Abundance of food today compared with routine scarcity of food earlier than 150 years ago.

Abundance of refrigerated fresh meet at your conveniently available grocery store. Not an option for anyone on the planet 200 years ago, to say nothing of the 10,000 years prior. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

For most of history, one of the main challenges was getting enough food to eat. Keeping your family alive through the winter until you can harvest the first crop in the spring has been a worry for thousands of years.

That point is important when considering ancient finances back in the days of the Roman legions or Viking raiders. The following discussion, which is cross-posted from my other blog Outrun Change, provides some context on food scarcity.

 

Johan Norberg describes the tremendous progress in the last several hundred years in so many areas, such as life expectancy, health, sanitation, liberty, education, and equality in his book Progress: 10 Reasons to Look Forward to the Future. Here are a few more tidbits I found fascinating.

Consider the scarcity of food in the past and the drop in cost to feed a family in the last 150 years.

Food

Look at just a few of the statistics on availability of food, or rather the long running issue of scarcity of food:

Continue reading “Abundance of food today compared with routine scarcity of food earlier than 150 years ago.”

Most of the improvement in life expectancy in the last 10,000 years has taken place in the last 100 years.

Johan Norberg describes the tremendous progress in the last several hundred years in so many areas: life expectancy, health, sanitation, liberty, education, and equality. He discusses these wonderfully delightful trends in his book Progress: 10 Reasons to Look Forward to the Future. I will highlight merely a few of the many things I found fascinating in the book.

Life expectancy

This discussion is cross-posted from my other blog, Outrun Change, because  the information from ancient times is useful on this blog.

In particular, notice the major trend that there was no change in life expectancy from prehistoric times through the early 1800s.

People in the Reformation era lived roughly as long as during the Viking Age, who lived about as long as during the Roman era and New Testament times, who in turn lived about as long as during the time of Alexander the Great and stories in the Old Testament after the book of Genesis.

Book provides the following estimates of life expectancy, which I graph above:

Continue reading “Most of the improvement in life expectancy in the last 10,000 years has taken place in the last 100 years.”

Some background on brutality of ancient wars before diving into Viking history – part 2

Illustration of a very well armed Viking. One had to be well off to afford a sword and rather rich to have a helmet and mail to protect the neck. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

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.

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)

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.

Continue reading “Some background on brutality of ancient wars before diving into Viking history – part 2”

Some background on brutality of ancient wars before diving into Viking history – 1 of 2

Viking warrior with sword standing near Drakkar on the seashore. I think that is an ax on his belt. Raiding has paid off well since he is illustrated wearing chain mail. Longboat in background, which was shock and awe stealth technology in the 9th and 10th centuries. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

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.

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)

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.

Continue reading “Some background on brutality of ancient wars before diving into Viking history – 1 of 2”

Wild guess on the tally of people enslaved by Alexander the Great

Statue of Alexander the Great at Thessaloniki, Greece. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.
Statue of Alexander the Great at Thessaloniki, Greece. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

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.

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)

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.

Continue reading “Wild guess on the tally of people enslaved by Alexander the Great”

Total cost of Alexander’s rampage

Tetradrachm from era of Alexander the Great. Image courtesy Adobe Stock.
Tetradrachm from era of Alexander the Great. Image courtesy Adobe Stock.

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.

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)

The total expenses based on identifiable items in historical narratives is aggregated by the professor in a formula as:

  • 189( X) + 69,176 talents

Continue reading “Total cost of Alexander’s rampage”

A few stray tidbits on the cost of Alexander’s military

Ancient Greek coins. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.
Ancient Greek coins. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

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.

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)

Navy

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.

Army

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.

Continue reading “A few stray tidbits on the cost of Alexander’s military”

Some tidbits on the spending side of Alexander the Great’s reign

Ancient Greek coin. Alexander the Great and Apollo with the chariot of the sun. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.
Ancient Greek coin. Alexander the Great and Apollo with the chariot of the sun. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

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.

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)

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.  Continue reading “Some tidbits on the spending side of Alexander the Great’s reign”

Guess on the value of all loot taken by Alexander the Great

Tetradrachm from Alexander the Great. Image courtesy Adobe Stock.
Tetradrachm from Alexander the Great. Image courtesy Adobe Stock.

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:

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)

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.

Continue reading “Guess on the value of all loot taken by Alexander the Great”

An indication of Persian wealth from the book of Esther

Drawing of Persian daric gold coin. Alexander would have looted tons of these. Image courtesy of Adobe stock.
Drawing of Persian daric gold coin. Alexander would have looted tons of these. Image courtesy of Adobe stock.

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?

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)

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. Continue reading “An indication of Persian wealth from the book of Esther”