Currency and Examples of PricingDifferent from the neighboring Celts, the Germanic people did not coin their own money, but rather remained on the level of trading. Naturally they accepted the coins from the Romans and Celts, coins made from copper, silver or gold, but only as objects of trade according to the coins' metal worth. They preferred trading for bars of iron, which the recipient could process into tools or weapons, if needed.
The actual germanic 'currency' was cattle: Just like in archaic times, the Franks for example still traded in 850 A.D. 9 oxen for a chain-link armored shirt, or 7 cattle for a good sword.
This means that even in the Middle Ages the economic conditions in Germania remained very similar to those of Homer and the early Greeks in 1000 B.C.: During Ulysses' time in Greece, the cost of armor was 9 cattle, for a skilled female slave it was 4 cattle and for a particularly beautiful female slave up to 20 cattle.
Indeed, the Romans also used cattle as a trading 'currency' until about 300 B.C., besides bronze bars; the Roman word 'pecunia' (money) is derived from 'pecus' (livestock). However, since 200 B.C. modern economic conditions were found everywhere within the Roman Empire, including wholesalers, financiers and venturers. (Interest rates were between 8 and 12 %; even compound interest would be calculated.)
During Emperor Augustus' reign (31 B.C. until 14 A.D.) there were Roman coins made from gold, silver, brass and copper in circulation: One Aureus (8 grams of gold) was as valuable as 25 Denars (3.5 grams of silver each) or 100 Sesterces (brass coins) or 400 Asses (copper coins).
Labor was clearly cheaper than today, but productivity was much lower. Therefore, finished products were more expensive. Also, the value of metal was higher than today: For a gold coin, for example, one could employ eight workers for an entire week - today 8 grams of gold would only be worth around 100 Euros or 100 US$.
A few examples of pricing would maybe give a better understanding of the conditions back then in the Roman Empire (All prices are given in silver coins/Denars for a clear overview).
A laborer would be paid between 1/2 or 1 Denar as a day's wage. With that he could acquire food and lodging for one day. For 3 Denars per month he could rent a small room on the top floor of a tenement in Rome.
Admission to one of the luxurious public baths only amounted to a symbolic payment (1/64 Denar); theatre- and circus performances were free of charge in Rome.
A liter of good wine would cost between 1/2 to 1 Denar, services of a prostitute was 1/4 Denar, a book was between 1 and 5 Denar, a workrobe was 10 Denar, a nice tunica was 50 Denar. A pig was 65 Denar, cattle 200 Denar, a slave would cost 200 up to 1000 Denar.
A simple legionnaire would earn 225 Denar as annual income - as much as a laborer would earn. However, the legionnaire would receive food and lodging for free. Augustus would also give each of his veterans a pension-gift of 3,000 Denar.
A lightly-armed auxiliary soldier would only get paid 180 Denar as annual income, a Roman officer on the other hand would earn between 2,500 and 10,000 Denar per year, which means that he would earn as much money in a day as a legionnaire would earn in a month.
A larger Roman estate with workshops and other small manufactures could bring in 25,000 to 50,000 Denars annually. And the top-salaries in the imperial administration went up to 75,000 Denar annually - with that amount one could have bought over 300 slaves each year.
For a chariot-race, sponsors paid a purse of 10,000 Denar. An ornate set of Roman dishes made from silver (68-piece, weighing over 100 lbs. (50 kg)), which came to Germania as a bribery gift or as loot had a material worth of 15,000 Denar - enough to rent 1000 mercenary soldiers for a month.
A Roman knight would lose his title, if he didn't have at least 100,000 Denar; a family of the senatorial upper-class would usually have a fortune of 1 to 4 million Denar.
In comparison: The annual pay for all legions was about 25 million Denar, the annual donations of the Emperor to the public (bread, buildings, games) was 250 million Denar.
This much about the conditions of the civilized Roman Empire. In Germania, of course, there were no national finances, leasing contracts or interest payments, and personal wealth was measured by cattle and grain supplies.