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Living Without Money
An offering table with baskets and trays of fruit, loaves of bread and ave you ever fact, until the Greek meat, including an ‘oven-ready’ duck or goose. noticed that, and Roman Periods, Painting from the tomb of Nebamun, British Museum. in all the there were no coins pictures of golden circulating in Egypt, treasures from ancient Egypt, you never see any coins? but clearly the people were still able to carry on their daily We are so used to having coins and banknotes, which we lives, going to the marketplace to buy food and paying can exchange in shops for just about anything, that it is craftsmen for other household goods. So what did they difficult to imagine a society which did not use money. In use in place of money?
ANCIENT EGYPT February/March 2012
A large part of anyone’s wages was paid in grain (see below). This system works well only as long as everyone has an understanding of what everything is worth. agreement with the shoemaker and perhaps put together a collection of items to pay for them. the granary where grain was stored was like a bank. This includes knowing how much a person should be paid for doing a particular job. The actual number of loaves and jars depended on the sol- Live geese are carried in crates made from woven reeds. or things made from grain. Louvre. like modern bank staff. either wheat Since grain was money. Sacks of grain paid as taxes. Perhaps you like the look of the cheeses offered for sale by the goatherd’s wife. Tomb model. First you would find out if she is willing to accept radishes in exchange for some cheese. The cheeseseller might choose not to keep the radishes but to use them to pay for some loaves of bread from the baker’s stall. All Egyptians received pay for their work in the form of food. kept careful records of all deliveries and withdrawals. clothing and other essential goods. dier’s rank or the seniority of the workman. Your vegetables might pass through several pairs of hands before they actually got eaten! If you needed something more expensive such as a new pair of sandals (see below) you would have to reach an Sandals shown among tomb goods on a painted wooden coffin. This gave a good basis for the exchange of goods as grain. civil servants and the workmen who built the pyramids and the royal tombs received daily rations of bread and beer. Paris. Tomb painting.per mesut For shopping the Egyptians had a sophisticated form of bartering or swapping of goods. Scribes. ANCIENT EGYPT February/March 2012 57 . took the place of money. to be used later (see above). Paris. Often the ration was far more than one man could possibly eat in a day so he could give some of it to his family or he could choose not to claim all of his daily share but to leave some in the stores. Tomb of Nebamun. British Museum. Soldiers. A ration of grain could be turned into bread or beer and the value of a loaf or a jar of beer was equal to the amount of grain needed to make it. British Museum. then you would haggle until you came to a price agreeable to both of you. are loaded on to a barge to be taken to the temple granaries. If you had a good crop of radishes in your garden you could take them to the market and offer to swap your surplus vegetables for something else that you needed. like keeping it in a savings bank. or barley. Louvre.
(about 91g or 3¼ oz). British Museum. each hin being a bit less than a pint. The stringing of the cords to support the mattress cost 2 d while the decoration cost 3 d. Other sources show that a ready-made bed could cost anything between 12 and 25 copper deben. or 500 hekat sacks of grain. You want to buy a fine new chair valued at 12 copper deben. 1: First imagine your father is a reed-cutter. 1 sycamore log = 1 d 1 kid goat = 2 d 1 jar of vegetable oil = ½ d 1 milking goat = 4 d 1 pair of leather sandals = 2½ d 1 pig = 6 d 1 ready-made tunic = 4½ d 1 length of good linen cloth = 8½ d One transaction recorded at Thebes lists the goods put together by a policeman to buy an ox valued at 50 d. it seems that 1 deben of copper was worth about 10 hekats of wheat.per mesut Most everyday needs could be priced in terms of the measure of grain known as a hekat. The wood cost 3 d and the carpenter was paid 10 d to make the bed frame. and 1 silver deben could be exchanged for between 60 and 100 deben of copper. The best quality woods and fancy inlaid decoration cost more than plain acacia planks and white paint. Very costly items were valued in deben of silver or gold. The carpenter will take one milking goat and a pig but he More expensive items like cattle (see above) were valued against a weight of metal known as a deben. 1 fat goose = 1 h 1 jar of strong beer = ¼ h 3 bunches of onions = ½ h 1 bowl of dates = 1¼ h 30 barley loaves = ½ h 1 round basket = 1¾ h 2 watermelons = ¾ h 1 basket of figs = 2¼ h Now you can see how good you would be at shopping. possibly from broken or worn tools and utensils. 2: A fish-seller wants to buy some of your reeds. Though the exchange rates were not constant. a total of 18 d. Although the values varied over time a typical rate of exchange was 20 good white loaves for 1 hekat of wheat. linen cloth and scraps of copper. At the marketplace you find that one bundle of reeds together with 30 barley loaves will buy two fat geese. This was a basket which held about 4. How much is a bundle of reeds worth? How much is this bundle of reeds worth? Cattle were large and expensive animals. Another receipt from Deir el-Medina gives us an idea about the labour costs involved in making a bed. The next list gives prices in copper deben (d). Reeds were used for weaving into mats and baskets and for making lightweight furniture. how many jars of strong beer will you need to make up the price? 4: Now imagine you are a farmer. One ox cost 50 copper deben. Here is a ‘price list’ for some common items on an ancient Egyptian shopping list. One hekat was equal to ten hin or jars. (h stands for hekat). just over a gallon. You got what you paid for! What can you buy with this log of wood? 58 ANCIENT EGYPT February/March 2012 .7 litres. Tomb of Nebamun. It included jars of fat and vegetable oil. Egyptian-style. If you pay with two bundles of reeds. How many bundles will you give him for a jar of salted fish which he says is worth 4½ hekats of wheat? 3: Your mother has sent you to buy a bowl of dates and a basket of figs. like wickerwork. most commonly of copper.
This leaves ½ h which can be made up with 2 jars of beer. Take this from the value of the ox fat to find how much you have still to spend. wants the rest of the price in sycamore logs which he can use to make more furniture. Can you afford to buy a new pair of sandals as well? Hilary Wilson (All images in this article supplied by the author. 2 bundles of reeds = 3 h. 20 .17½ = 2½ which is exactly the cost of a pair of sandal. 3 bundles of reeds. You have a jar of ox fat worth 20 copper deben. the price of a bundle of reeds. tunics for yourself and your son and a length of cloth to make a new dress for your wife. How many logs will you have to pay him? 5: You also want to buy some new clothes. 2 tunics + 1 length of linen = 9 + 8½ = 17½.) Can you afford to buy these sandals? ANCIENT EGYPT February/March 2012 4: 3: 2: 1: Answers: 5: Dates + figs = 1¼ + 2¼ = 3½. You need 2 d more. 2 geese are worth 2 h. Goat + pig = 4 + 6 = 10 d. Take ½ h away from this for the cost of 30 barley loaves. This leaves 1½ h.per mesut You can find the answers to these problems in the box below. 59 . This fine chair will cost 12 copper deben. the price of 2 sycamore logs.
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