NumisWiki's - Ancient Wages and Prices
Doug Smith's - Buying Power of Ancient Coins
Edict of Diocletian Edict on Prices
We so often see the question:
"So how much would a denarius
, or sestertius
or........buy in modern goods and services?"
A common answer is along the lines of not what it would buy, but addresses wages.
would be pay for a skilled (definition varies) laborer for one day.
Of course, in both ancient and modern times the economy varied so as to make the purchasing power of a denarius
or the modern equivalent vary as well.
My question or discussion topic is:
Wouldn't pay for for a days labor buy goods and services be pretty much stable through the last roughly 2000 years when one only includes what the average
could have purchased?
And even though many millions of let's say, denarii
were minted in such a society, the purchasing power would still
be more along the lines of a day's wages for a skilled worker during the U.S. Depression years, or even slightly greater in areas that were not say "boom towns" because of gold and silver mines or other temporary and artificial economies?
25 cents was a good
days pay(and less) during many years of the Depression.
Today, we would say: "25 cents? Not worth much."
But during the Depression, without listing prices for goods and services, 25 cents was a fair
day's pay and would buy a surprising amount of goods and/or services. I know that the Depression was a temporary time also, but it lasted longer than many emperors ruled.
Today, at least in the U.S., a days pay can vary from $58 and up.
So, could one fairly say as a ballpark figure: "A denarius
was worth a day's pay for a skilled laborer. That would be roughly equivalent to a $50 bill". And this at the lower end for a minimum wage 8 hour per
day worker. It would average
more, I believe.
So in today's prices at least in the U.S. A denarius
would buy (I'll use the old standbys and not include one's cable bill car
A lot of cheap
wine. As much as 25 liters for cardboard box wine-the wine to drink when you are drinking more than a case.. [Smiley] More for rarer, or less for a smaller quantity.
The services of a prostitute: Wellll....$50 would indeed buy such services in many, many places. Quality
is so subjective.
A lot of baked bread. Yes. Bread is cheap
now, but so it generally was then. What with the equivalent of government subsidies.
A night's stay in an EconoLodge (an American chain of cheap
General food products: Cheap
now-so a lot-if you don't bother with health
or dietary restrictions.
The modern equivalent of a washerwoman (a coin laundry or even a drycleaners) for a fraction of that $50 dollar denarius
Jeans, a shirt, and sneakers, and a pair of socks (at somewhere like Wall-Mart).
Personal defense: Since we are talking equivalents, as much as three or more quite serviceable knives as opposed to perhaps one.
They would have been more expensive in Roman
times. Metal was scarcer.
Transportation: $50 will get you a ways in a cab, think carriage, And quite a long way on a ferry(boat). A horse
, not really applicable, as a denarius
would not come close to buying a horse
, and renters tend to want them back, now and then.
Servants or bodyguards: Personal servants(employees) come higher now what with that pesky lack of cheap
slavery or you could perhaps hire free, desperate people that will not rob and kill you(maybe), but generally no.
Entertainment: Well, wine and prostitutes sort of covers that(remember cable and similar have no equivalents).
Books=scrolls or live entertainment: Books were way more expensive even if available. One had
to know how to read as well. Commraderie was cheap
then as now. Chewing the fat with the guys was and is generally free.
Entertainment in the arenas or live entertainment: Racing(gambling, sports competition) is about the same now, but the problems are the same.
Probably listening to a storyteller in the market then was cheap
or free. Throw a quadrans
in the hat.
One can buy a lottery ticket for as little as 1/50th of that modern denarius
. One could place a bet on the Greens for as little. Mind the children don't starve because of your addiction to gambling though, now as then.
So, a denarius
during the time of, say Trajan
would buy roughly the equivalent of what it would buy for a skilled laborer during the early thirties, if adjusted for value, and also for the equivalent of what a skilled laborer (let's use MacDonald
's clerk-and it is a skilled job) would make today(that $50 dollar denarius
) with the exceptions of say, wine, and some foodstuffs, which would be cheaper today, long distance transportation, and weapons
being less expensive.
Today, servants would be more expensive.
Of course moderns have way more ways to spend their money
. But the basics stay pretty much the same.
went a long way back then, if you didn't travel far, tolerated a limited diet, or need fancy weapons
, got your future servants from the exposed infants on the trash heap, and were content with a jug
of wine as opposed to a barrel, and just bet on the chariot
races or the contestants in the arena
Thanks in advance.Bruce