Empire, Oil, and Disaster - blog about my new book

A religious sect getting more and more attention of the world. Jews in the Middle East already have problems with them. Coincidentally, a terrible terract happens in the largest city of the empire. The same religious sect is blamed for it. The year is 64 AD. The sect is Christians. The place is Rome of the emperor Nero.
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Thursday, July 01, 2004

How much fare from Joppa to Alexandria could cost?

The price was very flexible and depend mostly on which of the sides wanted a deal more, if there were other alternatives available, etc. Keep in mind, for Jason it was practically something for nothing. He anyway was going to Alexandria. An extra person on board did not matter much. Nil was very much like a modern hitchhiker on a highway. However, Jason knew that there is no much competition to him, so it made sense to try to make some income. Besides, Jason did not had any reasons not to take Nil, but except for money, he did not had any reasons to take him either.

How much could he hope to get? There are two sides in the equation. First, it should be something noticeable enough to bother. That’s pretty much the reason why we don’t see books for 50c around anymore, although the technology would allow to print at this price. It should be a business, not “a coin for good luck.”

Imagine a plastic 2-liter Coke bottle filled with grain. That amount of grain would cost 3 sesterces in Rome, or almost a silver coin (1 denarius = 4 sestertii). In a province it easily could cost just one sestertius. This amount of grain is enough to make about 10 simple meals for a small family of two adults and two children (remember, that time family with two children was a small family), that is to live several days. Because the crewmembers of Jason were poor, it would be a tangible enough benefit. One sestertius could be also a one-day wage of a simple laborer like a mule driver or a brick maker. So assuming that Jason wanted to use the chance to cheer up his crew of eight people and get for himself something, probably at least a half of what he gives to the whole crew, that makes 12 sesterces (equal 3 denarii) the bare minimum below which Jason would not get interested.

What’s the upper limit? Technically, the price of the boat, pardon, the ship. Jason’s ship is, frankly speaking, just a boat, and not very large (see the description in the text). Assuming that five master could make such a boat in a week, and assuming that boat builders make twice as much as simple laborers, we have the labor cost for making a boat equal 5 men * 6 days (they worked 6 days in a week, not 5) * 2 sest. = 60 sestertii = 15 denarii, still well below 1 aureum. Add material, and profit margin, and you get the market price of such a boat somewhere around 20 denarii.

Hence, we have the upper and lower limit. For 3 denarii Jason would be barely interested, for 20 denarii Nil could buy another boat of the similar size.

Granted, these estimates are highly speculative in the nature and not quite precise. But keeping in mind that fares really varied wildly depending on the circumstances and personalities involved, it a good evaluation to see what Nil and Jason could talk about and what they could agree in the end.

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