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The ancients had no number whereby to express a larger sum than one hundred thousand; and hence it is that, at the present day, we reckon by multiples of that number, as, for instance, ten times one hundred thousand, and so on.1 For these multiplications we are indebted to usury and the use of coined money; and hence, too, the expression "æs alienum," or "another man's money," which we still use.2 In later times, again, the surname "Dives"3 was given to some: only be it known to all, that the man who first received this surname became a bankrupt and so bubbled his creditors.4 M. Crassus,5 a member of the same family, used to say that no man was rich, who could not maintain a legion upon his yearly income. He possessed in land two hundred millions6 of sesterces, being the richest Roman citizen next to Sylla. Nor was even this enough for him, but he must want to possess all the gold of the Parthians too!7 And yet, although he was the first to become memorable for his opulence—so pleasant is the task of stigmatizing this insatiate cupidity—we have known of many manumitted slaves, since his time, much more wealthy than he ever was; three for example, all at the same time, in the reign of the Emperor Claudius, Pallas,8 Callistus,9 and Narcissus.10

But to omit all further mention of these men, as though they were still11 the rulers of the empire, let us turn to C. Cæcilius Claudius Isidorus, who, in the consulship of C. Asinius Gallus and C. Marcius Censorinus,12 upon the sixth day before the calends of February, declared by his will, that though he had suffered great losses through the civil wars, he was still able to leave behind him four thousand one hundred and sixteen slaves, three thousand six hundred pairs of oxen, and two hundred and fifty-seven thousand heads of other kind of cattle, besides, in ready money, sixty millions of sesterces. Upon his funeral, also, he ordered eleven hundred thousand sesterces to be expended.

And yet, supposing all these enormous riches to be added together, how small a proportion will they bear to the wealth of Ptolemæus; the person who, according to Varro, when Pompeius was on his expedition in the countries adjoining Judæa, entertained eight thousand horsemen at his own expense, and gave a repast to one thousand guests, setting before every one of them a drinking-cup of gold, and changing these vessels at every course! And then, again, how insignificant would his wealth have been by the side of that of Pythius the Bithynian13—for I here make no mention of kings, be it remarked. He it was who gave the celebrated plane-tree and vine of gold to King Darius, and who entertained at a banquet the troops of Xerxes, seven hundred and eighty-eight thousand men in all; with a promise of pay and corn for the whole of them during the next five months, on condition that one at least of his five children, who had been drawn for service, should be left to him as the solace of his old age. And yet, let any one compare the wealth of Pythius to that possessed by King Crœsus!

In the name of all that is unfortunate, what madness it is for human nature to centre its desires upon a thing that has either fallen to the lot of slaves, or else has reached no known limit in the aspirations even of kings!

1 Twenty times one hundred thousand, &c.

2 As signifying a "debt owing to another."

3 "The Rich."

4 This seems the best translation for "decoxisse creditoribus suis," which literally means that he "boiled" or "melted away" his fortune from his creditors. In this remark Pliny is more witty than usual.

5 The Triumvir. The first person mentioned in Roman history as having the cognomen "Dives," is P. Licinius Crassus, the personage mentioned in B. xxi. c. 4. As he attained the highest honours of the state, and died universally respected, he cannot be the person so opprobriously spoken of by Pliny.

6 The meaning appears to be doubtful here, as it is not clear whether "sesterces," or "sestertia," "thousands of sesterces," is meant.

7 Who cut off his head after his death, and poured molten gold down his throat.

8 Originally the slave of Antonia, the mother of Claudius. Agrippina, the wife of Claudius, admitted him to her embraces, and in conjunction with her he for some time ruled the destinies of the Roman Empire. He was poisoned by order of Nero, A.D. 63.

9 C. Julius Callistus, the freedman of Caligula, in whose assassination he was an accomplice. The physician Scribonius Largus dedicated his work to Callistus.

10 A freedman of the Emperor Claudius, whose epistolary correspondence he superintended. He was put to death on the accession of Nero, A.D. 54.

11 In which case it would be dangerous to speak of them.

12 A.U.C. 746.

13 According to some authorities, he was a Lydian. He derived his wealth from his gold mines in the neighbourhood of Celænæ in Phrygia, and would appear, in spite of Pliny's reservation, to have been little less than a king. His five sons accompanied Xerxes; but Pythius, alarmed by an eclipse of the sun, begged that the eldest might be left behind. Upon this, Xerxes had the youth put to death, and his body cut in two, the army being ordered to march between the portions, which were placed on either side of the road. His other sons were all slain in battle, and Pythius passed the rest of his life in solitude.

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