The ruble’s journey through time, from the Middle Ages to the present day

In 2014, the Russian ruble became the weakest currency in the world. According to a recent poll by the Levada Center, only 36 percent of Russians with savings keep them in rubles. In order to explain to readers why Russians are so skeptical of the national currency, RBTH has composed a five-century retrospective of the ruble, revealing the story of its ups and downs through reforms and crises, as well as showing the fluctuations in its purchasing power over time.

Find out the changing value of 100 rubles in RBTH’s 500-year retrospective. Drawing by Slava Petrakina


Starting from the 13th century, governments of different countries measured their national currency in terms of its real equivalent value in either copper, silver or gold. By the end of the 19th century, gold had become the clear winner in the battle for the role of key currency backer.

Centuries later, however, in the 1930s, the world gradually began to abandon the gold backing of currencies, and in the early 1970s, the "gold standard" was abolished completely. For the last 40 years, the cost of money, as well as the frequency of its issue, depends on the state of the economy, market expectations and decisions taken by a country’s central bank.

The Russian ruble has generally followed the trends of world monetary history. It has been silver, copper, gold, and since the mid-1970s, when Soviet drilling platforms began to produce vast quantities of oil, it has become directly dependent on the value of the black gold. Since world oil prices are not known for their stability and are prone to sudden changes – along with world gold prices – it is no great surprise that in the 20th century the ruble endured six monetary reforms, eight redenominations and a series of cases of hyperinflation, when it lost more than 200 percent of its value in just a couple of years.

Of course, changes in oil or gold prices are not the only factors that provoke the ups and downs of currencies, and we should not forget the attendant economic and political factors.

With this in mind, RBTH has composed a five-century retrospective of the ruble, revealing the story of the country’s long quest to modernize its monetary system and acquire a stable currency, as well as showing the purchasing power of the ruble over the course of the last 500 years  – as measured against the U.S. dollar. What could be bought with 100 copper rubles in 1666? What would 100 Soviet rubles buy you in 1920s? Read on to find out.


* As the U.S. dollar first appeared on Aug. 8, 1786, the conversion from rubles into dollars in the 16th and 17th centuries is not possible.


This article is based on material from the Russian State Archives of Economics and data from free sources.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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