Richest People in History Ancient Roman Crassus

About the ancient Roman Marcus Licinus Crassus, history and biography of one of the richest men in history.



Marcus Licinus Crassus, born into a wealthy Roman family around the year 115 B.C., acquired enormous wealth through (in the words of Plutarch) "fire and rapine." One of his most lucrative schemes took advantage of the fact that Rome had no fire department. Crassus filled this void by creating his own brigade--500 men strong--which rushed to burning buildings at the first cry of alarm. Upon arriving at the scene, however, the fire fighters did nothing while their employer bargained over the price of their services with the distressed property owner. If Crassus could not negotiate a satisfactory price, his men simply let the structure burn to the ground. Another of his profitable ventures was a school for slaves; Crassus purchased unskilled bondsmen, had them trained, and then sold them for handsome profits.

The bulk of Crassus's enormous wealth, however, consisted of his vast landholdings, acquired while he was a lieutenant to Lucius Cornelius Sulla during the civil war of 88-82 B.C. Sulla allowed Crassus to buy captured enemy property at bargain prices, but the acquisitive Roman was not satisfied with this and proceeded to seize the estates of magnates not on the proscribed list, often killing the innocent owners. When his greed surpassed every civilized limit, Crassus lost Sulla's support.

Nevertheless, through loans to nearly every Roman senator and lavish entertainments for the populace, Crassus succeeded in acquiring what he wanted most--political power. During the last years of the Roman republic, he formed the First Triumvirate with Julius Caesar and Gnaeus Pompey. Still unsatisfied, he sought military glory in Syria, but he was defeated and killed at the Battle of Carrhae in 53 B.C. According to a deliciously ironic legend, the Syrians cut off his head and filled it with molten gold.

How Much?

Crassus increased his sizable inheritance of 7 million sesterces to a fortune of about 170 million--a sum nearly equal to the entire annual income of the Roman treasury--at the time of his death.

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