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My question is simple, "what was the value of a thousand talents in Roman Palestine about AD 33?"

It is my impression that a thousand talents would have been a vast amount of wealth for that time. Is that correct?

Added 2021-04-15:

And just for fun, here is a link to a similar question on Medieval England:

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  • One thousand Talents was the amount wagered by Sheik IIderim, at 4 to 1 odds, that Judah Ben Hur would beat Messala at the Circus in the chariot race in the movie " Ben Hur." Dec 13, 2020 at 14:38
  • The value of 1,000 talents was whatever it would buy. There is no international standard of value; unlike kilograms, there is no international standard of value. That said, your second paragraph is the right question.
    – MCW
    Dec 13, 2020 at 18:55
  • @Tim Whiteside Ben-hur is why I asked the question.
    – MAGolding
    Apr 15, 2021 at 18:22
  • If you're curious, the "membership dues" (more appropriately, the tribute to Athens) owed by each city in the Delian League was expressed in talents. Look those amounts up to get a sense of scale.
    – C Monsour
    Apr 15, 2021 at 18:26
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    Since "Talents" is an unit of weight rather than value, then this question asks for clarification "of what": 1000 talents of gold has a different value (a few billions $) than 1000 talents of rye grain (probably in the ballpark of thousands of $) or 1000 talents of sand (worth probably nothing).
    – Yasskier
    Apr 18, 2021 at 22:20

2 Answers 2

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Yes, it was an enormous amount of money. Wikipedia tells us a talent was the weight of a man (or roughly 50 kg) in gold. It also states that 6000 talents, which is the bribe paid by king Auletes of Egypt to become king of Egypt to Julius Caesar, was worth $8,400,699,422.80 today. So 1000 talents would be well over a billion dollars today.

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    6000 talents would correspond to about 300 tons of gold. I don't think there even was that much gold in existence in nice gold bars in the time of the Roman empire. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_metallurgy puts the annual production of the Roman empire at 9 tons.
    – quarague
    Feb 11, 2020 at 14:46
  • True, but this goes for our economy as well. I doubt very much if even 20% of our currency can be converted into real gold. Probably a lot less.
    – Jos
    Feb 11, 2020 at 23:49
  • Today that amount of gold would be at least possible. For example Fort Knox holds 4500 tons of gold, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Bullion_Depository. So 300 tons of gold is a quantity that could at least in theory be paid or transferred. Only a tiny proprotion of money in circulation could be converted to gold (much smaller than 20%, I would guess more like 0.1%) but that is a different question.
    – quarague
    Feb 12, 2020 at 7:52
  • Wikipedia isn't an economic historian. Jun 19 at 12:16
  • @SamuelRussell Nope, it's a community run encyclopedia. Which means that you can improve economic history articles there.
    – Jos
    Jun 20 at 0:31
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My question is simple, "what was the value of a thousand talents in Roman Palestine about AD 33?"

Assuming Roman measurements used between 200 BC to 64 AD:

  • 32,745.26415 Kilos of silver
    • € 21,739,908.32 / US$ 22,824,431.47
      • 1 Kilo: € 663.91 / US$ 697.03 (2022-06-18)

When not explicidly stated otherwise, Talent and Minae were based on silver and not gold.

Supposedly a gold Talent was equal to 4 silver Talents. (I found only one source that made this claim)

It is my impression that a thousand talents would have been a vast amount of wealth for that time. Is that correct?

Marcus Licinius Crassus (political and financial patron of Julius Caesar) was considered one of the most wealthiest persons in Roman history with 7100 talents when he died in 53BC.

That would be 232,491.375465 Kilos of silver (or € 154,353,349.08 / US$ 162,053,463.44) based on the Roman measurements of the time.


The Ancient Drachma / Minae / Talent

Attic talents

The ancient monetary system was based on silver as the coinage metal and a mass unit talent (first introduced in Mesopotamia), which was divided into 60 minaes. Some cities minted 100 silver drachmas from a minae, others 50 staters.

  • 1 Drachma
    • 4.5g to 6g
  • 1 Minae = 100 Drachma
    • 450g to 600g
  • 1 Talent = 60 Minae = 6000 Drachma
    • 27 Kilo to 36 Kilo

Denarius / Libra / Mina / Talent (Roman)

  • 211 BC to 200 BC
    • denarius 1/72 silver (4.5479534 g)
    • libra = 72 denarii (327.4526415 g)
    • mina = 100 denarii (454.79534 g)
    • talent = 6000 denarii (27287.7204 g)
  • 200 BC to 64 AD
    • denarius 1/84 silver (3.8982457 g)
    • libra = 84 denarii (327.4526415 g)
      • 96 Roman Drachme (each 3.4109650156g)
    • mina = 112 denarii (436.603522g)
      • 128 Roman Drachme
    • talent = 100 libra = 8400 denarii (32745.26415g)

Note: 6165 Paris grains = libra (heavy libra)


Sources:

A Roman talent (divided into 100 librae) was 1+⅓ Attic talents,

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    most wealthest -> wealthiest. Given that a talent is at best specifiable to the nearest kilogram (with the silver-based Attic talent often pegged at ~26 kg; see, for example, Encyclopedia Britannica, Wikipedia, and William W. Goodwin, "The Value of the Attic Talent in Modern Money," Transactions of the American Philological Association, Vol. 16 (1885), pp. 116-119), carrying extensive decimal fractions seems unnecessary and confusing.
    – njuffa
    Jun 18 at 20:13
  • Using contemporary prices for weights of silver doesn't indicate the social or economic function of talents in ancient society. Jun 19 at 12:17
  • @SamuelRussell No, but showing that the 1000 Talents is 14% of the sum of the wealthiest person in Roman history does. Also the € 21 Million does show that the sum, today, is a 'vast amount of wealth' which is what the OP is asking about. Jun 19 at 12:50
  • @njuffa It may be confusing for you, but not for those looking for reliable, precise, numbers that can be used for calculations. Even in the 19th century 8-9 digets were comnon in laws and professional publications. Jun 19 at 13:00
  • @Mark Johnson Stating the mass of, say, a talent as 32745.26415g is an example of false precision. How many digits of that are significant digits?
    – njuffa
    Jun 19 at 17:46

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