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Build a new Great Pyramid? You need $7.5 billion
I saw a rather goofy show on National Geographic last night. It is called Pricing the Priceless, and attempts to put a monetary value on ancient structures.

The episode I saw tried to put a price on the Great Pyramid, and tried various valuation techniques, like scapping it for stone or rebuilding it from scratch. Its value as material was rather low, something like $65 million if I remember. They also got an "estimate" from a construction firm to see how much it would cost to build a new one just like it. That estimate was about $7.5 billion.

Of course, they interviewed Hawass who said it was priceless.
David J. Cord
I have recently attended a lecture by Professor Stissi in Amsterdam on the cost of the Parthenon. Building material was very cheap in ancient times, any succesfull city-state had quarries of it own, which means that the stone was almost freely availabe. Moreover, large parts of the building process could be done by laborers who were very poorly paid. Even the artists responsable for the famous frieze were modestly paid. All this accounted for a very modest cost, compared to buiding-processes in our time (I guess I would have to pay any craftsman in Holland about 70 euro's/hour including taxes, insurances and payments for pensions ecc.).

Last year I visited the excavations of Priene (Turkey); a Hellenistic town of about 4000 people. Incredibly many and large structures have been built there. This can only be explained by the low cost of the material and cheap labor.

My educated guess would be that even objects of silver and gold had a worth that mainly consisted of the weight of the raw material, and that elaborated pieces made of a relatively cheap material (bronze) would be available even for the lower ranks in the Greek or Roman armies.

This compares well to less developed economies in the 21 century. Roads in eg. South-Africa are still constructed mainly by hand-labor (instead of machines) simply because a laborer costs only 1-2 euro / hour.
It only makes sense to talk about something being cheap or expensive relative to something else. When we look at 5th and 4th century Greek towns, we find that most of the population lived in large, well built stone and mud-brick buildings. On the other hand, manufactured goods like cloth or iron tools probably cost a lot of labour; and no amount of money could let your children expect to live to age 10.

I'm of the camp that believes the Greco-Roman world was rich by preindustrial standards (so neither the riches of middle-income countries today, or the utter desperation of the poorest countries today). Engines, the population explosion, and modern medicine have changed things hugely though, so its hard for us to grok what a preindustrial economy looked like. Food and housing were often affordable, but manufactured goods like cloth or tools tended to be expensive, and most people would be just a little richer or poorer than their parents.

Cutting stone was a lot of work, and so was moving it. The right type of stone wasn't always available locally, especially for monuments like the pyramids. Egypt was able to do so much stone building because the Nile made it practical to move large amounts of stone to distant building sites. Today most of the work for big building projects is hidden in oil refineries and truck factories and steel mills and dynamite plants.
Nullis in verba

I have not checked this forum frequently since 2013, but I hope that these old posts have some value. I now have a blog on books, swords, and the curious things humans do with them.

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