Even in his own age he would have had a clearly defined and respectable position had he contented himself with being the general of the senate, for which he was from the outset destined. With this he was not content, and so he fell into the fatal plight of wishing to be something else than he could be. He was constantly aspiring to a special position in the state, and, when it offered itself, he could not make up his mind to occupy it; he was deeply indignant when persons and laws did not bend unconditionally before him, and yet he everywhere bore himself with no mere affectation of modesty as one of many peers, and trembled at the mere thought of undertaking anything unconstitutional. Thus constantly at fundamental variance with, and yet at the same time the obedient servant of, the oligarchy, constantly tormented by an ambition which was frightened at its own aims, his much-agitated life passed joylessly away in a perpetual inward contradiction.


Marcus Crassus cannot, any more than Pompeius, be reckoned among the unconditional adherents of the oligarchy. He is a personage highly characteristic of this epoch. Like Pompeius, whose senior he was by a few years, he belonged to the circle of the high Roman aristocracy, had obtained the usual education befitting his rank, and had like Pompeius fought with distinction under Sulla in the Italian war. Far inferior to many of his peers in mental gifts, literary culture, and military talent, he outstripped them by his boundless activity, and by the perseverance with which he strove to possess everything and to become all-important. Above all, he threw himself into speculation. Purchases of estates during the revolution formed the foundation of his wealth; but he disdained no branch of gain; he carried on the business of building in the capital on a great scale and with prudence; he entered into partnership with his freedmen in the most varied undertakings; he acted as banker both in and out of Rome, in person or by his agents; he advanced money to his colleagues in the senate, and undertook-- as it might happen--to execute works or to bribe the tribunals on their account. He was far from nice in the matter of making profit. On occasion of the Sullan proscriptions a forgery in the lists had been proved against him, for which reason Sulla made no more use of him thenceforward in the affairs of state: he did not refuse to accept an inheritance, because the testamentary document which contained his name was notoriously forged; he made no objection, when his bailiffs by force or by fraud dislodged the petty holders from lands which adjoined his own. He avoided open collisions, however, with criminal justice, and lived himself like a genuine moneyed man in homely and simple style. In this way Crassus rose in the course of a few years from a man of ordinary senatorial fortune to be the master of wealth which not long before his death, after defraying enormous extraordinary expenses, still amounted to 170,000,000 sesterces (1,700,000 pounds). He had become the richest of Romans and thereby, at the same time, a great political power. If, according to his expression, no one might call himself rich who could not maintain an army from his revenues, one who could do this was hardly any longer a mere citizen. In reality the views of Crassus aimed at a higher object than the possession of the best-filled money-chest in Rome. He grudged no pains to extend his connections. He knew how to salute by name every burgess of the capital. He refused to no suppliant his assistance in court. Nature, indeed, had not done much for him as an orator: his speaking was dry, his delivery monotonous, he had difficulty of hearing; but his tenacity of purpose, which no wearisomeness deterred and no enjoyment distracted, overcame such obstacles. He never appeared unprepared, he never extemporized, and so he became a pleader at all times in request and at all times ready; to whom it was no derogation that a cause was rarely too bad for him, and that he knew how to influence the judges not merely by his oratory, but also by his connections and, on occasion, by his gold. Half the senate was in debt to him; his habit of advancing to "friends" money without interest revocable at pleasure rendered a number of influential men dependent on him, and the more so that, like a genuine man of business, he made no distinction among the parties, maintained connections on all hands, and readily lent to every one who was able to pay or otherwise useful. The most daring party-leaders, who made their attacks recklessly in all directions, were careful not to quarrel with Crassus; he was compared to the bull of the herd, whom it was advisable for none to provoke. That such a man, so disposed and so situated, could not strive after humble aims is clear; and, in a very different way from Pompeius, Crassus knew exactly like a banker the objects and the means of political speculation. From the origin of Rome capital was a political power there; the age was of such a sort, that everything seemed accessible to gold as to iron. If in the time of revolution a capitalist aristocracy might have thought of overthrowing the oligarchy of the gentes, a man like Crassus might raise his eyes higher than to the -fasces- and embroidered mantle of the triumphators. For the moment he was a Sullan and adherent of the senate; but he was too much of a financier to devote himself to a definite political party, or to pursue aught else than his personal advantage. Why should Crassus, the wealthiest and most intriguing man in Rome, and no penurious miser but a speculator on the greatest scale, not speculate also on the crown? Alone, perhaps, he could not attain this object; but he had already carried out various great transactions in partnership; it was not impossible that for this also a suitable partner might present himself. It is a trait characteristic of the time, that a mediocre orator and officer, a politician who took his activity for energy and his covetousness for ambition, one who at bottom had nothing but a colossal fortune and the mercantile talent of forming connections--that such a man, relying on the omnipotence of coteries and intrigues, could deem himself on a level with the first generals and statesmen of his day, and could contend with them for the highest prize which allures political ambition.

Italian Books
Theodor Mommsen
Classic Literature Library

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