Ancient Financeswill explore finances and money during the Viking age and Roman Empire. Lots of posts on other blogs addressing those topics have been cross-posted to the new blog. This includes lots of discussion of the loot Alexander the Great lifted during his rampaging world tour.
I’ve been having loads of fun reading about the Viking age and am intrigued by finances and money during the Roman Empire.
Adrian Goldsworthy provides a good description of a Roman shield, called a scutum, in his book The Complete Roman Armyon page 129. A well-preserved shield was found at Dura Europus that dates from the 3rd century.
The shield is 3’ 3” tall by 2’ 8” wide in a curved shape.
It is two inches thick, consisting of three layers of wood glued together.
King Burghred of Mercia combined forces with King Athelred of Wessex to deal with the Viking invasion. The allied forces advanced on Nottingham where the Vikings were patiently waiting behind their fortifications.
The Vikings tried to avoid attacking in battle. Instead, their preferred tactic was to draw an attack and then respond with a withering counterattack. They excelled at defense.
Short version of the story is Ivar was better supplied than the Saxons, whose soldiers faded away to go home and take in their harvest.
The siege ended when Ivar accepted an unspecified, though presumably really large bribe, Burghred acknowledged Ivar, and Ivar headed north to York.
The book describes the logistics of surviving a siege.
With 1,000 warriors, an army the size of Ivar’s required 4,000 pounds of flour and 1,000 gallons of water a day. That would be 4 pounds of flour and 1 gallon of water per soldier.
Keep in mind as a leader of Viking force in the field you really don’t want to be the boss of a lot of grumpy, starving soldiers who also happen to be armed with heavy weapons. That is not a formula for a long reign and perhaps not a great plan for a long life.
This is one is a series of posts on this blog talking about ancient finances.
I’ve read several comments so far on the logistical needs for a force in the field.
The book provides a reference for the goods needed to keep warriors fed. A force of 1,000 warriors would need 2,000 pounds of bread along with 1,000 pounds of meat. For liquids, the book says add about 240 gallons of beer.
Per warrior: That would be about 2 pounds of bread, 1 pound of meat, and 1 quart of beer.
This is another in my series of posts on ancient finances.
Let’s ponder how much time it would take to construct a Viking longship and consider how much of an investment that would be for a community. Any way you look at this, a longship is a major capital asset.
I’ll quote and then expand his comment on page 51:
“Experimental archaeologists have estimated that 40,000 working hours may have been needed to produce all the components of a 30-meter longship, consuming the surplus production of 100 persons for a year.”
Surplus production in the Viking context would be the amount of time not needed for subsistence living. In other words the amount of effort a warrior would have after raising enough food to feed his family with enough left over to survive the next winter.
If 40,000 hours is enough time for 100 warriors, that would be 400 hours each. Let’s assume that would be spread over a year except for my assumption that during the worst three months of winter no construction could be done. Since we are talking rough numbers let’s spread that 400 hours over nine months, which would be 44 hours a month, which would be about 11 hours a week.
So 100 warriors working 11 hours a week for 9 months would be needed to construct a longship.
What did it cost to arm a Viking warrior? Without contemporary writing, it is difficult to determine. Several books and articles provide some hints.
Viking: The Norse Warrior’s [Unofficial] Manual by John Haywood provides an entertaining view of Viking life. The book is presented as an unofficial guide to young men considering their future as a raider. Sort of a training manual to get young men ready.
The book provides some approximations for the prices of different weapons, measured in ounces of silver:
1.5 – spear
4-60 – sword, variation due to range of quality
13 – helmet
26 – chain mail coat
Another comment says that at the nicer end, a fancy sword could take a year for a blacksmith to make. So factor in a year of skilled labor for the high-end swords. That would explain the above guess of 60 ounces of silver for the nicest swords.
The book also gives another view of the cost of armament by describing the amount of arms a warrior might carry based on the level of the warrior’s wealth:
The Vikings at War book by Kim Hjardar and Vegard Vike provides one general frame of reference for cost of arms. The book has several references to a 7th-century Frankish legal text, Lex Ribuaria.
Wikipedia says this document is from the Franks, located in northern Europe, more specifically it was from around what is modern Cologne, Germany. It was written about 630 A.D. It would thus provide a reference point from within Europe about 100 years before the start point of the Viking Age.
My guess is relative pricing of weapons in relation to each other would be sort of somewhat comparable to a few centuries later in the middle of the Viking Age, however, the prices in relation to animals is probably lower here than in Scandinavia because of the cost of transport.
One more post to provide context on the reputation of barbarity that is owned by the Vikings.
A wonderful book, The Vikings, from the British Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a catalog of a fabulous exhibit assembled by the two museums in 1980. The major exhibit showcased the artifacts and cultures of the Viking era.
I’m reading my dad’s copy of the book. The text is still available on Amazon in the used market.
The goal of the exhibit was to introduce some balance to the competing visions of raw brutality and “strange glamour” that surrounds the Vikings.
Consider these two comments in the preface:
“In a brutal age the Vikings were brutal, but their brutality was no worse than their contemporaries. “
“The Vikings were administrators as well as pirates, merchants as well as robbers. “
Before you get worked up about blood eagles…
Oh, and if you get all worked up about the brutal cold-blooded barbarity of a ‘blood eagle’ execution, try looking up what the oh so very civilized English did when they hung, drew, and quartered someone.
I’m going to take a look at finances of the Viking era, similar to what I’ve done on legionnaires during the Roman Empire and the plunder gathered by Alexander the Great. There isn’t a lot of information available, but I’ll look at some I was able to find.
The Viking era has recently captured my interest, leading me to read a fair amount on the history of the times.
This is the first time I have dived deep into the adventures of the Norwegians, Danes, and Swedes back then.
My paternal grandfather and grandmother both emigrated from Norway, settling in South Dakota before meeting each other, marrying, and starting a large family.
So it is appropriate to dive into my ancient legacy, later in life though it may be than for most of my cousins.
Why a series of posts on finance in the Viking world? Because I want to.
One of the things I learned early on in blogging is that a person should write on what is of interest. An audience will develop or not, but cannot be predicted. Thus, a blogger should write on what is of interest.
Why post this discussion on this blog? Because this is where I write of accounting issues and it is a short jump into financial issues such banking in general because I am interested in banking and finance. From there is a very short trip to the wide, ever expanding world of banking fiascos. From there, it is possible to jump back a couple of millenniums to ancient finances of Rome and Alexander. From Rome it is merely a few centuries forward to the Vikings. All of that fits within a blog on accounting.
Before I get started
One of the aspects of the Viking era that jumps out is the violence and the widespread plundering.
Several accounts I’ve read say that capturing slaves on raids and selling them into the Arab worlds was more lucrative that making off with all the gold and silver you can find and the loot you can carry.
The ancient world was astoundingly violent.
I’d like to offer two of many possible illustrations.
Roman destruction of Jerusalem
In 70 A.D. the Roman Empire laid siege to Jerusalem, sacked it, and destroyed the entire city, killing essentially everyone crowded behind the city wall at the time. The euphemism is that apart from one wall and one tower, there was not so much as one stone left on top of another anywhere in the city.
The wall and tower were left so that for centuries to come, everyone can see this is what will be left if you go too far in irritating Rome.
In Appendix 2, the professor tallies the reported plunder, tribute, and other resources seized by Alexander the Great. Quantifying the destruction is not possible because the ancient literature often does not quantify amounts, only that slaves, or plunder, or cattle, or tapestries, or something else was seized.
The professor does quantify the reported information in an algebraic format. I’ve previously mentioned:
Total proceeds from the wars is then estimated in a formula expressed as 81.67( X) +311,761.
The author guesses the grand total for his years of campaigning at something between 300,000 and 400,000 talents. With the fixed portion of the second estimate at 311k, I think the total would be well over 300k.
Those amounts are in talents, with each talent being a massive amount of wealth. For an order of magnitude, consider that my guess is an ancient Athenian talent would be expressed something somewhere in the range of around $28M today.
I just went through the Appendix looking at the tally of slaves taken.
Got interested again in how much a Roman soldier was paid. Browsed Wikipedia and found a few more reference points.
One of my main goals of blogging is to learn and stretch my brain. My brain stretching on financial issues is revealed on this blog. If you wish to wander along, please join me as I meader through Wikipedia, learning what I can.
At one point, the soldiers in the Rhine army rebelled against Tiberius. I think this was shortly after Tiberius became emperor, which was in 14 AD when he was about 56 years old (b. 42 BC – d 37 AD). His reign ended in 37AD, or after about almost 15 years in power.
Legionnaire soldiers who were part of the Rhine Army were paid equivalent to a denarius a day (10 asses) according to the Wikipedia article. Out of that they had their food and uniforms deducted. They demanded several things, including getting paid a denarius a day. If I read that slender sliver of information correctly, they went from 1 denarius minus food and clothing per day to 1 denarius per day net.
The Sestertius article goes on to say that in the first century legionnaires were paid around 900 sesterii a year. That would be about 2.5 sesterii per day for a 365 day year. I’m not sure how to reconcile that comment to the immediately preceding paragraph which mentioned the 10 asses per day, which is the basis for a denarius. Since a sestertius is a quarter of a denarius, that would be just over half a denarius a day.
This rose to around 1200 when Domitian was the emperor (81-96AD). That would be about 3.3 sesterii a day, or about three-fourths of a denarius.