The Richest Man in Babylon
George Samuel Clason
“As a young man, I came across George Samuel Clason’s classic 1926 book The Richest Man in Babylon, which offered commonsense financial advice told through ancient parables. I recommend it to everyone.”
-Tony Robbins, Money: Master the Game
In its time, Babylon was remarkable. When the rest of mankind was using stone axes, the ancient Sumerians who inhabited the city armed themselves with sophisticated metal weaponry. They were wise financiers, believed to have invented money. And they were the first to develop promissory notes and property deeds. Babylon’s history traces back 8,000 years into an almost prehistoric past – six millennia before Jesus. Babylon sat next to the Euphrates River in what is now Iraq. Its resourceful inhabitants made the city great and wealthy, and protected it behind giant walls that shielded it from assault.
“Babylon is an outstanding example of man’s ability to achieve great objectives, using whatever means are at his disposal.”
Today Babylon is only dust, but its wisdom lives on in the form of fired clay tablets where the Sumerians engraved their knowledge of the world, history, poetry and commercial affairs, as well as their day-to-day lives. Modern archaeologists have found hundreds of thousands of these remarkable tablets, which continue to tell fascinating, ageless stories.
Bansir, the Chariot Maker
In the ancient days, a skilled craftsman named Bansir built chariots for the high and mighty. He was a hard worker, but after years of work, he became discouraged and distraught, because he had not saved even a single coin. When his best friend, a musician named Kobbi, asked if he could borrow a little money, Bansir grimaced and admitted that he had none. The two friends commiserated about their poverty. Then Bansir suggested going to see Babylon’s richest man, Arkad, and asking how he became wealthy. Kobbi agreed to accompany the chariot maker on his visit, so he could learn how to get rich, too. They recruited other men like themselves, hard workers with little or no savings, to go with them. Excited, the small group began to walk to Arkad’s regal palace. They prayed silently to the gods, asking that this visit would mark an important turning point in their lives. They all hoped they would learn how to become wealthy.
Arkad the Wealthy
Arkad was a great man, Babylon’s wealthiest, but also kind and wise. He was pleased to speak with the men. He explained that they could not improve their individual lots in life if they did not understand and apply the laws of developing wealth. Arkad told the men his history. The son of a simple merchant, he had no inheritance. As a young man, he had gone to work as a scribe in the hall of records, engraving clay tablets. One day, Algamish, the elderly moneylender, ordered a copy of the “Ninth Law,” and promised the youth two coppers when he completed the job. Arkad began working, but the passage was quite long. He did not finish on time and Algamish was furious. Arkad wanted to become wealthy himself, but he did not know how. Therefore, he promised to work all night to finish the Ninth Law if Algamish would teach him the secrets of wealth. Algamish laughed at his boldness, but agreed.
“Money is plentiful for those who understand the simple laws which govern its acquisition.”
Arkad worked straight through until morning. The next day, he gave the newly baked tablets to the pleased moneylender. Sitting Arkad down, the old man proceeded to tell him how to get rich. First, Algamish said, Arkad must always keep part of his earnings. When the young man protested that he kept everything he earned, Algamish explained that no, he did not: he paid for things he needed, like food and clothing, but he did not save anything for himself. Arkad nodded. It was true. He had no savings. Algamish told him that saved money would work for him and earn even more money, the “children” of the saved funds. When the savings, their children, and their children’s children were working for him, Arkad would be rich. Algamish told Arkad that if he could do that, and control his expenses, he would soon prosper.
“The first sound principle of investment is security for thy principal.”
Arkad took the moneylender’s advice. He began to save, but for his first investment he gave his savings to Azmur, a brick maker, who promised to invest the money in beautiful jewels the two of them could sell. But wily Phoenicians posing as jewel merchants tricked Azmur, selling him worthless glass trinkets instead of jewels. Algamish then warned Arkad to invest only with experts – that is, if he wanted to buy jewels, he should go to a jewel merchant, not a man who made bricks. When it comes to money, he said, always seek knowledgeable advice.
“Every gold piece you save is a slave to work for you. Every copper it earns is its child that also can earn for you.”
Arkad started saving again. When he had put aside a notable sum, he invested it with Aggar, a maker of shields, who used it to buy bronze. Then he made and sold bronze shields, and gave Arkad a portion of the profits. Soon, Arkad was becoming wealthy. When Algamish asked if he was following the rules of wealth, Arkad could answer that he was and that he was getting rich. Algamish clapped him heartily on the back. Praising his intelligence, Algamish asked Arkad to become his partner, oversee his lands and inherit his estate. Arkad thanked the old man for his generosity. He worked for Algamish for many years and was his heir when he died. By that time, Arkad had become wealthy through his own efforts. He smiled at the men who had come to his home to learn the secrets of wealth and told them:
- Save at least one-tenth of what you earn.
- Seek counsel from experts on how to make your money grow.
- Invest your savings wisely so that they earn for you and so their earnings do the same.
- Live within your means. Do not spend money foolishly.
- Pursue opportunity promptly – that is the real meaning of good luck.
Arkad counseled many people about gaining wealth, including King Sargon, who asked him to teach other Babylonians how to manage their earnings and prosper. Being poor, the citizens were restless and despondent. The king thought that if they learned about money, they could get rich and Babylon would become a great city of wealthy men. A few days later, Arkad met with 100 of Babylon’s citizens in the great Temple of Learning. They eagerly waited to learn what he would teach them. His first rule was what he had taught the other supplicants: Save a tenth of your earnings and cut back on your expenses. He told them to invest their earnings, not to bury them in the fields for safekeeping.
“A small return and a safe one is far more desirable than risk.”
Arkad explained that the most important investment rule is to protect your principal. He warned the men against get-rich and fly-by-night schemes, and told them to be as careful choosing their investments as they were when choosing their wives. To invest, he said, they should seek wise counselors who knew about both gold and life. Arkad told them never to invest their gold in ventures they did not understand or with men who were not skilled in the enterprises they promoted. He told them to buy homes instead of renting them, thus taking advantage of one of life’s best investments. He cautioned them to plan carefully for their later years when low energy, illness, decrepitude and age would make it more difficult to work. Finally, Arkad advised every man present to increase his knowledge, expertise and skills, to become wiser so he could earn more. The 100 citizens thanked Arkad for his excellent advice. They all applied his ideas, and passed his knowledge along to their friends and family members. Thus, many people in Babylon became wealthy and the city became as prosperous as the King had hoped it would.
Rodan and His 50 Gold Pieces
Rodan was Babylon’s most able spearmaker. To honor him, the king gave him the princely sum of 50 gold pieces. Rodan was both pleased and disturbed. He was happy to be rich, but he did not know what to do with the money. Many people begged him to lend them gold for this purpose or that. Beleaguered, Rodan went to Mathon, a trusted wise man, for advice. Mathon told him about a farmer who could understand the animals’ language. One night he hid in the barn to listen to them. What the ox said disturbed the farmer. The ox told the mule that he worked much harder than the mule did, because he pulled a heavy plow all day, while the mule only carried the master to market once or twice a week, and could rest or play the rest of the time. The mule told the ox that he, too, could spend the day laying in his stall if he pretended to be ill when the master came to hitch him to the plow. The ox followed his advice, but the wily farmer was ready for the ox’s deception. He hitched the mule to the plow and made him pull it for the following fortnight.
“That which each of us calls our ‘necessary expenses’ will always grow to equal our incomes unless we protest to the contrary.”
Mathon asked Rodan to guess the story’s meaning. When the spearmaker could not, Mathon explained the fable. It showed that he should never help others if it means assuming their burdens on his own shoulders. He advised Rodan to loan his gold only to those who had the means to repay him and to enable him to earn a reasonable profit from the transaction. Mathon further warned that Rodan would never regret exercising extra caution when he lent money, because lending recklessly would lead to losing his gold and weeping bitter tears.
Dabasir, the King of Camels
One day in the market, Dabasir, Babylon’s most famous camel trader, approached Tarkad, a young man who owed him money. When Dabasir asked for the copper and gold he had lent Tarkad, the young man hung his head in shame and confessed he did not have the money. Dabasir urged him to go get it. When Tarkad said that was impossible, Dabasir told him a story.
“‘Fickle fate’ is a vicious goddess who brings no permanent good to anyone.”
The trader said he had once been a slave, and still would be one if not for the kindness of his mistress, who took pity on him and helped him gain his freedom. She gave him two camels, some bread and a jug of water, and told him to ride across the desert to flee for his freedom. He was greatly afraid because the desert is vast and cruel. Then his mistress asked him if he had the heart of a free man. If so, she said, you will take your chance. If not, you will stay here and remain a slave. Dabasir took her dare and rode into the desert. He journeyed for weeks, his food and water long gone. He thought often of death, but the words of his mistress spurred him forward. He vowed to trek on until he was safe and free.
“Good luck waits to come to that man who accepts opportunity.”
Thus, one day he finally came out of the desert and made his way to Babylon. From that day on, he always used determination to forge ahead, no matter what difficulties lay in his way. Dabasir looked hard at the young man by his side and told him that he, too, had either the heart of a free man or that of a slave, and that a free man would find a way to repay his debts. Tarkad rose and thanked him for the story, assuring him that as a free man he would repay the money. The next day he did. Where there is a will, there’s a way.
The Merchant Sharru Nada
Sharru Nada was the richest merchant in Babylon, but few knew that he also had once been a slave. Many years before, his master had chained Sharru Nada to two other men: Zabado, the stealer of sheep, and Megiddo, a burly farmer. The master took the three slaves to Babylon to sell them. As they approached the great walls of the city, Megiddo, the oldest, advised the other two slaves to talk to any potential new master, to explain that they were hard workers and that the man would never regret buying them. Then, he said, they should become hard workers, because hard work is a man’s best friend and all good things derive from it. Zabado laughed, and said he would not proclaim himself to be a hard worker lest he end up among the slave crews repairing the great wall, breaking his back carrying brick and mortar all day. But Sharru Nada thought long and hard about Megiddo’s advice.
“Without wisdom, gold is quickly lost by those who have it, but with wisdom, gold can be secured by those who have it not.”
Later that day, Nananaid the baker asked the slave dealer if any of the slaves for sale were trained as bakers. Sharru Nada quickly spoke up and urged the man to buy him, promising to work hard and willingly, even though he was not trained as a baker. Nananaid liked Sharru Nada’s bold spirit. He bought the young man and taught him to bake. As he promised, Sharru Nada worked hard every day for his new master. Years went by. He always remembered what Megiddo had taught him. He treasured work the way other men treasure jewels and gold. Eventually, Sharru Nada was able to convince Nananaid to let him go into the city in the evening hours to sell honey cakes he baked on his own time. Nananaid let Sharru Nada keep one-fourth of the money he made. This proved profitable for both men. Little by little, Sharru Nada’s savings grew. One of his customers was Arad Gula, a rug merchant who was so impressed with Sharru Nada’s enterprise that he bought the young man from Nananaid and gave him his freedom. He made Sharru Nada his partner so they could prosper together. And so they did, all because Sharru Nada learned the value of hard work.