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Romans Valued Silver @ £730 An Ounce

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If short termism is getting you down, try viewing tonight's installment of "A History of Celtic Britain" from 17 minutes in.

You'll see Neil Oliver handling a Roman silver denarius from the second century AD. He says at the time it would have been worth £100 in today's money. Before it became debased by addition of base metal, it contained just 4.5 grams of silver. You'd need about 7.3 of these to make a troy ounce of silver. That means the Romans would have valued an ounce of silver at about £730. At the time there were about 3 million people in Britain. Today there are 61 million. Doubtless there is more silver above ground today, but then again, there are many, many more people.

Another way to look at this. That coin is a little larger than a gold half sovereign (3.7g). Today a gold half sovereign sells for about £112 - roughly the value the romans would have ascribed to the same weight of silver. Yet gold is today valued at 30 times silver. If Romans attributed a similar multiple, half sovereigns would be worth £3000 a piece to a Roman form the second century.

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So silver's lost over 95% of its value since the Romans? if short termism is getting us down then long termism is even worse!

And I thought my glass was half empty! :D

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The Westerklief Silverhoard was the first evidence that Vikingen appreciated this as well, and more than that, decided to permanently settle on Wieringen. The silver hoard, containing Carolingian and Arab coins, bracelets and silver ingots, was probably buried in a turned cookingpot by a Danish viking in the ninth century.

Amateur archeologists found the hoard with help of metal detectors. aldetector.

In total silver objects and coins with a combined weight of 1.7 kgs were found, most of this still in the pot they were originally buried in. For a detailed description of the hoard, see this separate page.

The value of the silver hoard was large, even in those days. The silver would buy you a large farm, with lifestock and serfs. It is hard to make any concrete statements regarding the origin of the treasure. We know quite precisely what the different objects are, but why they were put together in a pot and buried will probably remain a riddle.



There were a few other ways that people may end up as slaves, other than as prisoners of war: the Old English term wite þeow refers to penal enslavement i.e. a punishment of a court for crime. Some families who had become bankrupt may sell their children, or even themselves to ensure survival, and in some cases they were allowed to earn money to redeem themselves, and repay their price or debt. Such slaves were termed nidþeowas.

One source quotes the price of slaves as 306 grams of silver (male) and 204 grams (female). Those prices are the equivalent today of approximately £3950 & £2630. How that would compare with engaging a paid servant and keeping them in food and accommodation over the same period I do not know. Another 10th century source (the agreement between Anglo Saxons and the Celtic Dunsæte tribe) puts the price of a slave at £1 of silver, compared to £1.50 of silver for a horse, as a comparison. However, some manumissions indicate a half pound in weight of silver as the going rate for a slave’s freedom



Around 40Kg of silver was found, making Curedale by far the largest hoard of Viking Age silver ever found in north-west Europe.... The equivalent value of the hoard has been estimated at around £300,000 in modern terms (Graham-Campbell 1987), which makes it improbable that it represents the personal treasury of an individual or family. It is consistant with the pay of a war band, as as frequently been asserted in the past.



Judas received money (30 pieces of silver) (Matthew 26:14-16) for betraying Jesus and told the guards that whomever he kisses is the one they are to arrest.


In New Testament times, the shekel was the value of about four drachmas (a Greek coin) or four denarii (a Roman coin). It would be in weight a little less than half an ounce of silver. It's value as currency would be the common wages for a laboring man for four days, or in today's value perhaps around $400 to $500.

The thirty pieces of silver, then, would be worth around $12,000 to $15,000 in today's sum.



The Shapwick Coin Hoard

Whilst metal detecting at Shapwick, Somerset, in September 1998, cousins Martin and Kevin Elliott discovered the largest hoard of Roman silver denarii ever found in Britain. Excavation of the findspot by Somerset County Council archaeologists established that the 9,238 coins had been buried in the corner of a room of a previously unknown Roman building. Subsequent fieldwalking, geophysical survey by English Heritage and excavation revealed the room to be part of a courtyard villa.

The hoard represented a very considerable sum of money in the early 3rd century - the equivalent of ten years pay for a Roman legionary. Who buried the coins and why they were not retrieved will never be known.



FIND: Hunters have already recovered 17 tons of 17th-century gold and silver coins from the wreck - codenamed the Black Swan - worth at least £250million

...The bullion had been put aside to pay for Spain's 30,000 strong army, which were stationed at the time in Flanders...

...The loss of the treasure made headlines. Back in 1641, the ship;s hold was equivalent to one-third of the national exchequer.



A MILLION ancient silver coins - the second-largest hoard ever found - is likely to be melted down to make tourist trinkets because nobody wants to buy them. The impending destruction will be one of the largest antiquities scandals the world has ever seen.

News is trickling out of Afghanistan of a vast amount of silver and gold treasure that has been discovered by tribesmen, 55 miles south of the Afghan capital Kabul.

It is understood that it consists of three tonnes of mainly silver coins, and 100 kilos of solid gold plates and jewellery. Whereas merchants and dealers have had no trouble in selling the gold items, the silver coins are proving impossible to dispose of.



Have fun working out the price per troy ounce on some of those extracts. Who said history and maths was boring?

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