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FENUS (τόκος), interest of money.


At Athens, Solon, among other reforms, abolished the law by which a creditor was empowered to sell or enslave a debtor, and prohibited the lending of money upon a person's own body (ἐπὶ τοῖς σώμασι μηδένα δανείζειν, Plut. Sol. 15; de Vit. aere alieno, 4, p. 828 F: of. Dem. de Fals. Leg. p. 422.255, 50.24 f. As regards the other states, see Lys. c. Agorat. § 98; Isocr. Plataic. § 48; Diod. 1.79, etc.). No other restriction, we are told, was introduced by him, and the rate of interest was left to the discretion of the lender (τὸ ἀργύριον στάσιμον ἐ̂ναι ἐφ̓ ὁπόσῳ ἂν βούληται δανείζων, Lys. c. Theomn. 1.18; yet see Schol. on Dem. c. Timocr. p. 766, μὴ λαμβάνειν πολλοὺς τόκους). The only case in which the rate was prescribed by law was in the event of a man separating from his lawful wife, and not refunding the dowry he had received with her. Her trustee or guardian ( κύριος) could in that case proceed against him for the principal, with lawful interest at the rate of 18 per cent. (Dem. c. Aphob. i. p. 818.17, etc.) [DIVORTIUM (Greek).]

Any rate might be expressed or represented in two different ways: (1) by the number of oboli or drachmas paid by the month for every mina; (2) by the part of the principal (τὸ ἀρχαῖον or κεφάλαιον) paid as interest, either annually or for the whole period of the loan. According to the former method, which was generally used when money was lent upon real security (τόκοι ἔγγυοι or ἔγγειοι), different rates were expressed as follows:--10 per cent. by ἐπὶ πέντε ὀβολοῖς, i. e. 5 oboli per month for every mina, or 60 oboli a year = 10 drachmas = 1/10 of a mina. Similarly:

12 per cent. by ἐπὶ δραχμῇ per month.

16 per cent. by ἐπ̓ ὀκτὼ ὀβολοῖς, per month.]

18 per cent. by ἐπ̓ ἐννέα ὀβολοῖς per month.

24 per cent. by ἐπὶ δυσὶ δραχμαῖς per month.

36 per cent. by ἐπὶ τρισὶ δραχμαῖς per month.

The interest was usually paid at the end of the month (Aristoph. Cl. 16 ff., 749 ff., and Schol. on 17, and 1129 f.; Theophr. Char. 24, ed. Jebb: yet see Dem. c. Polycl. p. 1225.61, ἐπειδὴ ἐνιαυτὸς ἐξῆλθεν, etc., and C. I. G., No. 1845).

Another method was generally adopted in cases of bottomry, where money was lent upon the ship's cargo or the ship itself or the freightage, for a specified time, commonly that of a voyage. By this method the following rates were thus represented

10 per cent. by τόκοι ἐπιδέκατοι, i. e. interest at the rate of a tenth; 12 1/2 , 16 2/3 , 20, 33 1/3 , by τόκοι ἐπόγδοοι, ἔφεκτοι, ἐπίπεμπτοι, and ἐπίτριτοι, respectively. So that, as Boeckh (P. E. pp. 123, 124=Sthh.3 i. p. 157) remarks, leaving out of account cases of bottomry which were not necessarily for the space of a year, the τόκος ἐπιδέκατος is equal to the ἐπὶ πέντε ὀβολοῖς.

The τόκος ἐπόγδοος = the ἐπὶ δραχμῇ nearly.

The τόκος ἔφεκτος = the ἐπὶ ὀκτὼ ὀβολοῖς nearly.

The τόκος ἐπίπεμπτος = the ἐπὶ ἐννέα ὀβολοῖς nearly.

The τόκος ἐπίτριτος = the ἐπὶ τρισὶ δραχμαῖς nearly.

These nearly corresponding expressions are not to be considered as identical, however closely the rates indicated by them may approach each other in value; although in the age of Justinian, as Salmasius (de M. U.) observes, the τόκος ἐπόγδοος or 12 1/2 per cent. was confounded with the centesima, which is exactly equal to the interest at a drachma or 12 per cent.

The rates above explained occur frequently in the Orators; the lowest in ordinary use at Athens being the τόκος ἐπιδέκατος or 10 per cent., the highest ἐπὶ τρισὶ δραχμαῖς or 36 per cent. (charged by a banker, Lys. c. Aeschin. fr. 1). The higher rates, however, were chiefly confined to cases of bottomry, and denote more than they appear to do, as the time of a ship's voyage was generally less than a year. We find the rate of 10 per cent. mentioned in Dem. c. Onet. i. p. 866.7; Arist. Rhet. 3.10, 7, p. 1411 a, 15; C. L. A. i. No. 283 (cf. Boeckh, Kleine Schriften, v. p. 455); C. I. G. No. 3599, 1. 13 (Ilion). The ἐπὶ δραχμῇ, or rate of 12 per cent., was common in the time of Demosthenes (c. Aphob. i. p. 820.23, p. 824.35, etc.; Aeschin. c. Ctesiph. § 104; C. I. G. No. 93 = C. I. A. ii. No. 1055), but appears to have been thought low. The interest of eight oboli or 16 per cent. occurs in that orator (c. Nicostr. p. 1250.13); and even in the age of Lysias and Isaeus, nine oboli for the mina, or 18 per cent., appears to have been a common rate (Lys. c. Aeschin. fr. 1; Isae. Hagn. § 42). Aeschines (c. Tim. § 107) also speaks of money being borrowed [p. 1.832]on the same terms. The rate of 25 per cent. occurs in Lys. de bon. Aristoph. § 25. On the whole, we may conclude that the usual rates of interest at Athens about the time of Demosthenes varied from 12 to 18 per cent. That they were nearly the same in range, and similarly expressed, throughout the rest of Greece, appears from the authorities quoted by Boeckh (Sthh.3 i. p. 165). No conclusions on the subject of the general rate of interest can be drawn from extreme instances on either side, such as a rate of a little more than 1 per cent. (Rangabé, Antiq. hellén. i. p. 195 = C. I. A. i. p. 147), of 6 2/3 per cent. (Bull. de Corresp. hellén. v. p. 157, Delphi), of 7 per cent. (in a will, C. I. G. No. 2448, 1.50.30-2.50.10, Thera), or the exorbitant rates charged by bankers and common usurers (τοκογλύφοι, toculliones, ὀβολοστάται, ἡμεροδανεισταί). Thus in the Delphian inscription referred to above the low interest is to be accounted for by the strictness of the terms as regards security: the capital was to be lent on land of double its value and for five years at the outside, and the borrowers had moreover to find sureties. When a banker charged as much as 36 per cent. interest, this was probably because he worked with foreign capital (cf. Dem. c. Aphob. i. p. 816.11; pro Phorm. p. 947.11), so that his profit consisted in the difference between the interest which he received and that which he himself had to pay. Some of the common usurers exacted as much as an obolus and a half per day for each drachma (Theophr. Char. 6= 16, ed. Jebb); some exacted compound interest (Theophr. Char. 10 = 24 ed. Jebb; Aristoph. Cl. 1156: but compound interest is also mentioned in an official document, Rangabé, Antiq. hellén. ii. p. 603, cf. C. I. G. No. 2335, εὐθυτοκία); some deducted the interest before paying out the principal (Plut. de Vit. aere alieno, 4, p. 829 B). Moneylenders and bankers in general, from the high profits which they realised, and the severity with which they exacted their dues, seem to have been as unpopular amongst their fellow-citizens as Jews and usurers in more modern times. Demosthenes, indeed, intimates that the fact of a man being a money-lender was enough to prejudice him, even in a court of law, amongst the Athenians (μισοῦσιν οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι τοὺς δανείζοντας, c. Pantaen. p. 981.52). Plato calls money ξύμβολον τῆς ἀλλαγῆς ἕνεκα (de Rep. ii. p. 371 B; de Legg. xi. p. 918 B), and disapproves of lending money upon interest (de Legg. v. p. 742 C; for an instance of ἄτοκον χρέως, cf. Dem. c. Nicostr. p. 1250.12). Aristotle holds a similar view; he objects (Pol. 1.3, 23 S. = 4, 10 Bk.) on principle to putting money out at interest (εὐλογώτατα μισεῖται η ὀβολοστατική), as being a perversion of it from its proper use, as a medium of exchange, to an unnatural purpose, viz. the reproduction or increase of itself; whence, he adds, comes the name of interest or τόκος, as being the offspring of a parent like itself. (Cf. Shakespeare's “breed of barren metal.” ) The Greeks in general, however, looked upon money as upon any other commodity: this view could not but grow up as trade and commerce developed; capital was needed for commercial and industrial enterprise, and from the name for it (ἀφορμή) we see that the Greeks looked upon it as the very starting point of business (Dem. pro Phorm. p. 947, § § 11, 12; Harpocr. s.v. etc.).

The arrangement of a loan would of course depend upon the relation between the borrower ( χρήστης, Dem. c. Onet. i. p. 867.12; c. Zenoth. p. 885.12; c. Phorm. p. 946.6; cf. Harpocr. s. v. χρῆσται or χρεώστης, χρεωφειλέτης in inscr. and later Greek) and the lender ( χρήστης, δανειστής), and the confidence placed by one in the other. Sometimes. money was lent without written bond, or security, or witnesses ([Dem.] c. Timoth. p. 1202.61), especially by bankers ([Dem.] c. Timoth. p. 1185.2), since their books seem to have afforded sufficient evidence (Isocr. Trapez. 2; Att. Process, ed. Lipsius, p. 686, yet see Philippi, Jahrb. f. kl. Phil. 1866, p. 611 ff.). Pollux (2.152) calls such a loan χειρόδοτον (cf. Hesych. sub voce Bekk. Anecd. 89, 23, διὰ χειρὸς δανεῖσαι: and Diod. 1.79, ἀσύγγραφα δανείσασθαι). But generally a regular instrument (συγγραφή, συνθῆκαι: χειρόγραφον is a term foreign to Attic law, cf. Gneist, d. formellen Verträge d. röm. Obligationsrechtes, p. 437 ff.) was executed by both parties before witnesses, whose names were mentioned in the document, sealed up (to prevent its being tampered with, συσσημηναμένου of the surety, Dem. c. Lacrit. p. 928.15), and deposited before witnesses with a third party, usually a banker (Dem. c. Phorm. p. 908.6; Lye. c. Leocr. § 23); such agreements were sometimes made in duplicate (Dem. c. Phorm. p. 916.32). In Sparta such documents were called κλάρια (Plut. Ages. 13); for the peculiar formalities observed in drawing them up, see Schol. Aristoph. Birds 1284, and Suid. s. v. σκυτάλη. Amongst the Locrians συγγραφαὶ were not allowed (Zenob. 5.4; cf. Strabo vi. p.260). Witnesses were also present at Athens at the payment of the money borrowed (Dem. c. Phorm. p. 915.30; c. Lacrit. p. 925.9). The security for a loan was a third party (συστῆσαί τινα, Dem. c. Spud. p. 1029.6; p. 1032.16, etc.; C. I. A. ii. No. 570, τιμήμα<*> (= ἀποτιμήματι, cf. Harpocr. s. v.) ἐγγυητῇ), or an ἐνέχυρον or a ὑποθήκη. The ἐνέχυρξν was put into the possession of the lender, and consisted generally of movable property; the ὑποθήκη was merely assured to the lender, and generally, though not always, consisted of real or immovable property. [ENECHYRA] At. Athens, when land or house property was given as security, or mortgaged (συμβόλαιον ἔγγειο<*>, Dem. c. Apat. p. 983.3; δάνεισμα ἔγγυον, Pollux, 3.84, 8.141), pillars [HORI] or stone tablets were placed upon it with the debt, and the mortgagee's name and that of the archon eponymus inscribed (ἀφορίζειν τὸ χωρίον, [Dem.] c. Timoth. p. 1202.61). An unencumbered estate was called an ἄστικτον χωρίον, (Harpocr. s. v.). Without the consent of the creditor no more money might be borrowed on mortgaged property ([Dem.] c. Nicostr. p. 1249.10; ἐπιδανεῖσαι, Bekk. Anecd. 259, 1: cf. C. I. A. ii. No. 1113, and Dittenberger, S. I. Gr. No. 344 (Ephesus), 1. 33, ἐπὶ τοῖς ὑπερέχουσι δανεῖσαι). See 50.36 ff. on the treatment of those who had fraudulently contracted a fresh loan on the security of property already mortgaged. If the debtor became insolvent, the mortgaged land passed into the possession of the creditor without legal proceedings (Dem. c. Spud. p. 1030.7). [p. 1.833]This practically excluded metoecs from lending money on the security of land, as they were not entitled to hold such property [ENCTESIS]. In some parts of Greece there were public books of debt, like the German and Scotch registers of mortgages (Theophr. π. νόμων, fr. 21, in Journ. of Philol. vi. p. 4: in Chios, Arist. Oecon. ii. p. 1347 b, 35; in Aphrodisias, C. I. G. No. 2826; in Smyrna, No. 3282); but they are not mentioned as having existed at Athens.

Bottomry (ἔκδολις: τὸ ναυτικὸν δάνεισμα, Harpocr. s.v. cf. Dem. c. Aphob. p. 816.11; τόκος ναυτικός) was considered a matter of so much importance at Athens that fraud or breach of contract in transactions connected with it was sometimes punished with death (Dem. c. Phorm. p. 922.50). In these cases the loans were generally made upon the cargo shipped (ἐπὶ τοῖς χρήμασι, φορτίοις), sometimes on the vessel itself (ἐπὶ τῇ νηΐ, τῷ πλοίῳ, Dem. c. Lacrit. p. 933.32; c. Dionysod. p. 1283.3), and sometimes on the money received or due for passengers and freightage (ἐπὶ τῷ ναύλῳ, [Dem.] c. Timoth. p. 1192.26; ναῦλον, like “freight,” seems to have meant either the charge for carrying cargo, as above, or the cargo itself, as in Dem. c. Zenoth. p. 882.2, viz. the portion of the cargo belonging to the skipper: Boeckh, Sthh.3 i. p. 166, n.). The principal as well as the interest could only be recovered in case the ship met with no disaster in her voyage, a clause to this effect being generally inserted in all agreements of bottomry or ναυτικαὶ συγγραφαί (σωθείσης τῆς νεώς, Dem. c. Zenoth. p. 883.5; c. Phorm. p. 916.33; Bekk. Anecd. 283, 9). The additional risk incurred in loans of this description was compensated for by a high rate of interest, and the lenders took every precaution against negligence or deception on the part of the borrowers; the latter also were careful to have witnesses present when the cargo was put on board, for the purpose of deposing, if necessary, to a bonâ--fide shipping of the required amount of goods at the lender's risk (Dem. c. Phorm. p. 915.27 f.). The loan itself was either a δάνεισμα ἑτερόπλουν, i. e. for a voyage out, or it was a δάνεισμα ἀμφοτερόπλουν, i. e. for a voyage out and home. In the former case the principal and interest were paid at the place of destination, either to the creditor himself, if he sailed in the ship (Dem. c. Callipp. p. 1242.20), or to an authorised agent (Dem. c. Phorm. p. 909.8; p. 914.26). In the latter case the payment was made on the return of the ship (Dem. c. Lacrit. p. 926.11, within twenty days after the return), and it was specially provided in the agreement between the contracting parties that she should sail to some specified places only. A deviation from the terms of the agreement, in this or other respects, was, according to a clause usually inserted in the agreement, punishable by a fine (τὰ ἐπιτίμια, in Dem. c. Dionysod. p. 1294.38, twice the amount of the money lent; see also c. Phorm. p. 916.33, and p. 914.23). Moreover, if the goods which formed the original security were sold, fresh articles of the same value were to be shipped in their place (Dem. c. Phorm. p. 909.9).

The rate of interest would of course vary with the risks and duration of the voyage, and therefore we cannot expect to find that it was at all fixed. Xenophon (de Vectig. 3, 7-14) speaks of the fifth and third parts of the capital lent as being commonly given in bottomry, referring of course to voyages out and home. The rate of interest for the time of a voyage from Athens to the Bosporus and back again was 30 per cent. (Dem. c. Phorm. p. 914.23); for a voyage (lasting three days) from Byzantium to Athens, 10 or 12 per cent. (Athen. 7.292 b); for a voyage from Sestos to Athens, 12 1/2 per cent., upon condition that the trireme should first go to Hierum to convoy vessels laden with corn (Dem. c. Polycl. p. 1211.17).

The best illustration of the facts mentioned above is found in a ναυτικὴ συγγραφή, given in the speech of Demosthenes against Lacritus (p. 925 ff., § § 10--13; cf. c. Dionysod. p. 1284, § § 5, 6). Westermann (Abhandl. d. Sächs. Gesellsch. d. Wissensch. 1850, p. 136) and Schaefer (Dem. u. s. Zeit, iii. B, p. 286, n. 3) consider it spurious; Boeckh calls it “a very carelessly written instrument ;” and Blass (Att. Beredsamk. 3.1, p. 502) looks upon it as genuine, “since it would have been too much for any grammarian to fabricate such a document.” Two Athenians lent two Phaselitans 3,000 drachmas upon a cargo of 3,000 jars of Mendean wine, on which the latter were not to owe anything else, or raise any additional loan. They were to sail from Athens to Mende or Scione, where the wine was to be shipped, and thence to the Bosporus, with liberty, if they preferred it, to continue their voyage “to the left (i. e. northern, to a ship sailing eastward) parts” of the Black Sea as far as the Borysthenes, and then to return to Athens; the rate of interest being fixed at 225 drachmas in 1000, or 22 1/2 per cent. for the whole time of absence. If, however, they did not return to Hierum, a port in Bithynia close to the Thracian Bosporus (C. I. G. ii. p. 975), before the early rising of Arcturus, i. e. before the 20th of September or thereabouts, when navigation began to be dangerous, they had to pay a higher rate of 30 per cent. on account of the additional risk. The agreement further specified that there should be no change of vessel for the return cargo, and that if it arrived safely at Athens the loan was to be repaid within twenty days afterwards, without any deductions except for loss by payments made to enemies and for jettison (ἐντελὲς πλὴν ἐκβολῆς, etc.), made with the consent of all on board (οἱ σύμπλοι) ; that till the money was repaid, the goods pledged (τὰ ὑποκείμενα) should be under the control of the lenders, and be sold by them, if payment was not made within the appointed time; that if the sale of the goods did not realise the required amount, the lenders might raise the remainder by making a levy (πρᾶξις) upon the property of both or either of the traders, just as if they had been cast in a suit, and became ὑπερήμεροι (i. e. had not complied with a judgment given against them within the time appointed). Another clause in the agreement provides for the contingency of their not entering the Pontus; in that case they were to remain in the Hellespont, at the end of July, for ten days after the early rising of the dog-star (ἐπὶ κυνί) discharge their cargo (ἐξλέσθαι) in some place where the Athenians had no right of reprisals [p. 1.834][SYLAE] (which might be executed unfairly, and would lead to retaliations), and then, on their return to Athens, they were to pay the amount of interest in the bond for the previous year, i. e. the lower rate. Lastly, if the vessel were to be wrecked, the cargo was, if possible, to be saved for the benefit of the lenders, any goods that might be saved being the property of both lenders alike (κοινὰ τοῖς δανείσασι: cf. Sandys ad loc.).

From the preceding investigation it appears that the rate of interest amongst the ancient Greeks was higher than in modern Europe, and at Rome in the age of Cicero. This high rate does not appear to have been caused by any scarcity of money, but by the unwillingness of those who had capital to lend it out at a low rate of interest, since they could use it themselves to more advantage in trade, or, owing to the cheapness of slave labour, in agriculture; hence even the interest on land and house property is proportionately high. Isaeus (Hagn. § 42) says that land at Thria was let for 8 per cent. of its value, and houses at Melite and Eleusis for 8<*> per cent.; in C. I. A. ii. No. 600, 12 per cent. is stipulated for an estate. (Boeckh, Sthh.3 i. p. 156 ff.; Büchsenschütz, Besitz u. Erwerb, p. 478 ff.)

[R.W] [H.H]

2. Roman

The Latin word for interest, fenus or foenus, originally meant any increase, and was thence applied, like the Greek τόκος, to denote the interest or increase of money. “Fenus,” says Varro (ap. Gel. 16.12), “dictum a fetu et quasi a fetura quadam pecuniae parientis atque increscentis.” The same root is found in fecundus. Fenus was also used for the principal as well as the interest (Tac. Ann. 6.17; 14.53). Another term for interest was usurae, generally found in the plural, and also impendium, on which Varro (L. L. 5.183, Müller) remarks, “a quo (pondere) usura quod in sorte accedebat, impendium appellatum.”

That a high rate of interest is a sign that industry and trade are still in their infancy, is now one of the elementary maxims of political economy. The remark occurs in Hume's Essays (1.322, ed. Green and Grose), and is applied to the early times of Greece by Boeckh (P. E. p. 59=Sthh.3 1.76) and to those of Rome by Marquardt (Staatsverw. 2.57). As in Attica before the σεισάχθεια of Solon, and as in France, Russia, and Ireland at the present day, the tendency of small cultivators is everywhere to sink into debt, to be compelled to mortgage future crops for the sake of immediate subsistence, and, unless specially protected, to fall into the grasp of the usurer. In early Latium this tendency was aggravated by the law of addictio, which consigned the debtor to personal slavery [NEXUM], and by the incessant ravages of war. Hence at Rome the rate of interest was originally unlimited; and the grievances of debtors fill a large space in the earliest struggles between the patricians and the plebs (Liv. 2.23, 27, 29). Not only money but food, and especially seed-corn, was lent on exorbitant usury; a practice which we find prevailing in much later times, long after the direct interest of money had been placed under control. Thus St. Jerome mentions that ten bushels of corn might be lent in winter to be repaid by fifteen at the next harvest (in Ezechiel, 6.18). This form of usury is still practised in Italy (Beauclerk, Rural Italy, p. 54).

The first restriction was imposed by the decemviral legislation of the Twelve Tables, B.C. 451, which established fenus unciarium as the normal rate. Interest at this time was yearly, as it had once been at Athens (Boeckh, P. E. p. 124=Sthh.3 1.157); and this, as Marquardt observes, is the natural arrangement for an agricultural people, who pay their debts most conveniently when they have gathered in their crops. The explanation of Niebuhr is now universally accepted, that the fenus unciarium was an ounce (uncia) in the pound (as), i.e. a twelfth part of the principal, or 8 1/3 per cent. annually. The theories that it could have been either one-twelfth of the centesima paid monthly, i. e. 1 per cent. per annum, or one-twelfth of the principal paid monthly, i. e. 100 per cent. per annum, err grossly on the side either of defect or excess; it is impossible to believe that creditors would have lent for so little as the one, or that debtors could have paid so much as the other. These improbable conjectures could only have arisen from the notion that the interest must always have been paid monthly; but though towards the close of the republic this was the practice, there is no trace of it in early times. (Niebuhr, Hist. Rom. 3.57; Rein, Römische Privatrecht, p. 304). On one point, however, the authorities are divided. Niebuhr reckons the fenus unciarium on the year of ten months, so that it would amount to 10 per cent. on the year of twelve months; and in this he is followed by Huschke (Recht des Nexum, p. 98 ff.) and Mommsen (Röm. Gesch. i.3 274=1.220 tr. Dickson), while Walter (Gesch. des Röm. Rechts, § 609) and Steuber understand 8 1/3 per cent. on the full year. The treatise of Steuber (Der Zinsfuss bei den Römern, Basel, 1857). collects and criticises the recent literature of the subject. For the year of ten months, see CALENDARIUM p. 341 a.

Towards the last century of the republic (in the time of Sulla, Niebuhr thinks, and under foreign influence) the interest of money became due on the first of every month: hence the phrases tristes or celeres calendae and calendarium, the latter meaning originally a debt-book or book of accounts. It is not difficult to account for the change; it was probably connected with the modifications made from time to time in the Roman law of debtor and creditor (such as the abolition of personal slavery for debt), the natural effect of which would be to make creditors more cautious in lending money, and more vigilant in exacting the interest due upon it.

The rate of interest was expressed in the time of Cicero and afterwards by means of the as and its divisions, according to the following table:--

Asses usurae, or one as per month for the use of 100 = 12 per cent.
Deunces usurae 11 per cent.
Dextantes 10 per cent.
Dodrantes 9 per cent.
Besses 8 per cent.
Septunces 7 per cent.
Semisses 6 per cent.
Quincunces 5 per cent.
Trientes 4 per cent.
Quadrantes 3 per cent.
Sextantes 2 per cent.
Unciae 1 per cent.

[p. 1.835]

Instead of the phrase asses usurae, a synonym was used, viz. centesimae usurae, inasmuch as at this rate of interest there was paid in a hundred months a sum equal to the whole principal. Hence binae centesimae = 24 per cent., and quaternae centesimae=48 per cent. So also in the line of Horace (Sat. 1.2, 14), “Quinas hic capiti mercedes exsecat,” we must understand quinas centesimas, or 60 per cent.; as the sum taken from the capital. Horace is speaking, however, of spendthrifts and those who prey upon them. Juvenal tells of one Crepereius Pollio, a usurer of this stamp, who offered to lend at 36 per cent. (triplicem usuram, Sat. 9.7) and found none who were fools enough to borrow. How usury worked in the provinces in the last days of the senatorial régime is well shown in the Quart. Rev., Oct. 1888; the virtuous Brutus, acting of course through an intermediary and keeping behind the scenes, tried to get 48 per cent. out of the Cyprians, and plagued Cicero, then proconsul of Cilicia, to put on the screw for him. [NEGOTIATORES] Verres, it is insinuated, over and above his exactions from the wretched Sicilians, made 24 per cent. out of the public money with which he had to buy corn for the Roman people (Cic. Ver. 3.71, § 165). In Rome itself, at the same period, the accumulation of capital brought about a reasonably low though fluctuating rate of interest on good business; Cicero mentions a sudden rise from 4 per cent. to 8 (ad Att. 4.15). Under the early empire we find the now familiar expression “a modest 5 per cent.,” while 11 pet cent. savours of “sweating” (Pers. 5.150). The endowment of the alimentarii at Veleia was invested on mortgage at 5 per cent.; that of another similar charity, the alimentarii Baebiani in Liguria, at only 2 1/2 (Henzen, Tab. alim. Baeb. p. 27; ALIMENTARII).

If a debtor could not pay the principal and interest at the end of the year, he used to borrow money from a fresh creditor, to pay off his old debt. This proceeding was very frequent, and called a versura (compare Ter. Phorm. 5.2, 16), a word which Festus (s. v.) thus explains: “Versuram facere, mutuam pecuniam sumere, ex eo dictum est, quod initio qui mutuabantur ab aliis, ut aliis solverent, velut verterent creditorem.” It amounted to little short of paying compound interest [ANATOCISMUS], another phrase for which was usurae renovatae; e.g. centesimae renovatae is 12 per cent. compound interest, to which Cicero (Cic. Att. 5.21) opposes centesimae perpetuo fenore= 12 per cent. simple interest. The following phrases are of common occurrence in connexion with borrowing and lending money at interest:--Pecuniam apud aliquem collocare, to lend money at interest; relegere, to call it in again; cavere, to give security for it; opponere or opponere pignori, to give as a pledge or mortgage: hence the pun in Catullus, xxvi.: “ Furi, villula nostra non ad Austri
Flatus opposita est, nec ad Favoni:
Verum ad millia quindecim et ducentos.
O ventum horribilem atque pestilentem.

The word nomen is also of extensive use in money transactions. Properly it denoted the name of a debtor, registered in a banker's or any other account-book: hence it came to signify the articles of an account, a debtor, or a debt itself. Thus we have bonum nomen, a good debt: nomina facere, to lend monies (Cic. Fam. 7.2. 3), and also to borrow money (Id. de Off. 3.14.59). Moreover, the Romans generally discharged debts through the agency of a banker (in foro et de mensae scriptura) rather than by a direct personal payment (ex area domoque); and as an order or undertaking for payment was given by writing down the sum to be paid, with the receiver's name underneath or alongside it (see Dem. c. Callipp. p. 1236.4), hence came the phrases scribere nummos alicui, to promise to pay (Plaut. Asin. 2.4, 34); rescribere, to pay back, of a debtor (Ter. Phorm. 5.7, 29). So also persoribere, to give a bill or draft (perscriptio) on a banker for payment, in opposition to payment by ready money (Cic. Att. 12.5. 1; 16.2).

The Roman law of debtor and creditor is given under NEXUM It is sufficient to remark here that the Licinian laws [LEGES LICINIAE], by which the grievances of debtors were to a certain extent redressed, did not lay any restriction on the rate of interest that might be legally demanded; and it is clear from various circumstances that the scarcity of money at Rome after the taking of the city by the Gauls had either led to the actual abolition of the old uncial rate (unciarium fenus) of the Twelve Tables, or caused it to fall into disuse. Nine years, however, after the passing of these laws (Liv. 7.16), the rate of the Twelve Tables was re-established, and any higher rate prohibited by the bill (rogatio) of the tribunes Duilius and Maenius. Still this limitation of the rate of interest did not enable debtors to pay the principal, and what Tacitus (Tac. Ann. 6.16) calls the fenebre malum became at last so serious that the government thought it necessary to interfere, and remedy, if possible, an evil so great and inveterate. Accordingly, fourteen years after the passing of the Licinian laws, five commissioners were appointed for this purpose under the title of mensarii or bankers. These opened their banks in the forum, and in the name of the treasury offered ready money to any debtor who could give security (cavere) to the state for it: moreover, they ordered that land and cattle should be received in payment of debts at a fair valuation, a regulation which Caesar adopted for a similar purpose (Suet. Jul. 42). By these means Livy (7.21) tells us that a great amount of debt was satisfactorily liquidated. Five years afterwards, the legal rate of interest was still further lowered to the semiunciarium fenus (Liv. 7.23.3), or the twenty-fourth part of the whole sum (ad semuncias redacta usura, Tac. Ann. 6.16); and in B.C. 346 we read of several usurers being punished for a violation of the law (Liv. 7.28), by which they were subjected to a penalty of four times the amount of the loan (Cato, do Re Rust. init.). But all these enactments were merely palliatives; the termination and cure of the evil was something more decisive-neither more nor less than a species of national bankruptcy--a general abolition of debts or χρεῶν ἀποκοπαί. This happened in B.C. 341, a year remarkable for political changes of great importance, and was followed up by the passing of the Genucian laws, which are said to have forbidden the taking of usury altogether. [p. 1.836]On this point, indeed, Livy speaks doubtfully ( “invenio apud quosdam L. Genucium tribunum plebis tulisse ad plebem, ne fenerare liceret,” 7.42.1): but that all interest had been at one time forbidden by law is stated by Appian (App. BC 1.54) and Tacitus (l.c.); the latter adds that it had always been evaded. There was a very simple way of doing so; it only affected Roman citizens, and therefore the usurers granted loans, not in the name of themselves, but of the Latins and allies who were not bound by it (Liv. 35.7). To prevent this evasion the Sempronian law was passed (B.C. 193), which placed the Latins and allies on the same footing in respect of lending money as the full Roman citizens. At last, after many futile attempts to prevent the exaction of interest at any rate and in any shape, the idea was abandoned altogether, and the centesima or 12 per cent. per annum became the legal and recognised rate. Niebuhr, as we have already observed, is of opinion that it was first adopted at Rome in the time of Sulla; but whether it became the legal rate by any special enactment, or from general consent, does not appear. Some writers have inferred (Heinecc. 3.15) that it was first legalised by the edicts of the city praetors, an inference drawn from the general resemblance between the praetorian and proconsular edicts. Of the latter we have an example in the case of Cicero; he decreed for Cilicia a maximum of 12 per cent., but did not venture directly to oppose the Shylock Brutus in the matter of 48 per cent. with compound interest. ( “Quum ego in edicto tralatitio centesimas me observaturum haberem, cum anatocismo anniversario ille ex syngrapha postulabat quaternas,” ad Att. 5.21.11.) The rest of the letter is most amusing.

Whether this inference is true or not, it is admitted that the centesima or 12 per cent. was the legal rate at the end of the republic and also under the emperors. In the case of fenus nauticum, however, or bottomry, as the risk was the money-lender's, he might demand any interest he liked while the vessel on which the money was lent was at sea; but after she reached harbour, and while she was there, no more than the centesima could be demanded. Justinian reduced the legal rate to 6 per cent. on ordinary loans, and made 12 per cent. the maximum for fenus nauticum, whether at sea or in harbour (Heinecc. 3.16).

Under the empire we find a very few examples of the practice, more familiar to the Greeks, of reckoning the interest annually, not by months, at a certain fraction of the capital, e. g. one-eighth or 12 1/2 per cent. (Henzen, Inscr. 7215). After Constantine's changes in the currency, this practice became more common. The yearly interest was now fixed at 3 siliquae per solidus; and as the solidus contained 24 siliquae, this amounted to one-eighth of the principal. The Romans had no convenient way of expressing this 12 1/2 per cent., and they transferred the word centesima to it; hence the centesima in the times before Constantine means 12 per cent., after him 12 1/2 (Godefroi ad Cod. Theod. 2.33, 1). (Cf. Marquardt, Staatsverw. 2.59-62.)

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hide References (24 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (24):
    • Cicero, Letters to his Friends, 7.2.3
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 12.5.1
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 5.21
    • Aristophanes, Birds, 1284
    • Aristophanes, Clouds, 1156
    • Appian, Civil Wars, 1.6.54
    • Aristophanes, Clouds, 16
    • Cicero, Against Verres, 2.3.165
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 2, 27
    • Tacitus, Annales, 14.53
    • Tacitus, Annales, 6.16
    • Tacitus, Annales, 6.17
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 42
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 16
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 21
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 23
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 7, 28
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 35, 7
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 2, 23
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 2, 29
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 16.12
    • Plutarch, Solon, 15
    • Plutarch, Agesilaus, 13
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 1.79
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