Here's How Crassus Became The Wealthiest Man In Rome

Today, when you think of the richest people in the world, billionaire businessmen and tech giants come to mind, like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett. But have you ever wondered who the richest people were throughout history?

The richest man in ancient times, or at least in ancient Rome, was Marcus Licinius Crassus. A politician, Crassus was born into two very respected families, according to a paper from McGill University. Though he grew up into wealth and prominence, his family's actions during a civil war saw his fortune confiscated. So, Crassus made it his mission to rebuild his wealth. 

To do this, Crassus became a real estate honcho. Macquarie University writes that Crassus bought up cheap residential properties, taking advantage of how the dictator Sulla had sold off the properties of his former rivals for fire-sale prices. This allowed Crassus to get a surprisingly large amount of real estate to his name, which he just needed to fix up a little, and then rent out. Yes, house flipping was still a thing, back then, and Crassus was a pro at it. Once he got going, his wealth was estimated at 7,100 talents (or around $11 billion in today's money), as Plutarch estimates in his book The Parallel Lives.

Crassus wanted more influence

Crassus, however, was more than a real estate mogul. He'd also built up other businesses, to make sure his properties were protected.  Macquarie University explains, for instance, how Crassus took advantage of Rome's lack of a professional firefighting service: the buildings he owned were prone to fire damage, so he built a fire brigade. The firefighters would rush to put out fires in Crassus-owned buildings, according to, but if a fire broke out in another property, the men stood around while Crassus negotiated with the landowner, offering to put the fire out if they sold him their buildings. Not exactly ethical, but it made him rich. 

Crassus also owned and sold slaves, as well as mining silver. However, Crassus sought power beyond wealth. His political ambitions were at the front of his mind. He allied himself with Julius Caesar and Pompey, creating the First Triumverate of Rome, and gaining undue influence. However, as Plutarch said in Parallel Lives, Crassus aimed for too much. Seeking the military glory Caesar and Pompey had, Crassus wanted to attack the Parthian Empire. When he tried, the Parthian army overwhelmed his men, and he was killed in a subsequent fight. 

Meanwhile, a legend grew that the Parthians had killed Crassus not in action, but by pouring molten gold into his mouth, a symbol of his thirst for wealth ... and a fate that, certainly, none of today's richest men would ever want to experience.