Family and background
Marcus Licinius Crassus was the second of three sons born to the eminent senator and vir triumphalis Publius Licinius Crassus Dives (consul 97, censor 89 BC). This line was not descended from the Crassi Divites, although often assumed to be. The eldest brother Publius (born c. 116 BC) died shortly before the Italic War and Marcus took his brother's wife as his own. His father and the youngest brother Gaius took their own lives in Rome in winter 87–86 BC to avoid capture when he was being hunted down by the Marians following their victory in the bellum Octavianum.
There were three main branches of the house of the Licinii Crassi in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, and many mistakes in identifications and lines have arisen owing to the uniformity of Roman nomenclature, erroneous modern suppositions, and the unevenness of information across the generations. In addition the Dives cognomen of the Crassi Divites means rich or wealthy, and since Marcus Crassus, the subject here, was renowned for his enormous wealth, this has contributed to hasty assumptions that his family belonged to the Divites. But no ancient source accords him or his father the Dives cognomen; in fact, we are explicitly informed that his great wealth was acquired rather than inherited, and that he was raised in modest circumstances.
Crassus' grandfather of the same name, Marcus Licinius CrassusGaius Lucilius, the famous inventor of Roman satire, who asserted that he smiled once in his whole life. This grandfather was son of Publius Licinius Crassus (consul 171 BC). The latter's brother Gaius Licinius Crassus (consul 168 BC) produced the third line of Licinii Crassi of the period, the most famous of whom was Lucius Licinius Crassus, the greatest Roman orator before Cicero and the latter's childhood hero and model. Marcus Crassus was also a talented orator and one of the most energetic and active advocates of his time.
(praetor c.126 BC), was facetiously given the Greek nickname Agelastus (the unlaughing or grim) by his contemporary