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Q: Historical price of a basic meal, going back to antiquity ( No Answer,   1 Comment )
Subject: Historical price of a basic meal, going back to antiquity
Category: Business and Money > Economics
Asked by: ckent-ga
List Price: $55.00
Posted: 30 Nov 2006 04:09 PST
Expires: 30 Dec 2006 04:09 PST
Question ID: 786943
This question draws its inspiration from the "Big Mac Index", though
it may more accurately be parallel to an index of "value meal" prices.

What are the historical prices for a typical, basic meal purchased
under the US Dollar, UK Pound, and other world-leading currencies
going back to antiquity?  I want to go back at least 2,000 years, so I
think I want whatever were the largest civilisations' currencies in
the middle ages, dark ages, Roman empire, and ancient Greece.  I don't
know if it's possible to go back as far as Sumeria.  Ancient eastern
civilisations would be nice to have.

The exact item(s) to be priced is best determined by the researcher. 
Consistency over time is the main determinant.  If McDonalds existed
more than a few decades, then a burger, small fries and small drink
would be the ideal example.  There are three main constraints:  Food
with drink;  enough nutrition for a few hours to count as a major
meal;  low price, so that anyone not in poverty can buy it regularly
(however, see below).

The constitution of the "meal" may change over time, within reason, to
allow for historical change.  In fact it probably will.

It may be possible to identify a single item that many people have
eaten or drunk for centuries (coffee? beer? wine?) and it may even be
remarkably similar over that period.  I doubt any one item can cover
2,000 or 3,000 years, but if something covers several centuries, it
may make for an interesting additional answer, next to the central

Some liberties may need to be taken to allow for changing trends in
the levels of self-preparation that have occurred over time.  This
does not just include paying others to cook, but also includes paying
others to bake the bread, which most people have usually done in
western civilisation for decades.  Paying others to grow the food was
also common, once, but no longer.

However there will always need to be a price attached, so if a meal
cannot be sold, it probably cannot be included.  This may well change
the constraint about which class of society can afford to buy it, and
if lower classes need to be excluded during certain points in history,
then this is okay -- but a better answer will mention this caveat.

I am aware that prices vary within the countries, and that various
countries will use one currency.  Only one country per currency is
required.  Within a country, only one value is required, as it is not
as necessary to achieve high accuracy as it is to identify a trend
over time.  An average value may be derived, or failing that, a single
measurement may be acceptable.  A good answer will take a sensible
approach, perhaps sampling the largest population center.

The answers can come in a table of numbers, or more likely a bunch of
tables.  I don't need graphs.  Each table should have at least one
currency, time period, and meal price.

An acceptable answer will have some kind of continuity through history
(assuming this is possible), from the Euro to the Romans.  Of course I
expect to see currencies begin and end through history, such as the
two or three German ones last century.

An acceptable answer will identify updates to currencies when
governments changed them.  This would include decimilization, but also
probably invasions and independence.

The maximum detail I need is one data point per year (I don't know the
economic convention for settling on a yearly value ... January 1st? 
Averaging?)  Naturally, the further back you go, the less frequent the
data will be.  Best estimates are perfectly fine.  Anything is better than nothing.

Finally is the question of exactly which currencies to include.  I am
not sure, and I am also not sure if this question is worth a higher
price:  Please tell me if there is more information I should pay more
for.  The background expectation is to see those currencies that are
reported regularly in the news, such as US, UK, Euro and Japan.  So
five at any one time is probably enough.  I expect the maximum number
will probably impose itself, depending on which period of history is
being measured.

I will give a $10 tip if you can include all Australian currency
(dollar, pound, anything earlier which is colony-based) back to 1788.

I will probably tip if there is a chunk of tangential but interesting
related information provided that didn't occur to me to ask for.

Please be aware that I am asking four other follow-up questions to do
with the historical price of gold and other items.

Clarification of Question by ckent-ga on 02 Dec 2006 05:02 PST
By second-guessing all the clarifications, this looks too complicated.
Once per century will be fine.

All I basically want to get is:

"In the 19th century it cost $$$$$ ..."
"In the 18th century it cost  ..."
"In the 17th century it cost  ..."

That's it.
There is no answer at this time.

Subject: Re: Historical price of a basic meal, going back to antiquity
From: acorn-ga on 20 Dec 2006 08:04 PST
I have to admit that, when I read this question, I thought "what an
interesting possible doctoral dissertation topic" because of the
massive scope of it.

But there's really no way to provide you with the answers you're
looking for without enormous research, even if you were offering a
*lot* more than $55.

Rather than asking for all the data you did over such a wide swath and
wanting currency changes documented and all that extraneous stuff,
perhaps you should choose one country and better describe the typical
buyer of the meal you're thinking about.  It appears that you're
talking about purchased meals, not home-prepared meals, although it's
hard to tell from your description.  Are you talking about sailors
eating at lower class inns?  Are you talking about the rich?  You've
got to choose a focal point or the question is simply too broad.

Even doing this won't mean your question is answerable, but it's more
realistic to ask for something focused and meaningful, than for a
doctoral dissertation :-)

Take care.

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