Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Back and Blathering about Bullion !

I’m back from vacation ! Six days lounging around a pool with refreshing beverages friends and family was great ! Okay, lets finish up money.

My idea is that money types tend to correspond with what they buy. Cheap stuff needs cheap coins, expensive stuff needs high value coinage. In the first case, providing change is a real issue if you have gold coins, and in the second, gathering a wagon of small value coins is the issue.

So, it occurs to me that the money can be broadly assumed to relate to broad categories of goods. I have four categories of money based on roman(esque) values, and they correspond to Gold, Silver, bronze(or Small silver ) and copper. All are to some extent adulterated (thus the concept of intrinsic value: money is circulated at greater than its precious content), and interestingly, with non-debased money (in which the precious content is what it always has been and is well known), a low ratio of precious to base content is much more tolerable in the least valueable currency. This is because a base coin of low value is close to the everyday purchase lots of the cheapest and most basic goods – which allows less cheap currency required to circulate as change. If this seems odd, consider that at the fringes of the roman empire, inflation often occurred as a result of a lack of low value coinage –as it became harder to make change, merchants raised prices to avoid hassle and legal issues regarding value for cost and change. In many cases, this was because the local army was the main source of coinage, and they were notorious for paying in the highest coinage possible to save on transport. So one needs lots of tiny coins, or the historical solution of cutting coins –which makes their value less precise, and thus less desirable than uncut coins, which also contributes to inflation via devaluation. But enough of that.

Four categories, four coin families: Each coin family is based on one of the four(copper As, bronze Sestercii, silver Denarius, gold Solidus). Each of the categories had coinage running from ¼ to 4x the base coin to allow change and higher value purchases within the associated type of goods. As Silver, Bronze and copper follow a 4:1 progression, the smallest Denarii based coin(a ¼ d in silver ) is equal to the largest sestercii based coin(4 sestercii bronze); in general, the physically larger coin is preferred by consumers and small merchants as it is hard to lose or swipe, so these “bottom edge coins” ¼ silver, ¼ bronze are generally rarer and replaced by the largest issue of the next lowest based coinage.

Okay, so heres the jump: I'm going to assume that each family of coin has an associated social class that uses it day to day –with bigger purchases coming from the next coin family up. For my own dogheaded purposes, I’ll specify that Copper = poor; Bronze = getting by; Silver = well to do, Gold =wealthy.

Remember too, that 1 Solidus = 25 Denarii =100 sesterci =400 As.

Unlike the lesser metal coins, the jump to Gold is 25:1, which, to me, suggests that there is natural division in goods when the gold items are considered. Most people, even peasants, could buy things on the bottom three groupings, even if they had to save for it –and often, even if they could, they wouldn't bother, simply because while a sword is affordable, its about the same cost as another donkey or a couple of goats, and which is more useful day in and out to a dirt farmer? Gold stuff is a major investment for the Silver classes, and has to have immediate use. A basic riding horse may cost the same as a milk cow, but there is no return for a farmer on his gold, whereas a the milk cow is a productive asset –and one which might only be replaced (or added to) every few years. So, such a purchase is a huge hardship for the bronze classes, and unreachable for the copper.
Thus, Gold items, are the items that would bankrupt most people. And when I say most people, it's probably worth pointing out that something like 90% of most preindustrial populations are either rural farmers or laboring poor in the cities –the ones using copper and bronze day to day. ; The well to do and up were very small portions of the population:. In fact, looking at the gold/copper ratio, assuming about 400 poor subsistance farmers or labourors (copper class)to 1 wealthy farmer or merchant (gold class) is a pretty good approximation of preindustrial demographics; as is 1 rich bugger for every 25 well off merchants(silver) or farm owners to 100 "getting by" workers and small/sharecrop farmers (bronze) to 400 peasants/working poor labor or slaves(copper). Interesting, that.

So, looking at actual prices for Stuff (loosely defined) mainly usiong classical sources, but filling in with byzantine and early medieval prices, here seems to be the categories of coins and what they buy.

Witin each category, the prices range from about 1/2 to double or triple the basic coins, with really cheap items (due to quality or quantity) out to 1/4 to 4x.

Copper/As: unprepared bulk foodstuffs, usually grains. Minimally prepared food (bread,small beer, poor wine) cheapest household goods. day rates for odd jobs by children, slaves, beggars and the destitue or refugees ("here child take this note to that tavern", "okay, sweep the crossing ahead of me"); often a day rate at this level is the value of any dole or relief provided by a guild, church, city or state , delivered in basic grain or bread.

Bronze/small silver/Sestercii; basic prepared food (sizzling weasel-on-a-stick), raw bulk meat, base metal household tools; basic furnishing; non metal weapons (bow, staff,club; common mostly wood weapons (spear, javelin) and shields.. Cheapest food animals (chickens); base living rent; good drink (wine, ale). Day wage for working poor/grunt labor. ("you diggum heap big hole here, throw in much dung from big stink pile there, clean floor under pile much hurry hurry !")

Silver/Denarii: Tools, most metal weapons, clothing*, sit down meal, small food animals (pig, goat, sheep) or base draft animals (oxen in some periods draft horses in another); cheapest owned housing ; good versions of Bronze coin items. Snob drinks. day wage for basic worker, multiples for specialists (carpenter =2x, Jeweler 3x) or basic thug guard(1-3x). In general, Legionaires were paid some where between a basic and specialist depending on the political climate; elites were often paid 2-4x more.

Gold/Solidii; large livestock (Ox, Cow), riding horses, land , Armor**; good quality silver coin items Snob foods. Day rate for Senior Officers/Knights/Experts (architect; fashionable sculptor; high civil service)

* Clothing is surprisingly expensive seen through modern eyes. The material is farmed, but replaces food acreage (as cotton, flax or wool sheep, say) and requires lots of hand labor (spinning by a distaff is a lifetime 24/7 hobby). Both boost the prices, especially in communities with very little excess agricultural land.

** Armor is interesting, and more expensive than D&D would suggest when compared to cost of living. Two interesting constants I found were that a cheap or basic sword cost about the same as a small pack or draft animal, and mail armor cost about 4x a sword. A helmet cost 1/2 sword, as did a set of metal grieves. shields were cheap, as were spears. Bows, too, relative to mainly metal items.

Next up and last:

The actual frikkin price list based on the above.

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