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Baz

How much money did the Economy of Rome have ?

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I was just wondering how much money would have been in the Roman coffers or banks compared with todays goverments ?

 

Would they have been in money terms in the millions rather than billions ?

 

I was wondering if

Edited by Baz

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I was just wondering how much money would have been in the Roman coffers or banks compared with todays goverments ?

 

Would they have been in money terms in the millions rather than billions ?

 

I was wondering if

Edited by Caesar CXXXVII

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Are you looking for data about the entire economy like a total GDP or about the roman state budget?

Anyway thay had no banks then.

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Are you looking for data about the entire economy like a total GDP or about the roman state budget?

Anyway thay had no banks then.

Which makes me wonder - at risk of broadening the topic, where did they store all their cash? Did the state have treasuries? What kind of safeguards were there to prevent thefts from treasuries?

Edited by Northern Neil

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The treasury was in the temple of Jovis and was protected by doors with keys, doors that Caesar found open when he entered Rome.

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Are you looking for data about the entire economy like a total GDP or about the roman state budget?

Anyway thay had no banks then.

 

Oh they had banks, but they were called Treasury's in those days, the banking system can be found in ancient Greece also.

 

Banking is a really old institution and all the money lenders worked for the Treasury and collected the taxes from Roman subjects to keep the Roman Senate's treasury going.

Edited by Baz

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Well, Tenny Frank wrote in his book "An economic history of Rome" sec. edition 1927 that in the year 63 BCE the Romans had at their treasure 50,000,000 sest. that is 10,000,000 1927' $ . Pompeius added 6,000,000 1927' $, Caesar added 1,500,000 1927' $ and Augustus added 10,000,000 1927' $ . Frank added taxes etc' and came to the conclusion that the average Roman treasure in the first century BCE had 30,000,000 1927' $ . Now 1 1927' $ = 12.06 2008' $ and the conclusion is - The annual budget of first century BCE Rome was 362,400,000 $ .

 

Translating sums of Roman money into modern ones is just not working, the numbers won't give you any real picture. This is because the value of our currencies change very rapidly and due to the fact that most services and materials had very different values back then compared to today. Most things are very much cheaper today (as how much bread you can buy for one hours work)

 

I prefer to compare Roman sums of money to how many kilos of say pork or how many sandals you could by for one hours decently skilled labour. Now these kind of numbers are difficult to find (Unless you use Diocletianus price edict from the early 4th century) but it's worth the trouble in my opinion. I would post a more elaborated argument if I had the time, I'll try after my exams next week.

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Are you looking for data about the entire economy like a total GDP or about the roman state budget?

Anyway thay had no banks then.

 

Oh they had banks, they were called treasurys, the banking system can be found in ancient Greece also it's a really old institution. Most of the comforts we enjoy today were made by the Romans you know :-)

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Well, Tenny Frank wrote in his book "An economic history of Rome" sec. edition 1927 that in the year 63 BCE the Romans had at their treasure 50,000,000 sest. that is 10,000,000 1927' $ . Pompeius added 6,000,000 1927' $, Caesar added 1,500,000 1927' $ and Augustus added 10,000,000 1927' $ . Frank added taxes etc' and came to the conclusion that the average Roman treasure in the first century BCE had 30,000,000 1927' $ . Now 1 1927' $ = 12.06 2008' $ and the conclusion is - The annual budget of first century BCE Rome was 362,400,000 $ .

 

Translating sums of Roman money into modern ones is just not working, the numbers won't give you any real picture. This is because the value of our currencies change very rapidly and due to the fact that most services and materials had very different values back then compared to today. Most things are very much cheaper today (as how much bread you can buy for one hours work)

 

I prefer to compare Roman sums of money to how many kilos of say pork or how many sandals you could by for one hours decently skilled labour. Now these kind of numbers are difficult to find (Unless you use Diocletianus price edict from the early 4th century) but it's worth the trouble in my opinion. I would post a more elaborated argument if I had the time, I'll try after my exams next week.

 

Do you think it's cheaper now ? Surely it would have been cheaper then, you had slaves and all you had to do was feed and water them.

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Well, Tenny Frank wrote in his book "An economic history of Rome" sec. edition 1927 that in the year 63 BCE the Romans had at their treasure 50,000,000 sest. that is 10,000,000 1927' $ . Pompeius added 6,000,000 1927' $, Caesar added 1,500,000 1927' $ and Augustus added 10,000,000 1927' $ . Frank added taxes etc' and came to the conclusion that the average Roman treasure in the first century BCE had 30,000,000 1927' $ . Now 1 1927' $ = 12.06 2008' $ and the conclusion is - The annual budget of first century BCE Rome was 362,400,000 $ .

 

Translating sums of Roman money into modern ones is just not working, the numbers won't give you any real picture. This is because the value of our currencies change very rapidly and due to the fact that most services and materials had very different values back then compared to today. Most things are very much cheaper today (as how much bread you can buy for one hours work)

 

I prefer to compare Roman sums of money to how many kilos of say pork or how many sandals you could by for one hours decently skilled labour. Now these kind of numbers are difficult to find (Unless you use Diocletianus price edict from the early 4th century) but it's worth the trouble in my opinion. I would post a more elaborated argument if I had the time, I'll try after my exams next week.

 

Do you think it's cheaper now ? Surely it would have been cheaper then, you had slaves and all you had to do was feed and water them.

 

Slaves are not that efficient from an economical perspective, they don't generate much more profit then a paid worker. The idea that Roman economy was being based on a slave economy with parasitical owner have been abandoned since the late 80's.

 

As an example on how much a slave would make for it's master, changing into Greek history but it's still relevant, was a slave paid as much (to the owner of course) as a free worker when constructing the Parthenon. Considering how expensive a slave was (Maybe comparable to a car today, one or a few years salary) and that a slave have exactly the same needs as a free man (You didn't treat most slaves too badly as you needed them to be profitable. A dead, wounded or sick slave make no money.) it'll even take a great deal of time, even years, until you are dealing with green numbers in the calculation.

 

And yes, I do know that basic livestock is much cheaper now.

Edited by Klingan

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Translating sums of Roman money into modern ones is just not working, the numbers won't give you any real picture. This is because the value of our currencies change very rapidly and due to the fact that most services and materials had very different values back then compared to today. Most things are very much cheaper today (as how much bread you can buy for one hours work)

 

I prefer to compare Roman sums of money to how many kilos of say pork or how many sandals you could by for one hours decently skilled labour. Now these kind of numbers are difficult to find (Unless you use Diocletianus price edict from the early 4th century) but it's worth the trouble in my opinion.

 

I agree completely about the basic problem, but I think there's a better solution than translating prices into "kilos of say pork or how many sandals you could buy for one hours decently skilled labor." This is the right approach -- i.e., to translate prices into a real commodity that is sensitive to historical differences in efficiency but not relative value -- but pork and sandals can differ in quality over time. The simplest solution is to translate prices into the value of the precious metal.

 

For example, in the 1st century AD, a loaf of bread was 2 As, which would be 24 oz. of copper. Today 24 oz of copper would fetch $2.25, which is (behold) about the price of a loaf of bread today. Thus, translating prices to precious metals preserves the relative value of goods over time and thus reflects a better standard for making not only historical comparisons but also cross-national comparisons as well.

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Are you looking for data about the entire economy like a total GDP or about the roman state budget?

Anyway thay had no banks then.

 

Oh they had banks, but they were called Treasury's in those days, the banking system can be found in ancient Greece also.

 

Banking is a really old institution and all the money lenders worked for the Treasury and collected the taxes from Roman subjects to keep the Roman Senate's treasury going.

 

A bank lends other people's money and transfers funds. Neither Greeks or Romans had anything like that. Of course they had lenders and debtors, but that does not mean banks.

Publicanii just bought from the state the right to collect taxes and then gathered them themselves pocketing the difference, more like a libertarian private IRS.

 

The price of precious metals varies as well as any other commodity. See for example the rapid increase in gold prices in the last few years.

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Nominal prices are entirely relative measurements and can be very misleading. The only real way to understand how much 'money' they had is to look at what they used as money (gold, silver, copper, etc), estimate the total quantity and fineness of the money, the total quantity and quality of the goods it could purchase and compare it to the total supply of those materials throughout the world at the time.

 

If you try to convert it into modern money, the point is missed. Its not the money that matters but the real wealth that the money servers as a medium of exchange for. A Roman could have had a billion US dollars worth of gold, but he could never possess anything like a jet airplane or a factory that produces microprocessors. The gold and silver that was used as money was valuable precisely because of its suitability as a universal medium of exchange, as determined over the course of thousands of years by innumerable different economic participants.

 

Kosmo:

I would say that the recent fluctuation in the nominal price of commodities has far more to do with the value of the fiat paper currency that the prices are measured in, than with the intrinsic value of of the commodities. If you price commodities in terms of other commodities, the prices tend to be very flat over time.

 

Even though banking is an institution that has spontaneously evolved over time, complex banking certainly existed in the Roman empire. The following is quoted from Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles by Jesus Huerta de Soto where he discusses legal principles pertaining to banking in ancient Rome.

 

Also see Chapter 2, Section 2 of the book, "Banking in Greece and Rome." Its a little too long to post here.

 

THE IRREGULAR DEPOSIT CONTRACT UNDER ROMAN LAW

 

The deposit contract in general is covered in section 3 of book 16 of the Digest, entitled “On Depositing and Withdrawing” (Depositi vel contra). Ulpian begins with the following definition:

 

A deposit is something given another for safekeeping. It is so called because a good is posited [or placed]. The preposition de intensifies the meaning, which reflects that all obligations corresponding to the custody of the good belong to that person.
33

 

A deposit can be either regular, in the case of a specific good; or irregular, in the case of a fungible good.34 In fact, in number 31, title 2, book 19 of the Digest, Paul explains the difference between the loan contract or mutuum and the deposit contract of a fungible good, arriving at the conclusion that

 

if a person deposits a certain amount of loose money, which he counts and does not hand over sealed or enclosed in something, then the only duty of the person receiving it is to return the same amount.
35

 

In other words, Paul clearly indicates that in the monetary irregular deposit the depositary’s only obligation is to return the tantundem: the equivalent in quantity and quality of the original deposit. Moreover, whenever anyone made an irregular deposit of money, he received a written certificate or deposit slip. We know this because Papinian, in paragraph 24, title 3, book 16 of the Digest, says in reference to a monetary irregular deposit,

 

I write this letter by hand to inform you, so that you will know, that the one hundred coins you have entrusted to me today through Sticho, the slave and administrator, are in my possession and I will return them to you immediately, whenever and wherever you wish.

 

This passage reveals the immediate availability of the money to the depositor and the custom of giving him a deposit slip or receipt certifying a monetary irregular deposit, which not only established ownership, but also had to be presented upon withdrawal.36

 

The essential obligation of depositaries is to maintain the tantundem constantly available to depositors. If for some reason the depositary goes bankrupt, the depositors have absolute privilege over any other claimants, as Ulpian skillfully explains (paragraph 2, number 7, title 3, book 16 of the Digest):

 

Whenever bankers are declared bankrupt, usually addressed first are the concerns of the depositors; that is, those with money on deposit, not those earning interest on money left with the bankers. So, once the goods have been sold, the depositors have priority over those with privileges, and those who received interest are not taken into account— it is as if they had relinquished the deposit.
37

 

Here Ulpian indicates as well that interest was considered incompatible with the monetary irregular deposit and that when bankers paid interest, it was in connection with a totally different contract (in this case, a mutuum contract or loan to a banker, which is better known today as a time “deposit” contract).

 

As for the depositary’s obligations, it is expressly stated in the Digest (book 47, title 2, number 78) that he who receives a good on deposit and uses it for a purpose other than that for which it was received is guilty of theft. Celsus also tells us in the same title (book 47, title 2, number 67) that taking a deposit with an intent to deceive constitutes theft. Paul defines theft as “the fraudulent appropriation of a good to gain a profit, either from the good itself or from its use or possession; this is forbidden by natural law.”38 As we see, what is today called the crime of misappropriation was included under the definition of theft in Roman law. Ulpian, in reference to Julianus, also concluded:

 

if someone receives money from me to pay a creditor of mine, and, himself owing the same amount to the creditor, pays him in his own name, he commits theft.
(Digest, book 47, title 2, number 52, paragraph 16)39

 

In number 3, title 34 (on “the act of deposit”), book 4 of the Codex Constitutionum of the Corpus Juris Civilis, which includes the constitution established under the consulship of Gordianus and Aviola in the year 239, the obligation to maintain the total availability of the tantundem is even clearer, as is the commission of theft when the tantundem is not kept available.

 

In this constitution, the emperor Gordianus indicates to Austerus,

 

if you make a deposit, you will with reason ask to be paid interest, since the depositary should thank you for not holding him responsible for theft, because he who knowingly and willingly uses a deposited good for his own benefit, against the will of the owner, also commits the crime of theft.
40

 

Section 8 of the same source deals expressly with depositaries who loan money received on deposit, thus using it for their own benefit. It is emphasized that such an action violates the principle of safekeeping, obligates depositaries to pay interest, and makes them guilty of theft, as we have just seen in the constitution of Gordianus. In this section we read:

 

If a person who has received money from you on deposit loans it in his own name, or in the name of any other person, he and his successors are most certainly obliged to carry out the task accepted and to fulfill the trust placed in them.
41

 

It is recognized, in short, that those who receive money on deposit are often tempted to use it for themselves. This is explicitly acknowledged elsewhere in the Corpus Juris Civilis (Novellae, Constitution LXXXVIII, at the end of chapter 1), along with the importance of properly penalizing these actions, not only by charging the depositary with theft, but also by holding him responsible for payment of interest on arrears “so that, in fear of these penalties, men will cease to make evil, foolish and perverse use of deposits.”42

 

Roman jurists established that when a depositary failed to comply with the obligation to immediately return the tantundem upon request, not only was he clearly guilty of the prior crime of theft, but he was also liable for payment of interest on arrears. Accordingly, Papinian states:

 

He who receives the deposit of an unsealed package of money and agrees to return the same amount, yet uses this money for his own profit, must pay interest for the delay in returning the deposit.
43

 

This perfectly just principle is behind the so-called depositum confessatum, which we will consider in greater detail in the next chapter and refers to the evasion of the canonical prohibition on interest by disguising actual loan or mutuum contracts as irregular deposits and then deliberately delaying repayment, thus authorizing the charging of interest. If these contracts had from the beginning been openly regarded as loan or mutuum contracts they would not have been permitted by canon law.

 

Finally, we find evidence in the following extracts (among others) that Roman jurists understood the essential difference between the loan or mutuum contract and the monetary irregular-deposit contract: number 26, title 3, book 16 (passage by Paul); number 9, point 9, title 1, book 12 of the Digest (excerpts by Ulpian); and number 10 of the same title and book. However, the clearest and most specific statements to this effect were made by Ulpian in section 2, number 24, title 5, book 17 of the Digest, in which he expressly concludes that “To loan is one thing and to deposit is another,” and establishes that

 

once a banker’s goods have been sold and the concerns of the privileged attended to, preference should be given people who, according to attested documents, deposited money in the bank. Nevertheless, those who have received interest from the bankers on money deposited will not be dealt with separately from the rest of the creditors; and with good reason, since to loan is one thing and to deposit is another.
44

 

It is therefore clear from Ulpian’s writings in this section that bankers carried out two different types of operations. On one hand, they accepted deposits, which involved no right to interest and obliged the depositary to maintain the full, continuous availability of the tantundem in favor of the depositors, who had absolute privilege in the case of bankruptcy. And, on the other hand, they received loans (mutuum contracts), which did obligate the banker to pay interest to the lenders, who lacked all privileges in the case of bankrupcy.Ulpian could show no greater clarity in his distinction between the two contracts nor greater fairness in his solutions.

 

Roman classical jurists discovered and analyzed the universal legal principles governing the monetary irregular-deposit contract, and this analysis coincided naturally with the development of a significant business and trade economy, in which bankers had come to play a very important role. In addition, these principles later appeared in the medieval legal codes of various European countries, including Spain, despite the serious economic and business recession resulting from the fall of the Roman Empire and the advent of the Middle Ages. In Las Partidas (law 2, title 3, item 5) it is established that a person who agrees to hold the commodities of another takes part in an irregular deposit in which control over the goods is transferred to him. Nevertheless, he is obliged, depending upon agreements in the corresponding document, to return the goods or the value indicated in the contract for each good removed from the deposit, either because it is sold with the authorization of the original owner, or is removed for other, unexpected reasons.45 Moreover, in the Fuero Real (law 5, title 15, book 3) the distinction is made between the deposit “of some counted money or raw silver or gold,” received from “another, by weight,” in which case “the goods may be used and goods of the same quantity and quality as those received may be returned;” and the deposit “which is sealed and not counted or measured by weight,” in which case “it is not to be used, but if it is used, it must be paid back double.”46 These medieval codes contain a clear distinction between the regular deposit of a specific good and the irregular deposit of money, and they indicate that in the latter case ownership is transferred. However, the codes do not include the important clarifications made in the Corpus Juris Civilis to the effect that, though ownership is “transferred,” the safekeeping obligation remains, along with the responsibility to keep continually available to the depositor the equivalent in quantity and quality (tantundem) of the original deposit. Perhaps the reason for this omission lies in the increasing prevalence of the depositum confessatum.

 

33 Ulpian, a native of Tyre (Phoenicia), was advisor to another great jurist, Papinian, and together with Paul, he was an advising member of the concilium principis and praefectus praetorio under Alexander Severus. He was murdered in the year 228 by the Praetorians. He was a very prolific

writer who was better known for his knowledge of juridical literature than for his creative work. He wrote clearly and was a good compiler and his writings are regarded with special favor in Justinian’s Digest, where they comprise the main part. On this topic see Iglesias, Derecho romano: Instituciones de derecho privado, p. 58. The passage cited in the text is as follows in Latin:

 

Depositum est, quod custodiendum alicui datum est, dictum ex eo, quod ponitur, praepositio enim de auget depositum, ut ostendat totum fidei eius commissum, quod ad custodiam rei pertinet.

 

34 However, as Pasquale Coppa-Zuccari astutely points out, the expression depositum irregolare did not appear until it was first used by Jason

de Maino, a fifteenth century annotator of earlier works, whose writings were published in Venice in the year 1513. See Coppa-Zuccari, Il deposito irregolare, p. 41. Also, the entire first chapter of this important work deals with the treatment under Roman law of the irregular deposit, pp. 2–32. For an excellent, current treatment in Spanish of bibliographic sources on the irregular deposit in Rome, see Mercedes L

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Which makes me wonder - at risk of broadening the topic, where did they store all their cash? Did the state have treasuries? What kind of safeguards were there to prevent thefts from treasuries?

 

Treasuries were called aeraria. They were often located in or near temples, in tabularia and sometimes they were buildings of their own.

An example of the latter is preserved in Naples, complete with (holes for) iron bars in the windows.

Edited by Maladict

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There were also moneylenders, and personal hoards, which were sometimes buried for one reason or another thus the money was lost. The trouble with trying to estimate the size of the Roman economy is that most asssume it worked the same as todays, with some degree of central planning. It didn't. Money was minted for all sorts of reasons, the accession of a new emperor for instance. Money was also leaving the Roman economy for foreign lands due the the empire's need for luxuries or entertainment. There was also a large degree of local investment by the wealthy in their community.

 

I think you have to move away from a centrel planned economy such as we see today and look at the Roman economy as a network of smaller ones all paying tax - it was therefore, a 'feudal' economy.

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