The value of money in past centuries

What was the actual value of a dowry? The answer is not easy, depending both on the historical period, since one "ducato" in 1615 was not the same value as in 1860, and on the cost of life; also in our times 50 Euro is a low-income family's need per day in Italy, and a month's salary in other parts of the world, so money is a very relative factor.
The kingdom of the two Sicilies had a long numismatic history, starting with the mints of Magna Grecia of 500 BC, when in most parts of the civilized world barter was the common means of exchange. This long glorious history finished on 17 august 1860, when Garibaldi issued a decree to abolish the Two Sicilies monetary system; the decree became law on 24 august 1862.

Purchase Power

With special conversion tables based on the purchase power of money (but it is necessary to keep in mind that fewer things were bought than today) 1 lira in 1861 is equivalent to 7.302 lire in 2001, and since the exchange rate lira-ducato in 1861 was established (how fairly??) as 4.25 Piedmontese lira in 1861 to one ducato; so at that time one "ducato" was worth 16 € and one grano (one hundredth of a ducato) was worth 0.16 €.

About 4 decades later a famous song cited "Mamma mamma dammi cento lire che in America voglio andar" 100 lire paid a sea voyage to the States... In the kingdom of the Two Sicilies the cost of life was lower than in the rest of Italy, and also indirect taxes were the lowest, and direct taxes were only levied on land.

The System in 1816

Until 1816 Sicily and the rest of the kingdom of Naples had different monetary systems. In 1816 king Ferdinand unified the system, which was based on Ducati, Carlini, Grani and Cavalli. One Ducato was divided into 10 carlini, one Carlino into 10 grani, one grano into 12 Cavalli. The oncia and the Sicilian tarì were suppressed.

In 1816 a laborer's day was paid 15-20 grana (and on this he meagerly supported his usually large family), a common worker 20 - 40 grana, 55 a specialized worker, 80 grana for craftsmaster; usually 10-15 grana daily were added for the food if not provided on the workplace (this gives us a cue to the cost of one day's food, one tenth of a ducato); a state clerk 15 ducati a month, a lieutnenant 23 ducati, a colonel (among the highest paid) 105 ducati, but the military people did not have to pay for food and housing, receiving it from the state.

Supposing a state clerk had to pay for everything (house, food, clothing) and that it was not a well-paid job, considering there was no cost of service bills or cars, and that rents were very low, we could compare at most it to a current salary of 500 Euros, which is partly an arbitrary conversion, having a conversion of 1 ducato to 30 euros, and would have a colonel's salary at around 3000 euros. In 1816 a roll of bread (890 grams) was 6 grana, the same weight of maccheroni 8 grana, beef 16 grana, one liter wine 3 grana, three pizzas 2 grana - these may feed a family for one day, at a total of 35 grana, that is one third of a ducato.

And Before Then?

In past centuries, before industry and urbanization, most of the food and clothes were not bought, but produced inside the family unit, and the same happened for construction and many tools. Most people did not buy bread, wine, fruit, meat, did not need to pay service bills, fill up cars, did not have wardrobes full of clothes and shoes.

Often, they paid professionals (doctors, midwives, notaries) or artisans (cobblers, smiths, carpenters, tailors, jewelers) not in money but with their products. The little money they had was obtained through paid work or the sale of products. So how much money was needed a month? Very little. The land and the farm animals were the great assets of the family.


  • "Carlino": a small coin in gold and silver, first minted under Charles I, from whom the name. Equivalent to10 grani, 20 tornesi, 0,4368 lire until 1784, 0,4249 lire from 1784 to 1814.
  • "Cavallo": ancient Aragonese coin in copper, circulating in the Neapolitan kingdom until October 1862. Equivalent to 0,0036 lire until 1784; to 0, 0035 from 1784 to 1814.
  • "Centesimo": one hundredth of a lira.
  • "Doppio": gold coin weighing 5,869 gr.also called doppia napoletana or doppia napoletana di don Carlos. Equivalent to 4 ducati or 18,32 lire.
  • "Ducato": silver coin circulating in the Kingdom of Naples and later in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies until 1865.
  • "Grano": equivalent to 2 tornesi or 3 quattrini, 12 cavalli, 0,0437 lire until 1784 and 0,0425 lire from 1784 to 1814.
  • "Lira": silver monetary unit ethimologically derived from the Latin libra (=pound).
  • "Tarì": ancient coin of Arab origin used mostly in Sicily. Equivalent to 20 grani, 40 tornesi and 0, 8737 lire or 0, 08497 lire from 1784 to 1814.
  • "Zecchino": gold coin weighing 2,907 gr., also called zecchino napoletano di don Carlos or zecchino napoletano di Ferdinando IV. Equivalent to 2 ducati and 9,07 lire.