Translated with the sanction of the author by William Purdie Dickson
Prices of Italian Corn
The effects of this system are clearly evident. A year of extraordinary fertility like 504--when the people of the capital paid for 6 Roman -modii- (1 1/2 bush.) of spelt not more than 3/5 of a -denarius- (about 5 pence), and at the same price there were sold 180 Roman pounds (a pound = 11 oz.) of dried figs, 60 pounds of oil, 72 pounds of meat, and 6 -congii- (= 4 1/2 gallons) of wine--is scarcely by reason of its very singularity to be taken into account; but other facts speak more distinctly. Even in Cato's time Sicily was called the granary of Rome.
In productive years Sicilian and Sardinian corn was disposed of in the Italian ports for the freight. In the richest corn districts of the peninsula--the modern Romagna and Lombardy --during the time of Polybius victuals and lodgings in an inn cost on an average half an -as- (1/3 pence) per day; a bushel and a half of wheat was there worth half a -denarius- (4 pence). The latter average price, about the twelfth part of the normal price elsewhere,(11) shows with indisputable clearness that the producers of grain in Italy were wholly destitute of a market for their produce, and in consequence corn and corn-land there were almost valueless.
11. The medium price of grain in the capital may be assumed at least for the seventh and eighth centuries of Rome at one -denarius- for the Roman -modius-, or 2 shillings 8 pence per bushel of wheat, for which there is now paid (according to the average of the prices in the provinces of Brandenburg and Pomerania from 1816 to 1841) about 3 shillings 5 pence. Whether this not very considerable difference between the Roman and the modern prices depends on a rise in the value of corn or on a fall in the value of silver, can hardly be decided.
It is very doubtful, perhaps, whether in the Rome of this and of later times the prices of corn really fluctuated more than is the case in modern times. If we compare prices like those quoted above, of 4 pence and 5 pence for the bushel and a half, with those of the worst times of war-dearth and famine--such as in the second Punic war when the same quantity rose to 9 shillings 7 pence (1 -medimnus- = 15 -- drachmae--; Polyb. ix. 44), in the civil war to 19 shillings 2 pence (1 -modius- = 5 -denarii-; Cic. Verr. iii. 92, 214), in the great dearth under Augustus, even to 21 shillings 3 pence (5 -modii- =27 1/2 -denarii-; Euseb. Chron. p. Chr. 7, Scal.)--the difference is indeed immense; but such extreme cases are but little instructive, and might in either direction be found recurring under the like conditions at the present day.
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