); in Latin Argentarii
. Dealers in money; money-changers;
usurers; bankers; so called from the “table” (τράπεζα
) on which they did their business.
I. Greek.—Bankers in Greece had their stands in the
agora or other public places, and combined in their vocation a number of different pursuits.
Thus, they gave change for coins of large denominations, as obols for drachmas; bought foreign
money at a discount (καταλλάττω
); furnished gold for export,
lent money to merchants on the security of ships and cargoes, received money on deposit for
which they paid interest, and acted as pawnbrokers, advancing cash on plate, jewels, and other
The notion of many Greeks that all taking of interest partook of the nature of usury was
shared even by Aristotle (
Pol. i. 10, 4
); yet, while not altogether escaping the reproach which
attached to their calling as such, the higher class of bankers in many instances acquired much
personal respect, and a high reputation for ability combined with honesty (Pro
p. 957.44); their credit enabled them to raise money at a moment's notice in
distant cities (id. Contra Polycl.
p. 1224.56). Such confidence was placed in
them that sometimes business was transacted with them without witnesses;
money and contracts of debt were deposited with them, and agreements were concluded or
cancelled in their presence (Contra Callipp.
p. 1242.24; Contra
p. 1287.15). They thus became a sort of unofficial notaries-public.
Before the rise of a banking system, the place of banks was to some extent supplied by the
temples, which played no unimportant part in early Greek commerce. They were used as safe
places for the deposit of treasure; and having large funds of their own, derived from the rent
of their estates and from votive offerings, they employed productively both these and the sums
confided to their care. Thus Clisthenes and the Alcmaeonidae borrowed from the Delphic
sanctuary, with the consent of the Amphictyons, the funds with which the Pisistratidae were
overthrown (Isocr. Antid.
232); and at the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War
the Corinthians proposed to equip a fleet with loans effected at Delphi and Olympia (Thuc.i. 121
). It has been thought that the temples confined themselves
to State loans, and did not lend money to individuals: Büchsenschütz,
however, has shown from the Delian Marmor Sandvicense
) and other inscriptions that private
persons enjoyed this accommodation. To the undoubted general rule that no banks were either
worked or guaranteed by the State, an exception was imagined to exist at Byzantium on the
strength of a passage in Aristotle (
Oecon. ii. 4, 4
); but all that is really stated is that an impoverished
government, among other expedients, sold a monopoly of money-changing to a particular bank.
II. Roman.—Bankers are known to have existed in Rome as
early as 309 B.C. (Livy, ix. 40, 16
and their functions were substantially the same as in Greece. Originally an argentarius
was a private banker, and a nummularius
officer, connected with the Mint (see Moneta
); but in
later Latin both terms as well as mensarius, mensularius
, and collectarius
are used indiscriminately of any one engaged in the business of
lending or changing money.
The branches of a Roman banker's business were the following:
, or the exchange of foreign coin for Roman coin, in which case a
small commission (collybus
) was paid to them (Verr.
78, 180). In later times, when the Romans became acquainted with the Greek custom of using
bills of exchange, the Roman bankers, e. g., received sums of money which had to be paid at
Athens, and then drew a bill payable at Athens by some banker in that city (permutare
, Ad Att.
xv. 15, 4). This operation was also called permutatio.
The keeping of sums of money for other persons. Such money might be deposited by the owner
merely to save himself the trouble of keeping it and making payments, and in this case it was
then paid no
interest, and the money was called vacua pecunia.
When a payment was to
be made, the owner drew a cheque (Plaut. Curcul.
ii. 3, 66, etc.; iii. 66,
etc.). Or the money was deposited on condition of the argentarius
interest: in this case the money was called creditum
, and the argentarius
might of course employ the money himself in any lucrative manner
(Suet. Aug. 39
). In case of failure the law
enacted that the claims of depositarii
should be satisfied before
those of creditors who had money at interest in the bank (Dig.
xvi. 3, 7, 2).
thus did almost the same sort of business as a modern
banker. Many persons intrusted all their capital to them (Pro Caec.
and instances in which the argentarii
made payments in the name of those
whose money they had in hand are mentioned very frequently. A payment made through a banker
was called per mensam, de mensa
, or per mensae
, while a payment made by the debtor in person was a payment ex arca
or de domo.
paid away any person's money without receiving a cheque (perscriptio
and the payment was then made either in cash, or, if the person who was to receive it kept an
account with the same banker, he had it added in the banker's book to his own deposit. This
was likewise called perscribere
or simply scribere
Asin. ii. 4, 34
v. 2, 20; Ad Att.
iv. 18.2, ix. 12, 3, xii. 51, 3; Hor. Sat. ii. 3, 76
). We also find that argentarii
made payments for persons who had not deposited any money with
them: this was equivalent to lending money, which in fact they often did for a certain
percentage of interest. Of all this business, of the receipts as well as of the expenditure,
kept accurate accounts in books called codices, tabulae
, or rationes
2, 13, 1, 1),
and there is every reason for believing that they were acquainted with what is called in
book-keeping double entry.
A connection with commerce and public auctions. This branch of their business seems to have
been one of the most ancient. In private sales and purchases they sometimes acted as agents
for either party (interpretes
), and sometimes they undertook to sell the
whole estate of a person, as an inheritance. At public auctions they were almost invariably
present, registering the articles sold, their prices and purchasers, and receiving the
payment from the purchasers. At auctions, however, the argentarii
transact business through their clerks or servants, who were called coactores
from their collecting the money. Horace's father and Vespasian's grandfather
This business, connected with auctions, seems to have
belonged exclusively to argentarii.
Banking establishments were often owned by several partners (socii
Slaves were allowed to act as bankers on their own account with their peculium
, and the master was liable for the amount of the peculium
sunk in the business; but generally the slave was only the manager of the
) for his master. During imperial times the argentarii
, like so many other branches of the community, organized themselves into a
(Orelli, 913, 995).
As regards the respectability of the argentarii
, the passages of the
ancients seem to contradict one another, for some writers speak of their occupation as
respectable and honourable (Pro Caec.
4, 10); Aurel. Vict. 72; Suet. Vesp. 1
; Acron. ad
Sat. i. 6, 86
), while others speak of them with contempt (Plaut.
iv. 2, 20, Casin.
Prol. 25, etc.); but this
contradiction may be easily reconciled by distinguishing between a lower and a higher class
A wealthy argentarius
who carried on
business on a large scale was undoubtedly as much a person of respectability as a banker in
modern times; but others who did business only on a small scale, or degraded their calling by
acting as usurers, cannot have been held in any esteem. It has already
been observed that the argentarii
had their shops round the Forum (Livy, ix. 40Livy, xxvi. 11, 27
); hence to become bankrupt was expressed by foro
, or abire
, or foro mergi.
The shops or
booths were public property, and built by the censors, who sold the use of them to the argentarii
(Livy, xxxix. 44
, xl. 51).
Bibliography.—On Greek banking, see Mahaffy's
Social Life in Greece
, ch. xiii. of the third edition; Hermann,
48; Becker-Göll, Charikles
, sc. iv.;
and Büchsenschütz, Besitz und Erwerb
, pp. 500-510. On Roman
banking, see Sieber, De Argentariis (Leipzig, 1737)
De Argentariis (Göttingen, 1826)
Die Lehre von dem Creditum (Leipzig, 1849)
Des “Argentarii” (Lyons, 1884)
; and Voigt,
Ueber die Bankiers . . . der Römer (Leipzig, 1887)
Cf. also the article Fenus