Posts Tagged ‘ancient finances’
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?
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.