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The person can go back in time only once, bringing up to 500 kg of supplies or materials with him. There he becomes immortal (but vulnerable), as the passage of time doesn't affect him anymore (because he traveled in time).

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    $\begingroup$ You should send him back to the Golden Age... $\endgroup$ Aug 4 at 21:18
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    $\begingroup$ Im not sure if being rich in the bronze age has a lot of meaning. Do you mean the person to time travel from now to then? Or also back again? $\endgroup$ Aug 4 at 22:04
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding, take our tour and read-up in the help center as and when for guidance as to our ways, enjoy the site. There have been many questions related to this subject, but to get an answer I think you'd need to be specific about: where and when (bronze-age was really quite a long period), what skills the person has (including languages), what can they take with them (size/mass) etc.. Can you edit to give us more details. $\endgroup$ Aug 4 at 22:28
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    $\begingroup$ What is your mass/volume limit? $\endgroup$
    – Allan
    Aug 4 at 23:27
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    $\begingroup$ What does it mean to be (extremely) rich in the Bronze Age? In the Bronze Age, all right, but when and where? Could one be rich in, for example, the Egyptian New Kingdom, or in Mycenea Greece, without being part of the hereditary elite? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 5 at 6:16

12 Answers 12

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Fake Gems

The bronze age society did not have the know-how or resources to distinguish decent quality imitation gems from the the real article. The time traveler could carry a lot of value in gems; they would not attract unwanted attention as anachronistic or magical---gems were normal goods that could easily find a buyer; and they could be hidden in a stash, and only sold in small batches.

The traveler could just carry good quality glass rhinestones, which are sufficiently advanced beyond local tech to not be recognized for what they are. Glass was known in late Bronze Age, but it was opaque soda glass; good clear glass only appeared in the Iron Age, and high refractive index flint or lead glass, which is what imitation gems are made of, much later. Rhinestones can be colored to match any real gem known to the ancients.

A much better quality of fake gem can be made of cubic zirconia. There is no way an ancient jeweler could tell it from a real gem, and it also can be tinted. It is more expensive than glass imitations, but much cheaper than actual gems. And its appearance could easily surpass the gems available in antiquity from India or the Urals.

Other possibilities include imitation pearls, stone-powder-filled resin imitating turquoise, coral, or lapis lazuli, or goldstone.

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    $\begingroup$ Great answer! Except that transporting extremely durable products backwards in time can undeniably prove that time travel is possible. If any of your artificial treasures survive long enough to be found and recognized by modern archeologists, and if modern techniques can prove them to be simultaneously a product of modern manufacture and ancient, then absolute proof of time travel would exist. The Wright brothers didn't create the 747, but in proving to the world that flight was possible, they made the 747 inevitable. We must keep time travel secret for the sake of all time. $\endgroup$ Aug 4 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ From their point of view rhinestones really are precious: bright, colorful, and rare. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    Aug 4 at 23:12
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    $\begingroup$ I wonder if bronze age people valued gems that much. We value them. Who knows if they did? You couldnt buy a Masserati back then. The things you wish for now werent there back then. $\endgroup$ Aug 4 at 23:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Henry: bringing along modern technological devices, which is just about the only viable alternative as far as items are concerned, would be far worse, if they were found (and immediately recognized as such) by archeologists. At least fake gems have a chance of flying under the radar---they look like gems, at first glance. And glass in particular would deteriorate over millennia to look practically indistinguishable from crude Bronze Age glass. $\endgroup$
    – Ralf B
    Aug 4 at 23:18
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    $\begingroup$ Cubic zirconia IS a real gem, it's just not as costly as some others. Synthetic rubies, sapphires, and other gemstones are also fairly inexpensive. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Aug 5 at 1:35
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A book of local plants and their herbal properties for the area.

Being a healer is great for your reputation, and this allows you to handle common injuries, ward off animals, and build a connection to rival tribes.

Knowledge of local ore deposits from archeology.

Finding good metal was always a challenge, and with detailed knowledge of local deposits you can bribe the locals to be nice to you.

Quality stainless steel blades.

They didn't have great quality metal back then. Well made steel blades and arrow heads and other sharp tools are a great trading tool, and are great for mugging people and taking their stuff. They were common trading goods as well.

Spices.

Spices were fairly low mass, but very valuable back then. You could carry a decent amount of them to add to food and they'd make a valuable trading good.

Quality smithing, woodworking, architecture, and ship building.

These were all extremely valuable skills. If you wanna go back in time, consult an archeologist and learn how to make more advanced versions of local equipment and how to use them. You can bring some items to help, like thermometers, blades and measuring tools.

Whatever fragments of local language you can get.

Historical linguists have worked hard to work out as much of the old languages as they could. Whatever they've learned you can learn, so you can talk to the locals.

Modern medicines.

The ability to cure diseases is a huge edge, and a well attested to pill that could cure common medical issues would be a massive edge.

You can also bring back drugs to convert the natives.

Advanced modern crops for spices, drugs, and other products.

Once you bootstrap up, these can ensure a long term income for you. Make sure they fit the local area. Check with experts in the field.

Go back, with guns and drones and body armor and binoculars and laptops and solar power and other goods that will help you make a flashy first impression. Find local tribes that seem friendly, and try to make allies with gifts of medicine, drugs, and learn the local language. Perhaps you can pretend to be a god or a spirit. Once you feel secure, you can start selling your immensely valuable steel weapons for huge profits, and begin growing crops in the area.

In the long run, your electrical devices and guns and such will run out, but hopefully by then you've established yourself. You can then use your skills at crafting to make ships that can sail the seas with your goods, more metal tools, spice to trade, and solid buildings that can keep you safe, becoming a super rich merchant tycoon with allies who can ward off any attempt to kill you.

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    $\begingroup$ It's historical linguists who try to reconstruct extinct languages, not paleontologists. And the reconstructed languages are rather an abstraction of a language than a real language. Learning PIE won't help you much in an actual conversation with the local population. $\endgroup$
    – Schmuddi
    Aug 6 at 9:03
  • $\begingroup$ Being able to say a few words is a lot easier than being able to say nothing. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 6 at 10:37
  • $\begingroup$ We have no idea if the words we believe to be the root of words actually have the same meaning or are pronounced the way we think. It's just as likely that what we believe is "A good day" means actually "A good day to die" and is to be understood as an aggressive verbal assault in that group. $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Aug 6 at 17:36
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    $\begingroup$ That's why you bring guns as a backup. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 6 at 17:37
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Similar to Ralf B's answer, yet more general.

Information -An atlas. -knowledge of natural disasters, the when the where the how bad -knowledge of other areas (who is going to invade in twenty years!) -knowledge of the location of rare resources -books about science and technology with schematics of inventions

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    $\begingroup$ The long bow, printing, gunpowder, architecture, crop management, iron, steel, flight, internal combustion, tactics in historic battles, causes of major diseases, basic water treatment and sanitation, penicillin, the precise locations of gold and diamond mines... The only limit I see would be not being killed as a witch before accumulating enough power and wealth. $\endgroup$
    – JonSG
    Aug 5 at 0:14
  • $\begingroup$ Schematics are redundant. I happen to have a Ph.D in mechanical engineering; all the schematics of inventions simple enough to be constructed back then are already in my head. You could send me back right now, and I would know how to build an iron smelter, a puddling furnace, a hydraulic ram, an accurate sextant, a fore-and-aft sailing rig, a post windmill, a gunpowder mill, a cannon-boring machine, a trebuchet, a semaphore, a paternoster pump, a mouldboard plough, and dozens of others. A Bronze Age historian would likewise know by heart a detailed timeline of wars, coups, and disasters. $\endgroup$
    – Ralf B
    Aug 5 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ Knowledge transfer needs two things: a person to give the knowledge and another person who can understand and use that knowledge. Thus, the person going back in time needs to know the languages and cuneiform writing. Then, the person needs to be able to live long enough to find the person with enough power/resources to be able use this knowledge. If the person going back in time misses the right place, he could wind up in the Americas or Siberia and never be able to use that knowledge. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Aug 5 at 0:18
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    $\begingroup$ I was thinking 'A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court' type person who takes over as the local Merlin. $\endgroup$
    – Allan
    Aug 5 at 0:23
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    $\begingroup$ He can't reasonably communicate with the people around him because they speak no language that is in any way spoken today. he will therefore not be able to communicate his information and most likely be treated for insanity - aka slain. $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Aug 5 at 2:38
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For a very short while, the mere clothes on his back and his shoes will make him the richest being alive, because they are unique...

But as a time traveler traveling into a time in which food supply was more scarce, nobody speaks a modern language he speaks, and in which modern medicine and its tools are nonexistent, he will succumb to hunger and illness soon after. Typhoid Fever, Cholera, and Smallpox are among the more likely killers for him. In the short time that is left for him, he will be unable to communicate with the local people that all speak languages that don't resemble modern languages at all. Some tribes might also slay him for being an outsider.

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    $\begingroup$ He is not a chance traveler---he is assumed to have been extensively preparing for his trip. That includes language training. And you are wrong---the languages of the Bronze Age, in the Middle East at least, are well known from numerous written sources, and most are related to modern languages. These are not tribes we are talking about, but sophisticated civilized empires: Pharaonic Egypt, Sumer, Babylon, Assyria, Mitanni, Hatti, Han China. $\endgroup$
    – Ralf B
    Aug 5 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ @RalfB That is not part of the question. The question just stipulates, he can time travel and he won't age. $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Aug 5 at 2:36
  • $\begingroup$ The question implies that he can choose the items to take along, or pick and develop skills. That's preparation. $\endgroup$
    – Ralf B
    Aug 5 at 2:46
  • $\begingroup$ I beg to differ on the language, but even if he can communicate, his health is not prepared. $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Aug 5 at 2:52
  • $\begingroup$ Typhoid, cholera, plague, and smallpox can be vaccinated against, and technically it is possible to recover the DNA of ancient pathogens from graves and prepare vaccines from it. But nobody does it, because until temporal tourism becomes rampant, nobody would need such shots. Whether our hypothetical traveler is a billionaire and has the means to fund that privately I don't know: but I presume he doesn't. Still, he does have penicillin, and should be able to make more eventually; and penicillin utterly destroys all these except smallpox, because ancient strains have no antibiotic resistance $\endgroup$
    – Ralf B
    Aug 5 at 9:18
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My first instinct was to say "metallurgy" - with the right know-how, your protagonist could produce superior metals to the locals. Trading that skill to the right people in the right places for the right amount of time before moving on could allow the traveler to maintain a reasonably comfortable life (assuming they can avoid the hazards of life in the ancient world).

However... for true wealth, we need power and respect. While the priestly classes, in the right cultures, likely understood the patterns of the celestial sphere well enough to predict eclipses, and probably meteor showers, an outsider who could predict not only the same celestial motions as the local clerics but also knew when certain notable comets would appear - or, better, a supernova* - could have a leg up on them. Add in some strong powers of persuasion and such an individual could probably amass a fair amount of fear and respect among the locals, which could be leveraged into offerings, sacrifices, etc.

*: although even modern astronomers have trouble pinpointing when those happened without written records and a lot of extrapolation.

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Amethyst

Brazilian emeralds would also have a good roi, but not as much.

Prior to discovering an enormous quantity of amethyst in South America, it was one of the five precious stones, with a value per gram on par with sapphire and diamond.

Today, it's a semiprecious stone with a value of $2-$10 per carat, roughly 1/1000th its ancient value. (Which still means that he can sink up to $25,000,000 on amethyst and remain under the weight limit.)

Taking natural, good-quality amethyst back in time would probably increase your wealth as much or more than anything else could.

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Medical Skills

The best way to leverage modern know-how in the Bronze Age would be to offer medical services based on modern knowledge, such as germ theory, blood circulation, antibiotics, anatomy, or endocrinology. The medical profession was always prestigious, earning respect and good compensation; a doctor that could actually cure ailments that others couldn't, could practically name his prices, and would be welcomed in royal courts.

Keep in mind, however, that the wide array of modern drugs, diagnostic tests, and treatments would not be available in the Bronze Age. The traveler would have to be his own pharmacist, using simple, available chemicals and herbs (penicillin can be produced naturally from the Penicillium mold); and his own diagnostic lab, examining patients by observation and palpation. The anesthetics that make modern surgery possible would not be available---the best alternative would be opium. But blood transfusion, donor to patient, could be done, leveraging the modern knowledge of blood types: blood type compatibility between donor and patient can be established with a simple improvised test. So simple thoracic surgery would be marginally possible, a higher-level advancement than Napoleonic-era surgery. The traveler should bring along a set of modern surgical tools, and a spare set or sets to be securely stashed.

In short, the traveler would benefit far more from the skillset of a 19th century physician and surgeon than a modern doctor's. And he would do best to adopt the attitude of Bronze Age Egyptian doctors, who examined the patient and stated up front: "This is a disease I will treat" or "This is an ailment that cannot be treated".

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    $\begingroup$ To forestall the objection that the surgical tools would end up being a red flag for archeologists: Not if they were made of high-carbon, non-stainless steel. Such tools would be just as effective (they would even hold a better edge) as long as they were carefully maintained; but would rust into away into nothing more than a rusty stain, if they were left in the earth for a millennium. $\endgroup$
    – Ralf B
    Aug 4 at 23:43
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Aha! I get your question now. You could live forever from then on. Then the possibilities are manifold. Try surviving untill the first coins are made. Collect them all. Keep them all safe. The same for stamps. And van Goghs. A lot of art. Knowing beforehand will be so easy for getting rich!

Try to collect all stuff once cheap and now expensive. Take some collectables along from the bronze time. Take Roman art. Sll stuff to buy a gigantic storage nouse. Put everything collectable in there. Make full advantage of your knowledge. Will you change the course of time? Yes, but who cares? There is one thing though that must be done. Kill yourself. If not it will get pretty crowded in the past...

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  • $\begingroup$ The ancient gold coins that are worth thousands of dollars now circulated only amongst the rich. To get these, you'll need to get rich first, which is the question.. how to gain wealth in the bronze age, with things a modern person owns, or can do. You found how an immortal could get rich in the end (now).. the question is.. would he land in the same time line (no guarentee) and would all this stacking up of goods (speculation) be affordable for you ? In the bronze age you had to make money before you could invest. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Aug 7 at 16:55
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Since the time traveller can bring up to 500kg of things with him (per OP in the comments), I would suggest the following:

  • bring a computer [or 2-3 for redundancy] (the simplest and easiest to repair, avoid modern superthin laptops) with the solar charger, spare parts (enough to make your modern equipment last for about 40-50 years);
  • a digital database of human knowledge (similar to Wikipedia but with blueprints): Do not focus strictly on technology and 'hard' science, they are not the biggest money-makers;
  • some gems to trade for initial capital;
  • train in skills related to:
    • combat,
    • administration and leadership,
    • communication and applied psychology,
    • minor repair of equipment he brings with him.

Perhaps, training similar to professional high-class spies would be appropriate since it would teach the time traveller how to blend in, how to get information, and so on.

Why all of these? Because, becoming rich is relatively easy, but staying rich and alive is not.

We often assume that a modern human will have some sort of superiority to ancient people and will easily become an existence capable of dominating the ancient world. This is how stories work. Unfortunately, plot armour does not exist in reality and any real time traveller would have to work hard to stay alive and protect their wealth (and life, too).

The time traveller should focus on establishing his status before attempting to become rich:

  • modern societies value human lives and have various laws and procedures protecting them, in pre-modern societies outsiders must have power and status to protect their lives;
  • only people with status are heard: A modern scientist may have a superior understanding of the world and its laws, however, without status, it will be very hard to use this knowledge or spread it;
  • a specific status may be necessary to be able to own property and be rich: Bronze Age societies are not necessarily 'primitive', many of them had complicated social structures, property laws, and so on.

It is highly unrealistic that a nobody (the time traveller) with no connections, no family to rely on, and limited understanding of the local situation will have status qualifications to be rich. These qualifications will have to be obtained in one way or another. The time traveller should utilise his 'soft' skills to determine the safest and quickest way to become a part of the local society and raise his status. Combat skills should not be used to start a military career, but to protect his own life. A military career is too dangerous and may be a dead-end depending on the society, e.g. commoners are never allowed to become generals.

At this stage, it is important to determine what makes someone rich in this particular setting. Is it land ownership? Is it trade? Is it crafts? Is it religion? Depending on the society, it may turn out that the time traveller must become the ruler to be extremely rich and have his wealth secured. Please do not assume that our standards of wealth and social order apply to ancient societies. It is also unrealistic to think that one person can change society in just a few years. 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do' should become the time traveller's motto.

Once the time traveller has an appropriate status, he can sell part of his gems to obtain the initial capital. It is time to start using that database: Use it to develop solutions that fit the given setting.

If land ownership is the foundation of wealth, the time traveller should buy land and slowly implement better agricultural technologies.

If trade can make someone rich, start implementing modern business practices. In addition to that, the time traveller can use historical resource maps to find suitable locations for mines, new crops, etc.

If crafts can offer a path to wealth, the time traveller can build an industrial empire using the database and 'inventing' new materials and technologies.

The database will also be the foundation for long-term safety and survival. The time traveller should use it to raise and educate subordinates and various specialised personnel. Extreme wealth requires organisations of people. One person cannot manage big enterprises effectively.

No matter what path the time traveller chooses, he needs to make sure that he has enough power and develops military force and political connections to protect his wealth. Also, it is important to make sure that his wealth does not make the rulers too envious. Alternatively, he must prepare to rebel and fight for the throne.


This answer is based on an assumption that 'extremely rich' means 'comparable to the richest people in this setting'.

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What is wealth, really?

The Bronze Age ran from 3300 BC to 1200 BC (according to Wikipedia). So, our modern notions of wealth are not going to be applicable: modern currency-based markets did not exist, no property registries, no banks (hell, they didn't have the digit zero until a millennium after the Bronze Age ended). So, what is wealth?

It's power. Power to direct the actions of people around you, power to acquire the best goods and materials for your own consumption. There really wouldn't be much you could do with hoarded wealth.

How do you gain power over a bunch of Bronze Age ignoramuses? Most easily, by convincing them you have supernatural powers.

This is precisely how the protagonist of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court does it: he uses his memory of eclipses to convince the locals he can predict the future, which he parlays into significant political power within the English monarchy. Then he uses his 19th-century knowledge of chemistry and mechanical engineering to establish a semi-modern enclave to mass-produce the kinds of early public works and consumer goods that earn him the loyalty of the population at large. Even simple stuff like quality nails is a huge deal.

So, as other posters have suggested, if you can bring back a lot of modern knowledge that you can study later, that's going to pay off, especially since you can't always predict what info you will need, and you may not be able to develop expertise in every relevant field before you go back in time. But, a good place to start would be the actual history of the relevant time and region, paying special attention to things you could make predictions about for purposes of impressing the natives.

You also want to protect this knowledge. Having it all written in modern English is a good start by itself, and on top of that even basic cryptography would likely be enough to prevent anyone but you from capitalizing on the info. Your goal is to ensure that you are the only person who can access the knowledge, because it's your insurance policy.

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Military strategy.

Rich people in the bronze age got that way by conquering other people and taking their stuff. Military strategy is way more sophisticated now than it was then, and students at military academies study old battles to understand what went down and why. This knowledge has practical application in the now.

A person with knowledge of strategy in the service of a halfway competent ruler could help the ruler conquer neighboring lands. Such a general would no doubt be richly rewarded. Don't get too greedy though or your patron might get suspicious of you.

Plus if you have to time travel naked (like you should) you can keep all of that learning safe in your head.

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  • $\begingroup$ how does he communicate that to others? We literally have no idea what kind of language was spoken then. $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Aug 5 at 2:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Trish: We have a very good idea. Extensive cuneiform and hieroglyphic libraries and inscriptions were recovered, transcribed and read, and grammar textbooks exist for the principal languages of the era. Have you googled "bronze age" at all? I do not mean to offend, but you seem to have a very vague concept of the era we are talking about: "Oh, long, long ago, all were primitive back then, chased by dinosaurs" ;-) $\endgroup$
    – Ralf B
    Aug 5 at 2:44
  • $\begingroup$ For the kuneiform, we have no way to know how to pronounce them. Same for Hyroglyphs. We know what was written, but we don't know the vocalization. Bronze age is before 1200 BC. $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Aug 5 at 6:32
  • $\begingroup$ You'd be surprised what paleolinguists can do. To give an example, ProtoIndoEuropean is a language long dead, without any written records whatsoever; yet, based on comparative phonology of its descendant languages, the core language, together with pronunciation and very rudimentary grammar, has been reconstructed to the extent that one could do basic communication in it. Some words would sound funny to a native, for sure, but you could get meaning across. The M.E. Bronze Era languages are easier, because written records exist. Late cuneiform was a phonetic language, unlike hieroglyphics. $\endgroup$
    – Ralf B
    Aug 5 at 9:35
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    $\begingroup$ @RalfB Having heard people from the Scottish Highlands, South Hampton, and elsewhere who all claim to speak modern English - many of these people I could not understand, I challenge the concept that we know how people back then actually spoke or whether or not we would be able to communicate with them. It is surprising how much language changes when the accent is put on a different syllable, consonants are rolled, vowels voiced differently, and even how tones change in a sentence. $\endgroup$
    – David R
    Aug 5 at 14:37
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It would be pretty difficult to be extremely rich in the bronze age. There was no money yet besides metal rings, ribbones and axes. There wasnt a lot to buy yet, no real estate, no pieces of land no supermarkets, no technique, no most nowadays things. It is meaningless to ask how you could be superrich back then because you couldn't.

So the only real and true wealth is the experience if how a truly untouched form of pure paradisian Nature looks and feels like. Priceless, worth a fortune, and free. Something money can't buy anymore these days.

If there you should try to alter history so old Greece couldn't come into existence. It would amount to a very different world as that we live in these days.

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  • $\begingroup$ Depends on your definition of rich. A largish harem would be one example of something much easier to maintain then, at least in many societies. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Aug 5 at 1:38
  • $\begingroup$ @jamesqf were there harems already then? Then its certainly worth the try. $\endgroup$ Aug 5 at 2:03
  • $\begingroup$ As for being extremely rich in the Bronze Age, google "Tutankhamen". And real estate was very much a thing: there are whole libraries of temple records on land sales and donations, and geometry has been originally invented for recording plot boundaries and ownership. And Babylon may not have had supermarkets as such, but it did have several large marketplaces. And as for "technique", the Pyramids were already centuries old by then. $\endgroup$
    – Ralf B
    Aug 5 at 2:58
  • $\begingroup$ @RalfB If that was during the broze age, then yes. The OP has etermal life. If I were him I would wait for things to come and go visit poor van Gogh. Offer him 1000 gulden (florin)... $\endgroup$ Aug 5 at 3:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Deschele Schilder: Certainly. For one example, the Biblical King Solomon is said to have had 700 wives and 300 concubines. I suspect the number is considerably exaggerated, since he was at best the king of a small, backwater nation, but there are many other instances of multiple wives mentioned, so it seems to have been commonplace. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Aug 5 at 15:59

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