2019 sucks. I'm going back to the Renaissance -- specifically, Florence Italy in the year 1503. I've never been that great a planner, but I should think ahead at least a little.

How do I earn a living in 1503 Florence? Better yet, how do I become rich?

I speak both Latin and modern Italian, so I figure I'll muddle through on the language side. I'm getting pretty fed up with the present, but I can probably spend a couple months learning a new skill if needed. I'm a 19 year old male in pretty good shape.

My crazy great aunt said I'll be the first one to test out her new time machine, and that I'll probably show up naked. She isn't quite sure how it will deal with paradoxes (she isn't exactly filling me with confidence here, but $%#@ the present), so I should do my best to avoid changing anything major. That means things like changing the course of a war or introducing too revolutionary of an invention (though I figure something mundane enough is probably fine) are all out.

Answers will be judged on certainty of outcome (marrying a Medici would be great, but I can't exactly count on that happening) and potential payoff (I could probably get a job as a day laborer, but that wouldn't make me much money).

Unspecific answers are no good. I thought about betting on Palio races, but couldn't dig up any winners from that long ago. If your answer requires knowledge of a specific event, please include resources for me to find that knowledge.

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    $\begingroup$ Any "get rich fast in 1503" is the same as "get rich fast in 2019". But instead of Nigerian prince they had "I am widow of a captain that got 1000 of gold in New World. I need 10 thousand to get the ship back". You have the opportunity to learn something before so you have acces to knowledge. Learn how to fake rich clothes and start your own Bitcoin. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 7:40
  • $\begingroup$ discover penicillin... for low profile sell fidget spinners then $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 8:02
  • $\begingroup$ Do you know how to make something? Steel, wire, engraving, litography, buttons, etc.? It's hard to tell how to become rich if we don't know your skill set. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 8:58
  • $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venice Probably you want to get yourself to Venice for a start. In 1503 it was a huge trade hub. $\endgroup$
    – puppetsock
    Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 15:00
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ "The present sucks. Lets go live in the past. Oh, duck! The past sucks even more!" $\endgroup$
    – JRE
    Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 15:47

7 Answers 7



While a bad advice in current times back then statistics wasn't a well developed field of math. Exploit the "seat of ones pants"-methodology of the time. Use modern knowledge to figure out which bets have a positive expectation and spread the risk as wide as possible. You would win & lose the same bets as everyone else and follow to the rules to the point, so you shouldn't be serious suspicion of cheating. The main benefit here is the low entrance barrier. A few coins earned through day labor and a place to play at. You can expand that by advancing to bookkeeper once you have sufficient cash reserves.

Once you have enough money you can build a reputation and establish yourself in the more elevated layers of society.


Modern knowledge of financial math,logistics and economics are a major asset. Being able to gauge how good a map is by comparing it to what you remember of the modern days is certainly a way to reduce the guesswork and thus increase profit margins. Both have the benefit of putting you above average in terms of performance while being plausible deniable.

Profiles of the field and the players

Don't get caught up in any of the everyday problems of the time. Early in your new life that is something mundane as disease. Later it becomes vital to know who the powerful and ruthless figures around you are and what the try to archive. Septic shock from a minor scratch? An embarrassing end. Being a pawn in the crossfire between the noble houses? The wrong kind of exciting. Etiquette helps to a degree, being aware of how prevalent syphilis was(and how to avoid it) might be wise as well.

Basic first aid and emergency procedures as well as understanding of actually working "natural remedies" are invaluable.


I speak both Latin and modern Italian, so I figure I'll muddle through on the language side.

Sorry to disappoint you, but modern Italian is far from being intelligible to a Florentine dwellers of 1505. I mean, I can read a letter from Galileo or Leonardo da Vinci and with some effort make sense out of it, but I would never be able to fluently speak in that way without some training, and I am pretty sure I would sound rather odd to their ears, too. And Leonardo or Galileo were literate people.

And Latin will help you talk with the learned, but not with common folks on the streets.

So, you start off being naked and talking in a funny/odd way. How can you become rich with this?

For starters, rule out arts. Yes, you are in a good place full of artists and protectors, but first of all you will have a fierce competition (like popping up in an NBA team and expecting to be in the starting 5), and even if you are exceptionally talented, artists back then struggle to reach the end of the month.

I would say study economy and accounting and seek employment in a bank, applying your knowledge to increase the profits of the bank. Once your efforts and successes will be noticed, you will start climbing the social ladder and end up negotiating with kings and popes.

As usual recommendation to time traveler, master hygiene and get ready to face Montezuma's curse. Also keep record of all the pestilences sweeping the land in those times, and plan your vacation accordingly.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I am Italian and I confirm that modern Italian is very different by old Florentine, but it is partially intelligible. I used to read pieces of 1500 literature at school and I am able to understand a good part. That is very far to be able to speak, but take in consideration that at that time in Italy there wasn't an official language, many and different dialects were spoken, and only educated used to speak Latin. So I think people were used to deal with travellers and start a conversation. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 8:52
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, Why pick this year off the top of a 19 year olds head. Give the character some passion. maybe hes been studying that year and is obsessed with it so he knows the language $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 12, 2019 at 5:48

Your primary requirement in that period is just to survive. Your modern person's understanding of hygiene and infection control will carry you a long way here but there are other factors to consider:

Swot up your history

Specifically the house of Medici and their on and off relationship with Florence at about your period.

The exile of the Medici lasted until 1512, after which the "senior" branch of the family — those descended from Cosimo the Elder — were able to rule until the assassination of Alessandro de' Medici, first Duke of Florence, in 1537. This century-long rule was interrupted only on two occasions (between 1494–1512 and 1527–1530), when anti-Medici factions took control of Florence. - wikipedia

Now some could say that you're in a lot of trouble and you should leave Florence before the wars start. However I'm going to point out that times of upheaval are also times of great opportunity. It's during these periods that Machiavelli rose to prominence in the city, before being exiled of course. All you have to do is pick the winning faction, that you have the advance knowledge of knowing is the Medici, and ally yourself with them in some useful way. If you get it wrong and end up allied with the republic, you might be lucky and merely be executed.

On the other hand you could also try joining the church, you can read and write so you're off to a reasonable start, but without political allies (powerful family) don't expect to reach especially high office. However the church was among the richest and most powerful organisations in the world at this point and there's plenty of opportunity for personal or familial gain as demonstrated by the political play around the high offices.


Find treasure troves identified between 1503 and today

Wikipedia lists 6 treasure troves found in Italy, I am sure there are more if you investigate a bit more. Research the finds, in particular go to the site of the find in the modern day and make sure you can find them. Go back in time, find them and sell them.

  • $\begingroup$ Oh, that's a really good idea and one I hadn't considered at all $\endgroup$
    – Kofthefens
    Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 18:40

There's a bit of a problem reconciling getting rich with not changing history too much. How much of a problem will depend on your definition of "rich", but going from 2019 to 1503 means that your standard of living is going to take a pretty large hit no matter what you do, and getting closer to a 2019 standard will cost increasingly large amounts of money.

Sure, you could be modestly prosperous by 1503 standards without necessarily disrupting timelines too much. But if you're hoping for Medici-level wealth then you will become a major player in society no matter what you do, and disposing of your estate after your death or departure will be an issue as well.

So depending on your expectations for wealth, and your degree of concern about altering the timeline in major ways, various options will be more or less attractive. But an option that you could probably employ relatively safely would be to use modern knowledge to provide goods or services to the wealthy of 1503 in a more cost-effective way than would otherwise be possible at that time. As long as you keep your knowledge to yourself, you'll retain your advantages over others in 1503, and after you die or depart the 1503 standards will not have advanced.

There are any number of ways you could do something like this, and they offer differing levels of involvement and dependency on your part. But by limiting your activities to direct services of the wealthy, your alterations to the timeline may well be subsumed by the wealth of your clients/patrons.

For a couple of easy examples:

  • A modest knowledge of modern hygiene and medicine would allow you to identify and treat or prevent diseases otherwise incurable. If you were to grow your own cultures and harvest your own penicillin you could be a miraculous concierge doctor in 1503 without actually needing much medical knowledge.
  • A couple of freely-available textbooks or case studies could teach you loads about operations management, process efficiency, and statistics which was not known in 1503. This would allow you to be much more productive (or make workers you oversee more productive), have higher-average-quality outputs, though you'd need to choose the applications carefully.
  • A small amount of technical knowledge could allow you to produce ludicrously expensive or valuable goods with far less effort than others. If you know the Bessemer-Kelly process, you can produce high-quality steel centuries early and create high-quality metal products.
  • A bit of historical geographic knowledge could let you "discover" caches of historical curiosities that would be valuable to wealthy people. Greek culture was popular.

Many more examples exist. But these are the sorts of things that society in 1503 already valued highly, and by being irreplaceably good at providing those things you'd be able to carve a nice portion of already-existing wealth off of the rich and mega-rich for yourself. And if you spent most of that income back into your local economy your presence wouldn't necessarily even alter very much.

  • $\begingroup$ There was no aluminium whatsoever in the 16th century. A shallow (or a even a deep) understanding of the Bayer process would be utterly useless. Operations management and process efficiency are almost completely useless in a world where there is no mass production of anything. (OK, except possibly printed books and some military stuff, but even there, basic mechanization would still be by very far the important step forward.) The 16th century is a very very different world, do not assume that it's just like the 20th only a little bit poorer. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 22:36
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP I'm not making any such assumption. Even modest statistics would allow people to hedge effectively on crop prices with uncertain yeilds, creating indemnity insurance products, develop interesting (or at least novel) mercantile strategies, and more. Even a marginal degree of mass production (lathes certainly existed to produce clogs to a specification) would benefit from modern knowledge. For that matter, the OP could learn a bit about mechanization and begin applying it. It doesn't have to be world-shattering to provide a commercial edge. I will remove the bit about aluminum. $\endgroup$
    – Upper_Case
    Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 22:46
  • $\begingroup$ There is a difference between arguing that a time traveler is necessarily a Connecticut Yankee and arguing that 1503 Florence made optimal use of all available information, resources, and labor. $\endgroup$
    – Upper_Case
    Commented Dec 11, 2019 at 22:47

If you're 19, then you've probably finished high school. Hopefully you were paying attention in math and maybe even physics class. If so, then you know some calculus and Newtonian mechanics. Now spend a few months studying these subjects very carefully.

This knowledge alone should make it easy for you to become the best engineer of the time. Find somewhere where you can sign up as an apprentice and work your way up. Which will happen very quickly.

You probably don't want to go sharing the secret of how you get your calculations, though, if you don't want to cause any big changes.


You could risk medicine as you know some basic things like washing hands is good and utilizing the bile of ones own body is always bad for curing health issues save maybe foot fungus and blood letting does nothing. Knowledge of modern techniques will save more people and gain you more reputation but being that the witch hunts were also still ongoing on in parts of Europe you best understand what is considered good and bad prescriptions to hand over. You may have knowledge to make some basic home remedies but this could also be viewed as witchcraft. Blacksmithing can also work they will have a far off need for it going forward and since you know the modern end result we have welding, we have metal twisting, we have unique designs you might be able to create a ye old version of goods they couldn't imagine gaining you reputation and better contracts.


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