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FORVM`s Classical Numismatics Discussion Board  |  Numismatic and History Discussions  |  History and Archeology (Moderator: David Atherton)  |  Topic: Curious what Roman ultra-wealthy were worth? 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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cliff_marsland
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« on: August 30, 2010, 11:28:19 am »

I believe the threshold for an equestrian was 400,000 Sesterii in imperial times, but what (ballpark) would a wealthy individual be worth, and even an ultra-wealthy individual be worth?

I have a feeling that individuals like Crassus were worth proportionately more than Bill Gates or a billionaire now. Even they would not be able to finance a private army of considerable size.
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Robert_Brenchley
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« Reply #1 on: August 30, 2010, 12:21:55 pm »

I wouldn't doubt it. Caesar had all the loot of Gaul at his disposal; that would be like pocketing the wealth of a substantial nation today.
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LordBest
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« Reply #2 on: August 30, 2010, 09:33:37 pm »

As part of one of my archaeology subjects I just read an article which attempted reconstructions of the finances of Augustus, Pliny the younger (as a representative of the senatorial class) and hypothetical members of Romes other social classes. It had Pliny earning around 32,000,000 sestertii over the course of his life and expenditures of around 25,000,000 sestertii. I'm sure I don't need to point out the perils of such reconstructions but it was quite an interesting article:
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Storey, GR, 2000, “Cui Bono? An economic cost-benefit analysis of statuses in the Roman Empire”, Hierarchies in Action: Cui Bono?, MW Diehl (ed), Center for Archaeological Investigations, Carbondale, pp 340-374.
               
Augustus' lifetime revenue was estimated at 2,632,000,000 sestertii and expediture of 2,520,800,000 sestertii.
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cmcdon0923
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« Reply #3 on: August 30, 2010, 10:05:06 pm »

Sorry if this is a "Roman Coins - 101" type question, but I've always been curious.....

Why is the sestertius always/often used when talking about relatively large sums of money?  I would think that the denarius would be a much more logical choice, or when throwing around truly huge numbers like 2.6+ BILLION sestertii, the aureus would make a more logical choice

Or is the sestertius being used mainly as an accounting term?  I assume that when a large sum of money was being exchanged as part of a transaction, the recipient would much rather have a smaller number of coins struck from a precious metal (i.e., silver or gold) as opposed to multiple times the number of coins struck from a semi-precious one like brass.
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cliff_marsland
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« Reply #4 on: August 30, 2010, 11:21:59 pm »

Very interesting!

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commodus
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« Reply #5 on: August 30, 2010, 11:37:46 pm »

I believe that the primacy of the sestertius in Roman accounting dates from its early Republican days as a silver coin and that after it was reconstituted as a brass coin its importance was so deeply rooted that it retained its same role.
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Eric Brock (1966 - 2011)
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« Reply #6 on: August 31, 2010, 12:23:46 am »

Yes, as far as I know the silver sestertius started with the weight of 1 scripulum and because of that became the base unit for calculations.

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LordBest
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« Reply #7 on: August 31, 2010, 01:15:02 am »

Oh, and in case it is of interest the article I referenced earlier cites the total revenue of the Empire per annum at 450,000,000 sestertii during the reign of Augustus. This increased to 1,200,000,000 sestertii during the reign of Vespasian*. Needless to say there are disagreements over the figures, but I don't know specifically what they are as they are not dealt with in the article.
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*So why are his coins so dashed expensive?
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« Reply #8 on: August 31, 2010, 12:24:57 pm »

Sorry if this is a "Roman Coins - 101" type question, but I've always been curious.....

Why is the sestertius always/often used when talking about relatively large sums of money?  I would think that the denarius would be a much more logical choice, or when throwing around truly huge numbers like 2.6+ BILLION sestertii, the aureus would make a more logical choice

Or is the sestertius being used mainly as an accounting term?  I assume that when a large sum of money was being exchanged as part of a transaction, the recipient would much rather have a smaller number of coins struck from a precious metal (i.e., silver or gold) as opposed to multiple times the number of coins struck from a semi-precious one like brass.

The sestertius was still a quite valuable coin, but it was simply a 4 As coin and the denarius a 16 As coin. And after all, we quote our money in Pounds or Dollars even billions or trillions.
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Peter, London

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« Reply #9 on: August 31, 2010, 01:58:23 pm »

True, but then again, in the U.S. and U.K. we have no denominations larger than the dollar or pound, respectively.
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Eric Brock (1966 - 2011)
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« Reply #10 on: August 31, 2010, 04:17:23 pm »

Yes but the name of each denomination came from it's value in As's. In the case of the sestertius, it came from 'semis-tertius' meaning two and half. Of course the value in As's changed which is perhaps when the sestertius became the 'base' coin.

Denarius just meant 'ten' (As's). It was no more or less a separate denomination than a ten pound banknote is today.
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Peter, London

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« Reply #11 on: August 31, 2010, 11:16:21 pm »

Yes, that makes sense. Rather like a sovereign or a noble in England's past, or an eagle or double eagle in America's -- denominations that merely represented multiples (or multiples plus fractions) of the basic unit (the pound or dollar).
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Eric Brock (1966 - 2011)
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« Reply #12 on: September 01, 2010, 09:46:23 pm »

http://news.discovery.com/history/highest-paid-athlete-hailed-from-ancient-rome.html
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Robert_Brenchley
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« Reply #13 on: September 02, 2010, 03:03:50 pm »

A senator would surely have been a lot richer, and a Caesar far richer again. But it gives some idea what riches were in those days.
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Robert Brenchley

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David Atherton
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« Reply #14 on: September 05, 2010, 03:47:58 am »

I don't know what the ultra-wealthy were worth, but after reading Pompeii and the Roman Villa by Carol Mattusch et al. I got a very good idea what they spent it on. Quite a few chapters of this exhibition catalog are devoted to the finer things the Roman world produced.
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FORVM`s Classical Numismatics Discussion Board  |  Numismatic and History Discussions  |  History and Archeology (Moderator: David Atherton)  |  Topic: Curious what Roman ultra-wealthy were worth? « previous next »
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