I was wondering how much truth there is to the story of Crassus’s fire brigade. Crassus was one of the wealthiest men in Rome and supposedly made a lot of money by showing up at burning houses, buying the house from the owner for a pittance, and then putting out the fire with his crew of slaves.
Hi Jon, and sorry for the slow reply. Plutarch accepts the story of Crassus’s purchasing houses that were on fire. Perhaps even more significantly, he offered to purchase other buildings in the vicinity that were at high risk of catching fire if his crew did nothing to stop the blaze.
I’ve never read a contradictory claim to Plutarch on this, so I’m inclined to accept it as legitimate.
Thank you for the reply. Is there any way to tell whether Crassus’s fire brigade was actually profitable? And if it was, why didn’t anyone undercut him by offering fire fighting services on a saner business model, such as selling subscriptions or just charging fees on an individual basis?
I don’t know of any way to measure the profitability of the brigade. Plutarch writes that Crassus had made a point of buying up slaves who were skilled architects and builders, and that might have constrained potential competitors.