Friday, January 9, 2009

Ignis! Ignis!

So I snuck into a classroom this morning and taught Latin to the bemused students within! An incident of "guerilla Latin-teaching"? Not really. More a case of "filling in for a friend who's out of town" Latin-teaching. And the students were only slightly bemused. However, in the course of our discussions this morning, we wandered onto the topic of this man:

That man is Marcus Licinius Crassus, member of the First Triumvirate and putter-down of Spartacus' revolt. He was also spectacularly wealthy, at least partially because of the fact that he owned and operated one of Rome's first fire departments. And how did that work? Well, to explain the matter, here is The Official De Koboldorum Rebus Guide to Having Your Building Catch Fire in Rome in the 60s B.C.:

  • Step One: Your building catches fire.

  • Step Two: A number of shady-looking individuals show up with buckets. They belong body-and-soul to M. Licinius Crassus. If this were an episode of C.S.I., the phrase "tested positive for accelerants" might well come into play.

  • Step Three: With your building merrily burning down in the background, the men with buckets make you an offer for the property. Of course, this offer is well below market value, on account of the building being on fire.

  • Step Four: Step Four depends on whether you have the accepted the offer in Step Three. If you have, the men put the fire out. Of course, your building now belongs to M. Licinius Crassus. Perhaps he will sell it back to you, for full market value of course since it's not on fire any more. If you did not accept the offer, then the men go away, leaving you to deal with your rapidly devaluing property on your own.

As I mentioned, Crassus got very very rich off of schemes like the one above. His wealth, however, did not save him from a rather gruesome end, at least according to legend. In 53 B.C., at Carrhae in what is now Turkey, Crassus led an army into one of Rome's all-time great military disasters, against the Parthians. He was subsequently captured. According to some sources, the Parthians, who knew of Crassus' great wealth and had a bit of a sense of humour, "quenched Crassus' thirst for riches" by forcing him to drink molten gold.

1 comment:

Chorus said...

Wow... clever... and NASTY.