By the year 41 BC, just a few years after the assassination of Julius Caesar, Rome was under the strict rule of a three-person dictatorship known as the Tresviri rei publicae constituendae.
Historians today refer to this committee as the Triumvirate, and it included a general named Aemilius Lepidus, as well as Gaius Octavius– who would eventually become Emperor Augustus.
But the leader of the group, at least at first, was Marcus Antonius, also known as Mark Antony.
Mark Antony was not especially popular. Many Romans rightfully suspected that Mark Antony had been involved in Caesar’s assassination. Plus he was sleeping with Caesar’s widow, Cleopatra.
But Antony’s power through the Triumvirate’s was absolute. He could raise taxes, establish new social and religious traditions, regulate daily life, seize private property, and even condemn people to death… all without any oversight or due process.
And he wasn’t shy about using this power to squash his opposition.
Antony put several of his political enemies to death– including the much beloved Cicero, who was trying to escape Rome when Antony’s goons killed him.
Antony also threatened to kill another Senator named Nonius. But unlike Cicero, Nonius managed to escape Rome… bring with him about $1.5 million worth of gold and jewels.
People in the ancient world knew that precious metals (and precious stones) were pretty much the only portable forms of wealth.
Human civilization at the time was completely agrarian, so most productive assets like land and crops were impossible to move. Gold was almost the singular option to move large sums of wealth, and it remained this way for centuries.
These days there are much better options. Many forms of wealth– financial securities, intellectual property, bank deposits, and cryptocurrency– are completely portable. So gold is no longer necessary as a way to move money abroad.
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