From Julius Caesar to King Richard, kidnappers have tried to extort money from the leaders of the world. “Give me liberty or give me death,” Naw…these five rulers just paid the bill. Whether the kidnappers asked for Crowns, Marks, Merks, or Talents, they were given what they asked for. Heavy is the head, and the wallet, of the one that wears the crown. How heavy you ask? You’re going to have to read more to find out.
*All amounts have not been adjusted for inflation. They are solely based on the current melt values of the gold and silver used to pay these ransoms.
Julius Ceasar = $69 Million
In 75 B.C., pirates captured a 25-yr-old Julius Caesar while he was traveling to Greece to study. Although he was not yet ruling Rome, he was still a distinguished Roman. The charming and impertinent young man told his captors he was worth more than the 20 talents they were asking for and jokingly told them they would be punished for keeping him. The result is that the pirates got 50 talents of gold, but Caesar was a man of his word, he returned to find and crucify all of his captors.
One talent is actually pretty large, weighing 32.3 kg, or over 71 lbs! Just one Roman talent contains 1038.47 troy ounces of gold. If the pirates were paid 50 talents then they received just shy of $69 Million for capturing the future dictator for life. Of course, they only had until Caesar returned to spend the cash.
King Richard the Lionheart = $17.4 Million
King Richard of England was ambitious in hisCrusades to take Jerusalem and have it under Christian rule. Unfortunately, along with not succeeding in his conquest, he was captured on his return to England off the coast of Austria. He was given to the German emperor who demanded 150,000 marks for his release.
A mark equates to 100 German Pfennigs and one Pfennig has 1.7 grams of silver. This makes King Richard’s ransom 25,500 kg of silver. At the price of silver today this would be over $17 million dollars. However, historians state that when inflation is considered, this amount could be closer to $3.3 billion!
King John II = $433 Million
King John II of France was captured at the Battle of Poitiers by England’s King Edward III and held for four years. A treaty was negotiated that would cede parts of western France to England and pay three million crowns. Since the amount was so enormous King John was allowed to return to France to raise the money, but had to trade his imprisonment with 40 high-born French, including his own son, Prince Louis.
One English Crown in the 14th century was made from 22k gold and weighed 3.69 grams. This makes one crown alone worth $144 today. Add three million together, and it turns into over $400 million to play with. The French believed they could raise this money in six months, but after several years the hostages were still imprisoned and Prince Louis escaped back to France. After hearing of his son’s escape, King John returned to England as the terms had not been met. He died in England less than a year later.
King David II = $230,090
To give some perspective on just how much King John’s ransom was let’s take a look another king that was imprisoned by England during the same time as King John, King David II of Scotland. King David was held for over a decade after invading England in support of France. His defeat and subsequent capture at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346 left a steward in charge of his throne and a ransom of 100,000 Merks.
One Merk is only half silver, the other half is base metals, so when broken down one Merk only contains .10813 troy ounces of silver. This is a paltry sum in comparison to King John’s outrageous ransom but it was still significant enough that it had to be paid in installments. The ransom amount left no choice for King David but to heavily tax the Scottish people to raise the money needed.
Emperor Atahualpa = $72 Billion
Widely regarded as the largest ransom ever paid, Emperor Atahualpa of the Inca offered a roomful of gold and two roomfuls of silver to Francisco Pizarro, a Spanish conquistador, after his capture. Pizarro took the ransom but still brought Atahualpa on various erroneous charges and publicly executed him. Atahualpa is the last Inca Emperor and after his death Pizarro founded the country of Peru as well as its capital city, Lima.
According to documentation, Emperor Atahualpa’s “ransom room” was 22x8x17. If one cubic foot contains 17,554.48 troy ounces of precious metals then we can calculate how much it took for Pizarro to turn into Scrooge McDuck. Almost all of those billions comes from the one room of gold, only about $2.2 billion accounts for the two rooms of silver.