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