We often see ancient sums of money approximately described in terms of some modern currency.

How much were the 30 pieces of silver that Judas received as payment for his betrayal worth, expressed in today's currency? (USD or Euro, around 2010-2013)

Wikipedia lists it in terms of days of wages for a skilled laborer—wages for 120 days, assuming the coins were tetradrachms—but how does that translate into modern currency?

  • 3
    It is difficult to translate value between different time periods. If one translates it by silver value one will likely find a different value than if one used wheat value. The modern prices for labor vary considerably by location. Extrapolating something like the consumer price index back to the first century A.D. would be challenging. One might take U.S. minimum wage and multiply for an 8-hour day to get a very rough estimate. Obviously, it was enough to buy a field to be used as a cemetery. May 19, 2013 at 19:34

1 Answer 1


Assuming that the 30 pieces of silver are the tetradachmas that Thayer suggests, the total weight of the 30 pieces of silver would be 15 troy ounces, or something not too far from 1 pound of english measure. (Not that most Europeans would need the equivalent, but its roughly 466 grams). Per this source, 1 troy ounce of silver, trading on May 20, 2013, is $21.64. The total dollar value of 15 such ounces would thus be $324.60. Phrased exactly according to the terms of your question (What would the value of the metal be), that is exactly your answer.

That said, it's also a completely bogus number. You really are much better off thinking of it as half a year's wages. Here's why:

  1. $324.60 would have an impact far in excess of the current value nearly 2000 years ago. The things that one could do with $324.60 in today's terms is completely incomparable to what could be done back then. To say you could maybe a small computer with that, for example, is completely irrelavant. Even to compare that "two weeks worth of groceries for my family" is bogus, because $324.60 would fed a family for a heck of a lot longer than that.

  2. The price of the metal discounts all sorts of other economic factors. Today, silver is a rather nontraditional investment. Back then, it was money. We no longer peg the dollar to precious metal. They did.

  3. Pieces of silver were regularly adulterated - once monarchs learned they could shave the value of the metal in a coin, inflation became commonplace. Even if we knew what type of coin, we don't have data as to the purity of the coin in question.

  4. The concept of a middle class was much more of a rarity. 30 pieces of silver to the very rich was very little. To the very poor, it was a lot. Most moderns in the West are neither, and as such the emotional reaction to the money (which after all, really was the point for Judas) would be very different from the actual value.

  5. Should you be able to unearth these coins, their historical value would well outstrip the actual value of the bullion. I know where I could put my hands on a parchment that was signed in 1776. I guarantee you that its best sale price would not be fetched by carefully removing the ink where a bunch of American white guys put their 'John Hancock''s on it and reuse it as a sheet of paper.

  6. The time element really is significant. The minimum wage in the United States is approximately $7.25/hr. That means, in the United States, it would take a maximum of 45 hours to earn that much money. As a country, the United States is sufficient rich in labor saving devices and capital to make that a reality. In Bangladesh, the minimum wage is $0.11/hr, meaning that it is not unreasonable to assume it would take an individual 3000 hours (or nearly one and a half years working 40 hour weeks) to collect the same. The difference between 1 standard week and more than 17 months is due to a difference in living conditions between two countries at the same time in history. When you start doing temporal calculations, the math gets way worse.

As a result of each of these concerns, plus others not listed, Wikipedia is right to list in terms of days' wages. Imagine, for example, what half a year's wages would mean to you (regardless of your socioeconomic status). That struggle - choosing between money and God - was what was going on in Judas' heart. (Well, amongst other things, at least). To compare apples to apples, you really should be comparing your situation to his. The best proxy I can think up is a percentage of your regular income. Half a year's worth of my salary would certainly be tempting indeed.

Note: More on the drachma can be had at this link

  • 4
    While I agree with your points, I don't agree with the $324. To understand how much that money was worth to people back then is more important than to know how much that weight of silver would be worth today. If we calculate a sum in USD, it should be based on how much it was worth for common people in that time. Wage for a skilled laborer would probably bigger than minimal wage; and taxes, social security etc. might also distort it, but for a rough estimation I would take $7.25 * 8 hours * 260 days = approximately $15000. That's not an insignificant sum for a blue-collar worker.
    – vsz
    Apr 6, 2014 at 9:18
  • Your calculation is off. $15,080 - you put in an additional 0 :)
    – staples
    Apr 17, 2014 at 13:45
  • 3
    That's the meaning of approximately. :) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_precision
    – vsz
    Apr 17, 2014 at 13:55

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