June 9, 2023

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

Becoming Rich…the Ancient Roman Way

2 min read
Cleopatra and Julius Caesar

Cleopatra and Julius Caesar

Cleopatra and Julius Caesar
Cleopatra and Julius Caesar

Every man, no penchant for erudition demanded, is acquainted with Caesar’s name, whether from the numerous movies depicting his affair with equally famed Queen Cleopatra or a variety of other sources (say, the ‘Asterix & Obelix’ series)… one doesn’t usually care.

We’ve all heard of the mighty military genius who brought the Roman Empire closer to its zenith. Through the portrayals he’s been given across time (from Ciaran Hinds to Karl Urban), Caesar’s probably the most illustrious Italian politician ever, bringing no surprise in our beholding him as the almighty hero history makes of such figures. Necessarily, we imagine him powerful and wealthy, or least rich. Only he wasn’t that rich.

A man few actually know about, Marcus Licinius Crassus, shrewd aristocrat with as glorious a life as his fellow dictator, had in fact amassed the vastest fortune of the period, over 170 million sesterces (sounding better in a modern currency: $2 billion). Caesar himself built his career on Crassus’ financial support and founded the opulent festivities he had to give to win the public before gathering his own piles of money in the Gallic wars.

But where does Crassus’ affluence come from?

Bust of Marcus Licinius Crassus (c.115-53 BC)
Bust of Marcus Licinius Crassus (c.115-53 BC)

There’s one amusing anecdote to explain it: back to when Rome’s buildings were majorly build of wood and fires uncountable if not turned them to ashes, damaged them beyond repair, our witty character devised a system most advantageous. Training some of his slaves to form a fire-brigade and providing them with essential instruments, the first cry of alarm found him at the place of possible calamities to negotiate a price for the help his men could give. With approximately 100 such incidents per day, imagine the profit! Unsatisfactory offers resulted in inevitable destruction. Generous sums set the ‘fire fighters’ to work.

This and a couple other similarly remunerative schemes had Crassus beat Caesar in the game of wealth…

…and leaves me wonder what strategy he’d develop to gain big bucks nowadays.

 Madame de Pique

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