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V12 2009 INDEX       E-SYLUM ARCHIVE

The E-Sylum: Volume 12, Number 4, January 25, 2009, Article 22

ON EVALUATING THE VALUE OF MONEY OVER TIME

Michael E. Marotta submitted the following concerns about evaluating money across time. -Editor
Large Hoard of Gold Staters Uncovered in Suffolk, England (The E-Sylum v12#03, January 18, 2009) included this line about the 824 gold “staters”:
“Ms Plouviez said their value when in circulation had been estimated at a modern equivalent of between £500,000 and £1m, but they were likely to be worth less than that now."


Such statements are meaningless without context. These 824 staters weighed 5 grams each, totaling 4120 grams or 132.5 ounces or about $125,000 at today's volatile range for gold. If gold has constant value over time, then that figure has some validity. However, no amount of Iron Age gold would have bought an Iron Age iPod, so we need another view.

We know that the Roman aureus of about this same time weighed 8 grams and was worth 25 denarii. So, these Britannic "staters" were worth about 15 1/2 denarii each. We know from ancient documents such as Biblical citations from the New Testament that a worker in the fields earned a denarius a day. As the average factory wage in America today is about $100 per day, this translates to $1,287,500.

However, we know from other records that a secretary earned 15 denarii per month and a legionary private 20. (See http://www.ancientcoins.biz/pages/economy based on their bibliography citing Duncan-Jones The Economy of the Roman Empire and Harl Coinage in the Roman Empire). So each stater would have bought 3 weeks for a soldier or 1 month for a secretary.

Assuming that a modern clerical worker earns more than an average laborer at $40,000 per year, the 824 coins represent about $2,750,000. However, unlike the Roman trooper who earned more, our US Army privates only start at less than half the pay of a secretary, at $16,000 per year. Again, however, the modern army is a different contract than the ancient.

Finally, most of this is moot because the folk of ancient Britain were not a wage economy. These coins were then what they are now: a treasure hoard; static wealth; not earned (or earnable) income; certainly not an investment with a discountable risk. As such, oddly enough, they actually had zero value back then.



Wayne Homren, Editor

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