Some people wonder whether the world is experiencing or close to experiencing a famine consistent with the conditions described following the opening of the third seal of the Book of Revelation. I believe we can quantitatively measure whether we are experiencing or close to experiencing end time famine conditions by examining details provided by the Bible and by utilizing barley and silver price data. I will show whether we are experiencing or close to experiencing end time famine conditions in this article.

Revelation 6:5-6 provides a price for wheat and a price for barley under severe famine conditions that will occur after the opening of the third seal.  Some commentators state that Revelation 6:6 indicates that barley will be so expensive that a day’s wages will only be enough to buy a small amount of barley. Another way to interpret the barley price listed in Revelation 6:6 is to say that the actual metal value of a denarius (“penny” in Revelation 6:6) will be able to purchase three measures (choenixes) of barley after the opening of the third seal.

“(5) And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand. (6) And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.” (Revelation 6:5-6)

In other words, the value of a denarius will be equal to the price for three choenixes of barley following the opening of the third seal.

The Value of a Denarius Now

The denarius is not utilized as money today, but it still has value. The denarius’s value is based on its metal content or the value of the metal it is made from. Below I provide denarius values for 70 A.D. and for 95 A.D.: the two dates most people associate with the writing of the Book of Revelation.

The Denarius of Vespasian (70 A.D.)

A denarius weighed approximately 3.36 grams and had 91.25% silver purity during the reign of Vespasian. 1 This translates to approximately 3.066 grams of silver or approximately 0.099 troy ounces of silver. Using this information we can estimate the metal value of a denarius in current terms:

Denarius Value Under Vespasian

Silver Purity in Denarius91.25%
Weight of Denarius (in grams)3.36
Grams of Silver in a Denarius (3.36 x 91.25%)3.066
Grams in a Troy Ounce of Silver31.1
Troy Ounces of Silver in a Denarius (3.066/31.1)0.0986
Silver Price Per Ounce (As of Nov 18, 2017)$17.37
Metal Value of Denarius (Silver Price Per Ounce x 0.0986)$1.712

The Denarius of Domitian (95 A.D.)

A denarius weighed approximately 3.51 grams and had 93.50% silver purity during the reign of Domitian. 2 This translates to approximately 3.28 grams of silver or approximately 0.1055 troy ounces of silver. Using this information we can estimate the metal value of a denarius in current terms. The calculation is shown in the following table:

Denarius Value Under Domitian

Silver Purity in Denarius93.50%
Weight of Denarius (in grams)3.51
Grams of Silver in a Denarius (3.51 x 93.5%)3.28185
Grams in a Troy Ounce of Silver31.1
Troy Ounces of Silver in a Denarius (3.066/31.1)0.1055
Silver Price Per Ounce (As of Nov 18, 2017)$17.37
Metal Value of Denarius (Silver Price Per Ounce x 0.1055)$1.833

The Choenix/Denarius Ratio for Barley

The price for three choenixes of barley will be equal to the value of a denarius after the opening of the third seal. This statement is reflected in the following equation:

3 x Price for a Choenix of Barley = Value of a Denarius

The above equation can be rearranged using simple algebra to create a ratio between the price for three choenixes of barley and the value of a denarius, which henceforth shall be known as the “choenix/denarius ratio for barley”. The choenix/denarius ratio for barley is displayed in the following equation:

3 x Price for a Choenix of Barley = 1
Value of Denarius

The choenix/denarius ratio for barley will equal 1 during the end times because the value of a denarius will be the same as the price for three choenixes of barley. In addition,

  • The choenix/denarius ratio for barley will be less than 1 when the value of a denarius is greater than three times the price for a choenix of barley. This means that a denarius can buy more than 3 choenixes of barley.
  • The choenix/denarius ratio for barley will be greater than 1 when the value of a denarius is less than three times the price for a choenix of barley. This means that a denarius is not enough to buy 3 choenixes of barley.  This is associated with famine conditions worse than conditions described in Revelation 6:5-6.

I found a dataset from the World Bank that has monthly barley price data and monthly silver price data as far back as 1960. 3 This data allows me to create a graph tracking the choenix/denarius ratio as far back as 1960, and the graph is presented next.

Barley History 1

The choenix/denarius ratio for barley has stayed well below 1 in recent decades. This suggests we have not experienced the type of famine that will be experienced during the end times in recent decades.

The size of a choenix varied throughout the Roman Empire (the size of a choenix does impact its weight). Most Bible commentaries mention the Attic choenix in relation to Revelation 6:5-6. An alternative choenix measure was found in the city of Flaviopolis (which is now the city of Kozan in the southern portion of modern day Turkey). The choenix found at the city of Flaviopolis was 1.5 liters while the Attic choenix was 1.087 liters.4 5 The size difference is significant enough that I decided to make a graph showing how the choenix/denarius ratio has fluctuated since 1960 using the choenix found in the city of Flaviopolis rather than using the Attic choenix like in the prior graph:

Barley History 2

The choenix/denarius ratio for barley was near 0.7 in 1973 in midst of a major global food crisis triggered by poor harvests (aided by bad weather) and growing food demand from developing countries. The choenix/denarius ratio for barley exceeded 0.8 in 2002 in midst of a global barley shortage trigged by bad weather.

Equalizing the Choenix/Denarius Ratio for Barley

We can get some idea of how much the price of barley may rise in the future by finding how much the price has to rise now in order to establish a choenix/denarius ratio for barley equal to 1. The following tables show how much higher prices would be compared to current prices if third seal conditions were prevalent on Earth now. 6

Barley Price if-3rd Seal Began Now (Vespasian Denarius)

InformationAttic ChoenixChoenix at Flaviopolis
Denarius Value (Vespasian)$1.61$1.61
Denarius = 3 Choenix$0.54$0.54
Choenix Weight in Lbs1.45902.0138
Price Per Lb (Choenix Value/Choenix Weight)$0.37$0.27
Price Per Bushel (Price Per Lb x 47.31 lbs)$17.44$12.64
Barley Price Per Bushel (as of May 16, 2018)$2.85$2.85
Price Appreciation (Price Per Bushel/Current Price)612%443%

Barley Price if 3rd Seal Began Now (Domitian Denarius)

InformationAttic ChoenixChoenix at Flaviopolis
Denarius Value (Vespasian)$1.73$1.73
Denarius = 3 Choenix$0.58$0.58
Choenix Weight in Lbs1.45902.0138
Price Per Lb (Choenix Value/Choenix Weight)$0.39$0.29
Price Per Bushel (Price Per Lb x 47.31 lbs)$18.67$13.53
Barley Price Per Bushel (as of May 16, 2018)$2.85$2.85
Price Appreciation (Price Per Bushel/Current Price)655%475%

The price appreciations shown in each table are substantial. These figures suggest that we are still not yet close to seeing the type of shortages and prices associated with the third seal.

One could argue that the opening of the third seal is not imminent based on the information presented in this study given that barley prices would need to increase substantially vis-à-vis silver prices. However, price history has shown that prices can increase rapidly in a short period of time (just look at the spike in the early 1970s and early 2000s).  A huge spike in prices prior to the opening of the third seal is possible given that the second seal suggests war will be prevalent in the world (war can ruin crops and bring rationing).

“(3) And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see. (4) And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.” (Revelation 6:3-4)

Conclusion

The price of barley is relatively cheap compared to what it is going to be in the future, especially the period following the opening of the third seal. However, we can see prices approach third seal levels quickly if global conditions deteriorate quickly.

If you want to know if wheat prices are near end time famine levels, click this link for my article on the topic.

  1. Duncan-Jones, Richard. Money and Government in the Roman Empire. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1998. Print. 225.
  2. Duncan-Jones, Richard. Money and Government in the Roman Empire. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1998. Print. 225.
  3. The data can be accessed by selecting “Monthly Data” at the following link: http://www.worldbank.org/en/research/commodity-markets
  4. Whitney, William Dwight and Benjamin Eli Smith. “Choenix”. The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia. Vol 2. Century Co. 1913. Print. Pg 913.
  5. Spek, Bert van der. “Money, Weights, and Measures in Antiquity”. 2007. Web. 24 Jun 2014.  http://www.livius.org/w/weights/weights2.html
  6. I calculated the weight of each choenix by converting dry liters into bushels (using this website) and then multiplying the results by 47.31, the number of lbs in a bushel of barley.