More data points on pay for Roman Legionnaires

Roman soldiers in Testudo, or turtle, formation. If you lived 1000 years ago and happened to see one of these moving in your direction, you were about to have a very bad day. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.
Roman soldier reenactors in Testudo, or turtle, formation. If you lived 2000 years ago and happened to see one of these moving in your direction, you were about to have a very bad day. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

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.

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)

Sestertius article from Wikipedia

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.

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Travel time and cost in the Roman Empire

Stanford has an awesome site that shows time and cost to travel in the Roman Empire. You can find it at

ORBIS – The Stanford Geosptial Network Model of the Roman World

If you’ve read my blogs for a while, you know I am a member of the Protestant tradition of the Christian faith community.  As a result, the Roman Empire is of interest, since that was the occupying power in Israel during the New Testament period.

You also know I am interested the impact of technology on the cost of everything, including travel.

You can only imagine what a delight it is to find a web site that overlaps travel costs and the Roman Empire.

Here is a description of ORBIS from its website:

Spanning one-ninth of the earth’s circumference across three continents, the Roman Empire ruled a quarter of humanity through complex networks of political power, military domination and economic exchange. These extensive connections were sustained by premodern transportation and communication technologies that relied on energy generated by human and animal bodies, winds, and currents.

Conventional maps that represent this world as it appears from space signally fail to capture the severe environmental constraints that governed the flows of people, goods and information. Cost, rather than distance, is the principal determinant of connectivity.

For the first time, ORBIS allows us to express Roman communication costs in terms of both time and expense. By simulating movement along the principal routes of the Roman road network, the main navigable rivers, and hundreds of sea routes in the Mediterranean, Black Sea and coastal Atlantic, this interactive model reconstructs the duration and financial cost of travel in antiquity.

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Roman denarius

Silver Roman denarius. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.
Silver Roman denarius. Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Let’s take a look at the Roman Denarius. I’ve taken an interest in ancient currency and monetary issues lately, particularly as it give some insight into biblical times.

So, you can go along with me on the journey, if you wish. As a simple start, let’s look again at Wikipedia. Took a previous look at the Denarius here and here.

From about 200 BC until about 64 AD the Roman Denarius was about 3.9 grams, at 95% or 98% purity.

There is a comment that Tiberius slowly increased the fineness to 97.5% to 98%.  Tiberius accumulated a hoard of 675 million denarii.

Nero, who reigned from 37 AD through 68 AD debased the gold aureus from 8.18 grams of gold to 7.27 grams.

Article says 25 silver denarii are equal to 1 gold aureus.

How much was a denarius worth?

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A long time ago, accounting supervisors really were slave drivers.

You think you have a rough boss….

Jacob Soll explains in his book, The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations, that in ancient Athens, around 500 years B.C. accounting and auditing was an integral part of the business and political world.

(Cross post from Nonprofit Update.)

There were complex accounting systems that included public audits to create accountability. There were a number of staff working for the public treasurer to keep an eye on funds. Many people, including freemen and slaves were trained in accounting. However,

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More ideas on the wealth in the Roman treasury back in 49 B.C.

Gold Roman aureus coin of Roman emperor Trajan. Photo courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com
Gold Roman aureus coin of Roman emperor Trajan. Photo courtesy of DollarPhotoClub.com

A while back I discussed a comment I read saying that when Caesar crossed the Rubicon, the Roman treasury held 17,410 pounds of gold, 22,070 pounds of silver and 6,135,400 sesterces.

I made a bunch of wild assumptions and estimated that volume of precious metals would be worth about $361M at today’s market prices.

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)

See my post How much wealth was in the Roman treasury in 49 B.C.? How about annual tax revenue under Augustus?  I’m going to cross-post this discussion and that previous post to my other blog, Outrun Change.

A reader, Caleb, has expanded the discussion by indicating he thinks the value of gold was dramatically higher back then in relative terms that it is today. He estimates gold was around $7,000 an ounce in today’s dollars. See his comments at the above post for further explanation.

I enjoyed his comments so much I decided to create new post in order to extend the discussion.

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How much wealth was in the Roman treasury in 49 B.C.? How about annual tax revenue under Augustus?

Hadn’t thought about that question too much, but when Jacob Soll mentioned it in his book, The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations, it got me thinking.

He gives the following info:

In his Natural History, Pliny states that in 49 BCE , the year Caesar crossed the Rubicon, the Roman treasury contained 17,410 pounds of gold, 22,070 pounds of silver, and in coin, 6,135,400 sesterces.

Soll, Jacob (2014-04-29). The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Rise and Fall of Nations (Kindle Locations 276-277). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

I don’t think in terms of pounds of gold or silver and I don’t know what a sesterce is or what it is worth. But I do know how to search the ‘net.

(Cross post from Attestation Update.)

I share this on my Nonprofit Update blog and cross-post it here at Attestation Update because I enjoyed it and think it might be some fun trivia for accountants and people working in the faith-based community.

By the way, Prof Soll’s book is superb. Just got started reading it and think I will find lots of little tidbits to share. More on that idea in my next post.

How much is that worth?

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