Money in the French Revolution

I will admit, military history is not an interest or a forte but as we’ve been working on digitizing Journal Militaire for a graduate student at The Institute on Napoleon and the French Revolution, I have been reviewing the images prior to making them available in the digital library. Journal Militaire was an official French Army publication and included news and updates to regulations that military leaders needed to have on hand in the field. Our issues have been bound together by year at a later date and include lots of diagrams and form templates that would have been referenced often in the field.

One detail that I did find interesting in a 1793 issue was the publication of what monthly salaries should be for members in the army’s medical corps. Whenever I see these sort of values in historic publications, I always wonder what that would translate to in today’s dollars. So, I did some digging. However, I mainly found information about the general financial woes of the French government in the 1790s as the country continued to deal with instability following the French Revolution. Over the course of the decade, French currency was depreciated several times as the government tried to avert a financial crisis. Also, while the word “livres” continued to be used for French currency, several different paper monies were issued during this time, again in an effort to consolidate debt and alleviate inflation. So, while I am unable to tell you exactly what a 1793 monthly salary of 600 livres would be in today’s money, I can tell you it was worth a lot less only a year later to its recipient.

Details of the different monthly salaries provided to the French Army Medical Corps. [original object]

It was actually the French Army’s successes abroad, and the riches they brought home, that would eventually ease many of the financial issues facing France by the end of the decade. Indeed, a young general by the name of Napoleon Bonaparte excelled at such work and it would lead to his accumulation of power in a very short amount of time.

If French military history is an interest, please explore the issues of Journal Militaire now online (1792-1795). We are adding to the collection regularly as we work to digitize all the issues we hold of the title through 1813. Also, if this time period in general interests you, we have digitized other materials and titles from our Napoleonic Collections and you can browse all those materials in DigiNole: FSU’s Digital Repository.

Resources reviewed for this post:
American Numismatic Association, Tales from the Vault: Money of the French Revolution – the Assignat, 2016.
American Numismatic Society, France: Inflation and Revolution.
University of Chicago Library, Guide to the French Currency Collection 1791-1796, 2012.

Published by Krystal Thomas

Digital Archivist at Florida State University

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