Archive for the ‘Economics’ Category
This will be my final post on the finances of Alexander the Great.
Professor Frank Holt’s book The Treasures of Alexander the Great: How One Man’s Wealth Shaped the World explains the ancient record does not give us enough details to estimate the total expenses paid by Alexander as he rampaged around the world.
The total expenses based on identifiable items in historical narratives is aggregated by the professor in a formula as:
- 189( X) + 69,176 talents
Professor Frank Holt’s book The Treasures of Alexander the Great: How One Man’s Wealth Shaped the World explains there is little in the historical record on the cost or size of Alexander’s military. Here are a few tidbits which are visible.
Alexander learned to appreciate the value of a Navy. One data point is that in 334 BC he had 200 ships operating in the Aegean sea. No quantification mentioned of naval forces elsewhere at that or any other time.
Figuring out how much Alexander spent to field his military forces is a game of stringing together many wild guesses. The author accumulated his own long string of guesses and assumptions for small units. He also quotes several other studies.
I have been discussing Professor Frank Holt’s book The Treasures of Alexander the Great: How One Man’s Wealth Shaped the World . You can find other posts on the ancient finances tag.
The second half of the book explores Alexander’s spending. There is even less historical information available on his spending than on his looting.
One part caught my eye.
Alexander built about 13 major cities according to the educated guess in the book. That doesn’t include dozens of small villages or all the sundry fortifications.
One of these cities, Ai Khanoum, had three miles of wall, which is guessed to have taken 3,000 workers six months to build.
How much would that construction cost? I will make a wild guess. Read the rest of this entry »
Barron’s suggests Mansa Musa, the Emperor of Mali in the 1300s, was the richest man who ever lived.
Since I firmly believe that I am richer today than John D. Rockefeller was back in 1916, I would also insist that I am, right now, richer than Mansa Musa was in 1324. But that isn’t the point of the story. I’ll mention travel costs momentarily.
The 7/23 article from Barron’s gives a glimpse into ancient finances by wondering Who Was the Richest Person Who Ever Lived? / The Emperor of Mali lived on top of a 14th century Goldmine so prolific that it probably made him the richest person who ever lived.
Musa Keita I is referred to as Mansa, or Emperor, Musa. He was born somewhere around 1280 and died somewhere around 1337. He was the ruler of the Mali Empire which stretched across Western Africa.
Consider the economic resources in the area: gold and salt.
My discussion continues of how much wealth Alexander the Great looted while on his rampage around the world. These calculations are based on two books I’ve really enjoyed:
- Professor Frank Holt – The Treasures of Alexander the Great: How One Man’s Wealth Shaped the World
- Professor Deirdre McCloskey – Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital or Institutions, Enriched the World (I’m still working on her book – it is rather long)
Loot from Persia
Prof Holt provides a couple of ancient estimates of the total haul in Persia. Here is a recap:
- ?? Babylon
- 50k talents – Susa
- 120k – Persepolis
- 6k – Pasargadae
- 26k – Ecbatana
That gives a point estimate of 202k talents. Back out some poetic license exaggeration and add an amount at Babylon about equal to Susa (author’s estimate) gives me an estimate of about 225k talents, give or take. That is only the precious metals without art, statuary, spices, clothes, pottery, or gold inlaid stuff.
In addition, Darius fled with maybe 8,000 talents, Alexander paid bonuses of around 12,000 talents to his soldiers, with another 2,000 talents to Thessalain soldiers. There was enough stray coins found a century later to mint 4,000 talents of coins. That is around another 26,000 talents or so of additional bullion. Add in the unquantifiable amount soldiers looted and all the non-bullion treasures means there was an incalculable amount of wealth looted from the Persian empire.
I’ll work with 202K point estimate, plus 50K from Babylon, less 25K for poetic license, plus 26K sundry disposition. That gets to a point estimate of 253K, with my very wild guess of a margin of error of minus 50K to plus 100K. Let’s work with a 250,000 Talent estimate. That means I’ll roughly estimate Alexander looted 250,000 talents of silver-equivalent from Persia.
Total haul during Alexander’s extended raid around the world
The total haul from looting is estimated by the Prof. Holt as 69( X) + 216,820 talents, where X is an unknown amount from one raid or battle. The total is unknown and unknowable.
Shortly after that estimate the author adds in tribute from conquered areas that were not looted in return for payments and loyalty.
Total proceeds from the wars is then estimated in a formula expressed as 81.67( X) +311,761.
The number two man in the Persian Empire offered a bribe of 10,000 talents to the king in return for permission to kill off all the Jews living under the authority of the king. Today’s question: what would the amount of that bribe be worth in today’s money?
The Old Testament book of Esther tells the story of Haman plotting to kill all the Jews living in the Persian Empire. Esther then told King Xerxes about the plot. The King executed Haman and allowed the Jews to defend themselves from those planning to exterminate them. The Jews survived. Those who expected to slaughter them did not. That is the short version. For the full details, check out the book of Esther.
Hers is a wonderful story of realizing God put you in a place to do a job that only you can do. So many other delightful and encouraging aspects of the story. If you haven’t looked at it lately, check it out.
There is one particular verse in the story which overlaps my discussion of Alexander the Great looting the Persian Empire. Read the rest of this entry »
After developing a few points of reference for comparing ancient finances to now, I can get back to pondering the value of loot Alexander the Great stole while on his military rampage, I mean campaign.
Following estimates of how much loot Alexander the Great hauled away is from Professor Frank Holt’s book The Treasures of Alexander the Great: How One Man’s Wealth Shaped the World which I previously mentioned. (Can you tell I enjoyed his book?)
I will revise my previous calculation of Alexander’s haul from Susa and then develop a point estimate for the value of proceeds from his biggest sacking.
Approximate value of the haul from looting Susa, the capital of Persia
The loot from Susa is described by Prof. Holt, and converted to a current value, as follows:
- 40,000 Talents of uncoined bullion, or raw silver
- 10,000 Talents of gold coins, which I will assume is expressed as the equivalent in silver
- 50,000 Talents – haul at Susa, estimated by Prof. Holt
- 400 years wages per talent, for a skilled laborer, adjusted for Great Enrichment at a factor of 40; could be as high as 80 or even 100
- 20,000,000 years wages
- 200,000 centuries of wages for an average worker
- $70,000 – average annual compensation package for a skilled construction worker today, calculated here
- $1,400,000,000,000 – really rough approximation of current wages today for skilled construction workers which would be vaguely comparable to loot hauled off from Susa
- $1.4 trillion – point estimate