How is the wealth level of Ancient/Mediaeval states calculated/compared

#1
Does anyone know how is the wealth level of ancient and medieval states calculated? how would one compare then the wealth level of one ancient state to another to see who was "richer" and "poorer" ? For example what would the Roman annual revenue be and how would that compare to the Parthians or Egyptians around the year 100BC?
 

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,814
Blachernai
#2
You can't. It's apples to oranges. Annual revenues are not a particularly good measure in the pre-modern world because even in what we might consider to be an "advanced" pre-modern economy like Rome's, only a small section of the economy was fully monetized. You could think about land under cultivation, but that quickly runs into problems of demography and levels of production. We can estimate, for example, that in ca. 700 the Umayyad Caliphate had much greater wealth than the remainder of the eastern Roman Empire because we know that they controlled a number of intensely-populated zones like the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates valleys, as well as metal resources in the Caucasus and Egypt. But we can't say much more. You could probably do something with, say, the Italian merchant republics in the later middle ages, since their economies were highly monetized and we have a fair bit of documentation. But I'm not sure how one would approach an entity like the late medieval Kingdom of England, which despite having excellent records, is still overwhelmingly agrarian.
 
#3
Then why do I find all these books measuring wealth of ancient states by looking at their treasury and then trying to calculate what they would be to modern money? That I always feel may not be accurate for numerous things like bartering instead of using money or corvee labour
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,070
Dispargum
#4
If you wanted to compare the power of Rome, Parthia, and Egypt in 100 BCE you could count the number of men in each army, the number of ships in each navy, etc.

The OP is describing quantitative analysis - how much? You might try qualitative analysis - what kind? Who has the strongest economy? Who has the most trade? Who has the highest level of technology? Who has the most fragile economy (a country too dependent on overseas trade is vulnerable to naval attack or embargo)? Who has the most diverse economy? Who has the most effective and efficient tax system?
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,070
Dispargum
#5
Then why do I find all these books measuring wealth of ancient states by looking at their treasury and then trying to calculate what they would be to modern money? That I always feel may not be accurate for numerous things like bartering instead of using money or corvee labour
Because we live in quantitative times. We are expected to measure everything. So people try to measure even things that can't be measured.
 
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Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,614
#7
Guesstimates.

There is really no way to conclusively prove anything but historical economists tend to weight some things to get comparative factors.

Average house sizes(income per capita), trade goods dispersal(exports), agricultural production (GDP), standing army (size of economy), reported wages of free unskilled labor in grain and similar stuff.

Very few ancient economies and even up until the 18th century are records good enough to make real comparative measures so really there are only a handful of states that have re-occurring attempts to compare. Republican Rome, Han China, Byzantines, Ayyubids, Tang, Italian maritime republics, medieval England, a few others.

There are also several factors that some states had for a time but lost or are very difficult to measure such as the silver mines of Athens, the gold mines of medieval Hungary, the salt mines of the Habsburgs, the dye of Phoenicia, the spices of India, the silk of China, the floodplains of the Nile, etc. Basically rare or consumable resources that contemporary states lacked or that made central government which had a monopoly on that resource inordinately powerful compared to the similarity in all other factors as having silver monopoly where the state can basically print money (while the mines are running) means the state not only gets direct coinage but does not have to spend in collecting coins and also can make infrastructure and military investments at a much greater rate than other similar states.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,070
Dispargum
#8
An economy is how society turns raw materials into consumable goods and services. So who can produce the most goods and services? Who has access to the most goods and services (through trade for instance)? Who can produce goods and services most efficiently? Corruption, inflation, and unemployment are all symptoms of inefficiency - resources being wasted. Is wealth being fairly distributed (do the poor accept that they are getting their fair share or do they feel that the system is rigged against them and are unlikely to support the state in a crisis)? Are there any key or strategic resources that the economy lacks? If one these three economies can not access iron, they will have difficulty producing weapons. Quality of horses will impact the kind of cavalry a country can have, etc.
 
#9
Guesstimates.

There is really no way to conclusively prove anything but historical economists tend to weight some things to get comparative factors.

Average house sizes(income per capita), trade goods dispersal(exports), agricultural production (GDP), standing army (size of economy), reported wages of free unskilled labor in grain and similar stuff.

Very few ancient economies and even up until the 18th century are records good enough to make real comparative measures so really there are only a handful of states that have re-occurring attempts to compare. Republican Rome, Han China, Byzantines, Ayyubids, Tang, Italian maritime republics, medieval England, a few others.

There are also several factors that some states had for a time but lost or are very difficult to measure such as the silver mines of Athens, the gold mines of medieval Hungary, the salt mines of the Habsburgs, the dye of Phoenicia, the spices of India, the silk of China, the floodplains of the Nile, etc. Basically rare or consumable resources that contemporary states lacked or that made central government which had a monopoly on that resource inordinately powerful compared to the similarity in all other factors as having silver monopoly where the state can basically print money (while the mines are running) means the state not only gets direct coinage but does not have to spend in collecting coins and also can make infrastructure and military investments at a much greater rate than other similar states.

Has anyone ever tried to do that with the "barbarian" tribes like the Huns or Goths?
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,614
#10
Has anyone ever tried to do that with the "barbarian" tribes like the Huns or Goths?
For the Huns there are definitely some academic guesses but no one really takes it seriously because Huns are acknowledged to be a shifting tribal confederation with various Goth tribes participating and the numbers involved even in one of the major invasions are bound to generate massive disagreements with valid points on both sides. Usually the commonly accepted method is upper and lower bounds that are fairly generous.
 
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