History’s most surprising statistics

Think that numbers should be left to accountants? Then think again. The humble statistic can give lovers of history valuable, fascinating and preconception-busting insights into the huge changes that have swept through the world over the centuries. With this in mind, we've asked eight historians to share some surprising statistics from their fields of expertise – from the Roman empire to the Second World Wa

1,138: The number of London children recorded as dying of “teeth” in 1685. (Illustration: James Albon for BBC History Magazine)

This article was first published in the February 2014 issue of BBC History Magazine

4: The number of years’ wages that a pound of wool – twice dyed in best quality Tyrian purple – would cost a Roman soldier during the first century AD

Since c1500 BC, purple – a dye produced from the gland secretions of types of shellfish – was the colour of kings, priests, magistrates and emperors, with the highest quality dye originating in Tyre, in ancient Phoenicia (now modern Lebanon).

Want to read more?

Become a BBC History Magazine subscriber today to unlock all premium articles in The Library

Unlock now