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More data points on pay for Roman Legionnaires

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Roman soldiers in Testudo, or turtle, formation. If you lived 1000 years ago and happened to see one of these moving in your direction, you were about to have a very bad day. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Roman soldier reenactors in Testudo, or turtle, formation. If you lived 2000 years ago and happened to see one of these moving in your direction, you were about to have a very bad day. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Got interested again in how much a Roman soldier was paid. Browsed Wikipedia and found a few more reference points.

One of my main goals of blogging is to learn and stretch my brain. My brain stretching on financial issues is revealed on this blog. If you wish to wander along, please join me as I meader through Wikipedia, learning what I can.

Sestertius article from Wikipedia

At one point, the soldiers in the Rhine army rebelled against Tiberius. I think this was shortly after Tiberius became emperor, which was in 14 AD when he was about 56 years old (b. 42 BC – d 37 AD). His reign ended in 37AD, or after about almost 15 years in power.

Legionnaire soldiers who were part of the Rhine Army were paid equivalent to a denarius a day (10 asses) according to the Wikipedia article. Out of that they had their food and uniforms deducted. They demanded several things, including getting paid a denarius a day. If I read that slender sliver of information correctly, they went from 1 denarius minus food and clothing per day to 1 denarius per day net.

The Sestertius article goes on to say that in the first century legionnaires were paid around 900 sesterii a year. That would be about 2.5 sesterii per day for a 365 day year. I’m not sure how to reconcile that comment to the immediately preceding paragraph which mentioned the 10 asses per day, which is the basis for a denarius. Since a sestertius is a quarter of a denarius, that would be just over half a denarius a day.

This rose to around 1200 when Domitian was the emperor (81-96AD). That would be about 3.3 sesterii a day, or about three-fourths of a denarius.

The article says soldiers had around half of their pay deducted for food and other living costs. It is my understanding they would also buy their own uniform and weapons.

Let’s adjust those to common phrasing for comparisons to follow:

  • 225 denarii/year – 900 sesterii/year – 2.5 sesterii/day – most of 1st century, say 0 AD-~90AD
  • 400 denarii/year – 1200 sesterii/year – 3.3 sesterii/day – Domitian, say 90 AD
Roman soldier reenactors in camp. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Roman soldier reenactors in camp. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Denarius article at Wikipedia

During the Republic era (509BC-27BC), pay for legionaries was around 112.5 denarii per year.

Julius Caesar increased that to 225 denarii a year in 44 BC.

Common sizing that data gives:

  • 112.5 denarii/year – 450 sesterii/year – 1.2 sesterii/day – Republic, say 100BC and earlier?
  • 225 denarii/year – 900 sesterii/year – 2.5 sesterii/day – Julius Caesar in 44 BC

Another Wikipedia article.

I made notes from another Wikipedia article but cannot find the article again. That article said pay for soldiers went from 900 sesterii a year during Augustus reign (27BC-14AD) up to 2,000 sesterii per year during Septimius Severus (193AD-211AD).

Article also said price of grain increased by a factor of three. That is a good indicator of the inflation during that time.

Let’s see. Grain prices increased by a factor of 3. Wages for soldiers went up a factor of 2.2. Working stiffs around the world and across time can painfully relate to that.

So reformating that data:

  • 225 denarii/year – 900 sesterii/year – 2.5 sesterii/day – Augustus (27BC-14AD)
  • 500 denarii/year – 2,000 sesterii/year – 5.5 sesterii/day -Septimius Severus (193AD-211AD).

As I have said before, A common laborer is generally considered to have earned about 1 denarius a day as indicated in the New Testament, which would then roll into a 6 day week. That would put annual income for common laborer at about 312 denarii a year for 6 days a week and 52 weeks a year.

In the parable of the laborers in the vineyard found in Matthew 20:2, a day laborer is described as being hired at one denarius for the day.

So, pulling all that data for legionnaires together gives a longer perspective. Sorting by date gives this picture for a soldier’s pay, adding in a common laborer in Jesus’ time:

  • 112.5 denarii/year – 450 sesterii/year – 1.2 sesterii/day – Republic, say 100BC and earlier?
  • 225 denarii/year – 900 sesterii/year – 2.5 sesterii/day – Julius Caesar in 44 BC
  • 225 denarii/year – 900 sesterii/year – 2.5 sesterii/day – most of 1st century, say 0 AD-~90AD
  • 225 denarii/year – 900 sesterii/year – 2.5 sesterii/day – Augustus (27BC-14AD)
  • 312 denarii/year – 1,248 sesterii/year – 4 sesterii/day – common laborer in 30 AD
  • 400 denarii/year – 1,200 sesterii/year – 3.3 sesterii/day – Domitian, say 90 AD
  • 500 denarii/year – 2,000 sesterii/year – 5.5 sesterii/day -Septimius Severus (193AD-211AD)

Written by Jim Ulvog

November 4, 2016, 8:41 am at 8:41 am

Posted in Other stuff

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