BMCR 2010.04.40

1 Talente: Visualisierung antiker Kriegskosten. Begleitband zu einer studentischen Ausstellung

, 1 Talente: Visualisierung antiker Kriegskosten. Begleitband zu einer studentischen Ausstellung. Gutenberg: Verlag, 2009. 208. ISBN 9783940598042. €24.90 (pb).


This book is the product of a research project at the University of Mannheim, and is connected to an exhibition dedicated to this project.1 The authors have ventured on an extensive survey of financial costs connected with warfare in various contexts of antiquity. Special attention has been paid to the visualization of the dimensions and developments of this type of state expenditure.

1. The first paper, by Zumbach, claims to offer a survey of the costs needed to build a military fleet. The actual subject however is not so large, since the author merely explores the costs for the construction and maintenance of the Attic trireme in the Classical period. Especially the first part of the treatise, dealing with the financial resources Athens could rely on for the upkeep of the fleet, is hardly innovative, as the author relies almost completely on previous research. From both literary and epigraphic sources, prices of construction materials and equipment are surveyed. The author then offers an estimate for the loans paid to the personnel, viz. soldiers, craftsmen and oarsmen. Differences in pay rates are linked to the historical context (war with high risks versus peace), various professions and gradual merging of naval and land forces towards the end of the fifth century. In the final part, Zumbach emphasizes the problems in estimating the total expenses of the construction and upkeep of an ancient fleet. The lack of data on e.g. production costs seriously hampers any attempt to survey the financial needs.

2. The second treatise is dedicated to the pay soldiers received in Classical Greece and Republican Rome. In both ancient contexts, Köck explores its origins and developments. The sources that provided the necessary funding for these expenses are hardly discussed. However, the reader’s disappointment on this subtopic is countered by the author’s interesting notes on the military, social and political implications of the installation of a pay system for the army. Especially in the section devoted to the estimation and development of the soldiers’ wages during the Roman Republic, the author provides new questions and insights. As a consequence of his meticulous analysis of the sources, the essay should be perceived as an important contribution to modern scholarly debate.

3. Similar levels of quality and innovativeness mark the third paper, in which Kainz faces the issue of special payments to the army in Republican and Imperial Rome. The author aims to survey to what extent this practice was influenced by the example of Alexander the Great. He observes how the donative developed from a financial prize in the context of Republican triumphs to the emperor’s price of power. Two extensive tables give a detailed overview of the Republican and Imperial donatives. There is no doubt that some scholars will perceive the author’s view that a number of special payments by Alexander (and his Roman imitators) was solely motivated by generosity as fairly naive.

4. The fourth contribution, by Becker, explores a specific type of income generated by warfare during the Roman Republic. The author gives an inventory of Roman booty. The reader should quickly abandon his expectation of getting an accurate assessment of this form of income. The reconstruction of such an overview is not merely obstructed by the absence of sources for certain periods of the Republic, by the shortcomings of current knowledge on ancient numismatics, or by the impossibility to furnish reliable estimates for certain items such as golden shields and wreaths. Endless speculation may accompany each attempt to estimate the (exact numbers of) captured slaves, animals, military equipment and other less valuable objects of booty, as they are less frequently mentioned in the ancient records. Becker’s reconstruction addresses only attestations of looted precious metals, and therefore it cannot claim to provide an accurate insight into the actual volumes of praeda carried away to Rome. Nevertheless, his detailed list of (major and minor) campaigns and the booty they brought, as well as his survey of the regional differentiation of these war profits, may be of interest to historians who are particularly engaged in the debate on the economic motives of Roman imperialism during the Roman Republic.

5. Deward’s paper may attract similar interest among those historians, as he explores the reparations Rome received from its crushed opponents. His study is limited to the entire Republican era, though the author finds attestations of such payments only between 308 and 84 B.C. The oldest case seems to have been dropped out of the table that comes with the narrative. Most reparations seem to have been paid with money, while on some occasions wheat or military clothing was provided. In comparison with many of the previous papers, less attention is paid to source-criticism. In his survey of the functionalities of reparations and Roman considerations concerning the magnitude or the duration of the payments, Deward does not always furnish acceptable explanations. For instance, the refusal by Rome to accept the remainder of the Carthaginian reparations in one single payment in 191 B.C. is uncomfortably explained as a way to keep Carthage in Roman dependency. This decision would have allowed the Romans to focus on other military opportunities. However, the fact that they could offer 8600 talents at that time implies that the continuation of the yearly payment of 200 talents did not ruin Carthage’s wealth nor check its potential of military investments. It did not place Dido’s city in a “finanziellen Abhängigkeit Roms”. An illustrated regional and chronological analysis of the reparations is followed by a short survey of their relationship with the booty obtained by Rome from her respective enemies. The author ends with a conclusion in which the lack of observable patterns in Rome’s policy regarding those reparations is stressed.

6. Then follows Franz’s paper concerning Alexander the Great’s war funding. The first section of his survey is dedicated to a brief, critical consideration of the sources. Thereafter, the author explores the financial situation of Alexander at the dawn of his reign. He argues that the vision which underscores the latter’s bankruptcy at that time should be abandoned. Since the time of Philip, the Macedonian treasury was not filled merely by the exploitation of internal resources. Franz observes that Alexander and his father were inclined to discharge their debts in a similar manner, namely by waging wars and gaining high profits from them. Then the author turns to the costs of the soldiers’ pay in Alexander’s armies. However, the sources mentioning military expenses provide too little and far too general information to allow for a reconstruction that is reliable and untroubled by speculations regarding the regularity of the payments or the actual amounts that were devoted to the actual wages. With regard to those problems, a comparison to pay rates known from earlier or later contexts might have furnished Franz with some indications on how to interpret the numbers. In the final section Franz explores not an issue of income, but again of expenditure: he distinguishes different kinds of special payments and gifts and examines their functionalities. The author succeeds in providing an extensive and well visualized overview of Alexander the Great’s war finances.

7. The last contribution, by Altpeter, studies the costs that accompanied the upkeep of the legions from the reign of Augustus until the rule of Diocletian (and not the entire Imperial age as announced in the paper’s heading). Owing to the limits posed to the length of his paper and for practical, analytical reasons, Altpeter concentrates on the wages and upkeep of the common legionaries and auxiliaries. The first part of his paper comprises a description of the organization of the maintenance of the army, its developments and its regionally differentiated character. Then the costs are surveyed which came with the state provision of food to the soldiers (wheat, oil, wine, and the somewhat awkwardly termed lemonade). Thereafter, the author reconstructs the evolution of the pay rates and the costs they entailed. After an estimate of the state expenditure on the soldiers’ military equipment, the different sums are brought together and compared with estimates of the state household at different moments during the Principate. As Altpeter depends heavily on existing scholarly work, the expert in this subject will hardly find great innovations in this paper, except a number of interesting visualizations.

The book ends with an extensive but incomplete and inaccurate overview of wars waged in Greek and Roman history, and an index. The very last pages present a list of institutions and companies that sponsored the project, and it is here where the reader may feel some indignation. If the tables incorporated in the book were as nicely presented in colour as these logos and trademarks, then many of them would have been more attractive, and some definitely more comprehensible. Certainly it would have improved this book, in which the provision of visualizations is announced as a major purpose.

A further comment may be made on the purpose of the book vis-à-vis the papers it incorporates. As the work also includes contributions centred on sources of income connected with warfare (such as booty), it is somewhat unjustly announced as a work solely committed to the costs that came with warfare. Also, the reader may feel some uneasiness with the fact that the authors have focused almost exclusively on English and German historiography.

But except for some minor weaknesses, the book clearly succeeds in its purposes. Some papers will be of major interest to those scholars who are intensely connected with the subject. At least in the contributions of Julian Köck and Lukas Kainz, they will be attracted to the new questions posed and the innovative answers offered. The significance of those contributions in which little more is done than summarizing current research on the theme and providing lists, overviews and visualizations, will surely be appreciated by those scholars who are new to the subject. Finally, it should be noted that, with regard to the issues discussed in this book, the overlap with a related publication in which Müller was involved on the same topic is definitely not complete.2


1. The project is related to the academic DFG-Project Antike Kriegskosten. The website dedicated to this research project contains an interesting database of ancient sources on war costs: Forschungsprojekt Antike Kriegskosten (last checked on March 15th, 2010).

2. This publication is also reviewed in BMCR, by Andrea Schuetze, BMCR 2009.07.11 and David Colling BMCR 2009.07.51.