The cost of living
in Roman and
modern Britain

11 August 2011 – 15 April 2012

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This small display looks at the similarities and differences between the cost of everyday living in Britain around 2,000 years ago and today.

These changes are shown through comparing things like wages, property, food, clothing, gambling, entertainment and travel, revealing how much of the average wage was spent on these items both in the past and today.

When Britannia was a Roman province around 2,000 years ago, forts and towns were connected by paved roads for the first time, and wider contact with the Roman world brought new produce, goods and ideas to the British household. The Romans may have found it easier than us to own property or see major sporting events and festivals, but food and clothing, which are relatively cheap today, would have consumed a much higher proportion of the daily wage.

The display brings together some of the fascinating finds from Roman Britain – bronze and bone figurines, gaming counters and dice, evidence of the use of salt and pepper, and coins – with their modern counterparts.

Copper-nickel penny of Elizabeth II and a Copper-alloy 'as' of the Roman emperor Hadrian

Copper-nickel penny of Elizabeth II. 2011, Crown copyright. Copper-alloy as of the Roman emperor Hadrian (r. AD 117–138), showing Britannia on the reverse. Minted in Rome.