Posts Tagged ‘ancient finances’
One last piece of background on brutality of ancient wars before diving into Viking history – part 4
One last post on the harsh brutality of warfare in ancient days before diving into what few financial tidbits are visible from the Viking Age.
The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings, by Lars Brownsworth, points out there was plenty of brutality to go around.
In footnote 57 on page 273 he tells us there are reports that several churches in southeastern England that used the flayed skin of Vikings to upholster the doors to their building.
One more post to provide context on the reputation of barbarity that is owned by the Vikings.
A wonderful book, The Vikings, from the British Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a catalog of a fabulous exhibit assembled by the two museums in 1980. The major exhibit showcased the artifacts and cultures of the Viking era.
I’m reading my dad’s copy of the book. The text is still available on Amazon in the used market.
The goal of the exhibit was to introduce some balance to the competing visions of raw brutality and “strange glamour” that surrounds the Vikings.
Consider these two comments in the preface:
“In a brutal age the Vikings were brutal, but their brutality was no worse than their contemporaries. “
“The Vikings were administrators as well as pirates, merchants as well as robbers. “
Before you get worked up about blood eagles…
Oh, and if you get all worked up about the brutal cold-blooded barbarity of a ‘blood eagle’ execution, try looking up what the oh so very civilized English did when they hung, drew, and quartered someone.
I’m going to take a look at finances of the Viking era.
Before doing so, I’d like to provide some context of the horrid barbarity of warfare in ancient times.
Previous post mentions the slaughter during the Roman destruction of Jerusalem.
Next I’ll describe the gathering of slaves by Alexander the Great accompanying his path of destruction across the ancient world. Today we would call that human trafficking.
People taken away into slavery by Alexander the Great
I previously made some guesses how many slaves were taken by Alexander the Great. See my post on 2/2/17: Wild guess on the tally of people enslaved by Alexander the Great.
Professor Frank Holt did a lot of research on the plunder taken by Alexander: The Treasures of Alexander the Great: How One Man’s Wealth Shaped the World.
In Appendix 2, the professor tallied the known and unknown references to plunder and slaves.
I’m going to take a look at finances of the Viking era, similar to what I’ve done on legionnaires during the Roman Empire and the plunder gathered by Alexander the Great. There isn’t a lot of information available, but I’ll look at some I was able to find.
The Viking era has recently captured my interest, leading me to read a fair amount on the history of the times.
This is the first time I have dived deep into the adventures of the Norwegians, Danes, and Swedes back then.
My paternal grandfather and grandmother both emigrated from Norway, settling in South Dakota before meeting each other, marrying, and starting a large family.
So it is appropriate to dive into my ancient legacy, later in life though it may be than for most of my cousins.
Why a series of posts on finance in the Viking world? Because I want to.
One of the things I learned early on in blogging is that a person should write on what is of interest. An audience will develop or not, but cannot be predicted. Thus, a blogger should write on what is of interest.
Why post this discussion on this blog? Because this is where I write of accounting issues and it is a short jump into financial issues such banking in general because I am interested in banking and finance. From there is a very short trip to the wide, ever expanding world of banking fiascos. From there, it is possible to jump back a couple of millenniums to ancient finances of Rome and Alexander. From Rome it is merely a few centuries forward to the Vikings. All of that fits within a blog on accounting.
Before I get started
One of the aspects of the Viking era that jumps out is the violence and the widespread plundering.
Several accounts I’ve read say that capturing slaves on raids and selling them into the Arab worlds was more lucrative that making off with all the gold and silver you can find and the loot you can carry.
The ancient world was astoundingly violent.
I’d like to offer two of many possible illustrations.
Roman destruction of Jerusalem
In 70 A.D. the Roman Empire laid siege to Jerusalem, sacked it, and destroyed the entire city, killing essentially everyone crowded behind the city wall at the time. The euphemism is that apart from one wall and one tower, there was not so much as one stone left on top of another anywhere in the city.
The wall and tower were left so that for centuries to come, everyone can see this is what will be left if you go too far in irritating Rome.
Remember forever: Rome did this.
Don’t. Mess. With. Rome.
One more followup on the human devastation caused by Alexander the Great.
There are a lot of posts on my blog discussing Professor Frank Holt’s delightful book, The Treasures of Alexander the Great: How One Man’s Wealth Shaped the World.
In Appendix 2, the professor tallies the reported plunder, tribute, and other resources seized by Alexander the Great. Quantifying the destruction is not possible because the ancient literature often does not quantify amounts, only that slaves, or plunder, or cattle, or tapestries, or something else was seized.
The professor does quantify the reported information in an algebraic format. I’ve previously mentioned:
Total proceeds from the wars is then estimated in a formula expressed as 81.67( X) +311,761.
The author guesses the grand total for his years of campaigning at something between 300,000 and 400,000 talents. With the fixed portion of the second estimate at 311k, I think the total would be well over 300k.
Those amounts are in talents, with each talent being a massive amount of wealth. For an order of magnitude, consider that my guess is an ancient Athenian talent would be expressed something somewhere in the range of around $28M today.
I just went through the Appendix looking at the tally of slaves taken.
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.
Let’s take a look at the Roman Denarius. I’ve taken an interest in ancient currency and monetary issues lately, particularly as it give some insight into biblical times.
From about 200 BC until about 64 AD the Roman Denarius was about 3.9 grams, at 95% or 98% purity.
There is a comment that Tiberius slowly increased the fineness to 97.5% to 98%. Tiberius accumulated a hoard of 675 million denarii.
Nero, who reigned from 37 AD through 68 AD debased the gold aureus from 8.18 grams of gold to 7.27 grams.
Article says 25 silver denarii are equal to 1 gold aureus.
How much was a denarius worth?