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FORVM`s Classical Numismatics Discussion Board  |  Numism  |  Classical Numismatics  |  Topic: Spendng value of Roman Coins 0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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Author Topic: Spendng value of Roman Coins  (Read 3276 times)
Bert
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« on: March 19, 2002, 04:04:44 pm »

I've been looking for the purchase power of the coins I've been collecting.  I understand the
relative value of the coins but what could a coin buy?  If I walk into a Roman store what could I buy with an AE4 or a solidus?  How much was a night's stay in the local inn?  More importantly, what did a beer cost?  If anyone known anything or has any references please let me know.  Thanx.
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EmpressCollector
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« Reply #1 on: March 22, 2002, 03:23:58 pm »

The answer depends on the period of history considered:

Vagi reports (vol. 2, p. 21) that "around the time of its destruction in A.D. 79 the average pay of a laborer in Pompeii was about 8 asses (half a denarius) per day, though actual salaries ranged from 5 to 16 asses per day.  Skilled miners in rural Dacia earned wages of 6 to 10 asses, which were supplemented by free room and board values at 2 to 3 asses per day, bringing their true salaries more in line with the workers at the resort town of Pompeii."

In addition, according to an ad by the Jonathan Kern Company, during the reign of Severus Alexander "the denarius at this time could buy twelve large loaves of bread.  A serving of table wine cost 1/16 of a denarius, while vintage wine cost 1/4 denarius.  In the holy land, an amphora of olive oil from Galilee cost one denarius.  A bunch of grapes or ten figs cost 1/16 denarius.  An ox sold for 100 denarii, a calf 20 denarii, and a ram 8 denarii.  5 Sparrows cost 1/8 denarius.  A scribe, a highly educated man, earned 12 denarii a week.  He ate and drank for 4 denarii a week, and his clothing cost him about 200 denarii a year."

Vagi (vol. 2, p. 23) reports that during period of wage and price controls initiated by Diocletian, "a daily salary for a baker was set at a maximum of 50 denarii, that of a farm worker at half that amount, 25 per day." and "a haircut would cost a maximum of two denarii, a pound of pork 12 denarii, and approximately a liter of common wine 16 denarii.  Better wine (called Falernian wine) would cost...a maximum of 60 denarii per liter."
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Alex
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« Reply #2 on: March 22, 2002, 05:43:34 pm »

Speaking of Dacian mining, that was a real hell. Some gallerys look like rat holes, while others are technical wonders. When mining was greatly expanded in the modern times, they always bumped into hidden roman galleries. I think some are still in use, at least as reconsolidated passages.
They found lots of great tool, and at Alburnus Maior some wax shhets were found, containing interesting book keeping records. To my shame I can't remeber exactly the period, I think early severan. There records about slave trade: a nice young greek boy was sold for 600 denarii i think. There were other people named, those were "cheaper"

To get back on the topic, the most widely known wage was of that of a denarius a day for the common soldier and 2 denarii per day for the pretorian. Those were increased by some emperors, and Sept Severus and Caracalla come to my mind now.
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« Reply #3 on: January 01, 2004, 06:58:01 am »

Today a very good question was posed to me, of which I haven't the slightest clue how to answer.  A fellow collector was searching the web and noticed that several international mints expect their coins to easily last at least 20-30 years, and in most cases, many more.  He emailed me a question.  

Concerning early Imperial coinage, how long were common bronze pieces (the less hoarded ones) allowed to circulate?  To give an example, if it wasn't worn down, would an As of Augustus (since he was deified and so well loved by the Roman people) be allowed to circulate in the time period of, say, Domitian decades later without having been countermarked by Tiberius, Claudius or the like?  To simplify the question, knowing about countermarks, damnatios, etc., were early bronzes of respected emperors allowed to circulate indefinitely until they were "lost" or disposed of by their owners?

Thank you for any info on the topic,

Ken
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« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2004, 07:49:45 am »

hi
up to David hendin book this is the amount of many you have to pay for some things between the first to the second century .
olive oil: on amphora  1 denarius
wine    : 100 ordinary bottles 10 aurei.
bread   : one loaf coast 1/12 denarii.
ox         : 100 denarii.
a calf     : 20 denarii.
a new born donkey foal : from 2 to 4 denarii.
a ram    : 8 denarii.
a lamb   : 4 denarii.
a clothing made of sacking which could last for about four years coast 4 denarii.
and you can make scale for the other things but according to this i think life wasent cheap Huh.
salem
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« Reply #5 on: January 02, 2004, 11:19:01 am »

Hi KKLinejnr

The short answer to your question is yes. Early imperial bronzes (particularly Sestertii) were allowed to circulate getting more and more worn up until the time of Gallienus. In the latters' reign it became apparent that the amount of bronze in one Sestertius could be melted down into a great number of Antoninianii, a coin whose face value was that of eight Sestertii. Postumus, in the same period, struck double-Sestertius pieces on the worn blanks of early Imperial Sestertii. After Gallienus, the Sestertius was discontinued.

Alex.
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« Reply #6 on: January 02, 2004, 09:09:31 pm »

Archaelogical records of excavated sites quite clearly show when coins go out of circulation. The large early Roman bronzes go out around the time of Gallienus, along with, I might add, the large Greek Imperials. The State sometimes withdrew coinage from circulation. It is well documented that this occurred in the reigns of several emperors, most particularly Trajan, who pulled in just about every denarius he could get his hands on, melted them down and reissued them at a more debased standard. In the period of rampant inflation in the later fourth century there were several issues demonitised, the maiorina, to name but one. Certainly, people would try to hoard the better standard silver coinage against new inferior issues, whatever the period. But not bronze, it did not have the same kudos as gold or silver. Large bronzes rarely appear in hoards, and when they do it can usually be ascertained that the hoarder intended them for the melting pot, either for their metal if he were a legitimate coppersmith or for the manufacture of counterfeit currency (from the late third century onwards). This is true of Britain at any rate.

Alex.
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« Reply #7 on: January 02, 2004, 09:27:34 pm »

During the earlier empire, up to say 260, the only coins that were actually demonetized were those of condemned emperors.  However, there were other major recoinages too.  Dio Cassius tells us that Trajan melted down "all of the worn-out coinage", and it was probably in conjunction with this action that he issued his "restored" Republician denarii and imperial aurei. The other "restored" coins of the early empire were doubtless also symptoms of major recoinages:  bronze coins under Titus (continued briefly by Domitian), bronze coins under Nerva, legionary denarii of Mark Antony under Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus. I believe that the antoniniani of deified emperors issued by Trajan Decius and Trebonianus Gallus were also a "restored" coinage produced when those emperors undertook to restrike old denarii into their own antoniniani

Hoards provide us with the best illustration of how coins survived in circulation.  The Reka Devnia hoard, ending under Gordian III with a few later additions, contained copious quantities of all denarius issues back to Nero's debasement of 64 AD, plus 29 legionary denarii of Mark Antony.  The Garonne hoard ending late in the reign of Antoninus Pius contained ample quantities of most sestertius and dupondius issues from Galba on, plus two coins of Nero and two of Claudius.
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« Reply #8 on: January 03, 2004, 05:04:22 am »

Thank you Curtis,
I would also like to add, that the "bronze" antoninianii of the late third century, very commonly found in hoards, were fully regarded by the government as part of the silver series. By this period the value of a coin, determined by its weight, applied only to gold. This is one of the reasons coinage in general ceases to be used in Britain after the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West. It had no intrinsic value. Gold solidii were, however, copied by various barbarian kingdoms because their value was in their metal. But solidii were never used by the man in the street for his day to day transactions.

Alex.
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the_Apostate
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« Reply #9 on: January 03, 2004, 05:10:26 am »

wine    : 100 ordinary bottles 10 aurei.

That's interesting! This means an ordinary bottle of wine cost 2 1/2 denarii. I wonder if Chataius Diquemius was just as expensive back then as it is today.
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« Reply #10 on: January 03, 2004, 05:32:46 am »

Some more interesting info was found on the wax tables from the gold mines at Alburnus Maior, Dacia

A plate dated 135 AD is a contract for a girl slave named Passia, sold for 205 denarii
Another one dated 142 AD is for a boy slave Apalaustus sold for 600 denarii.
A woman for 420 denarii.
(side note:  slaves in Egypt were cheaper)

A contract dated 20 May 164 AD was hiring Memmius, son of Asclepius for mine work until the Ides of November (a total of 176 days)   The contractor (Aurelius Adiutor) was providing food and the pay of 70 denarii, plus a 10 denarii bonus for the worker's kids.

A half from a house was bought for 300 denarii  in 159 AD. (probably a humble house)

With some obscure ocassion, someone bought 5 lambs for 18 denarii, a young pig for 5, and an unspecified qty of white bread for 2 denarii.

Here are some more bits from inscriptions:

On a funeral momument, it says the funeral and the monument cost 400 denarii.

A portion of a plaza was paved for 50,000 sestertii.

At Apulum, the fronton of the building for the colegium fabri was 6000 sestertii.

At Ulpia Traiana, a flamen donated 80,000 sestertii for the annona on the ocassion of his election.



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« Reply #11 on: January 03, 2004, 05:58:15 am »

Diocletian, in a failed attempt to curb the rampant inflation of the times, issued an Edict on prices. This document survives and gives the price of goods from all over the Empire at that time.
Silk was by far the costliest textile, but cloaks from the Nervii retailed for 10,000 denarii against cloaks from Africa which retailed at 1,500 denarii. I guess they had designer labels even then  Grin.
The rates of pay, for various professions, are also recorded.
For example, labourers, herdsmen, mule-drivers and sewer-cleaners got 20 - 25 denarii per day, enough to buy two pounds of pork, or three pints of plain wine. Three days work would buy a cheap pair of shoes, nearly a month, a shirt.
Carpenters, bakers, plasterers and tessellated floor workers all get double this, about the same as an elementary school teacher, who is paid 50 denarii a month per pupil. A scribe of the best writing got 25 denarii per 100 lines.
With rarer skills and higher education the rates rise considerably. A figure painter earned 150 denarii a day, a teacher of rhetoric 250 a month per pupil, an advocate 1,000 for pleading a case (nothing changes  Grin). In practice, most likely a herdsman would be paid below his maximum, wheras the tessellated floor worker or figure painter could probably expect to exceed theirs.
I won't rattle on any longer (the Edict is a considerable length).

Alex.
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« Reply #12 on: January 03, 2004, 06:13:42 am »

Shoudl be noted that the denarii mentioned in diocletians edict are a sort of account money and not actual currency.  It is not yet very clear how many of these denarii a large follis was worth, but the advanced figure is 5 I think.  An argenteus was worth 5 folles or 25 denarii.  
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EmpressCollector
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« Reply #13 on: January 03, 2004, 06:18:07 am »

Alex, from what time period are those prices found in the Dacian mines?
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« Reply #14 on: January 03, 2004, 06:25:11 am »

The inscriptions are from city excavations, they must be IInd or early IIIrd century, but I dont know exact dates.
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« Reply #15 on: January 04, 2004, 09:44:22 am »

The wax tables at Alburnus Maior were buried before the sarmatic atack in 168AD. They are unique in Europe and each is worth half a million Euros. Grin
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« Reply #16 on: January 04, 2004, 03:50:47 pm »

The whole mining complex seems to be unique in Europe. I just googled a bit hoping to find some pictures of the tables to post here and i learned the government sold the gold mining rights to an international mining corporation.   This of course equals with the destruction of all ancient remains.  There is some sort of a coalition of historians and archeologists from all over trying to obtain the zone to be declared an historical park and on the unesco list, but i honestly doubt they will succeed anything.
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« Reply #17 on: February 04, 2004, 05:42:33 am »

About 40 yrs ago, in SE Romania, near Medgidia town (about 30 km W of Constanta, the ancient Tomis), a group of schoolkids went on a short trip with their History teacher. They knew that near the town there is an ancient limestone quarry and nearby some fragmentary Roman pottery was found. The kids were lucky to find an amphora with a few dozens of ancient coins. Among them: denarii from the 1st and the 2nd cent., antoninianii, Greek colonials (Histria, Kallatis, Tomis, Markianopolis, Nikopolis ad Istrum etc.)...and an AE of Theodosius I (or II, I'm not very sure, I've read the article a few years ago  Embarrassed )
The article was quite interesting, maybe I'll look for it and one day post it here.
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« Reply #18 on: February 04, 2004, 06:11:03 am »

If only I could bring my students on a field trip like that.  Instead, I have to provide the Maya hoard (coins buried in 2004 from around 304!) Smiley   I would be quite curious to read the article if you ever run across it.
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