Roman legionnaire’s pay over time. Increases are an indication of debasement of currency.

Marching Roman legionnaire reenactors. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Pay for a legionnaire soldier in the Roman army increased substantially over time, from 225 denarii a year around the turn of the millenium to 600 denarri in the early 200s.

The amount of silver in a denarii was also steadily reduced over that same time. That is called inflation, which as we know from other reading, was driven by Roman Emperors intentionally debasing the currency as a way to help finance the empire.

A Wikipedia article, “Imperial Roman Army” provides data to analyze the gross pay and real pay over time.

First, let’s look at the declining value of a denarius. Here is the silver value of each coin, measured as the number of denarii minted from each pound of silver, along with my point estimate of the year of the change:

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Payroll cost for a Roman Legion – Part 2 of 2

The 5th Legion” by mikecogh is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

What might the payroll cost have been to staff a Roman Legion?

Previous post outlined the standard staffing of a Roman Legion in about 100 A.D.

The same Wikipedia article described earlier provided the relative pay of different positions. That allows for calculation of the total pay for a legion expressed in units of pay for a common soldier.

If we combine that calculation with the standard pay of 225 sesterces per year for a soldier, as mentioned here, we can calculate payroll for a legion.

Here is the relative pay calculation:

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Payroll cost for a Roman Legion – Part 1 of 2

Line of Roman soldiers advancing in battle formation. Shields up, swords drawn. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

What was the payroll cost to staff a Roman Legion?

Earlier post discussed that until around 81 A.D. a Legionnaire was paid 225 sesterces a year.

With the help of a Wikipedia article, we can make a guess at the total payroll for a Legion. (A side note, amusing to me, is that several of the sources of this article are books I’ve previously read.)

As the first step, let’s look at the estimated staffing of a Roman Legion in about 100 A.D. Keep in mind this is assuming the Legion is fully staffed, which was never the case, as I’ve read in several places. This is also for a legion with 50 centuries instead of the authorized strength of 60 centuries earlier.

Staffing for Roman Legion in about 100 A.D.:

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Average pay for Roman Legionnaire

Silver Roman denarius. About one and a half day’s pay for a Legionnaire. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Another indication of average pay for Roman foot soldiers can be found in Wikipedia’s article Imperial Roman Army.

This pay rate applied during the reigns of Emperors Augustus and Vespasian, which means until about 81 A.D. After that point, debasement of the currency led to inflation and rising pay for soldiers. More on that later.

For general framework, this is the pay structure in effect during the time of the New Testament.

Here is a recap: 

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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:

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Gross World Product over last 27,000 years

Gross World Product, according to Wikipedia is

the combined gross national product of all the countries in the world. Because imports and exports balance exactly when considering the whole world, this also equals the total global gross domestic product (GDP).

I got curious about the world-wide GDP after thinking about two previous posts:

What would happen if you multiplied the drastic increase in  population with the radical increase in per capita income? I made a feeble effort to multiple the two data sets and quickly realized that wouldn’t work. Poked around a bit on the ol’ internet thingie and found the answer at Wikipedia – gross world product is what I was looking for.

This discussion is cross-posted from my other blog, Outrun Change, because the ancient data is relevant to this blog.

27,000 year time horizon – Check out the graph at top of this post for the estimated gross world product on a very long time horizon, specifically from estimates back in 25,000 B.C. through 2014 A.D.

Copyright notice:  Graphs in this post are based on data in an article titled “Gross world product” by Wikipedia, which is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.  As a result the following tables which are derived from this information are licensed for use by anyone under the same CC BY-SA 3.0 license. Any use of these graphs must in turn be distributed under the same license.

I will show the raw data at the end of this post.

With that 27,000 year time horizon, there is a radical turn in the 1900s, at which point the graph appears to goes from horizontal to straight up vertical.

That is too long of a time horizon to understand, so I broke it out into smaller blocks.

Last 2,000 years – To remove the many earlier millenniums of slow growth, time horizon was revised to 1 AD through now. Notice there is still a radical change in the 1900s. With the dramatic changes in the last 200 years, the line from earlier looks like it is flat, but it isn’t.

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Growth in world population

Our World in Data, the web site of Max Roser, visualizes data in amazing ways. Check out this graph of world population:

World Population over the last 12,000 years and UN projection until 2100” by Our World in Data is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.  The graphs which follow are derived from this information and are licensed for use by others under the same CC BY-SA 3.0 license.

Very cool. The dramatic expansion in the number of people is amazing.

This discussion is cross-posted from my other blog, Outrun Change, because it provides context for past and future discussions of ancient finances.

The graph includes projections through 2100. I pulled out the projections and developed the following graph:

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Roman currency debasement overlaid with cause of death for Roman Emperors.

The Money Project, from The Visual Capitalist, has a great visualization comparing the debasement of Roman currency with the cause of death & duration of reign for Roman Emperors.

Keep in mind that correlation is not causation.  The drop in average tenure and increased likelihood of being assassinated is not caused by debasing the currency alone. Instead the increased turmoil, civil war, deteriorating economy, and external pressures all combined in a massive mix of factors that led to both.

Visual Capitalist uses powerful visual content to help investors and business professionals understand the world. Focusing on topics such as markets, technology, energy, and the global economy, Visual Capitalist is currently one of the fastest growing online publishers in North America.

Having described all that, here is the visualization “Roman Currency Debasement Plotted vs. Cause of Death for Roman Emperors“:

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Contrast on the ability of the East and West parts of the Roman Empire to maintain a strong army and economic prosperity

Map of Roman Empire at its peak is courtesy of Adobe Stock.

At the conclusion of The Complete Roman Army, Adrian Goldsworthy provides a very brief summary of the role the army at the end of the western Roman Empire with a contrast to how the army helped sustain the eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire for another thousand years.

The Roman Empire in the west was gone by the fifth century while the Byzantine Empire lasted another millennium. By the way that provides a link between discussion on my blog of the Roman Empire and the Viking era.

Mr. Goldsworthy says at the end in the west its military was still stronger than its opponents. In spite of that strength, a combination of factors contributed to the end:

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