), dealers in money, included money-changers, usurers or
money-lenders, and bankers properly so called, or intermediaries between
The primitive “tables of the money changers,” set up
throughout Greece in the market-place and other public resorts (Plat.
p. 17 C; Hipp. Min.
p. 368 B),
like the mensa argentaria
of the Romans and
the “bench” of the mediaeval Italians, acquired an enlarged
meaning with the development of commerce; and the name τραπεζίτης
was applied indifferently to men
who carried on several distinct branches of business which might, or
might not, be combined in the same hands. The κερματιστὴς
(the noun is post-classical, but κερματίζω
are both found) gave small change for the
larger coins, as obols for drachmas: the κολλυβιστὴς
changed foreign money at an agio (καταλλαγὴ
), or provided gold to be remitted
abroad (Isocr. Trapez.
§ 40; Dem. de
p. 376.114=124, with Shilleto's note; c.
p. 1216.30; Pollux, 3.84, 7.170), The δανεισταὶ
advanced money at high interest to
the necessitous, or lent it on the security of ships and their
cargoes--a hazardous speculation when marine insurance was unknown;
hence at Athens their headquarters were in the Peiraeus, and it was even
said, doubtless with some exaggeration, that no ship could leave the
port without this accommodation to traders (Dem. c.
p. 922.51). This class of business, and even the more
legitimate banking, was mostly carried on by μέτοικοι
or resident aliens and freedmen, who, like the
Jews in the Middle Ages, bore themselves submissively towards the
citizens, and had to console themselves with large profits for much
social inferiority and disrepute and occasional ill-treatment. Thus
Cephisiades, a man of this type, is called μέτοικος καὶ οὐδὲν δυνάμενος
p. 1243.25). There were, however, bankers who
enjoyed a wide connexion and had the management of large sums of money,
and whose position as men of business had won them general confidence.
The most conspicuous example of this class is the well-known Pasion,
who, through his litigious son Apollodorus, occupies a large space in
the Demosthenic orations. (For a sketch of his career, see Mahaffy,
Social Life in Greece,
ed. 3, pp. 414-418; Sandys,
Introductions to Dem. pro Phorm.
) As in modern times, such bankers received money [p. 1.180]
on deposit at a low interest (or what passed
for such) and lent it out at a higher. A banking account without
interest, for the mere convenience of receiving dividends and paying
cheques, was a conception as unknown to the Greeks as a joint stock or a
State bank. The interest allowed to depositors may perhaps be inferred
from a passage in Demosthenes: the father of the orator had, besides the
capital invested in his two businesses as a cabinet-maker and
sword-cutler, a talent out on loan, seemingly with the τραπεζῖται,
at the rate of a drachma per
mina per month, or 12 per cent. a year (ἐπὶ
i. p. 816.9); he had also some money in
Pasion's and two other banks (ib. § 11). Half as much again, or
18 per cent. (ἐπ̓ ἐννέα ὀβολοῖς
was a common rate of interest at Athens, as we see in the case of
divorced couples: if the husband neglected or delayed to refund the
dowry he had received with his wife, her guardians (κύριοι
) could proceed against him for the
principal and interest calculated at that rate. Sixteen per cent.
(ἐπ̓ ὀκτὼ ὀβολοῖς
) is mentioned
as charged for a mortgage upon a house (Dem. c. Nicostr.
p. 1250.13, with Sandys' note). But where the security was bad, the
bankers clearly made much higher profits, and even the leading men among
them were not ashamed to act the usurer's part, and to trade upon the
necessities of the spendthrift and of men beginning business without
capital. Thus in an important fragment of Lysias (i. ed. Teubner, B. ed. Oxon.), Aeschines, the disciple of
Socrates, is described as, after having tried tavern-keeping and
apparently failed in it, setting up a perfumery business with money
borrowed at 36 per cent. In the case of bottomry loans or advances on
ships' voyages, as the principal was lost if the ship foundered, 25 or
30 per cent. in proportion to the risks was regarded as legitimate
business (Dem. c. Lacr.
p. 926.10. This συγγραφὴ,
as an “inserted
document,” is liable to some suspicion, but it is accepted not
merely by Boeckh, P. E.
p. 137, but by recent scholars,
such as Büchsenschütz, Besitz und
p. 498). For fuller details on the subject of the
interest of money, see FENUS
Among the securities on which money could be raised we find plate and
valuables (Dem. c. Nicostr.
p. 1249.9), land and houses
p. 946.6). We have here, perhaps, the
explanation of the fact that citizenship was somewhat freely conferred
on leading bankers, even if, like Pasion and his manager and successor
Phormio, they were of servile origin. The right of holding real property
) was confined to
citizens, to the exclusion of ξένοι
: and had all the lenders
belonged to the latter class, no Athenian would have been able to take
up money on mortgage, as no one would have lent if debarred from taking
possession of the security in default of payment.
The notion of many Greeks (which a few years ago might have been
pronounced exploded, but has lately been revived in unexpected quarters)
that all taking of interest partook of the nature of usury, was shared
even by Aristotle (εὐλογώτατα μισεῖται ἡ
1.10, 4). 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 (Dem.
p. 957.44); their credit enabled them to
raise money at a moment's notice in distant cities (id. c.
p. 1224.56). Such confidence was placed in them,
that sometimes business was transacted with them without witnesses
§ § 2, 53); money and
contracts of debt were deposited with them, and agreements were
concluded or cancelled in their presence (Dem. c.
p. 1242.24; c. Dionysod.
They had thus become, as Hermann remarks, a sort of unofficial notaries
public. On the other hand, there are instances of bankers losing
everything they possessed, and becoming utterly bankrupt (ἐκστῆναι τῶν ὄντων,
p. 959.50; c. Steph.
i. p. 1120.64;
p. 895.9; c. Timoth.
1204.68). The high rates of interest that ruled are of themselves enough
to prove that the security was often bad; and there is other evidence of
the unsatisfactory condition of banks and banking. The law of debt was
severe, but badly administered; and in the ill-regulated and impulsive
Athenian dicasteries, the fraudulent debtor had at his command every
species of subterfuge and dishonest contrivance against the creditor. In
we see the shifts of
borrowers to escape or transfer liability; in the
no less a person than Pasion himself is
openly accused of repudiation, backed by forgery (cf. Jebb, Att.
2.222-226). We have, it is true, only one side of each
case, and are unable to judge of their merits; but the fact remains that
such charges were made in open court, and fought out with a good deal of
hard swearing. Prof. Mahaffy observes: “Perhaps the safest and
clearest evidence as to their insecurity is the fact stated on the
bankers' side, that when Pasion's son had his choice of a business
worth 60 minae, or a bank worth 100, in respective yearly income, he
justly, says the orator, preferred the ownership of the business
establishment, on account of the insecurity of an income made from
other people's money. This speaks volumes on the point, and is
itself sufficient evidence of the bad condition of banking”
(Mahaffy, p. 413; Dem. pro Phorm.
Before the rise of this 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 Cleisthenes and the Alcmaeonidae
borrowed from the Delphic sanctuary, with the consent of the
Amphictyons, the funds with which the Pisistratids were overthrown
§ 232; Dem. c.
p. 561.144): and at the outbreak of the Peloponnesian war
the Corinthians proposed to equip a fleet with loans effected at Delphi
and Olympia (Thuc. 1.121
). 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
(cf. AMPHICTYONS) and other inscriptions, that
private persons enjoyed [p. 1.181]
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 (Aristot. Econ. 2.4.4
): all that is
really stated is that an impoverished government, among other
expedients, sold a monopoly of money-changing to a particular bank.
(Boeckh, P. E.
bk. i., ch. xxii.; K. F. Hermann,
Büchsenschütz, Besitz und Erwerb,
500-510; Becker-Göll, Charikles,
Mahaffy, Social Life in Greece,
ed. 3, ch. xiii.)
The existence of bankers (argentarii
Rome can be proved as early as 309 B.C. (See Liv.
.) There does not seem any
sufficient evidence to show that these were silversmiths; and it would
be contrary to the simplicity of the times that the establishments of
the silversmiths should have been so numerous as to form a prominent
feature in the town. Silver was not coined at Rome till 268 B.C.; but the term argentarii
can be very well explained if we regard them
as the exchangers of foreign, especially South Italian and Etruscan,
silver coin into Roman bronze currency. (See Weissenborn on Livy, l.c.
) Of course, in imperial times, argentarius
meant a silversmith. (Lamprid.
24; Cod. Theod. 12.1, 37; 13.4, 2: cf.
675, note 10; Wilmann's Index, 645.)
As a distinct class the bankers were called argenteae
(Dig. 2. 13
, pr.), negotiatores
(Orelli, 4060); and, indeed, negotiatores
simply was the title of the dealers
in money as they appear in the Roman provinces (Marquardt,
i.2 539 sq.
). But we find allusion often made to NVMMVLARII and MENSARII
or MENSVLARII, terms which seem synonymous; for Festus explains
(cf. Suet. Aug.
). That these are in some respects different from, though as
regards pure banking business very similar to, the argentarii,
is certain from Dig. 2.
“Nummularios quoque non esse iniquum cogi rationes edere
Pomponius scribit; quia et hi nummularii sicut argentarii rationes
conficiunt, quia et accipiunt pecuniam et erogant per partes quarum
probatio scriptura codicibusque eorum maxime continetur; et
frequentissime ad fidem eorum decurritur.” How did they
Some writers say the argentarii
bankers, the mensarii
public. Heimbach (Die Lehre
von dem Creditum,
p. 619) holds just the reverse view. The
were public state-licensed
bankers, the nummularii
an inferior sort of
money-changers, says Heumann (Handlexikon zu den Quellen des
1884, s. vv.
All these authors, when fully understood, state what seems to be the
true view, which appears to be as follows:--The argentarii,
we saw above, were money-changers (though
later their functions in this department passed to the nummularii
), and as such had necessarily always
considerable sums of ready money on hand. Now such holders and dealers
in money are the natural bankers. But they were private individuals.
Whenever in early times we hear of public or state bankers, they are
appointed for a special emergency (quinqueviri
or tresviri mensarii,
to lend money to private individuals during a financial crisis (Liv. 22.60
Lange, Röm. Alt.
2.173), though when appointed
they fulfilled other state-banking business (Liv.
). Appointments of this
kind occur twice during the Republic, in 351 B.C. and 216 B.C. When the
Aerarium lent aid in a similar crisis in 33 A.D., Tiberius seems to have done it through the ordinary bankers
(Tac. Ann. vi.
17), though Mommsen
ii.2 692) thinks
that here too a special commission was appointed.
Somewhat different are the nummularii.
the outset this title appears to have been confined to state-officers,
but officers of the mint and not bankers. It was they who assayed the
coins (Dig. 46. 3
; cf. Otto Hirschfeld, Verwaltungsgeschichte,
1.95, note 5, and C. I. L.
6.298), and who distributed
the newly-coined money among the people. These latter were also called
5.49, who applies both terms to them), and in
25). But here again is a class who deals in
and possesses considerable quantities of ready money, and so are natural
bankers; and, as time went on, they came to be allowed to transact,
besides their official functions, pure banking business, i. e. receiving
deposits, opening current accounts, making loans, &c. (Dig. 16. 3
5, 24, 2, mensularii
): and thus, in point
of law, so far as banking was concerned, were assimilated to the
quoted above). So all three terms came to be used indiscriminately for
bankers; and a good example is the fact that all three are applied to
the grandfather of Augustus. (Suet. Aug. 2
But though the bankers were private business men, they were regarded as
exercising a public function. (Dig. 2. 13
“quia officium eorum atque ministerium publicam habet causam
et haec principalis eorum opera est ut actus sui rationes diligenter
conficiant;” 42. 5, 24, 2, “fidem publicam
secuti” ); and this is further shown by the special provisions
the law made as regards argentarii
reference to COMPENSATIO
(Gaius, 4.66, 68; and Poste ad
), and the Actio RECEPTITIA
(Sandars on Just. Inst.
4.6. 8, 9; Salkowski, §
128). Just as stock-brokers in London are licensed by the Lord Mayor,
and in Dublin by the Lord Lieutenant, so in imperial times at Rome the
bankers were under the supervision of the praefectus
(Dig. 1. 12
), and in the
provinces under that of the governor (Suet. Galb.
Pagenstecher (De litterarum obligatione,
&c., p. 28) has supposed that they were licensed by the state.
We can thus see how and in what sense the opinion has arisen that one or
other class were public bankers. Both, as far as they were bankers, were
just as much private and just as much public as (say) our stockbrokers.
then were strictly bankers;
and their various functions may be classified as follows:--1. Permutatio,
or the exchange of foreign coin for
Roman coin, in which case a small agio (collybus) was paid to them.
(Cic. in Verr. 3.78,
.) In later times, when the Romans became acquainted with the Greek
custom of using bills of exchange, the Roman [p. 1.182]argentarii,
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
Cic. Att. 15.1. 5
). This mode of transacting business is
likewise called permutatio
(Cic. Att. 12.2. 4
; comp. 5.15, 2, 11.1, 2, 24, 3; ad Fam.
7, 3.5, 4; ad Quint. Frat.
1.3, 7; pro Rabir.
14, 40), and rendered it necessary for the argentarii
to be acquainted with the current
value of the same coin in different places and at different times. (See
the comment. on Cic. pro Quinct.
, 17.) 2. 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.
66, &c.; 3.66, &c.) 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. 16. 3
). The argentarius
thus did almost the same sort of business as
a modern banker. Many persons entrusted all their capital to them (Cic. pro Caec. 6
, 16); and
instances in which the argentarii
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 scripturam,
while a payment made by
the debtor in person was a payment ex area
5.3, 7, &c., Capt.
2.3, 89; Cic. Att. 1.9
2.3, 69; Senec. Epist.
26, 8; Gaius,
3.131; Donat. ad
2.413.) An argentarius
never paid away any
person's money without receiving a cheque which was called 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.
2.4, 34, &c.,
5.2, 20 ; Donat. ad
5.7, 28, &c., ad
2.4, 13; Cic. Att. 4.1.
, § 2, 9.12, 3, 12.51, 3, Phil.
5.19; Hor. Sat.
2.3, 76.) We also find that argentarii
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. (Plaut. Curc.
4.1, 19; 2, 22,
1.2, 40; Tac.
) Of all this business, of the receipts as well as
of the expenditure, the argentarii
accurate accounts in books called codices,
(Dig. 2. 13
), and there is every reason for believing that
they were acquainted with what is called in book-keeping double entry
]. When an argentarius
settled his accounts with persons with whom he did business, it was done
either in writing or orally, both parties meeting for the purpose (Dig. 2
, tit. 14, s. 47.1; 14, tit. 3, s. 20;
3.5, 53, &c.), and the party found
to be in debt paid what he owed, and then had his name effaced (nomen expedire, exsolvere
) from the banker's books. (Plaut. Cist.
1.3, 41; Cic.
) As the books of the argentarii
were generally kept with great accuracy, and
particularly in regard to dates (Dig. 2. 13
), they were
looked upon as documents of high authority, and were appealed to in the
courts of justice as unexceptionable evidence. (Cic. pro Caec. 6
, 16; Gellius, 14.2
.) Hence the argentarii
were often concerned in civil cases, as money
transactions were rarely concluded without their influence or
co-operation. Their codices or tabulae could not be withheld from a
person who in court referred to them for the purpose of maintaining his
cause, and to produce them was called edere
, tit. 13, s. 1.1), or proferre codicem
(2, tit. 13, s. 6, §
§ 7, 8). 3. Their connexion 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,
3.1, 64), and sometimes they undertook to sell
the whole estate of a person, as an inheritance. (Dig.
, tit. 3, s. 18; 46, tit. 3, s. 88.) At public auctions they
were almost invariably present, registering the articles sold, their
prices and purchasers, and receiving the payment from the purchasers.
(Cic. pro Caec. 6
Quint. Inst. 11.2
; Suet. Nero
; Gaius, 4.126; Capitolin. M. Anton. Phil.
9.) At auctions, however, the argentarii
might transact business through their clerks or servants, who were
from their collecting the
money. Horace's father (Hor. Sat.
and Vespasian's grandfather (Suet. Vesp.
1) were coactores.
This business, connected with
auctions, seems to have belonged exclusively to argentarii.
Banking establishments were often owned by several partners (socii
), and we find some special peculiarities
about such partnerships: e. g. each partner was liable by custom for the
debts of the firm (ad Herenn.
2.13); again, each partner
had an action against a debtor to the firm (Dig. 2.
). For other peculiarities
see Dig. 2. 4
25; and Humbert in Saglio's Dict.
p. 408. 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
(Dig. 2. 13
); but generally the slave was only the
manager of the bank (institor
) for his
master (Dig. 14. 3
). During imperial times the
like so many other branches
of the community, organised themselves into a collegium, and we find in
the 3rd century two Roman inscriptions originating from them (Orelli,
913, 995); and Justinian, Nov.
136 pr., mentions the
as a corporation at
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 (Cic. pro Caec.
, 10; Aurel. Vict. 72; Suet. Vesp.
1.6, 86), while others speak of them with contempt
4.2, 20, Casin.
&c.); but this contradiction may be easily reconciled by
distinguishing between a lower and a higher class of argentarii.
A wealthy argentarius
who carried on business on a large scale was
undoubtedly [p. 1.183]
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
1.1, 51; Terent. Phorm.
2.4, 13); hence to become bankrupt was
expressed by foro cedere,
1.2, 16; Dig. 16
, tit. 3, s. 7.2.) The shops or booths were public
property, and built by the censors, who sold the use of them to the
Comp. J. G. Sieber, Dissertat. de Argentariis,
1737; H. Hubert, Disput. juridicae III.
Traject. 1739; W. T. Kraut,
G. E. Heimbach, Die Lehre von dem Creditum,
1849; F. Walter, Geschichte des römischen
Bonn, 1860.202; Marquardt, Römische
Leipzig, 1876, vol. ii. pp. 63-66; Saglio
and G. Humbert ap. D. and S.