Historical Gold Prices: 30 BCE to Today

Tracing Gold's Ups and Downs Since the Roman Empire

An employee arranges one kilogram gold bars at a mint refinery in Australia.

 Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Gold has been considered precious throughout history, but it wasn't used for money until around 550 BCE. At first, people carried around gold or silver coins. If they found gold, they could get their government to make tradable coins out of it. Because of its value and its usefulness as currency, the evolving value of gold can be traced back as far as 30 BCE.

Learn about the price of gold from 30 BCE through today.

Key Takeaways

  • The Romans began issuing gold coins in 50 BCE.
  • Throughout most of the following two millennia, many countries and empires set their currencies' values based on gold.
  • By the 19th century, many countries had created paper currencies based on the "gold standard."
  • Currency values were eventually detached from gold, but the value of the precious metal continues to grow today.

Gold's Value in the Roman Empire

Emperor Augustus, who reigned in ancient Rome from 31 BCE to 14 CE, set the price of gold at 40-42 coins to the pound. In other words, a pound of gold could make 40-42 coins.

The next re-evaluation occurred in the period of 211 to 217 CE, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus (Caracalla), who debased the value to 50 coins for a pound of gold, reducing the value of each coin and making gold worth more. From 284 CE to 305 CE, Diocletian further debased gold to 70 coins per pound initially, but later coins were issued at 60 coins per pound.

Constantine the Great debased it to 72 coins per pound in the years 306 CE to 337 CE.

These emperors lowered the value of the currency so much that it created hyperinflation. To illustrate, in 301 CE, one pound of gold was worth 50,000 denarii, which is another coin based on silver. By 337 CE, it was worth 30 million denarii.


As the price of gold rose, so did the price of everything else. Middle-class people could not afford their daily needs, and empires crumbled.

The Price of Gold in Early Great Britain

In 1257, Great Britain set the price for an ounce of gold at 0.89 pounds. It raised the price by about 1 pound each century, as follows:

  • 1351: 1.34 pounds
  • 1465: 2.01 pounds
  • 1546: 3.00 pounds
  • 1664: 4.05 pounds
  • 1717: 4.25 pounds

In the 1800s, most countries printed paper currencies that were supported by their values in gold. This was known as the "gold standard." Countries kept enough gold reserves to support this value.

The history of the gold standard in the United States began in 1900. The Gold Standard Act established gold as the only metal for redeeming paper currency. It set the value of gold at $20.67 per ounce.

Great Britain kept gold at 4.25 pounds per ounce until the 1944 Bretton-Woods Agreement. That's when most developed countries agreed to fix their currencies against the U.S. dollar because the United States owned the majority of the world's gold.

Gold's Regulation in the United States

Before the Gold Standard Act, the United States used the British gold standard. In 1791, it set the price of gold at $19.49 per ounce but also used silver to redeem currency. In 1834, it raised the price of gold to $20.69 per ounce.

Defense of the gold standard helped cause the Great Depression. A recession began in August 1929 after the Federal Reserve had raised interest rates in 1928. After the 1929 stock market crash, many investors started redeeming paper currency for its value in gold. 

The U.S. Treasury worried that the United States might run out of gold. It asked the Federal Reserve to raise rates again. The rise in rates increased the value of the dollar and made it more valuable than gold. This approach worked in 1931.

Higher interest rates made loans too expensive, which forced many companies out of business. They also caused deflation, since a stronger dollar could buy more with less. Companies cut costs to keep prices low and remain competitive. That further worsened unemployment, which turned the recession into a depression.


By 1932, speculators again turned in money for gold. As gold prices rose, people hoarded the precious metal, thus sending prices even higher.

To stem the redemption of gold, President Franklin D. Roosevelt outlawed private ownership of gold coins, bullion, and certificates in April 1933. Americans had to sell their gold to the Fed.

A year later, Congress passed the Gold Reserve Act, which allowed Roosevelt to raise the price of gold to $35 per ounce. That lowered the dollar value, creating healthy inflation. 

In 1937, FDR cut government spending to reduce the deficit, which reignited the Depression. By that time, the government stockpile of gold had increased to nearly $9 billion. It was held at the U.S. Bullion Reserves at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

In 1939, FDR increased defense spending to prepare for World War II, and the economy expanded. Around the same time, the Dust Bowl drought ended. This combination ended the Great Depression. 


In 1944, the major powers negotiated the Bretton-Woods Agreement, making the U.S. dollar the official global currency. The United States defended the price of gold at $35 per ounce.

In 1971, President Nixon told the Fed to stop honoring the dollar's value in gold. That meant foreign central banks no longer could exchange their dollars for U.S. gold, essentially taking the dollar off the gold standard. Nixon was trying to end stagflation, a combination of inflation and recession. However, inflation was caused by the rising power of the dollar, as it had replaced the British sterling as a global currency by then.


In 1976, unhinged from the dollar, the price of gold quickly shot up to more than $120 per ounce.

By 1980, traders had bid the price of gold up to nearly $600 as a hedge against double-digit inflation. The Fed ended inflation with double-digit interest rates but caused a recession. Gold dropped to $410 per ounce and remained in that general trading range until 1996, when it dropped to $288 per ounce in response to steady economic growth.

Traders returned to gold after each economic crisis, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the 2001 recession.

Gold shot up to $872.37 per ounce during the 2008 financial crisis. The price of an ounce of gold hit a new high of $1,917.90 in August 2011. Investors were worried about a U.S. debt default.

In January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak to be a global pandemic. By Aug. 3, 2020, gold settled at an all-time record of $2,016.58 an ounce.

Gold prices trended lower at the start of 2021 compared to the previous year's high, but have moved in both directions. Earlier in the year, investors took profits. But as the year progressed the possibility of rising inflation and the Federal Reserve raising short-term interest rates increased. On Nov. 22, 2021, gold settled at $1,816.5.

Gold started 2022 at $1,751.85 an ounce, peaked mid-year at $2,017.15, and has settled slowly ever since before landing at $1,660.80 in early October.

Gold Prices by Year

The below graph below tracks the price of gold since 1968, with some notable events in the Gold market.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What affects gold prices?

Like all markets, gold prices are subject to forces of supply and demand. When it comes to gold, supply is affected by trading trends as well as by mining companies digging up more gold that they can put into the market. One of the key factors impacting demand is the current market sentiment on inflation. When inflation rises, the value of the dollar goes down, and some investors flock to gold in hopes that it serves as a stable store of value.

Does volatility in gold prices affect interest rates?

Interest rates are tied to inflation, so they have historically been closely related to gold prices, as well. When the dollar's strength increases and inflation decreases, then interest rates could be expected to fall at the same time as gold prices. Inflation is decreasing, so cash-like investments don't need to offer such high-interest rates, and fewer people are rushing to gold as a stable store of value.

What does the spot price mean when buying gold?

When people refer to the "spot price" of gold, they simply mean the price at which you could buy gold at that moment. Commodity traders, who often trade futures, are the ones most likely to differentiate the spot price from the "futures price," or the price guaranteed by a futures contract.

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