered just as much. For the Parthians shot as they fled, and next to the Scythians, they do this most effectively; and it is a very clever thing to seek safety while still fighting, and to take away the shame of flight.

25Now as long as they had hopes that the enemy would exhaust their missiles and desist from battle or fight at close quarters, the Romans held out; but when they perceived that many camels laden with arrows were at hand, from which the Parthians who first encircled them took a fresh supply, then Crassus, seeing no end to this, began to lose heart, and sent messengers to his son with orders to force an engagement with the enemy before he was surrounded; for it was his wing especially which the enemy were attacking and surrounding with their cavalry, in the hope of getting in his rear. 2Accordingly, the young man took thirteen hundred horsemen, of whom a thousand had come from Caesar, five hundred archers, and eight cohorts of the men-at-arms who were nearest him, and led them all to the charge. But the Parthians who were trying to envelop him, either because, as some say, they encountered marshes, or because they were manoeuvring to attack Publius as far as possible from his father, wheeled about and made off. 3Then Publius, shouting that the men did not stand their ground, rode after them, and with him Censorinus and Megabacchus, the latter distinguished for his courage and strength, Censorinus a man of senatorial dignity and a powerful speaker, and both of them comrades of Publius and nearly of the same age. The cavalry followed after Publius, and even the infantry kept pace with them in the zeal and joy which their hopes inspired; for they thought they were victorious and in pursuit of the enemy, until, after they had gone forward a long distance, they perceived the ruse. For the seeming fugitives wheeled about and were joined at the same time by others more numerous still. 4Then the Romans halted, supposing that the enemy would come to close quarters with them, since they were so few in number. But the Parthians stationed their mail-clad horsemen in front of the Romans, and then with the rest of their cavalry in loose array rode round them, tearing up the surface of the ground, and raising from the depths great heaps of sand which fell in limitless showers of dust, so that the Romans could neither see clearly nor speak plainly, 5but, being crowded into a narrow compass and falling one upon another, were shot, and died no easy nor even speedy death. For, in the agonies of convulsive pain, and writhing about the arrows, they would break them off in their wounds, and then in trying to pull out by force the barbed heads which had pierced their veins and sinews, they tore and disfigured themselves the more.

6Thus many died, and the survivors also were incapacitated for fighting. And when Publius urged them to charge the enemy’s mail-clad horsemen, they showed him that their hands were riveted to their shields and their feet nailed through and through to the ground, so that they were helpless either for flight or for self-defence. 7Publius himself, accordingly, cheered on his cavalry, made a vigorous charge with them, and closed with the enemy. But his struggle was an unequal one both offensively and defensively, for his thrusting was done with small and feeble spears against breastplates of raw hide and steel, whereas the thrusts of the enemy were made with pikes against the lightly equipped and unprotected bodies of the Gauls, since it was upon these that Publius chiefly relied, and with these he did indeed work wonders. 8For they laid hold of the long spears of the Parthians, and grappling with the men, pushed them from their horses, hard as it was to move them owing to the weight of their armour; and many of the Gauls forsook their own horses, and crawling under those of the enemy, stabbed them in the belly. These would rear up in their anguish, and die trampling on riders and foemen indiscriminately mingled. 9But the Gauls were distressed above all things by the heat and their thirst, to both of which they were unused; and most of their horses had perished by being driven against the long spears. They were therefore compelled to retire upon the men-at-arms, taking with them Publius, who was severely wounded. And seeing a sandy hillock near by, they all retired to it, and fastened their horses in the centre; then locking their shields together on the outside, they thought they could more easily defend themselves against the Barbarians. 10But it turned out just the other way. For on level ground, the front ranks do, to some extent, afford relief to those who are behind them. But here, where the inequality of the ground raised one man above another, and lifted every man who was behind another into greater prominence, there was no such thing as escape, but they were all alike hit with arrows, bewailing their inglorious and ineffectual death.

11Now there were with Publius two Greeks, of those who dwelt near by in Carrhae, Hieronymus and Nicomachus. These joined in trying to persuade him to slip away with them and make their escape to Ichnae, a city which had espoused the Roman cause and was not far off. But Publius, declaring that no death could have such terrors for him as to make him desert those who were perishing on his account, ordered them to save their own lives, bade them farewell, and dismissed them. Then he himself, being unable to use his hand, which had been pierced through with an arrow, presented his side to his shield-bearer and ordered him to strike home with his sword. 12In like manner also Censorinus is said to have died; but Megabacchus took his own life, and so did the other most notable men. The survivors fought on until the Parthians mounted the hill and transfixed them with their long spears, and they say that not more than five hundred were taken alive. Then the Parthians cut off the head of Publius, and rode off at once to attack Crassus.

26His situation was as follows. After ordering his son to charge the Parthians and receiving tidings that the enemy were routed to a great distance and hotly pursued, and after noticing also that his own immediate opponents were no longer pressing him so hard (since most of them had streamed away to where Publius was), he recovered a little courage, and drawing his troops together, posted them for safety on sloping ground, in immediate expectation that his son would return from the pursuit. 2Of the messengers sent by Publius to his father, when he began to be in danger, the first fell in with the Barbarians and were slain; the next made their way through with difficulty and reported that Publius was lost unless he received speedy and abundant aid from his father. 3And now Crassus was a prey to many conflicting emotions, and no longer looked at anything with calm judgement. His fear for the whole army drove him to refuse, and at the same time his yearning love for his son impelled him to grant assistance; but at last he began to move his forces forward.

At this point, however, the enemy came up with clamour and battle cries which made them more fearful than ever, and again many of their drums began bellowing about the Romans, who awaited the beginning of a second battle. 4Besides, those of the enemy who carried the head of Publius fixed high upon a spear, rode close up and displayed it, scornfully asking after his parents and family, for surely, they said, it was not meet that Crassus, most base and cowardly of men, should be the father of a son so noble and of such splendid valour. This spectacle shattered and unstrung the spirits of the Romans more than all the rest of their terrible experiences, and they were all filled, not with a passion for revenge, as was to have been expected, but with shuddering and trembling. 5And yet Crassus, as they say, showed more brilliant qualities in that awful hour than ever before, for he went up and down the ranks crying: “Mine, O Romans, is this sorrow, and mine alone; but the great fortune and glory of Rome abide unbroken and unconquered in you, who are alive and safe. And now if ye have any pity for me, thus bereft of the noblest of sons, show it by your wrath against the enemy. Rob them of their joy; avenge their cruelty; be not cast down at what has happened, for it must needs be that those who aim at great deeds should also suffer greatly. 6It was not without bloody losses that even Lucullus overthrew Tigranes, or Scipio Antiochus; and our fathers of old lost a thousand ships off Sicily, and in Italy many imperators and generals, not one of whom, by his defeat, prevented them from afterwards mastering his conquerors. For it was not by good fortune merely that the Roman state reached its present plenitude of power, but by the patient endurance and valour of those who faced dangers in its behalf.”

27Even as he spoke such words of encouragement, Crassus saw that not many of his men listened with any eagerness, but when he also bade them raise the battle cry, he discovered how despondent his army was, so weak, feeble, and uneven was the shout they made, while that which came from the Barbarians was clear and bold. Then, as the enemy got to work, their light cavalry rode round on the flanks of the Romans and shot them with arrows, while the mail-clad horsemen in front, plying their long spears, kept driving them together into a narrow space, except those who, to escape death from the arrows, made bold to rush desperately upon their foes. 2These did little damage, but met with a speedy death from great and fatal wounds, since the spear which the Parthians thrust into the horses was heavy with steel, and often had impetus enough to pierce through two men at once. After fighting in this manner till night came on, the Parthians withdrew, saying that they would grant Crassus one night in which to bewail his son, unless, with a better regard for his own interests, he should consent to go to Arsaces instead of being carried there.

3The Parthians, then, bivouacked near by, and were in high hopes; but it was a grievous night for the Romans. They took no steps to bury their dead nor to care for their wounded and dying, but every man was lamenting his own fate. Escape seemed impossible, whether they waited there for day to come, or plunged by night into a limitless plain. And their wounded caused them much perplexity: they were sure to impede flight if they were carried away, and if they were left behind, their cries would herald to the enemy the retreat of their companions. 4Although the soldiers held Crassus to blame for all their ills, still they yearned to see his face and hear his voice. But he was lying on the ground by himself, enveloped in darkness, to the multitude an illustration of the ways of fortune, but to the wise an example of foolish ambition, which would not let him rest satisfied to be first and greatest among many myriads of men, but made him think, because he was judged inferior to two men only, that he lacked everything.

5At this time, then, Octavius the legate and Cassius tried to rouse him up and encourage him. But since he was in utter despair, they called together on their own authority the centurions and captains, and when they had decided, upon deliberation, not to remain where they were, they put the army in motion without trumpet signal, and in silence at first. Then the sick and wounded perceived that their comrades were abandoning them, and dreadful disorder and confusion, accompanied by groans and shouts, filled the camp. 6And after this, as they tried to advance, disorder and panic seized upon them, for they felt sure that the enemy was coming against them. Frequently they would change their course, frequently they would form in order of battle, some of the wounded who followed them had to be taken up, and others to be laid down, and so all were delayed, except three hundred horsemen under Ignatius, who reached Carrhae about midnight. 7Ignatius hailed the sentinels on the walls in the Roman tongue, and when they answered, ordered them to tell Coponius, their commander, that there had been a great battle between Crassus and the Parthians. Then, without another word, and without even telling who he was, he rode off to Zeugma. He saved himself and his men, but got a bad name for deserting his general. 8However, the message shouted to Coponius at that time was of some advantage to Crassus. For Coponius, concluding that the haste and brevity of the message argued a bearer of no good news, ordered his men to arm forthwith, and as soon as he learned that Crassus was on the march, he went out to meet him, relieved him, and escorted his army into the city.

28During the night the Parthians, although they were aware of the flight of the Romans, did not pursue; but as soon as day came, they attacked and slaughtered those who had been left behind in the Roman camp, to the number of four thousand, and then rode about and seized many who were wandering in the plain. 2Four cohorts together, also, which Vargontinus the legate had suffered to get detached from the main body while it was still dark, and which had lost their way, were surrounded on a sort of hill, and cut to pieces as they fought, all except twenty men. The Parthians, admiring these men, who tried to push their way through them with drawn swords, made way for them and suffered them to pass through and march deliberately to Carrhae.

A false report now reached Surena that Crassus, along with the men of highest rank, had made his escape, and that the fugitives who had streamed into Carrhae were a mixed rabble unworthy of his notice. 3Supposing, therefore, that he had lost the fruits of his victory, but being still in doubt and wishing to learn the truth, in order that he might either wait there and lay siege to Crassus in the city, or else let Carrhae alone and pursue him, he sent one of his attendants who could speak both languages up to the walls, with orders to call out in the Roman tongue for Crassus himself or Cassius, saying that Surena wished to have a conference with them. 4The interpreter gave this message, and when it was reported to Crassus, he accepted the invitation. A little while afterwards there came from the Barbarians some Arabs, who knew Crassus and Cassius well by sight, having been in their camp before the battle. When these men saw Cassius on the wall, they said that Surena proposed a truce, and offered them safe conduct if they would be friends of the king and leave Mesopotamia; for this he saw was more advantageous to both parties than any resort to extreme measures. 5Cassius accepted the proposal, and asked that time and place be fixed for a conference between Surena and Crassus. The men said that this should be done, and rode away.

29Now Surena was delighted that the men were where he could besiege them, and when day came, he led his Parthians up against the city. With many insults they ordered the Romans, if they wished to obtain a truce, to deliver Crassus and Cassius into their hands in fetters. 2The Romans were distressed to find themselves deceived, and telling Crassus to abandon his distant and vain hopes of aid from the Armenians, prepared for flight, of which none of the men of Carrhae were to know beforehand. But Andromachus, the most faithless of men, learned of it, for Crassus not only confided the secret to him, but made him the guide for the journey. Accordingly, everything was known to the Parthians, for Andromachus reported to them all the details. 3But since it is not the custom, and so not easy, for the Parthians to fight by night, and since Crassus set out by night, Andromachus, by leading the fugitives now by one route and now by another, contrived that the pursuers should not be left far behind, and finally he diverted the march into deep marshes and regions full of ditches, thus making it difficult and circuitous for those who still followed him. 4For there were some who conjectured that the twisting and turning of Andromachus boded no good, and therefore did not follow him. Cassius, indeed, went back again to Carrhae, and when his guides, who were Arabs, urged him to wait there until the moon had passed the Scorpion, he said that he feared the Archer[34]even more than the Scorpion, and rode off into Syria with five hundred horsemen. 5And others, too, employing trusty guides, reached a hill country called Sinnaca, and established themselves in safety before day came. These were about five thousand men, and they were led by Octavius, a brave man.

But day found Crassus a prey to the wiles of Andromachus in the difficult places and the marsh. 6There were with him four cohorts of men-at-arms, a few horsemen all told, and five lictors. With these he got back into the road, with great difficulty, when the enemy at once pressed upon him, and since he was about twelve furlongs short of a junction with Octavius, he took refuge on another hill, not so difficult for cavalry nor yet so strong a position, but one that lay below Sinnaca and was connected with it by a long ridge running through the midst of the plain. His danger was therefore to be seen by Octavius. 7And Octavius ran first with a few men to bring him aid from the higher ground; then the rest of his men, reproaching themselves with cowardice, plunged forward, and falling upon the enemy and sweeping them from the hill, enveloped Crassus round about, and covered him with their shields, boldly declaring that no Parthian missile should smite their imperator until they had all died fighting in his defence.

30And now Surena, observing that his Parthians were already less impetuous in their attacks, and that if night should come on and the Romans should reach the hills, it would be altogether impossible to capture them, brought a stratagem to bear on Crassus. Some of his Roman captives were first released, who, while in his camp, had heard the Barbarians saying to one another, as they had been ordered to do, that the king did not wish the war between him and the Romans to be waged relentlessly, but preferred to regain their friendship by doing them the favour of treating Crassus kindly. 2Then the Barbarians ceased fighting, and Surena with his chief officers rode quietly up to the hill, unstrung his bow, held out his right hand, and invited Crassus to come to terms, saying: “I have put your valour and power to the test against the wishes of the king, who now of his own accord shows you the mildness and friendliness of his feelings by offering to make a truce with you if you will withdraw, and by affording you the means of safety.”

3When Surena said this, the rest of the Romans eagerly accepted his proposal and were full of joy, but Crassus, whose every discomfiture at the hands of the Barbarians had been due to fraud, and who thought the suddenness of their change a strange thing, would not reply, but took the matter into consideration. 4His soldiers, however, cried out and urged him to accept, then fell to abusing and reviling him for putting them forward to fight men with whom he himself had not the courage to confer even when they came unarmed. At first he tried entreaties and arguments. If they would hold out for what was left of the day, during the night they could reach the mountains and rough country; and he showed them the road thither, and exhorted them not to abandon hope when safety was so near. 5But when they grew angry with him, and clashed their arms together, and threatened him, then he was terrified and began to go towards Surena. As he went, however, he turned and said: “Octavius and Petronius and ye other Roman commanders here present, ye see that I go because I must, and ye are eyewitnesses of the shameful violence I suffer; but tell the world, if ye get safely home, that Crassus perished because he was deceived by his enemies, and not because he was delivered up to them by his countrymen.”

31Octavius, however, and those about him, did not remain, but went down from the hill with Crassus; the lictors, who were following him, Crassus drove back. The first of the Barbarians to meet him were two half-breed Greeks, who leaped from their horses and made obeisance to him; then addressing him in the Greek tongue, they urged him to send a party forward to assure themselves that Surena and those about him were advancing to the conference without armour and without weapons. 2Crassus replied that if he had the least concern for his life, he would not have come into their hands; but nevertheless he sent two Roscii, brothers, to enquire on what terms and in what numbers they should hold their meeting. These men were promptly seized and detained by Surena, while he himself with his chief officers advanced on horseback, saying: “What is this? the Roman imperator on foot, while we are mounted?” Then he ordered a horse to be brought for Crassus. 3And when Crassus answered that neither of them was at fault, since each was following the custom of his country in this meeting, Surena said that from that moment there was a truce and peace between King Hyrodes and the Romans, but it was necessary to go forward to the river Euphrates and there have the contracts put in writing; “for you Romans at least,” said he, “are not very mindful of agreements,” and he held out his right hand to Crassus. Then when Crassus proposed to send for a horse, Surena said there was no need of it, “for the king offers you this one.” 4At the same time a horse with gold-studded bridle stood at Crassus’s side, and the grooms lifted Crassus up and mounted him, and then ran along by him, quickening his horse’s pace with blows. Octavius was first to seize the bridle, and after him Petronius, one of the legionary tribunes; then the rest of the Romans in the party surrounded the horse, trying to stop him, and dragging away those who crowded in upon Crassus on either side. 5Scuffling followed, and a tumult, then blows. Octavius drew his sword and slew the groom of one of the Barbarians, but another smote Octavius down from behind. Petronius had no offensive weapons, but when he was struck on the breastplate, leaped down from his horse unwounded. Crassus was killed by a Parthian named Pomaxathres.

6Some, however, say that it was not this man, but another, who killed Crassus, and that this man cut off the head and right hand of Crassus as he lay upon the ground. These details, however, are matters of conjecture rather than of knowledge. For of the Romans who were present there and fighting about Crassus, some were slain, and others fled back to the hill. 7Thither the Parthians came and said that as for Crassus, he had met with his deserts, but that Surena ordered the rest of the Romans to come down without fear. Thereupon some of them went down and delivered themselves up, but the rest scattered during the night, and of these a very few made their escape; the rest of them were hunted down by the Arabs, captured, and cut to pieces. In the whole campaign, twenty thousand are said to have been killed, and ten thousand to have been taken alive.

32Surena now took the head and hand of Crassus and sent them to Hyrodes in Armenia, but he himself sent word by messengers to Seleucia that he was bringing Crassus there alive, and prepared a laughable sort of procession which he insultingly called a triumph. 2That one of his captives who bore the greatest likeness to Crassus, Caius Paccianus, put on a woman’s royal robe, and under instructions to answer to the name of Crassus and the title of Imperator when so addressed, was conducted along on horseback. Before him rode trumpeters and a few lictors borne on camels; from the fasces of the lictors purses were suspended, and to their axes were fastened Roman heads newly cutoff; 3behind these followed courtezans of Seleucia, musicians, who sang many scurrilous and ridiculous songs about the effeminacy and cowardice of Crassus; and these things were for all to see.

But before the assembled senate of Seleucia, Surena brought licentious books of the “Milesiaca”[35] of Aristides, and in this matter, at least, there was no falsehood on his part, for the books were found in the baggage of Roscius, and gave Surena occasion to heap much insulting ridicule upon the Romans, since they could not, even when going to war, let such subjects and writings alone. 4The people of Seleucia, however, appreciated the wisdom of Aesop[36] when they saw Surena with a wallet of obscenities from the “Milesiaca” in front of him, but trailing behind him a Parthian Sybaris in so many waggon-loads of concubines.[37] After a fashion his train was a counterpart to the fabled echidnae and scytalae among serpents, by showing its conspicuous and forward portions fearful and savage, with spears, archery, and horse, 5but trailing off in the rear of the line into dances, cymbals, lutes, and nocturnal revels with women. Roscius was certainly culpable, but it was shameless in the Parthians to find fault with the “Milesiaca,” when many of the royal line of their Arsacidae were sprung from Milesian and Ionian courtezans.

33While this was going on, it happened that Hyrodes was at last reconciled with Artavasdes the Armenian, and agreed to receive the latter’s sister as wife for his son Pacorus, and there were reciprocal banquets and drinking bouts, at which many Greek compositions were introduced. 2For Hyrodes was well acquainted both with the Greek language and literature, and Artavasdes actually composed tragedies, and wrote orations and histories, some of which are preserved. Now when the head of Crassus was brought to the king’s door, the tables had been removed, and a tragic actor, Jason by name, of Tralles, was singing that part of the “Bacchae” of Euripides where Agave is about to appear.[38] While he was receiving his applause, Sillaces stood at the door of the banqueting-hall, and after a low obeisance, cast the head of Crassus into the centre of the company. 3The Parthians lifted it up with clapping of hands and shouts of joy, and at the king’s bidding his servants gave Sillaces a seat at the banquet. Then Jason handed his costume of Pentheus to one of the chorus, seized the head of Crassus, and assuming the role of the frenzied Agave, sang these verses through as if inspired:

“We bring from the mountain

A tendril fresh-cut to the palace,

A wonderful prey.”

4This delighted everybody; but when the following dialogue with the chorus was chanted:


“Who slew him?”


“Mine is the honour,”

Pomaxathres, who happened to be one of the banqueters, sprang up and laid hold of the head, feeling that it was more appropriate for him to say this than for Jason. The king was delighted, and bestowed on Pomaxathres the customary gifts, while to Jason he gave a talent. With such a farce as this the expedition of Crassus is said to have closed, just like a tragedy.[39]

5However, worthy punishment overtook both Hyrodes for his cruelty and Surena for his treachery. For not long after this Hyrodes became jealous of the reputation of Surena, and put him to death; and after Hyrodes had lost his son Pacorus, who was defeated in battle by the Romans,[40] and had fallen into a disease which resulted in dropsy, his son Phraates plotted against his life and gave him aconite. And when the disease absorbed the poison so that it was thrown off with it and the patient thereby relieved, Phraates took the shortest path and strangled his father.

« About This Work | Plut. Crass. 1–33 (end) | About This Work »


  • [1] Plutarch gives Greek values. The talent was a sum of money nearly equivalent to £240, or $1200, with many times the purchasing power of money to-day.

  • [2] Cf. chapter vi. 6.

  • [3] Cf. Aristotle, Pol. i. 1253 b, 32.

  • [4] Cf. Cleomenes xxvii. 1; Morals, 190a; 219a. In Demosthenes, xvii. 3, the saying is put in the mouth of "Crobylus," as Hegesippus the Athenian orator was familiarly called.

  • [5] Perhaps Alexander Cornelius, surnamed Polyhistor, a contemporary of Sulla.

  • [6] In 87 B.C. Crassus was then not quite twenty years of age.

  • [7] A Roman historian who flourished under Augustus.

  • [8] Cf. Plutarch's Sulla, xxix. 5.

  • [9] Cf. Plutarch's Caesar, chapter ii.

  • [10] Cf. foenum habet in cornu, Hor. Sat. i. 4, 34.

  • [11] 73-71 B.C.

  • [12] 102-99 B.C.

  • [13] Marcus Lucullus, brother of Lucius.

  • [14] Their number is given as five thousand in Pompey, xxi. 2.

  • [15] Chapter xxii.

  • [16] 70 B.C.

  • [17] 65 B.C.

  • [18] 63-62 B.C.

  • [19] Not extant.

  • [20] Cf. Plutarch's Cicero, xv.

  • [21] 59 B.C.

  • [22] 56 B.C.

  • [23] 55 B.C.

  • [24] Julia, Caesar's daughter, who died in 54 B.C.

  • [25] 54 B.C.

  • [26] Cf. Dio Cassius, xl. 13.

  • [27] In subsequent passages called Hyrodes.

  • [28] In subsequent passages called Hyrodes.

  • [29] Cf. Dio Cassius, xl. 16.

  • [30] Caius Cassius Longinus, afterwards one of the assassins of Caesar.

  • [31] A town in Syria, on the right bank of the Euphrates, deriving its name from a bridge of boats there made across the river.

  • [32] Cf. Dio Cassius, xl. 18.

  • [33] Seleucia on the Tigris, built by Seleucus Nicator.

  • [34] Sagittarius, the sign of the zodiac following Scorpio.

  • [35] Probably a collection of love stories, the scenes of which were laid in Miletus. Of its author, who flourished perhaps in the second century B.C., almost nothing is known.

  • [36] In the fable of the two wallets, which everyone carries, one in front containing his neighbour's faults, which are therefore always before his eyes; and one behind containing his own faults, which he therefore never sees.

  • [37] Cf. chapter xxi. 6.

  • [38] Pentheus, king of Thebes, the son of Agave, refused to recognize the divinity of Dionysus, whereupon the god infuriated the women, and Agave killed her own son. She appears in the Bacchae with his head in her hand, exulting over the death of the supposed wild beast.

  • [39] A poet competing at the Athenian City Dionysia exhibited three tragedies and a satyric drama, "the four plays being performed in succession in the course of the same day."

  • [40] 38 B.C. Cf. Plutarch's Antony, xxxiv. 1. According to Dio Cassius, xlix. 21, Pacorus fell on the same day on which Crassus had been slain fifteen years before.

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