Lessons from The Richest Man in Babylon

Lessons from The Richest Man in Babylon #1

Everything Rises and Falls on Leadership


I recently just read the book titled The Richest Man in Babylon and one of the revelations was that all through the ages, the reputation of Babylon was that of the richest city with fabulous treasures.  The glory of Babylon endures, as they say. There are indeed numerous lessons from the richest man in Babylon.

But was this always so? No, it wasn’t. The riches and wealth of Babylon were the results of the wisdom of its people, especially the desire of their king to see everyone one of his people financially sufficient. Thus, they first had to learn how to become wealthy.

One of the things that struck me, on how Babylon achieved this feat, was the wish and desire of their king that everyone one of his subject be financially sufficient and cater for himself and his household. Yes the king desires that his people should not be poverty stricken and want them to be buoyant at any given time. He also wants his city to be economically sound and be the very best. No wonder the city is the richest in history.

Another thing that struck me the willingness and eagerness of the city’s richest man, Arkad, to teach to his fellow Babylonians his secret to building and sustaining his wealth at the request of the king without minding of a negative impact on his wealth or status as the wealthiest man.

It all began like this

Upon return, victorious, from a battle with the Elamites the good king, Sargon, was confronted with a serious situation. The Royal Chancellor explained it to the king thus: “After many years of great prosperity brought to our people because your majesty built the great irrigation canals and the mighty temples, now that these works are completed the people seem unable to support themselves.” “The labourers are without employment. The merchants have few customers. The farmers are unable to sell their produce. The people have not enough gold to buy food.”

Perplexed and confused, the good king, as he’s often described, demanded to know where all the gold that his government spent for the great projects went.

His Chancellor replied that it might have found its way into the possession of a few rich men in their city. He said the gold paid to the workers as remuneration filtered through their fingers as quickly as the goat milk goes through the strainer, and as a result the stream has gold has ceased to flow and is now concentrated within the grasp of the few rich men, and most of the people have nothing to show for their earnings.

The king became silent and was thoughtful for a while. He wondered then asked, why should so few men be able to acquire all the gold? To which the Chancellor replied, “Because they know how”, and they should not be condemned for succeeding because they know how.

The king a bit curious and concerned then demanded to know from his Chancellor, “why should not all the people learn to accumulate gold and therefore become rich and prosperous?”

The Chancellor answered in affirmation that it’s “quite possible” but the question is who can teach them?

After some deep thoughts only one question could come to the mind of both the King and the Chancellor, “who has amassed the greatest wealth in Babylon?” Of course they both know and agreed it is none other than Arkad. Arkad has been taunted as the richest man in Babylon.

Immediately, the king ordered that he be brought before him the morrow.

The following day Arkad appeared before the King, and without wasting time – I assume the king was deeply pained by the poverty that has stricken his people – asked him if it is true he’s the richest man in Babylon? To which Arkad responded, “So it is reported your Majesty, and no man disputes it”.

How becamest thou so wealthy? Queried the King.

By taking advantage of opportunities available to all citizens of our good city, responded Arkad.

Confused and perplexed, the king asked, “Thou hadst nothing to start with?”

And Arkad says, the only thing he had was a great desire for wealth. Besides this, nothing.

To cut the long story short. The king briefed Arkad about the financial state of most Babylonians and how only a few men know how to accumulate wealth and therefore monopolize, while the mass of the citizens were poor because of their lack of knowledge of acquiring wealth.

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The king then went further to tell Arkad his desire of making Babylon the wealthiest city in the world and as such it must be the city of many wealthy men. He then asked Arkad if it can be taught. To which Arkad answered in the affirmative, saying that which one man knows can be taught to others. Immediately, the King’s eyes glowed, his face brims with smiles and he said – thy speaketh the words I wish to hear. The King then humbly requested Arkad to lend himself to his great cause and help teach fellow Babylonians how to accumulate wealth. A request Arkad accepted humbly also.

This is was the beginning of the journey of Babylon to becoming the richest city in the world, even till date. Also, till date, in the archives of history, there’s no city, non-existing or existing, that’s more glamorous than Babylon. Its treasures of gold and jewels were fabulous.

Interestingly, Babylon had no single natural resources. Yes, no forests, no gold, diamonds, gem stones or mines reserve. In fact, not even stones for building. Even the rainfall they experience was not sufficient to raise their crops. Located in a flat, arid valley beside the Euphrates river, the only (two) resources they had was a fertile soil and the (water in the) river. Yet they produced abundant crops, thanks to the (their) greatest engineering accomplishments were waters from the river were channelled and diverted by means of dams and immense irrigation canals far across their arid land to pour life-giving waters over their fertile soil. Till that the project remains the greatest engineering accomplishments of all time (to the best of my knowledge).

It is noteworthy, that all of Babylon’s riches were man made, and all of the resources they had and acquired to support their city and made it the envy of all were man-developed. With this revelation, I don’t think it will be out of place to say that Babylon is an outstanding example of man’s ability to achieve great success/achievements irrespective of his background, means or resources he has at his disposal.

Bringing it all together

The decision of Sargon to make sure everyone of his people learn how to accumulate wealth and be self-sufficient, the selflessness and benevolence of Arkad to teach his fellow countrymen how he had accumulated his wealth and the becoming of Babylon as the richest city in the world with nothing bit just a river and a fertile soil as its resources holds immense lessons for everyone who can see and has ability to learn. So let he who can see, see, and let he who has brain, learn.

I, indeed, learnt a lot, and some of the lessons I’ve learnt are

  1. The destiny of any land lies in the hands of its leaders. Whatever decision her leaders make will determine what will become of her; poor and impoverished, prosperous and wealthy, underdeveloped, developing, developed or advanced, habitable or inhabitable, secured or unsecured, business friendly or harsh, economically prosperous or backward, financially self-sufficient or dependent, a begging nation or a giver, and the list is endless.

Doing right by your people. Governing them properly, rightly and justly. Doing what’s expected of you and making life easier for them through your governance is not a rocket science and does not put you down, irrespective of the outcome.

This is what I learnt from the decision of Sargon to elevate every one of his people out of poverty to a level of financial freedom and financial self-sufficiency, whereby they don’t depend on begging or rallying round to meet their financial obligations. Interestingly, he would not keep them below his own financial strength. In other words, he didn’t care if they became richer and wealthier than him

In fact, it is documented that the rulers of Babylon continue to live in history become of their wisdom, enterprise and justice, and they never sought to conquer other nations just to have them pay homage to their egotism. All the wars they ever fought was to defend themselves against ambitious conquerors from other nations who coveted the fabulous treasures of Babylon

To succinctly explain this, let me borrow the words of John C Maxwell – Everything rises and falls on leadership.

I would have loved to go on and talk about a certain country as a case study but that is not the reason for this piece. This is not a political article.

  1. The sky is more than big enough to successfully, with no hindrance or discomfort to one another, accommodate all the birds that exist all at once. The altitude each bird flies will, however, be determined by its courage, confidence and how powerful its wings are.
  2. Extending an helping hand to others, helping people rise and showing people the way does not and will not in any way reduce one’s status or wealth nor will it put you down or get you over shadowed.

Two and there are what I learnt from Arkad’s benevolence to teach his people how to accumulate wealth and become financially buoyant. Even after teaching them step by step how he accumulated his wealth, he still remained the richest man in the history of Babylon.

  1. Man is able and capable to achieve great things, irrespective of his background, resources at his disposal or what his present predicament might be.

This I learnt from how the people of Babylon transformed their poor city with no resources other than a fertile soil and a river into the richest city in history, through innovation, critical thinking, sharing of knowledge, pure and sincere love for one another, good and quality leadership, and the desire to do right and what ought to be done (because if it is not done they are done).

What lesson(s) have you learnt from the story? Share your thoughts and let me and other readers take a sip from your ocean of knowledge.

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