Cost of soldier and equipment in Ancient and Medieval times

Mrbsct

Ad Honorem
Jul 2013
2,611
USA
#1
What was the cost to train, equip, and pay a soldier in Ancient and Medieval times?

Was the equipment more expensive than the soldier himself?
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,508
#2
What was the cost to train, equip, and pay a soldier in Ancient and Medieval times?

Was the equipment more expensive than the soldier himself?
Depends on how you think about it. A full-time soldier is very expensive especially if supplied with equipment in a monetary economy but most ancient and medieval warriors were supported by agrarian economies where it was the production of state-owned/tribal land that provided the resources for their training, equipment, and upkeep. What were the alternatives for an agrarian economy? Having land partitioned into separate tracts that supplied a warrior class the defended the land using that land's production cost the state little to nothing directly while the opportunity cost is also very low as there aren't very many other useful things that production could be used to provide for- especially if those things could not provide for the state defence.

Most warriors were not full time fighting though so in that sense dedicating large amounts of production to people who rarely used their fighting skills could be seen as a waste of resources even if you think of maintaining a group of skilled warriors more like an extortion racket- the warriors protect from 'other' warriors at the cost of significant part of the production.

Equipment in all ages I know of was relatively cheap compared to the cost of a skilled soldier whose annual wages could afford several sets of equipment. The essential point is that most warriors were probably NOT skilled soldiers and there is a big difference between the value they actually provided vs what their true cost might be.

The most expensive force multiplier for most states were horses and naval ships because both required large steady consumption of resources and periodic update expenses while only supporting a state indirectly in that a horse and a ship still require warriors to be useful. Before the era of sailing naval ships, the cost to feed and supply the rowing crew was the most expensive part of a navy while the replenishment and training of both the horses and the warriors riding them was much more expensive than dedicated infantry.

Looking at horses and men as resources the men came essentially free with a warriors family/caste providing much of his training while a horse has to be bought/bred, fed, trained, and then the warrior riding the horse also trained with many horses not being militarily useful and neither much use for other agrarian activities so the ratio is cavalry typically 3-4x as expensive to support as a single foot warrior with this cost depending heavily on the society in question being agrarian not nomadic or with access to nomadic steppe horses that cost much less relatively compared with turning the production of limited arable lands to the support of horses. Most agrarian societies, for this reason, preferred to rely on outside groups for cavalry as they only had to pay the higher costs for part of the time when there was a higher chance of actual fighting rather than supporting cavalry full time. The obvious drawback is when the people supplying the horses realize they could more profitably attack the agrarian society or even do both things at the same time.

Returning to the point about the difference between 'skilled' soldiers and warriors being essentially anyone willing/able to fight most smaller states relied on militias composed of the citizen/core members of the state/tribe with the ability to provide for the group defence being essential to having much social status within the group. Very few societies could afford or were willing to pay for full-time soldiers even if they could afford it as those soldiers are a direct challenge to the authority of the society rulers if they are not the rulers themselves.

So those groups which lived in a way that developed military skills as part of the lifestyle such as steppe nomads, hill raiders, pirates, and mercenaries seem to repeatedly take over the elite classes of agrarian societies but their hold was often tenuous if they retained their own culture as any other militant group had as much legitimacy in the eyes of the lower classes of the ruled peoples while if the elite adopted the ways of the conquered they usually lost their militancy within a few generations and thus the skills that gained them their status were less than nearby militant groups- that advantage could be partially offset if they intermarried with the lower ranks of their society and grew their numbers proportionately even if each now part-time warrior was less skilled than his ancestors who had gained primacy they were also more numerous than any single nearby competing militant society.

Only in times of division when there was a civil war and cooperation with outside groups by the warrior class of the more populated society or a unification of the numerically smaller militant groups into a cohesive force that while remaining fewer in numbers could make use of their superior military skills to overcome the dominant class of the larger society.
 
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sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,824
Sydney
#3
in pre industrial society , the cost of equipment was directly related to the quantity and quality of its iron gear
Iron is rather expensive to produce and work
if a society has mediocre iron , they go for axes and spear , little metal no good steel
the rich can afford metal armor , the quality depending of their wealth
and above all swords , the ultimate status symbol
 
Sep 2017
635
United States
#4
It probably varied pretty wildly depending on what polity is in question.

For many tribal cultures, such as Native Americans, Gauls, etc., a lot of the manpower and weaponry is going to be more or less "free". What I mean is that their lifestyle necessitates the development of tools and skills for the average person that can translate to warfare. It doesn't take much of a change to go from a hunter to an archer. That's not to say that they didn't also have dedicated warrior classes and more expensive equipment they could utilize and such. But it would be very easy for a large portion of the male population to take up arms in times of war, as most of them would probably be familiar with and have access to basic weapons. And because they generally fought smaller-scale and shorter wars, it wouldn't be a huge resource burden.

Many agrarian societies opted to have citizen militias they could levy, with some also having dedicated warrior classes. I'm not 100% sure if it was standard to pay wages to a militia for as long as it was raised, which would be the biggest cost, as again the citizens provided their own arms and armor and didn't need to go through resource-intensive training by the state. However, agrarian societies tend to fight more long, large-scale wars, and the cost of maintaining an army could grow hugely expensive, mostly due to the cost of logistics.

There were few ancient/medieval states that maintained a standard, professional military at all times. Post-Marian Rome is obviously the poster child for this (I'm not sure how long the Byzantines kept this up or if they switched to a more levy-based system, or something in between). But here the cost is going to be pretty great (indeed, the burden of the army weighed heavy on Rome's coffers). You're paying the troops wages, and unlike a levy which is only fighting when it needs to, must be paid even if they are sitting on their asses on garrison duty. I believe Roman troops still technically 'purchased' their own gear through their wages, but they still would have needed to be paid enough to afford the full set of gear, and when state-run manufactories were created, then the entire weight of gear cost was placed on the state. Standard training is going to cost some as well, as a Roman soldier had to be drilled and put through training on the state's time and money. Add on top of that food and water, which a professional army is going to suck more of than they produce, not to mention a standing navy (which had its own unique costs) and you've got a huge money pit. Needless to say, a Roman soldier was a pretty big investment, not because of his armor or weapon, but because of the training, supplies, and wages he costed. Not only that, but they cost productivity too. A hoplite may farm when he's not out fighting. A professional legionary was a full-time soldier. This, however, was off-set with the fact that the legions could be applied to civil engineering products though, so cost may have been somewhat recuperated with that.
 
Dec 2011
2,071
#5
There were few ancient/medieval states that maintained a standard, professional military at all times. Post-Marian Rome is obviously the poster child for this (I'm not sure how long the Byzantines kept this up or if they switched to a more levy-based system, or something in between). But here the cost is going to be pretty great (indeed, the burden of the army weighed heavy on Rome's coffers). You're paying the troops wages, and unlike a levy which is only fighting when it needs to, must be paid even if they are sitting on their asses on garrison duty. I believe Roman troops still technically 'purchased' their own gear through their wages, but they still would have needed to be paid enough to afford the full set of gear, and when state-run manufactories were created, then the entire weight of gear cost was placed on the state. Standard training is going to cost some as well, as a Roman soldier had to be drilled and put through training on the state's time and money. Add on top of that food and water, which a professional army is going to suck more of than they produce, not to mention a standing navy (which had its own unique costs) and you've got a huge money pit. Needless to say, a Roman soldier was a pretty big investment, not because of his armor or weapon, but because of the training, supplies, and wages he costed. Not only that, but they cost productivity too. A hoplite may farm when he's not out fighting. A professional legionary was a full-time soldier. This, however, was off-set with the fact that the legions could be applied to civil engineering products though, so cost may have been somewhat recuperated with that.
For ancient Rome, we have quite a lot of data about the cost of the military, for example we know how much the soldiers were paid in wages, that there were deductions from wages for such things as "boots and straps", and that the soldiers seem to have done most of the work needed to produce essential equipment, as well as some food. The cost of the standing army is estimated at about 200 million denarii a year (a denarius was the amount a labouring man could expect to be paid for a day's work); to understand the burden of that on society, we need to estimate the GDP, which is not easy, because data is rather lacking, but a rough estimate could be 10 billion denarii, so that puts the cost of the military at about 2% of GDP. One important cost was the substantial grant (5000 denarii) given to every soldier who completed 25 years service. A separate fund was set up for this purpose, funded by a half percent tax on auctions, and also a 5% tax in inheritances. Both of these taxes were much resented by the people in Italy.
 

tomar

Ad Honoris
Jan 2011
12,947
#6
For ancient Rome, we have quite a lot of data about the cost of the military, for example we know how much the soldiers were paid in wages, that there were deductions from wages for such things as "boots and straps", and that the soldiers seem to have done most of the work needed to produce essential equipment, as well as some food. The cost of the standing army is estimated at about 200 million denarii a year (a denarius was the amount a labouring man could expect to be paid for a day's work); to understand the burden of that on society, we need to estimate the GDP, which is not easy, because data is rather lacking, but a rough estimate could be 10 billion denarii, so that puts the cost of the military at about 2% of GDP. One important cost was the substantial grant (5000 denarii) given to every soldier who completed 25 years service. A separate fund was set up for this purpose, funded by a half percent tax on auctions, and also a 5% tax in inheritances. Both of these taxes were much resented by the people in Italy.
Interesting info - thanks

So a laborer could expect to earn around 300 denarii per year (I am assuming here he was able to secure work for himself on an almost full time basis with one day of rest per week)... With the auxiliary forces the roman army peaked at around 700 000 men.... I am not sure if the auxiliaries are included in your 200 million dinarii, but if they are, then basically a soldier cost as much as a laborer... Meaning equipement cost was close to zero. or that the pay was lower than that of laborers
The 5000 denarii grant btw would have been equivalent to almost 20 years of laborer's pay... Not sure what would happen when the soldiers were killed (did their family get this money or part of it ?).... If take your assumption of 25 years of service then normally about 25 000 soldiers and auxiliaries would retire every year, meaning a cost of some 125 million denarii for the grant alone (or roughly half if only soldiers, not auxiliaries, got that)... But I thought part of that was paid in land rather than in cash ?
 
Mar 2019
53
Victoria, Australia
#7
For ancient Rome, we have quite a lot of data about the cost of the military, for example we know how much the soldiers were paid in wages, that there were deductions from wages for such things as "boots and straps", and that the soldiers seem to have done most of the work needed to produce essential equipment, as well as some food. The cost of the standing army is estimated at about 200 million denarii a year (a denarius was the amount a labouring man could expect to be paid for a day's work); to understand the burden of that on society, we need to estimate the GDP, which is not easy, because data is rather lacking, but a rough estimate could be 10 billion denarii, so that puts the cost of the military at about 2% of GDP. One important cost was the substantial grant (5000 denarii) given to every soldier who completed 25 years service. A separate fund was set up for this purpose, funded by a half percent tax on auctions, and also a 5% tax in inheritances. Both of these taxes were much resented by the people in Italy.
Do you have any sources or accounts of this I could look up? Not claiming you're wrong, but merely interested in looking into it further.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
3,824
Sydney
#8
The Denary suffered severely from inflation ,
its silver content declined consistently through Imperial Rome existence
from early empire , Rome couldn't raise enough funds to run it's administration
at first it wasn't too bad , conquests brought plenty of slave labor
by the middle Empire there always was financial problems
 
Dec 2011
2,071
#9
Do you have any sources or accounts of this I could look up? Not claiming you're wrong, but merely interested in looking into it further.
The information comes from various books and it would be hard to list them all. You might start with looking at Tacitus "Annals" 1, 16-49 which details a mutiny by the Roman soldiers who listed the amount of onerous tasks they had to do for only "12 asses a day", which is 3/4 of a denarius. One reason for their protests was that they were not being discharged after their many years of service. Decades later, Domitian increased their pay by 33% (thus making four quarterly payments of 75 denarii).

This Wikipedia article may be of help Economics of the Roman army - Wikipedia

There is a papyrus, from Egypt, of a Roman soldier's pay slip (really a kind of bank statement ), showing his deductions for clothing and food, but I cannot find it on the internet. There is also a recently-found scrap of papyrus for a soldier in Masada, showing that one payment made to him of 50 denarii all went in expenses. This Roman soldier's 1,900-year-old payslip confirms the green weenie is immortal
 
Dec 2011
2,071
#10
Interesting info - thanks

So a laborer could expect to earn around 300 denarii per year (I am assuming here he was able to secure work for himself on an almost full time basis with one day of rest per week)... With the auxiliary forces the roman army peaked at around 700 000 men.... I am not sure if the auxiliaries are included in your 200 million dinarii, but if they are, then basically a soldier cost as much as a laborer... Meaning equipement cost was close to zero. or that the pay was lower than that of laborers
The 5000 denarii grant btw would have been equivalent to almost 20 years of laborer's pay... Not sure what would happen when the soldiers were killed (did their family get this money or part of it ?).... If take your assumption of 25 years of service then normally about 25 000 soldiers and auxiliaries would retire every year, meaning a cost of some 125 million denarii for the grant alone (or roughly half if only soldiers, not auxiliaries, got that)... But I thought part of that was paid in land rather than in cash ?
From what I have read I think that the figure of 700,000 is considerably too high, it was more like half a million.

I have read that the grant of 5000 denarii was paid in cash or in kind. The fund to finance this was the aerarium militare, established by Augustus. I can well believe that the grant was paid in kind, and some soldiers got a piece of land at a location they didn't want - there is evidence that soldiers who had completed service were subject to being called up in times of emergency. I think that most soldiers wouldn't have got the grant anyway, as they would have died before completing service (2 extent bronze plaques from Germany lists soldiers given grants on discharge, there are remarkably few on the lists). The terms of service disallowed marriage, and that implies to me that there wouldn't be any obligation to make payment to anyone in respect of deceased soldiers.
 

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