Troy ounces and Avoirdupois ounces

The one ounce bars above probably aren’t as heavy as you think they are. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

When I say I’m holding something that weighs one pound, how heavy do you think it is?

Well, you can sort of get a picture in your mind based on other things in your life that weigh one pound.

What if I mention I was holding a pound of silver? How much does that weight?

Ah, that is more complicated.

By long-standing tradition, precious metals are measured in troy weight system. Everything else is measured in the avoirdupois system.

I’ll go into some depth to explain my approach for this series of posts.

Troy system:

Precious metals are measured in the troy system.

Continue reading “Troy ounces and Avoirdupois ounces”

Building a Viking Longship

Viking Gokstad ship. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

I’ve found a few websites that provide a few details on how to build a Viking ship. This post won’t go into much detail. Check these sites for more info that could you possibly want:

I have a post asking How much time did it take to construct a Viking Longship?

Population in Scandinavia during Viking Age

Icelandic farm recreation. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

In The Vikings course from The Great Courses, Prof. Kenneth Harl guesses the population in the Scandinavian areas (which would become Norway, Denmark, and Sweden) from around 800 A.D. through around 1100 A.D. was something in the range of 800,000 to 1,000,000 people. He thinks migration to Ireland, England, and Iceland offset the natural population growth.

In Vikings at War by Kim Hjardar and Vegard Vike makes the following guesses for population at location 525 in Kindle edition:

Continue reading “Population in Scandinavia during Viking Age”

Welcome to Ancient Finances!


This is my newest blog, which takes a look at tidbits of ancient finances. I am enjoying my personal study of Roman and Viking history. Have posted a lot of articles at my other blog, Attestation Update.  One of many lessons I’ve learned from blogging is that if you want to understand something well, try explaining it in print (well, in pixels, but you get my point).

Current focus will be on the Viking era and the times of the Roman Empire. Earlier posts are on the rampage of Alexander the Great and the destruction left in his wake.

Posts prior to this one are copied from my other blog. Posts after this will be new material.


“Currency and the Collapse of the Roman Empire” infographic

Silver Roman denarius. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.
Silver Roman denarius. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Telling the tale of the collapse of the Roman Empire is a challenge even in a full length book. Presenting one slice of the story in an easily read and understood infographic is even more of a challenge.

The Money Project is a blog run by Visual Capitalist which focuses on illustrating complex ideas. Their infographic Currency and the Collapse of the Roman Empire does a great job of describing how debasement of the currency and the resulting inflation made trade more difficult which in turn contributed to the collapse.

Oh, used with permission of Visual Capitalist.

(Cross-post from my other blog, Outrun Change.)

A great story with many lessons to be learned for anyone willing to think for a while:

Continue reading ““Currency and the Collapse of the Roman Empire” infographic”

Description of Scutum, a Roman Legionnaire’s shield.

This shield is flat. It is also protected on the edges by metal.  “Shield of Roman legionairies ‘Scutum’, after AD 100. Athens War Museum, replica” by Dimitris Kamaras is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Adrian Goldsworthy provides a good description of a Roman shield, called a scutum, in his book The Complete Roman Army on page 129. A well-preserved shield was found at Dura Europus that dates from the 3rd century.

The shield is 3’ 3” tall by 2’ 8” wide in a curved shape.

It is two inches thick, consisting of three layers of wood glued together.


Note: A number of additional comments have been added since this article was initially posted. Additions will not all be identified as such. Any corrections will be clearly labeled.


Front and back view of Roman scutum. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Continue reading “Description of Scutum, a Roman Legionnaire’s shield.”

Cost of weapons in Northern Europe in mid 7th century

Illustration of Viking era ax, sword, and shield. (Not sure ’bout that parchment since there is no recovered Viking writing, and in fact their runes were not conducive to written documents.) Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

The Vikings at War book by Kim Hjardar and Vegard Vike provides one general frame of reference for cost of arms. The book has several references to a 7th-century Frankish legal text, Lex Ribuaria.

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)

Wikipedia says this document is from the Franks, located in northern Europe, more specifically it was from around what is modern Cologne, Germany. It was written about 630 A.D. It would thus provide a reference point from within Europe about 100 years before the start point of the Viking Age.

My guess is relative pricing of weapons in relation to each other would be sort of somewhat comparable to a few centuries later in the middle of the Viking Age, however, the prices in relation to animals is  probably lower here than in Scandinavia because of the cost of transport.

Continue reading “Cost of weapons in Northern Europe in mid 7th century”

Indicators of prices in Viking era

Battle axe. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

What did it cost to arm a Viking warrior? Without contemporary writing, it is difficult to determine. Several books and articles provide some hints.

Viking: The Norse Warrior’s [Unofficial] Manual by John Haywood provides an entertaining view of Viking life. The book is presented as an unofficial guide to young men considering their future as a raider. Sort of a training manual to get young men ready.

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)

The book provides some approximations for the prices of different weapons, measured in ounces of silver:

  • 1.5 – spear
  • 4-60 – sword, variation due to range of quality
  • 13 – helmet
  • 26 – chain mail coat

Another comment says that at the nicer end, a fancy sword could take a year for a blacksmith to make. So factor in a year of skilled labor for the high-end swords. That would explain the above guess of 60 ounces of silver for the nicest swords.

The book also gives another view of the cost of armament by describing the amount of arms a warrior might carry based on the level of the warrior’s wealth:

Continue reading “Indicators of prices in Viking era”

Logistics for a Viking force in the field – part 2

A Viking army would need somewhere around 180 tons of grain to feed an army of 1,000 warriors during a 3 month siege. Image Courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Let’s take another look at logistics for a Viking army. In about 868, Ivar the Boneless, one of Ragnar Lothbrok’s four sons, fortified Nottingham.

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)

A fun book, The Sea Wolves: A History of the Vikings by Lars Brownworth, described this campaign and its logistics.

King Burghred of Mercia combined forces with King Athelred of Wessex to deal with the Viking invasion. The allied forces advanced on Nottingham where the Vikings were patiently waiting behind their fortifications.

The Vikings tried to avoid attacking in battle. Instead, their preferred tactic was to draw an attack and then respond with a withering counterattack. They excelled at defense.

Short version of the story is Ivar was better supplied than the Saxons, whose soldiers faded away to go home and take in their harvest.

The siege ended when Ivar accepted an unspecified, though presumably really large bribe, Burghred acknowledged Ivar, and Ivar headed north to York.

The book describes the logistics of surviving a siege.

With 1,000 warriors, an army the size of Ivar’s required 4,000 pounds of flour and 1,000 gallons of water a day. That would be 4 pounds of flour and 1 gallon of water per soldier.

Continue reading “Logistics for a Viking force in the field – part 2”

Logistics for a Viking force in the field – part 1

Viking army in the field would require 4 pounds of grain a day to keep soldiers alive. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Keep in mind as a leader of  Viking force in the field you really don’t want to be the boss of a lot of grumpy, starving soldiers who also happen to be armed with heavy weapons. That is not a formula for a long reign and perhaps not a great plan for a long life.

This is one is a series of posts on this blog talking about ancient finances.

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)


I’ve read several comments so far on the logistical needs for a force in the field.

I’ll start with Viking: The Norse Warrior’s [Unofficial] Manual by John Haywood.

The book provides a reference for the goods needed to keep warriors fed. A force of 1,000 warriors would need 2,000 pounds of bread along with 1,000 pounds of meat. For liquids, the book says add about 240 gallons of beer.

Per warrior: That would be about 2 pounds of bread, 1 pound of meat, and 1 quart of beer.

Continue reading “Logistics for a Viking force in the field – part 1”