Sunday, October 10, 2021

What will an ounce of silver buy?

At the time of Jesus a Denarius was expected to contain 3.9 grams of silver.

Prices varied wildly over the Roman Empire. Everything was more expensive in Rome and less expensive in the areas that were net-producers of wheat and olive oil and wine. That is an economic reality if you expect the outlying areas to ship their goods to the center. They certainly will not incur shipping costs and the risk of loss at sea to command a lower price.

Also, different skill levels commanded different wages. An experience and trusted Centurion received more than the half-wit who carried water.

But for our first stake-in-the-ground, a weekly wage of one Denarius was expected to feed a family of four in Palestine. Other resources were acquired outside the cash economy. Food was foraged or traded for. Firewood was collected and so on.

One Troy Ounce is 31.1 grams so an ounce of silver in Palestine at the time of Jesus would feed a family of four for about eight weeks.

At this time in history humanity was starved for all forms of metal.


In 1880 a farm-hand could expect to receive a dollar-a-day during harvest season. The wages were lower in the former Confederacy and higher on the frontier where labor was in shorter supply. It is notable that harvest time is when labor is in shortest supply and in greatest demand. That is, it will be lower at other times of the year.

That dollar contained 0.77 ounces which was quite a step up from the wages of the time of Jesus. The discovery of the New World pumped a LOT of precious metals into the world economy.

Prices in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1880 were seven-cents for a pound of lard and 2.8 cents per pound of flour. The daily ration for the family-of-four was four pounds of flour and one pound of lard (or its equivalent if pork) for an outlay of 18.2 cents a day.

In 1880 a Troy Ounce of silver would feed the family of four in Indianapolis for about seven days.


While it is an oversimplification, you can go to Walmart and buy 20 pounds of white rice for $8.54 or 43.7 cents a pound.

Vegetable oil can be had for 80 cents a pound. The ration of four pounds of carbs and one pound of fats/oils would cost $2.55 and one ounce of silver would buy about ten days of rations for our hypothetical family of four.

What is unsaid

This assumes a family unit where one person works in the cash/work economy and one other works in the non-cash economy for the extras.

This model goes into the ditch if every input to feed, cloth and house the family must come from the cash economy.

Many GIs brought home stories of women collecting "greens" in Post WWII Europe to supplement the foods shipped over by the Marshal Plan. In Asia, acorns were collected and processed into pudding-bars. Hunger is a great motivator.


  1. I find it interesting that basic food now is cheaper than it was in 1880. IIRC that was when farm equipment started coming out.

    1. I think oil, synthetic nitrogen and inexpensive potash and phosphorous (because shipping is cheaper) stripped out much of the labor per unit of production and also increased the unit of production per acre.


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