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Last night, talking in the pub, I met a geordie who reckoned his grandfather had found a Severan sestertius whilst digging footings in Wallsend. After some speculation about how much it would be worth today we wondered how much beer it would have bought in the third century at Wallsend. Geordie reckoned a man could get drunk for a week and I thought less. Who was nearer?
hmmmm... depends, does that Gerodie man drink 19 pints a night?
Severan sesterces sell for £80-100 on today's antique market because of their rarity but at the time they weren't worth much. By the time of the Severan period, inflation and coinage debasement meant that a sestertius would not buy you a single beer. Diocletian’s "Edict of Maximum Prices" (301 AD) lists the cost of a pint (actually 1.14 pints) of Pannonian or Celtic beer at 4 denarii communes, which is the equivalent of 4 laureates. Sesterces had stopped being used by the time of Diocletian but four laureates would be worth approximately eight Severan sesterces. So that one sestertius would buy a little over one-eighth of a pint. The price for a pint of beer in a UK pub today seems to average around £3, so the Severan sestertius would get you around 40 pence worth of beer. Perhaps one of the "wee little folk" might drunk but nobody else.
Author: Bronze Age Military Equipment, Pen & Sword Books

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