What Did Medieval Items Really Cost? And How Much Did An Archer Make?
  • What Did Medieval Items Really Cost? And How Much Did An Archer Make?

    Luminaries.org has an interesting list of prices of medieval items (compiled by Kenneth Hodges). It consisted of extracted references from books such as English Wayfaring Life in the XIVth Century, J. J. Jusserand, London in the Age of Chaucer, A. R. Myers, Standards of Living in the Later Middle Ages, Christopher Dyer, English Weapons & Warfare, 449-1660, A. V. B. Norman and Don Potting, and several more. It includes tools, food, livestock, books, education, buildings, clothing, armor, weapons, funerals, and travel; and includes wages for various professions from mercenaries to weavers to kitchen servants to barons! It makes for a fascinating read and a great resource for medieval fantasy games. (Thanks to Jay for the scoop!)

    The image below is just the "WAGES" section -- click on it for the full thing!
    Comments 31 Comments
    1. barasawa -
      It's interesting and useful if you want to gauge things on a realistic scale, something that doesn't always work for games.
      On the other hand, I really wish the prices had been converted to a single system that I understand by just looking at. Something decimal based instead of that old mess. As to possible complaints about converting the money to a different system, they already had to figure out relative values as that economy didn't use a lot of actual money & prices, as the author does mention.
      And that the text was more readable as that font on that background is rather difficult to read, and the usual methods of making it more legible won't work with how they've done it.
      If you're curious as to the money, I've copied their explanation below:

      Money goes as follows:
      1 pound (L) = 20 shillings (s)
      1 crown = 5 shillings
      1 shilling = 12 pence (d)
      1 penny = 4 farthings
      1 mark = 13s 4d
      The French Livre, sou, and denier are equivalent to the pound, shilling and penny (Latin liber, solidus, and denarius, I believe, which is where the weird English abbreviations come from).

      > Final note from me. I like history, and knowing how they did things, but I don't like trying to repeat it. I find pricings like this very cumbersome and inappropriate for games that don't involve calculators & scratchpads, or automated computer programs, or possibly a group of medieval accountants.

      P.S. - Sorry, but if you don't know, pence is the plural of penny. (I've found most Americans don't know, but gamers tend to.)
    1. FowlJ's Avatar
      FowlJ -
      I had a pretty tough time deciphering the currencies the way that they presented them, so for anyone having similar trouble here they are arranged largest to smallest:

      1 Pound (L) (= 20 Shillings (s))
      1 Mark (= 13 Shillings + 4 Pence (d) [13.3 Shillings])
      1 Crown (= 5 Shillings)
      1 Shilling (= 12 Pence)
      1 Penny (= 4 Farthings)
      1 Farthing (= 0.25 Pence)
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      That system isn't that old. Decimalisation only happened in the UK in 1971. Currency akin to that was in use when D&D was being designed!
    1. jimmifett's Avatar
      jimmifett -
      so... what is d?
    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Quote Originally Posted by jimmifett View Post
      so... what is d?
      Pence. These days, post decimalisation, it's p.

      Prices would typically used pounds, shillings and pence.
    1. FowlJ's Avatar
      FowlJ -
      Quote Originally Posted by jimmifett View Post
      so... what is d?
      Penny / Pence (or denier or denarius) per the currency description.
    1. Celebrim's Avatar
      Celebrim -
      This is an old list well known to people who do world building, but it's still a really good and helpful one that deserves a wider audience.

      1 shilling corresponds to 1 silver piece in D&D terms.
      1 pound corresponds to 1 gold piece in D&D terms.
      1 penny corresponds to 1 copper piece in D&D terms.

      There is a small inflationary trend going on over the period in question, but nothing like the rate of modern inflation. However, you should keep in mind that an average laborers wage roughly doubled between 1200 and 1500 when making comparisons like that between the carpenter and the armorer.

      It's also worth noting that for servants like Squires or 'Kitchen Servants', the total wages include room and board (basically, your share of the leftovers, often spelled out in the order of who got the first dibs, and a warm place by the fire) and the job was considered to be more of an 'unpaid internship' sort of position. The cost of room and board isn't included in the 'wage' listed above.

      Gygax's prices - and thus the prices D&D have historically used - tend to be rather accurate in the case of non-adventuring supplies, commodities and labor, and radically inflated in the case of adventuring supplies and anything else that PC's would want to buy. Gygax himself outlined the justification for this in the 1e AD&D player's handbook, noting that the prices for things like swords, tools, and the like assumed that the players were beginning play in an area similar to the Klondike gold rush. Somehow this fundamental fact got lost over the years, and people have tried to make a functional pricing system based of the 1e AD&D prices without taking into account the fiction behind them.

      One of the most important historical corrections you can make to standard D&D economics is realize that to correct "PC pricing" to the historical pricing, it's usually just necessary to divide by 20, that is - convert gold pieces to silver pieces. Most D&D prices are pretty decent if you assume the thing is priced in silver rather than gold. Gold was vastly more valuable than typical D&D price lists tend to make it. Note for example, the income of the Crown for an entire year was roughly 30,000 gold pieces - less than a PC might value a single magical item. Once you get PC's and the rest of the world on the same standard, you can start thinking about a more functional economy.

      If I can make one other suggestion, manufacturing and powered transportation have over the years made the cost of goods relative to income lower. But the cost of handmade goods over time, when adjusted for inflation (and if need be, purchasing power parity) is in my experience relatively constant. Any offset in lower price owing to the decreased cost of raw materials tends to be offset by the increased expected standards of living. So wherever tables like the above don't provide direct insight, a reasonable approximation can be made by looking up the price of a hand made good (a hand tailored suit, or hand crafted furniture, for example), and then making the following (rough) conversion:

      $1000 = 1 gold piece
      $50 = 1 silver piece
      $5 = 1 copper piece

      That has worked for me really well in understanding what a price in D&D terms means.
    1. jimmifett's Avatar
      jimmifett -
      Ok, after converting to a common numerating system so that a sane person can actually compare values...


          knight banneret                48d/day
          knight                    24d/day
          man-at-arms or squire            12d/day
      Regular Army                    12d/day
          Esquires, constables, and
          Mounted Archers, armored        6d/day
              infantry, hobilars,
          Welsh vintenars                4d/day
          Archers                    3d/day
          Welsh infantry                2d/day
          Captain                    96d/day
          Lieutenant                48d/day
          Ensign                    24d/day
          Drummer or trumpeter            20d/day
          cavalryman                18d/day
          infantry                8d/day
      Laborer                        480d Max
      Crown revenues (at peace)            7,200,000d
      Barons per year                    48,000d - 120,000d+
      Earls per year                    96,000d - 2,640,000d
      Sergeant at Law (top lawyer)            72,000d/year
      Chief armorer                    320d/month
      Other armorers in same shop            288d/month
          except "Old Martyn" who made        466d/month
      Apprentice in same shop                6d/day
      Master Mason                    4d/day
      Master Carpenter                3d/day
      Carpenter's Guild stipend to            14d/week
          a sick member
      Weavers                        5d/day, no food
      Chantry priest per year                1120d
      Squires per anum                160d - 240d
      Carters, porters, falconers            60-102d/year
          grooms, messengers
      Kitchen servants                24-48d/year
      Boys and pages                    12-72d/year
      Wardens of London Bridges            2,400d
    1. RHGreen's Avatar
      RHGreen -
      Some more random facts:

      Pound refers to a pound of silver, 240 pennies are 1/240th of a pound.
      Marks were in gold and were used as apologies or special gifts.
      Pennies were cut in half and quarters, literal half/quarter pennies.
      In medieval England the only actual coin was the silver penny (other denominations were basically accounting terms)

      WIKI on coin debasement (could inspire a criminal story-line)

      "Coin debasement was effected by several methods, including clipping (shaving metal from the coin's circumference) and sweating (shaking the coins in a bag and collecting the dust worn off). "
    1. Celebrim's Avatar
      Celebrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by RHGreen View Post
      Some more random facts:

      Pound refers to a pound of silver, 240 pennies are 1/240th of a pound.
      Marks were in gold and were used as apologies or special gifts.
      Pennies were cut in half and quarters, literal half/quarter pennies.
      In medieval England the only actual coin was the silver penny (other denominations were basically accounting terms)
      Adding to this, in terms of the table, the 'silver penny' was a very small coin much smaller than the silver schilling in the above pricing table. The silver penny was 1/240th of a pound of silver, where as the schilling was 1/20th of a pound of silver.

      The silver penny was roughly one day's labor for a common laborer at the beginning of the middle ages. There was as I've said a small inflationary trend through the period, so it wasn't unusual to see laborers demanding 2-3 silver pennies per day by the end of the period.

      Copper coinage is standard fare in D&D, but if you are going for realism copper coinage should be a huge source of controversy, because the value on the face of the coin is generally much higher than the actual worth of the coin as metal. This would tend to lead to people not wanting to be paid in copper for any transaction at all, and certainly not one of value. (Indeed, the same problem occurs to a lesser extent when trying to pay in silver once the value of the transaction gets high enough.) And copper is consequently absolutely useless for international transactions, and a trove of ancient copper coins from some forgotten empire... it's pretty much got no value except to collectors.

      However, I agree with barasawa to a certain extent. Realistic coinage - moneychangers, weird denominations, etc. - is one of those areas that in practice is not very fun to deal with, and gamist simplifications are often very worthwhile for sanities sake, particularly if you have a large party rather than just 1-2 players and can't afford to lavish attention on small matters.
    1. tomBitonti -
      With some approximations:


      Income (d/day) (/d @$5/d)
        King                                  20000           $100000
        Baron                                 130 - 330 (+)   $650 - $1650
        Earl                                  260 - 7200 (+)  $1300 - $7200
        Knight Banneret                       48              $240
        Knight                                24              $120
        Man-at-arms, Squire                   12              $60
      Regular Army:
        Esquire, Constable, Centenar          12              $60
        Mounted Archer, Armored infantry,     6               $30
          Hobilar, Vintenar
        Welsh vintenar                        4               $20
        Archer                                3               $15
        Welsh infantry                        2               $10
        Captain                               96              $480
        Lieutenant                            48              $240
        Ensign                                24              $120
        Drummer, Trumpeter                    20              $100
        Cavalryman                            18              $90
        Infantry                              8               $40
      Laborer                                 1.3             $8
      Sergeant at Law (top lawyer)            200             $1000
      Chief armorer                           11              $55
      Other armorer (same shop)               10              $50
      "Old Martyn" (same shop)                16              $80
      Apprentice (same shop)                  6               $30
      Master Mason                            4               $20
      Master Carpenter                        3               $15
      Carpenter's Guild stipend to sick       2               $10
      Weaver                                  5               $25
      Chantry priest                          3               $15
      Squire                                  0.44 - 0.66     $2.4 - $3.3
      Carter, Porter, Falconer                0.16 - 0.28     $0.8 - $1.4
        Groom, Messenger
      Kitchen servant                         0.07 - 0.13     $0.35 - $0.65
      Boy, Page                               0.03 - 0.2      $0.15 - $1.0
      Warden of London bridges                6.6             $33

    1. Morrus's Avatar
      Morrus -
      Could you avoid the code tag if possible, guys? Turns out it completely messes up the thread in the mobile skin.
    1. Rhineglade's Avatar
      Rhineglade -
      The "d" stood for denier which was kind of like a copper penny. I try to make it very simple and say 1 d = 1 cp, 1 s = 1 sp and 1 p = 1 gp. Of course that's not completely accurate but it works for me
    1. Hand of Evil's Avatar
      Hand of Evil -
      Glad I use a silver based system in my games
    1. Olgar Shiverstone's Avatar
      Olgar Shiverstone -
      Ah, taking the king's shilling!
    1. barasawa -
      Thanks for the comments

      I know the UK was still using the old system not that long ago. The point is it's a confusing system. What can I say, I like systems where there's one rule for each denomination change, like base 10 numbers.

      By the way, if I didn't make it clear, the compilation and all the other work the author did was great. My wording and explanations may have been written poorly, but I do subscribe to the concept that you can't make something better if you can't identify possible issues.
    1. Barantor's Avatar
      Barantor -
      Hmm, wonder what a loaf of bread cost at that time? If you had that you could extrapolate a whole economy fairly easy.
    1. tomBitonti -
      Can someone edit my post? When I try to edit it I get an "invalid post" error.

      That would be to fix the "code" tag, however is appropriate. The table relies on use of a fixed width font.

      Edit: Never mind! Someone already fixed it.

    1. Jhaelen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
      Could you avoid the code tag if possible, guys? Turns out it completely messes up the thread in the mobile skin.
      Tough luck for mobile users, I guess.
      I mean, what's the alternative?!
    1. Chimpy's Avatar
      Chimpy -
      I always think the intention of games is to be fun, not be a simulation. While this information is interesting, I think the values in games need to what makes sense for the game taking into account challenge for players to obtain, expectations and power balance with other items.

      I quite like the setup in The One Ring where day-to-day currency and gear are just hand-waved and the PCs can acquire what they need between adventures, within reason.
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