One usuable indicator of the value of a Viking sword. How many weapons you could buy today for that price?

Viking warrior with sword and shield standing near Drakkar on the seashore. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

What was the price of a Viking sword at the time? How about expressing a price then in some unit of measure we can grasp today? I have looked on the ol’ net but haven’t found any good guesses. Previous post discussed one indicator that I couldn’t process.

Hurstwic website describes one sword that had a reported value.   Chapter 13 of Laxdæla saga says a sword given to Höskuldur by King Hákon was worth a half mark of gold.

Hurstwic says that is equal to 16 milk cows.

Continue reading “One usuable indicator of the value of a Viking sword. How many weapons you could buy today for that price?”

Cost and time to cross the Atlantic has dropped by more than 90% in the last 500 years.

Columbus’ Ships. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Transatlantic travel time has dropped radically in the last 500 years.  Time to transit the Atlantic has dropped about 99% and cost has dropped about 95% by my calculations.

Let’s look at several data points for cost and time, then calculate one indicator of improved quality of life.

(Article cross-posted from my other blog, Outrun Change.)

Human Progress provides fun data points on August 2, 2018 in their post, A Reminder of How Far Transatlantic Travel Has Come.

Columbus’ first trip

The 1492 trip by Christopher Columbus took two years of lobbying before the king and queen of Spain approved 2 million Spanish maravedis to fund the trip. A professor has calculated that would be comparable to about US$1,000,000 today.

The cost seems low to me. I’ll look at that more later.

Crew size was 87 according to this article. The accountant in me is driven to calculate the cost per crewman.  That would give an average cost of $11,494. I’ll round that to $11,500 and ignore any adjustment for several crew members who died on the trip.

His trip took two months, nine days, which I calculate at 70 days (30+31+9).

Mayflower

Mayflower. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Continue reading “Cost and time to cross the Atlantic has dropped by more than 90% in the last 500 years.”

Salary for top level military leaders during and after the American Civil War

Postage stamp images of Union Generals. From left to right; William T. Sherman, U.S. Grant, and Phillip Sheridan. Courtesy of Adobe Stock.

This may not be ancient finances, but salary paid to the senior level military commanders in the 1860s and 1870s provides a worthwhile point of reference.

William Tecumseh Sherman: In the Service of My Country: A Life by James Lee McDonough is a delightful biography of the general. Gen. Sherman was a prolific letter writer. This book looks at his thoughts and feelings by diving into his personal and official correspondence.

The book also provides multiple comments on his compensation level and financial conditions. For his entire married life he struggled with finances, with his large and growing salary never been able to quite keep up with his wife Ellen’s taste for the good life.

Following posts will mention some comments in the book on cost of nice housing, gifts to public figures, travel times, and logistics.

Compensation levels

While serving in the Army in California, Sherman formed a partnership and funded a retail store. He was making $70 a month. Each of the three men in the partnership chipped in $500 and drew out $2,000, make a profit of $1500 each.

Continue reading “Salary for top level military leaders during and after the American Civil War”

One frame of reference for comparing time to construct large projects

With about 40,000 hours of labor, you could build this in around 900 A.D. ….

Image of Viking longboat courtesy of Adobe Stock.

..or with about 55,000 hours of labor, you could build this in 1942 A.D. …

B-17 at March Air Base Museum; photo by James Ulvog.

 

I’ve noticed a few guesses of the time it took to build things during the Viking Age. Here are a few points of reference:

Construction time of one longhouse and perimeter of winter camp in Viking Era

  • 24,192 hours – Long house 93’ long x 24’ wide x 25’ tall
  • 50,000 hours – 19’ tall wall around winter camp with moat 13’ deep x 13’ wide

How much labor did it take to construct a Viking longship?

  • 40,000 hours, surplus production of 100 persons for a year – Longship 98’ long (30 meters)
  • 28,000 hours, estimate of time for Vikings to build a 30 meter longship based on time for modern workers to recreate a longship using Viking techniques

In The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, Victor Davis Hanson provides extensive data about the economic output of various countries. In terms of hours to build a war machine, one tidbit is relevant here.

Continue reading “One frame of reference for comparing time to construct large projects”

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.”

Estimate of price of silver and gold in Viking Age

In Viking Age, 1 ounce of gold was equal to 8 ounces of silver. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.
In Viking Age, 4 cows were worth about 8 ounces of silver. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.
In Viking Age, 24 sheep were worth about 8 ounces of silver. Okay, okay, I count about 31 sheep in the photo, but you get the idea. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

To give you a rough picture of relative values during the Viking Age, the items in each of the above photos would have approximately equal value:

8 ounces of silver = 1 ounce of gold = 4 cows = 24 sheep

This post calculates my estimate of the price of gold and silver during the Viking Age. The point estimates from my long string of assumptions are:

  • $550 for an ounce of silver
  • $4,400 for an ounce of gold

Some comparisons of relative values of precious metals and products are discussed in Units of measure and relative value in the Viking Age.

To develop an estimate of precious metal prices, I’ll use the data from Hurstwic. They are a group that provides training on Viking combat techniques.

They provide some estimates of relative value and provide multiple data points that can be cross referenced.  I’ll keep my eye open for other reference points.

Here is what they provide on their page, Towns and Trading in the Viking Age. Yet another shaky simplifying assumption is that this analysis assumes data from Iceland early in the 11th century is somewhat representative of relative values across the Viking age. Here are their estimates:

Continue reading “Estimate of price of silver and gold in Viking Age”

Increase of income per person over last 200 years

(Article cross-posted from Outrun Change because it shows the radical change in per capita income over the last 200 years, which in turn illustrates the challenge of expressing ancient prices and incomes in terms of today.)

Here is an approximation of annual per capita GDP from 1 AD through 1913:

I’ve long been amazed at the radical growth in per capita wealth over the last 200 years. That means since the Industrial Revolution.

Living in dirt-eating poverty as the normal way of life for essentially every person on the planet changed about 200 years ago, give or take.

Continue reading “Increase of income per person over last 200 years”

Price tag for the first New Testament printed in vernacular expressed in terms of the cost of a butchered hog

Bible includes the Old and New testament. The 1522 edition included only the New Testament. “Luther Bible” by todd.vision is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I found an interesting way to convert the price of a New Testament bible in 1522 to current dollars.

How does this sound for a price of a New Testament? About $900 for the first and second printing, and around $2,700 for the third printing.

If that grabs your interest, let me explain how I got to that answer.

Prior to Martin Luther translating the New Testament from Latin to German, the only bibles around were in Latin, hand transcribed before the Guttenberg press revolutionized printing, and only available to priests and monks. Even at that, monks had to go to the library to read the likely only copy in the monastery.

Luther translating the bible into German, combined with the merely 70-year-old Guttenberg press technology, meant that the bible was literally opened up to the people.

Prices for the first three printings

Eric Metaxas provides us the key to price those first few printings of the brand new text.

He explains on page 270 of his book, Martin Luther, The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World, that the first printing of the book cost half a gulden for an unbound copy and a gulden for a bound copy.

Continue reading “Price tag for the first New Testament printed in vernacular expressed in terms of the cost of a butchered hog”

What is a cow worth today? That provides a framework for valuation in ancient times.

Momma Cow and calf. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Comparing prices and values over a long period of time is tough to do.

For example, how can we compare the cost to live for a year in the Viking Age to today? How can we understand the cost of a sword that cost X ounces of silver?

This involves not only converting the value of silver then to now but also adjusting for the very low standard of living then (you hope all your family survives the winter and hope you live long enough to see a grandchild from each of your children) to the high standard of living with long life expectancy today.

One way is to look at the value of something back then and the value of something today.

This post looks at the value of a cow today in order to provide some frame of reference for ancient times.

What is a cow worth today?

An article from Farm and Ranch Guide back in 2012 gives some good info: What’s a cow worth? Determining the value of a cow important to success. (Update:  Link no longer works. Article is not visible on that website. Several articles on the ‘net refer to the article but don’t have the text. I can’t find the original article.)

Article provides education on how to price cows and calculate their production. Lots of brand new information for me and the detail would be good training for someone learning to run a farm.

Here is some info relevant to my blog:

Continue reading “What is a cow worth today? That provides a framework for valuation in ancient times.”

Total wealth held by American households as reference point for ancient finances

There is a lot of wealth visible in all those homes. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.
There is a lot of wealth visible in all those homes. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Here is another point of reference I’ll use for my discussion of ancient finances. The Wall Street Journal reported on 6/7/16:  Americans’ Total Wealth Hits Record, According to Federal Reserve Report.

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)

Want to add this additional frame of reference before getting back to looking at Alexander’s haul as he looted various Persian cities.

The Fed released an estimate of the total wealth of all Americans for the first quarter 2016, which includes individuals and nonprofits.

Continue reading “Total wealth held by American households as reference point for ancient finances”