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Richest Men of History

When we hear the term the richest people of the world we think of people like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, and no doubt they are the richest people of our age.

All eras of history had similar people, who were as rich as the richest figures of our age, some even had such wealth that their personal coffers surpassed the state coffers, I tried to include figures from different periods, but this is list by no means exhaustive.

John D. Rockefeller

I begin the list with Rockefeller, he is considered the richest American of all times and one, if not the richest person of the post-industrial world.

Just like most self-made men he built his wealth from virtually nothing. He made his fortune thanks to the oil refining industry, his famous company Standard Oil became so big that it became the target of antitrust laws and was broken up into 34 different companies.

Rockefeller was the first person to reach a personal wealth of over 1 billion dollars, at his peak it was estimated that his wealth made up 3% of the entire GDP of the United States of America.

William the Conqueror

It is very hard to estimate the exact wealth of pre-modern rulers, merchants and noblemen, however, William the Conqueror is largely accepted as one of the richest man who ever walked the earth. His net worth is estimated to have been over 200 billion dollars in modern money.

William’s great wealth came thanks to his conquest of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of England. The Norman conquest of England led to the takeover of the country by the Norman elite of William.

When things like that happen the subjugated population had two choices, submit or resist. Those who resisted and were defeated had their property confiscated by the conquerors. The Normans confiscated much of the English land, William thanks to his great landholdings in England and France became immensely rich.


For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Which of his contemporaries may have been richer than Crassus?
    • Pompey the Great
    • Cicero
    • Gaius Cassius

Answer Key

  1. Pompey the Great

Marcus Crassus

During his life, Crassus was known as the richest man of Rome. Such was his wealth that his treasury rivalled that of the state coffers, when the Republic was stretched thin during the Rebellion of Spartacus the Senate was forced to task Crassus with subjugating the revolting slaves.

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Crassus was able to raise and equip an army out of his pocket and defeated Spartacus. Crassus repeated this feat nearly 20 years later, once he received the governorship of Syria he attacked the Parthian Empire in 53 BC. He had an army of around 35,000 men which he once again raised and equipped from his fortune.

Crassus was born into an aristocratic family and his father was an important figure in Rome, it is believed that Crassus inherited an impressive fortune from his father, a fortune that in today’s market would be worth several hundred million dollars. Crassus’s youth was marked by the bloody civil wars between Marius and Sulla, Crassus chose well and backed Sulla. Sulla had a great number of his enemies killed and their wealth was given as a reward to his loyalists. Crassus built on this by purchasing slaves, land and mines.

He founded a firefighter brigade, once they got news of fire the brigade would go to the place of fire, unfortunately, if the owner could not pay the money Crassus demanded for their services they did nothing. Once the house burnt down Crassus would offer to buy the ruined building for a token sum, this way he became the biggest real estate owner of the city.

By the time he invaded his wealth was famous all over the world, as was his greed, according to one source the Parthians executed Crassus by pouring melted gold down his throat.

Jakob Fugger

During his lifetime he was known as Jacob Fugger the Rich, such was the reputation of his wealth, and supposed avariciousness that his name became a synonym with the word in Hungarian( the word fukar= avariciousness is believed by some to have its origins in the name of Fugger).

Jakob was born into a rich merchant family, his father and his brothers made their money mostly from the textile industry of Central Europe during the 1470s and 1480. When he was sent into Tyrol he expanded the family business into the mining industry.

He came into contact soon with Archduke Maximilian with whom he formed a close relationship, Fugger financed Maximilian, in exchange Maximilian opened up new territories for his banker. Thanks to this relationship Fugger invested his money in the copper mines of Hungary, in the following period his family came to own most of the copper mines of Europe and gained an almost monopolistic hold over the copper market.

When Maximilian died Fugger continued to finance the Habsburgs, he played a key role in securing the election of Charles V as Holy Roman Emperor. He also later financed the wars of Charles against King Francis I of France, in return for the money Charles granted Fugger mercury mines in Spain.

Augustus Caesar

Augustus Caesar is one of the few people whose wealth is nowadays estimated to have been over a trillion dollars, if these estimates are correct he was richer than the previous four men put together. He inherited part of the wealth of great uncle Julius Caesar and added to this already great wealth by eliminating his political enemies in the aftermath of Caesar’s assassination.

Augustus allied with Mark Antony and Lepidus first defeated the killers of Caesar, he later deposed Lepidus and defeated Antony to become the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. His great wealth came thanks to Egypt, Augustus incorporated Egypt into the Empire after he defeated Antony and Cleopatra, according to historians Augustus personally owned the province.

Egypt was enormously rich at the time, the fact that Egypt was the grain supplier of Rome is well known, however, Egypt had other ways of income that are less well known. All sorts of goods from the East arrived in Europe through the Silk Road on land and partially through Egypt on the sea. By controlling the spice, silk and other trades that entered the Roman world from the East Augustus became enormously rich.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Andrew Szekler

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