The Romans, it is true, say that the many virtues of Crassus were obscured by his sole vice of avarice; and it is likely that the one vice which became stronger than all the others in him, weakened the rest. The chief proofs of his avarice are found in the way he got his property and in the amount of it.
For at the outset he was possessed of not more than three hundred talents;1
then during his consulship he sacrificed the tenth of his goods to Hercules, feasted the people, gave every Roman out of his own means enough to live on for three months, and still, when he made a private inventory of his property before his Parthian expedition, he found that it had a value of seventy-one hundred talents.
The greatest part of this, if one must tell the scandalous truth, he got together out of fire and war, making the public calamities his greatest source of revenue.
For when Sulla took the city and sold the property of those whom he had put to death, considering it and calling it spoil of war, and wishing to defile with his crime as many and as influential men as he could, Crassus was never tired of accepting or of buying it.2
And besides this, observing how natural and familiar at Rome were such fatalities as the conflagration and collapse of buildings, owing to their being too massive and close together, he proceeded to buy slaves who were architects and builders. Then, when he had over five hundred of these, he would buy houses that were afire, and houses which adjoined those that were afire, and these their owners would let go at a trifling price owing to their fear and uncertainty. In this way the largest part of Rome came into his possession.
But though he owned so many artisans, he built no house for himself other than the one in which he lived; indeed, he used to say that men who were fond of building were their own undoers, and needed no other foes. And though he owned numberless silver mines, and highly valuable tracts of land with the labourers upon them, nevertheless one night regard all this as nothing compared with the value of his slaves;
so many and so capable were the slaves he possessed,—readers, amanuenses, silver- smiths, stewards, table-servants; and he himself directed their education, and took part in it himself as a teacher, and, in a word, he thought that the chief duty of the master was to care for his slaves as the living implements of household management.
And in this Crassus was right, if, as he used to say, he held that anything else was to be done for him by his slaves, but his slaves were to be governed by their master. For household management, as we see, is a branch of finance in so far as it deals with lifeless things; but a branch of politics when it deals with men.3
He was not right, however, in thinking, and in saying too, that no one was rich who could not support an army out of his substance;
‘war has no fixed rations,’ as King Achidamus said,4
and therefore the wealth requisite for war cannot be determined. Far different was the opinion of Marius, who said, after distributing to each of his veterans fourteen acres of land and discovering that they desired more,
‘May no Roman ever think that land too small which suffices to maintain him.’