Thomas Tooke

Early Mining of Silver in Spain, price of a Calf in Silver 200 BC.

In Bullion and Mining, Commodities on April 23, 2012 at 11:24 pm

In his book “Histories” Polybius  reports a while ago (220–146 BC) the following:


There are very large silver mines about twenty stades from New Carthage, extending to a circuit of four hundred stades, in which forty thousand men are continually employed, who produce for the benefit of the Roman people twenty-five thousand drachmae a day. It would take too long to describe the whole process of working them, but I may mention that the alluvial soil containing the silver ore is first broken up, and sifted in sieves held in water; that then the deposit is again broken, and being again filtered with running water, is broken a third time. This is done five times; the fifth deposit is smelted, and, the lead having been run off, pure silver remains…


The translation dates back from 1889, and the author had the intelligence to translate the series of weight to the weight at the time to have an idea of  the prices.

Our blogger Polybius writes:

“In Lusitania (roughly today´s portugal), both animals and man are extraordinarily productive, owing to the excellent temperature of the air; the fruits never wither; there is not more than three months in the year in which roses, white violets (or gilly-flowers), and aspargus do not grow; while the fish caught in its sea is far superior to what is found in our waters (Mediterranean Sea) for quantity, quality and beauty. There, too of a Sicilian medimmus of barley is sold for a drachma, and one of wheat for nine Alexandrine obols. A metreta of wine costs a drachma, and a good kid or hare an obol, and a lamb from three to four obols; a fat pig weighing a hundred minae costs five drachmae, and sheep two. A talent of figs is sold for three obols, a calf for five drachmae, a draught-ox for ten. The flesh of wild animals is not thought worth fixing a price upon at all, but the people give it to each other for nothing and as a present…

A price of a Calf was about 3/4 of oz of Silver. Today the price of Calf Received according to this source, is 185 USD.


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