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.

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. 

  • 3,000 workers
  • x 26 weeks in half a year
  • x 6 days per week
  • = 468,000 worker days
  • x 1.5 drachma per day – assumed blend of 2 drachma per day for skilled workers and 1 drachma for unskilled workers, assumed to represent average wages for workers on the wall project
  • =702,000 drachma – estimated wages
  • + 100% wild guess for cost to build infrastructure – my completely unsupported, blind guess of cost to build interior roads, houses, water wells, and rudimentary sewer facilities for a new town
  • = 1,404,000 drachma – really rough guess of cost to build one new major town with something on the average size of 50,000 people
  • / 60,000 drachma per Athenian talent
  • = 23.4 Athenian talents – point estimate of building new town
  • ~25 talents – rounded estimate of cost per town
  • x 13 towns built by Alexander, educated guess by author
  • = 325 Athenian talents- guess of cost to build 13 major urban towns

Continuing my speculation, I’ll try to bring that into current dollars.

I’ve previously estimated the current value of an ancient Athenian Talent as follows. I won’t repeat the calculation in this post; have mentioned it here and here:

  • US$28M – estimated current value equal to 1 Athenian Talent
  • X 25 Talents – estimate cost to build 1 urban town
  • = $700M – estimated cost for Alexander to build one major town
  • x 13 towns – number built by Alexander, guess by Prof Holt.
  • = $9,100M, or $9.1B – guess of cost to build estimated 13 major towns

I’ve show my calculations, so you may adjust them as you wish.

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