Prices started at the equivalent of the cost of half a litre of wine or two loaves of bread.
Judging prices, even relative prices, over two millenia is going to be a mug\’s game however you do it. But I have a feeling that the divergence in those relative prices has a great deal more to do with the decline of food costs relative to incomes than it does any rise in the price of a maiden\’s virtue.
From here it appears that a loaf of bread was something like 1 or 2 As and there were 16 As to a denarius, a reasonable income being 10 to 20 denarii a month. So an income might be anything from 80 to 320 loaves of bread a month.
A charge of 2 loaves of bread for the most basic of sexual services is thus one fortieth to one hundred and sixtieth of monthly income.
Modern median income is something like £2,000 a month isn\’t it? One fortieth of that is £50. 1/160 th is £12.50.
So for that most basic of sexual services to be the same portion of average incomes it should, in current times, be somewhere in the region of £12.50 to £50.
I will admit to not being an expert on such matters but that doesn\’t look terribly out of line with what my limited knowledge gathered from newspaper stories would indicate.
Bread appears to be something like £1 a loaf (yes, I\’ve been out of the UK for a long time!) meaning that this most basic of sexual services is currently priced at 12 to 50 loaves of bread.
OK, yes, that is a very tenuous way of trying to measure it but it would seem that the cost of sex relative to average incomes has remained sorta stable over two millenia while the price of bread has fallen to a sixth of its Ancient Roman value.
Could be an interesting way of teaching Baumol\’s Cost Disease to teenage boys really.
Baumol\’s cost disease (also known as the Baumol Effect) is a phenomenon described by William J. Baumol and William G. Bowen in the 1960s. It involves a rise of salaries in jobs that have experienced no increase of labor productivity in response to rising salaries in other jobs which did experience such labor productivity growth.
There ain\’t been much productivity growth in sex over 2,000 years while there has been in farming and baking.