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Concerning the price of papyrus in the ancient world

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  • Concerning the price of papyrus in the ancient world

    To avoid derailing the original thread.

    Originally posted by rogue06 View Post
    Correct me if I'm wrong but does Skeat calculate that there were about 20 sheet in a roll of papyrus?
    Are you asking me or telling me?

    Originally posted by rogue06 View Post
    And that the price for a roll ran between 2 to 5 drachmae at that time.
    At what specific "time" in history?

    Your link is by someone who appears to be an accountant and who admits his ignorance on these matters: My emphasis:

    If you are already somewhat familiar, feel free to either roll your eyes as I flounder along or chuckle on how slow I am to catch on. If your knowledge of ancient finances is comparable to mine, that is to say approximately zero, please feel free to join me on a journey to learn a few details.


    He mentions Holt but provides no reference/footnote to Holt's work. His blog is also dealing with the centuries prior to the letters of Paul which were written in the mid first century CE.

    Originally posted by rogue06 View Post
    Apparently a single drachmae was a day's wages for a skilled worker, and here is an article calculating comparable cost
    At what precise period in history? Mr Ulvog is rather vague.

    Originally posted by rogue06 View Post
    No matter how you slice it, a sheet of papyrus was not cheap and not to be squandered unnecessarily by anyone but the rich.
    I recommend [as you have access to JSTOR] you read Skeats' 1995 paper. He makes the observation on the first page that:

    No ancient writer, no source of any kind specifically indicates that papyrus was thought of as either "cheap" or "expensive"
    .

    You would also find the following specific sections to be of relevance:

    Section 5 [p.82] on Opisthograph rolls opens with:

    Rolls of papyrus in which the recto is covered with writing presented the most obvious possibility of re-use by simply writing on the verso.


    And section 7 [p.87] deals with the cost of papyrus, opening with:

    At first sight, the most obvious means of deciding whether papyrus was regarded as "cheap" or "expensive" in the ancient world might appear to be to determine what papyrus actually cost But here there are almost insuperable difficulties. Although purchases of papyrus are sometimes recorded in accounts, we are never told how much papyrus is being bought, or which of the various sizes and qualities listed by Pliny is involved. In addition the prices themselves show a wide range and puzzling fluctuations which make it very difficult to form even a general impression.
    "It ain't necessarily so
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    To read in the Bible
    It ain't necessarily so
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  • #2
    Originally posted by Hypatia_Alexandria View Post
    To avoid derailing the original thread.

    Are you asking me or telling me?
    What do you think a question mark at the end of a sentence means?

    Originally posted by Hypatia_Alexandria View Post
    At what specific "time" in history?
    First century I would say, but that brings up the problem of dealing with what something cost in a specific century. Prices could vary greatly during that space of time. I mean look at what a loaf of bread cost in 1900, how inflation after WWI sent prices soaring in many countries, it coming back down but then continuing to rise throughout the rest of the century. So giving a figure for a specific century will tend to be sketchy even if you average the costs out that will still only reflect what the price was for a short time during that century.

    For instance, during the massive shortage of papyrus that took place during Tiberius' reign early on in the century prices would have naturally skyrocketed, but as that shortage finally concluded the prices would start dropping. IOW, calculating the price is going to be a bit of guess work

    Originally posted by Hypatia_Alexandria View Post
    Your link is by someone who appears to be an accountant and who admits his ignorance on these matters: My emphasis:

    If you are already somewhat familiar, feel free to either roll your eyes as I flounder along or chuckle on how slow I am to catch on. If your knowledge of ancient finances is comparable to mine, that is to say approximately zero, please feel free to join me on a journey to learn a few details.
    He is applying his skills to calculate the value but is open to the fact that there may be something he is missing.

    Given the basic premise that a drachmae was equal to a day's wages for a skilled laborer, his calculations seem entirely reasonable

    Originally posted by Hypatia_Alexandria View Post
    He mentions Holt but provides no reference/footnote to Holt's work. His blog is also dealing with the centuries prior to the letters of Paul which were written in the mid first century CE.
    That he also covers other times as well doesn't effect the calculations

    Originally posted by Hypatia_Alexandria View Post
    I recommend [as you have access to JSTOR] you read Skeats' 1995 paper. He makes the observation on the first page that:

    No ancient writer, no source of any kind specifically indicates that papyrus was thought of as either "cheap" or "expensive"
    .
    Could that be because ancient writer rarely write about such things unless there is good reason to -- like a major shortage? About the only thing we know is that it was much cheaper in Egypt than anywhere else. I believe I read something about it costing roughly twice as much in the Aegean basin as it did in Alexandria, and that it wasn't all that unusual for Egyptians to include a blank page when they wrote to people in other parts of the Empire to help defer some of the cost of writing back.

    Originally posted by Hypatia_Alexandria View Post
    You would also find the following specific sections to be of relevance:

    Section 5 [p.82] on Opisthograph rolls opens with:

    Rolls of papyrus in which the recto is covered with writing presented the most obvious possibility of re-use by simply writing on the verso.


    And section 7 [p.87] deals with the cost of papyrus, opening with:

    At first sight, the most obvious means of deciding whether papyrus was regarded as "cheap" or "expensive" in the ancient world might appear to be to determine what papyrus actually cost But here there are almost insuperable difficulties. Although purchases of papyrus are sometimes recorded in accounts, we are never told how much papyrus is being bought, or which of the various sizes and qualities listed by Pliny is involved. In addition the prices themselves show a wide range and puzzling fluctuations which make it very difficult to form even a general impression.
    Which was why Ulvog decided to try to estimate the cost of a roll as well as a sheet of papyrus.

    He also seems to be taking his own calculations out of the picture by admitting they were based without knowing the quantity being discussed.
    Last edited by rogue06; 12-05-2022, 07:52 AM.

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    • #3
      Originally posted by rogue06 View Post
      What do you think a question mark at the end of a sentence means?


      First century I would say, but that brings up the problem of dealing with what something cost in a specific century. Prices could vary greatly during that space of time. I mean look at what a loaf of bread cost in 1900, how inflation after WWI sent prices soaring in many countries, it coming back down but then continuing to rise throughout the rest of the century. So giving a figure for a specific century will tend to be sketchy even if you average the costs out that will still only reflect what the price was for a short time during that century.

      For instance, during the massive shortage of papyrus that took place during Tiberius' reign early on in the century prices would have naturally skyrocketed, but as that shortage finally concluded the prices would start dropping. IOW, calculating the price is going to be a bit of guess work


      He is applying his skills to calculate the value but is open to the fact that there may be something he is missing.

      Given the basic premise that a drachmae was equal to a day's wages for a skilled laborer, his calculations seem entirely reasonable


      That he also covers other times as well doesn't effect the calculations


      Could that be because ancient writer rarely write about such things unless there is good reason to -- like a major shortage? About the only thing we know is that it was much cheaper in Egypt than anywhere else. I believe I read something about it costing roughly twice as much in the Aegean basin as it did in Alexandria, and that it wasn't all that unusual for Egyptians to include a blank page when they wrote to people in other parts of the Empire to help defer some of the cost of writing back.


      Which was why Ulvog decided to try to estimate the cost of a roll as well as a sheet of papyrus.

      He also seems to be taking his own calculations out of the picture by admitting they were based without knowing the quantity being discussed.
      You have cited as a reference a blog by someone who openly admits he knows virtually nothing about the subject under consideration.

      Why?

      "It ain't necessarily so
      The things that you're liable
      To read in the Bible
      It ain't necessarily so
      ."

      Sportin' Life
      Porgy & Bess, DuBose Heyward, George & Ira Gershwin

      Comment


      • #4
        Typical H_A side issue. Far more pertinent is the fact that most of Paul's letters were occasional pieces written to address particular concerns (and all of them were written to those who were already Christians).
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        • #5
          Originally posted by One Bad Pig View Post
          Typical H_A side issue. Far more pertinent is the fact that most of Paul's letters were occasional pieces written to address particular concerns (and all of them were written to those who were already Christians).
          On the contrary, rogue06 kicked it all off when he wrote

          Originally posted by rogue06 View Post
          Paper and ink were very expensive


          I pointed out that paper was not known in the west in the first century CE and made a brief reference to Bagnall pointing out that the definition of cheap/expensive was relative to the individual's circumstances, and that for short notes and/or ephemeral messages ostraca were often preferred.

          However, rogue06 then decided to introduce a reference to JSTOR and a paper that apparently is no longer available and then continued writing about Pliny etc and comparative alleged costs in today's money. I made a brief reply, he made a longer reply. That led to the person who had started that thread requesting we desist from derailing it, and so I opened this thread in order to address his last reply.

          And unfortunately the source he cited as his reference is not overly reliable being a blog by someone who admits they know virtually nothing of the topic about which they are writing.
          "It ain't necessarily so
          The things that you're liable
          To read in the Bible
          It ain't necessarily so
          ."

          Sportin' Life
          Porgy & Bess, DuBose Heyward, George & Ira Gershwin

          Comment

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