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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter (A) December 15, 2014

Crassus’ Command in the War against Spartacus (73–71 BCE): His Official Position, Forces and Political Spoils

Frederik Juliaan Vervaet EMAIL logo
From the journal Klio


Late in 72 BCE, Spartacus’ stunning series of victories over the consuls L. Gellius Publicola and Cn. Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus and then the proconsul C. Cassius Longinus (cos. 73) triggered a dearth of candidates for the consular and praetorian elections for 71. This deadlock was broken only when M. Licinius Crassus announced that he would run for praetor, declaring he was prepared to accept the command against Spartacus. Immediately following his election, Crassus began preparing, probably receiving a grant of delegated praetorium imperium to bridge the interval between election and assumption of office. Having raised no less than six legions, personally advancing the funds required, he also took command of the two consular legions in the field. By means of this enormous army as well as his relentless efforts and strict discipline, he managed to put an end to this protracted and inglorious war in the span of six months. At some point in the summer or early autumn of 71, the equestrian proconsul Cn. Pompeius Magnus, back from Spain, decided he would settle for nothing less than another public triumph and the consulship itself. In order to secure these top prizes, he brazenly refused to disband his army, instead using it as leverage, just as he had already done in 81 and 77. Crassus, for his part, felt he could not fall behind, and entered into an unlikely if formidable alliance with his political rival. As both men ran on a strong popularis platform, the Senate now found itself between hammer and anvil. Consequently, the Conscript Fathers had little choice but to grant Pompeius as well as Crassus the required dispensations from the Cornelian Law. Although they subsequently honoured their popular commitments as consuls, that neither Pompeius nor Crassus chose to disband their armies until sometime late in their tenure suggests that their entente was anything but cordial. Interestingly, it was Crassus who defused this dangerous stalemate by making the decisive first move towards formal reconciliation, albeit in the face of massive public pressure. Paradoxically, the defining features of Sulla’s new constitutional arrangement were buried by two of his foremost associates as they first trampled two critical Cornelian laws in order to seize a joint consulship and next passed legislation restoring the powers of the tribunes of the plebs and altering the balance of power in the court juries.

Published Online: 2014-12-15
Published in Print: 2014-12-1

© 2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston

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