Putting a dollar amount on Smaug's treasure hoard

Illustration for article titled Putting a dollar amount on Smaugs treasure hoard

How much do you think Smaug, the magnificent dragon from The Hobbit, is really worth? Forbes writer Michael Noer says it's not that difficult to calculate: $8.6 billion. Want to know how he figured that out?


Awe-inspiringly nerdily, is how. Here's the beginning of his calculation:

We know from the novel that Smaug's wealth comes down to three primary components, the mound of silver and gold that he sleeps on, the diamonds and other precious gemstones encrusted in his underbelly, and the "Arkenstone of Thrain," which is depicted as something like the Hope Diamond on steroids. (There are certainly other valuable items in Smaug's hoard – rare suits of armor and so on – but the point of the exercise is to establish a minimum, conservative, net worth and the total value of a pile of ancient weaponry is probably no more than a rounding error in a fortune measured in the billions of dollars.)

Let's start with the metals.

The book describes Smaug as "vast," "centuries-old" and of a "red-golden color." According to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons' site The Hypertext d20 SRD a true-dragon of that age and color measures around 64 feet from snout to tail. However, a great deal of that length is likely tail. By way of reference, Komodo Dragons are 70% tail by length, so we can estimate Smaug's body to be approximately 19.2 feet long.

Dragons are long and narrow, so we can safely assume that Smaug can curl comfortably up on a treasure mound with same diameter as his body length – 19.2 feet.

How high is the mound? Well, at one point in The Hobbit, Bilbo climbs up and over the mound, and we know that Hobbits are approximately three feet tall. Assuming the mound is twice the height of Bilbo, we can say that the mound has a height of approximately 6 feet – like a six foot tall man climbing over a 12 foot mound of coins; substantial but not insurmountable.

To keep the math relatively simple and to avoid complications like integrating the partial volume of a sphere, we can approximate Smaug's bed of gold and silver to be a cone, with a radius of 9.6 feet (1/2 the diameter) and a height of 7 feet (assuming the weight of the dragon will smush down the point of the cone by about a foot).

Now we can calculate the volume of Smaug's treasure mound:

V= 1/3 π r2 h = 1/3 * π * 9.62 * 7 = 675.6 cubic feet

And that's just getting started. You'll want to read the rest, to find out exactly how he calculates the rest of Smaug's haul, including all those diamonds. Check it out via Forbes.

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I disagree with the method used to figure Smaug's size here. A Dragon of the indicated AD&D size would not have been able to perform some of the feats that Smaug did, such as wrecking part of the side of the mountain when going after the Dwarves or destroying the great hall of Esgaroth with a swipe of his tail.

Likewise the analysis of the size and dimensions of the hoard is a bit lacking. Bilbo's climb over the hoard was a protracted affair, described as him walking up and up (for an extended period) occasionally stumbling over some object of treasure. Furthermore it is unwise to disregard the value of the 'ancient' weapons and armor, as I doubt that Bilbo's coat was the only object of mithril in the entirety of the hoard.