How much is a shekel?

During the 3rd millennium BCE, gold and silver were used primarily for decoration, ornamentation, and as a symbol of wealth (Ex. The Royal tombs of Ur). The Babylonian invention of the steelyard scale allowed accurate measurement of weight, and this facilitated a monetary revolution, since gold and silver could now serve as units of account. The development of a formal monetary system and coinage didn't exist until about 700BCE. So, the penalties and prices before 700BCE refer to specific weights of metal which could include silver, gold, brass, and iron.

According to the Babylonian system of weights:

1 talent (30 kg) = 60 minas,
one mina (504 grams) = 60 shekels
one shekel (8.4 grams) = 20 gerahs.

Mesopotamia Circa 2000BC

One sheep cost 2.6 to 16 grams....1 gerahs to 2 shekels
A female slave cost 52 to 192 grams....6.19 shekels to 22.85 shekels
Urban property (one square meter) cost 1.3 to 22 grams
Ancient History Sourcebook. This site provides samples of ancient contracts, with examples below:

2300BC. One slave was purchased for 10 shekels... @ 40 days of work
2000BC. A house fronting a street with adjoining land was purchased for 4 ½ shekels....@ 24 days of work
2000BC. A house was leased for one year for 1 shekel...@ 4 days of work

Mesopotamia after 1780BC

The Code of Hammurabi c.1780BC dictated a number of fines, fees, prices and wages, complete text and commentary at .

The builder of a house received 2 shekels per sar (36 square meters), with doors and other woodwork apparently not included (law 228).
The builder of a boat of 60 gur (18,000 liters) received 2 shekels (law 234).
Daily wages for various crafts and seasons ranged from 4 to 6 gerahs (laws 273-274), roughly 1/4 shekel.

Therefore, Babylonian workers earned about 2.1 grams or 1/15 ounce silver per day. Note also that houses must have been simple structures that could be completed with 8 days of labor or less.

Bounty for capture of a runaway slave was 2 shekels (law 17) about 20% of the slave's cost. A veterinarian performing a serious operation on an ass or ox received a fee of 1/6 shekel (law 224). The table below shows fees for medical services by class of patient.

Class of Patient
Cost of Surgery
Cost of Medical Treatment
Amelu – upper class
10 shekels
5 shekels
Muskinu – lower class
5 shekels
3 shekels
Ardu – slave
2 shekels
2 shekels

Babylonian medical fees – laws 215, 216, 217, 221, 222 and 223

Credit and finance were well established during Bronze Age Mesopotamia, and there is at least one example of a complete credit collapse in 1788BC.

See a Brief History of World Credit and Interest Rates