Other eras

A few indicators for King Solomon’s wealth – part 2

Solomon’s horses on Tel-Megiddo National park. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Previous post estimated the number of warhorses King Solomon owned along with citing the number of chariots in his kingdom.

Here are two of the texts used to make an estimate of some portions of his vast wealth:

Chronicles text

2 Chronicles 1:14-17 (emphasis added for attention on specific valuations):

“Solomon accumulated chariots and horses; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horses, which he kept in the chariot cities and also with him in Jerusalem. The king made silver and gold as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore-fig trees in the foothills. Solomon’s horses were imported from Egypt and from Kue—the royal merchants purchased them from Kue at the current price. They imported a chariot from Egypt for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for a hundred and fifty. They also exported them to all the kings of the Hittites and of the Arameans. (NIV)

2 Chronicles 9:13-22 (emphasis added for attention on specific valuations):

“13 The weight of the gold that Solomon received yearly was 666 talents, 14 not including the revenues brought in by merchants and traders. Also all the kings of Arabia and the governors of the territories brought gold and silver to Solomon.

“15 King Solomon made two hundred large shields of hammered gold; six hundred shekels of hammered gold went into each shield. 16 He also made three hundred small shields of hammered gold, with three hundred shekels of gold in each shield. The king put them in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon. 17 Then the king made a great throne covered with ivory and overlaid with pure gold. 18 The throne had six steps, and a footstool of gold was attached to it. On both sides of the seat were armrests, with a lion standing beside each of them. 19 Twelve lions stood on the six steps, one at either end of each step. Nothing like it had ever been made for any other kingdom. 20 All King Solomon’s goblets were gold, and all the household articles in the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon were pure gold. Nothing was made of silver, because silver was considered of little value in Solomon’s day. 21 The king had a fleet of trading ships manned by Hiram’s servants. Once every three years it returned, carrying gold, silver and ivory, and apes and baboons.

“22 King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth. (NIV)

Weight of shekel

I’ve seen various comments on the weight of a shekel in other units of measurement. During Old Testament times it was a unit of weight. At some point (don’t know when), it became a specific coin.

All the comments I’ve seen indicate the weight varied over time and from place to place. Wikipedia says it varied from 7 to 17 grams, with specific amounts of 11, 14, or 17 grams being common. That would mean range is from 0.247 ounces (say .25) to 0.5996 ounces (say .6) with weights of 0.388, .4938, and .5996 ounces as common.

The article cites Josephus as saying the half-shekel temple tax was equal to two Athenian drachmae, each of which weighed in at 4.3 grams. Thus the half shekel would be 8.5 grams and a full shekel is 17 gram, or .6 ounces in the mid or late first century B.C.

Table in back of my Zondervan Study Bible gives the following weights:

  • Talent = 60 minas = 75 pounds
  • Mina = 50 shekels = 1.25 pounds
  • Shekel = 2/5 ounce, or .4 ounce

So, looks like choices for a shekel include:

  • .25 ounce
  • .4
  • .5
  • .6

I’ll go with 0.40 ounces as a plausible mid-range estimate.

Converting Old Testament valuations into something we can understand

I looked for some indicator of what the purchasing power of either silver or gold in the time of either King David, King Solomon, or any time in the Old Testament. Didn’t find anything helpful. At some point in the future if I find something, I’ll come back to this series.

The reason I say this is the relative value of gold and silver was far higher in the past than it is today. Dramatically higher. We cannot use modern values to convert ancient valuations into something we can grasp today.

The relative value of gold to silver during Old Testament times is unknown to me. My study of the Viking era suggest the relative values were far different in the past.

I’ll come back to this someday.

Value of horses and chariots

A chariot was state of the art weaponry at the time of Kings David and Solomon. For the time, it was comparable to what a main battle tank is today. Consider the M1 Abrams tank in the U.S. inventory.

The warhorses were from Egypt. They were the best horses at the time for battle; I’ve seen that comment a couple times but won’t go back looking for a reference.

Now let’s take a look at the value of those chariots and warhorses. Both 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles list price of 600 shekels of silver for a chariot and 150 shekels of silver for a horse.

Here is the value of the above calculated horses and chariots in shekels. The value is then converted to mina (equal for 50 shekels) and talents (equal to 60 mina or 3,000 shekels).

The amount is then converted to avoirdupois weights, not troy weights, because all of us think in avoirdupois weights when considering large things instead of the troy system used for precious metals.

 chariot  cavalry
 chariots  horses  horses  total
 count, with 1:1 reserve       1,400       5,600         24,000         31,000
 price, shekels of silver          600          150             150
 total, in shekels silver    840,000    840,000    3,600,000    5,280,000
 silver mina (1:50)      16,800      16,800         72,000       105,600
 silver talent (1:60)          280          280          1,200          1,760
 avoirdupois (not troy):
 silver ounces (.4/shekel)    336,000    336,000    1,440,000    2,112,000
 silver pounds (16 oz.)      21,000      21,000         90,000       132,000
 silver tons (2,000#)         10.5         10.5            45.0            66.0


That puts the value of Solomon’s chariots and warhorses at about 5.3 million shekels of silver, or 1,760 talents. That is somewhere around 2.1 million ounces of silver or 66 tons of silver.

The text says Solomon’s income just in terms of gold was 666 talents a year, not including trading profits and tribute.  That puts the cost of his core capital weapons at an amount roughly equal to 2.6 years of total income (without trading profits and tribute). That ratio makes intuitive sense.

Update 12/29/19:  Realize that the calculation is comparing apples and oranges, or more precisely silver and gold.  The estimate of value of chariots and warhorses is expressed in silver and the annual income mentioned in scriptures is in gold. Thus the better analysis is:

  • 1,760 talents of silver – guess on cost of horses and chariots, apart from tack and armament for cavalrymen and charioteers
  • 666 talents of gold – annual income apart from trading profits and substantial tribute

I do not know what the relative values of silver and gold were during King Solomon’s time.  I have sensed in various reading that the relative value was quite different than it is today.

On 12/29/19 the relative values were:

  • $1,508 – spot price for gold
  • $17.30 – spot price for silver
  • 87:1 – relative price of gold to silver

What I do have as an exquisitely rough comparative data point is the ratio of gold to silver was somewhere around 8:1 during the time of the Vikings. Since that is my only feeble reference, I’ll work with that.

So the relative ratio of value of chariots and horses, stringing together my long trail of wild guesses is:

  • 1,760 talents of silver – guess on cost of horses and chariots, apart from tack and armament for cavalrymen and charioteers
  • 8:1 – ratio of gold to silver in Viking Age, which as a fabulously wild guess, is an approximation of the ratio at time of Solomon
  • 220 talents of gold – wild guess on cost of horses and chariots only
  • 666 talents of gold – annual income apart from trading profits and substantial tribute
  • 4 months – wild guess on number of months of annual income (apart from trading profits and tribute) it would take Solomon to buy replacements for all his chariots and horses (apart from tack and armament for charioteers and cavalrymen)


Other costs for the horses and chariots

Now consider the cost to build 40,000 stalls.

Consider the amount of tack needed to outfit that many horses. Consider the amount of weaponry needed to equip that many cavalrymen.

Oh, glance at the text again to see that Solomon built cities just for the purpose of basing some of his force: check out references to “chariot cities.”

Cost of those assets aren’t quantified in the text.

Next consider the amount of feed that many horses would require and the huge number of groomsmen to keep them fed and healthy.

Then ponder the incredible number of skilled specialists to work with and maintain the chariots. All those craftsmen had to be paid.

Consider the salary to maintain a force of 14,000 cavalrymen and 1,400 charioteers.

The cost to outfit the soldiers and then maintain, supply, and operate a military force that large would have been huge.

Next post: Other indicators of Solomon’s wealth.

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