Real Wages in Early Economies: Evidence for Living Standards from 1800 BCE to 1300 CE

In: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient
Walter Scheidel
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Price and wage data from Roman Egypt in the first three centuries CE indicate levels of real income for unskilled workers that are comparable to those implied by price and wage data in Diocletian’s price edict of 301 CE and to those documented in different parts of Europe and Asia in the eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. In all these cases, consumption was largely limited to goods that were essential for survival and living standards must have been very modest. A survey of daily wages expressed in terms of wheat in different Afroeurasian societies from 1800 BCE to 1300 CE yields similar results: with a few exceptions, the real incomes of unskilled laborers tended to be very low.

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