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Letter: As rich as Crassus

Sir: The study of classics may be in decline, but it would be encouraging if journalists got their classical references right. Anne McElvoy ("Never underestimate a rich man's anger when forced to resign", 9 August) confuses Croesus (king of Lydia in the mid-sixth century BC) with Crassus, a Roman millionaire of the first century. And the eastern empire against which he campaigned was the Parthian one, not the Persian.

The parallels with Geoffrey Robinson are interesting. Crassus stood surety for some of Ceasar's vast debts in 62 and was rewarded two years later with a place in the unofficial First Triumvirate, along with Caesar and Pompey the Great - a rich man plus a populist politician and a seasoned general.

The historian Sir Ronald Syme commented: "The lust of power, that prime infirmity of the Roman noble, impelled him to devious paths and finally to dangerous elevations."

But presumably Mr Robinson need not expect as grisly a fate as that of Crassus. The Parthians trapped his army at Carrhae in 53. They cut off his head and brought it to the Parthian king as he was enjoying a recital of Euripides' Bacchae. The actor took on the role of Agave, who tears his son to pieces, and cradled Crassus' head while singing a Bacchic song of triumph.


Harrow on the Hill, Middlesex