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History of Banking

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The History of Banking begins with the first prototype banks of merchants in the ancient world, which made grain loans to farmers and traders who carried goods between cities. This began around 2000 BC in Assyria and Babylonia. Later, in ancient Greece and during the Roman Empire, lenders based in temples made loans and added two important innovations: they accepted deposits and changed money. Archaeology from this period in ancient China and India also shows evidence of money lending activity.

Banking, in the modern sense of the word, can be traced to medieval and early Renaissance Italy, to the rich cities in the north such as Florence, Venice and Genoa. The Bardi and Peruzzi families dominated banking in 14th century Florence, establishing branches in many other parts of Europe. Perhaps the most famous Italian bank was the Medici bank, established by Giovanni Medici in 1397. The position of the Medicis was eventually taken over by the Fuggers and the Welsers. The oldest bank still in existence is Monte dei Paschi di Siena, headquartered in Siena, Italy, which has been operating continuously since 1472. It is followed by Berenberg Bank of Hamburg (1590).

The development of banking spread from northern Italy through Europe and a number of important innovations took place in Amsterdam during the Dutch Republic in the 17th century, and in London in the 18th century.

In 1602, the Dutch East India Company issued the first shares that were made tradeable on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, an invention that enhanced the ability of joint-stock companies to attract capital from investors as they now easily could dispose of their shares.

During the 20th century, developments in telecommunications and computing caused major changes to banks' operations and let banks dramatically increase in size and geographic spread. The financial crisis of 2007–2008 caused many bank failures, including some of the world's largest banks, and provoked much debate about bank regulation.


Further information: Economic history of the world and History of economic thought


The history of banking depends on the history of money—and on grain-money and food cattle-money used from at least 9000 BC, two of the earliest things understood as available to barter (Davies), Anatolian obsidian as a raw material for stone-age tools being distributed as early as 12,500 B.C., with organized trade occurring in the 9th millennia.(Cauvin;Chataigner 1998) In Sardinia one of the four main sites for sourcing the material deposits of obsidian within the Mediterranean, trade of this were replaced in the 3rd millennia by trade in copper and silver. The society adapted from relating from one fixed material as valued deposits available for trade to another.

The possibility of stable economic relations was much improved with the change from the reliance on hunting and gathering of foods to agricultural practice, during periods dated as beginning sometime after 12,000 BC, at approximately 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, in northern China about 9,500 years ago, about 5,500 years ago in Mexico and approximately 4,500 in the eastern parts of the contemporary United States.


By the fifth millennium B.C. the settlements of Sumer, such as Eridu, were formed around a central temple. In the fifth millennium, people began to build and live in the civilization of cities, providing a structure for the construction of institutions and establishments. Tell Brak and Uruk were two early urban settlements.


Banking as understood as in an archaic state (or quasi-banking), is thought to have begun during a period as early as the second part of the fourth millennia to as late as the third to second millennia BC.

Some sources for a beginning time as within the 4th millennia are found in sources published in the year 2005 and 1999, in the 4th to 3rd millennia, 1996, as the 3rd, based on depository activity in temples (published during 1985) the 2nd (2009) or the 1st millennia, published during 1958. Certainly an individual considered possibly active as a banker (explicitly so at least by Van De Mieroop in WN Goetzmann and also by Moore, Lewis) was alive during the 18th century.


Prior to the reign of Sargon I of Akkad (2335-2280) the occurrence of trade was limited to the internal boundaries of each city-state of Babylon and the temple located at the centre of economic activity there-in; trade at the time for citizens external to the city was forbidden.

In Babylonia of 2000, people depositing gold were required to pay amounts as much as one sixth of the total deposited. Both the palaces and temple are known to have provided lending and issuing from the wealth they held—the palaces to a lesser extent. Such loans typically involved issuing seed-grain, with re-payment from the harvest. These basic social agreements were documented in clay tablets,  with an agreement on interest accrual. The habit of depositing and storing of wealth in temples continued at least until 209 B.C., as evidenced by Antioch having ransacked or pillaged the temple of Aine in Ecbatana (Media) of gold and silver.


Cuneiform records of the house of Egibi of Babylonia describe the families financial activities dated as having occurred sometime after 1000 BC and ending sometime during the reign of Darius I, show according to one source a "lending house" (Silver 2002),a family engaging in "professional banking..." (Dandamaev et al 2004) and economic activities similar to a degree to modern deposit banking, although another states the families activities better described as entrepreneuship rather than banking (Wunsch 2007). The provision of credit is apparently also something the Murashu family participated in (Moshenskyi 2008).


About the time of the 18th century BC amounts of gold were deposited within the boundaries of the temple buildings of Egypt for reasons of security.

In Egypt from early times, grain having an intrinsic value as food functioned, in addition to precious metals, as money. The regional granaries were used to store and loan the grain of communities, functions similar to banking services although not the same. Under the dynastic rule of the Greek Ptolemies, the numerous scattered government granaries were transformed into a network of grain banks, centralized in Alexandria where the main accounts from all the state granary banks were recorded. This centralized administration was the first known governmental bank (according to de Soto), functioning as a trade credit system that transferred payments between accounts without passing money.

Documents made to show the banking of taxes were known as peptoken-records.

The recording of the gathering of money to buy grain in pharaoh's kingdom as ordered by Joseph, is written within Genesis of the Torah of the Holy Bible, and this money was placed within the House of the pharaoh. Joseph brought with the money of the pharaoh a large amount of corn, having this then laid in the public granaries.


Main article: History of Banking in India

In ancient India there is evidence of loans from the Vedic period (beginning 1750 BC). Later during the Maurya dynasty (321 to 185 BC), an instrument called adesha was in use, which was an order on a banker desiring him to pay the money of the note to a third person, which corresponds to the definition of a bill of exchange as we understand it today. During the Buddhist period, there was considerable use of these instruments. Merchants in large towns gave letters of credit to one another.


Main article: History of banking in China

In ancient China, starting in the Qin Dynasty (221 to 206 BC), Chinese currency developed with the introduction of standardized coins that allowed easier trade across China, and led to development of letters of credit. These letters were issued by merchants who acted in ways that today we would understand as banks.


Main article: Economic history of Greece and the Greek world

Money Changing

Ancient Grecian bankers were in the first case moneychangers and pawnbrokers, present in the marketplace or festival sites, changing coinage of foreign merchants into the local currency.

Those thought the earliest places of storage were the money-boxes containments (θΗΣΑΥΡΟΣ) made similar to the construction of a bee-hive, as of the Mycenae tombs of 1550-1500 BC.

Palace and temple banking

Private and civic entities within ancient Grecian society; especially Greek temples (Gilbart p. 3) performed financial transactions. These consisted of deposits, currency exchange, validation of coinage, and loans.[75] The temples were the places where treasure was deposited for safe-keeping. The three temples thought the most important were the temple to Artemis in Ephesus, and temple of Hera within Samos and within Delphi, the temple to Apollo.

The first treasury to the Apollonian temple was built before the end of the 7th century BC, a treasury of the temple was constructed by the city of Siphnos during the 6th century. The task of keeping the deposited wealth provided to the temple of Asklepios were allotted often to the neokoros or zakoros; or at Kos the hierophylakes, who were also the mnemones or record keepers of such exchanges.

Before the destruction by Persians during the 480 invasion the Athenian Acropolis temple dedicated to Athena stored money; Pericles rebuilt a depository afterward contained within the Parthenon. Athens received the Delian leagues treasury during 454. The city-states of Greece after the Persian Wars in 323 produced a government and culture sufficiently organized for the birth of a private citizenship and therefore an embryonic capitalist society, allowing for the separation of wealth from exclusive state ownership to the possibility of ownership by the individual.

Non-temple and state banking

During the reign of the Ptolemies state depositories replaced temples as the location of security-deposits, records exist to show this having occurred by the end of the reign of Ptolemy I (305-284).

The first person to have participated in ancient society to some degree as a banker was named Philostephanos (of Corinth).


Many loans are recorded in writings from the classical age, although a very small proportion were provided by banks. Provision of these were likely an occurrence of Athens, with loans known to have been provided at some time at an annual interest of 12%. Within the boundaries of Athens, bankers loans are recorded as having been issued on eleven occasions altogether (Bogaert 1968).

A loan was made by a Temple of Athens to the state during 433-427 BCE.

Metic class

Many early bankers in Greek city-states belonged to the metic classification of citizenship. A slave named Pasion, for a time owned by Archestratos and Antisthenes who were partners of a banking firm in Peiraieus, was at some time Athens' most important banker. Having gained relative freedom to the metic class he was subsequently involved in banking from 394 BC, a business inherited by his slave named Phormio.

Banking locations

As the need for new buildings to house operations increased, construction of these places within the cities began around the courtyards of the agora (markets).

In the late 3rd and 2nd century BC, the Aegean island of Delos, became a prominent banking center. During the 2nd century, there were for certain three banks and one temple depository within the city.

Thirty five Hellenistic cities included private banks during the 2nd century (Roberts - p. 130).

Of the settlements of the Greco-Roman world of the 1st century AD, three were of pronounced wealth and centres of banking, Athens, Corinth and Patras.


Trapezitica is the first source documenting banking (de Soto - p. 41). The speeches of Demosthenes contain numerous references to the issuing of credit (Millett p. 5). Xenophon is credited to have made the first suggestion of the creation of an organisation known in the modern definition as a joint-stock bank in On Revenues written circa 353 B.C.

Asia Minor

Main article: Asia Minor

From the fourth millennia previously agricultural settlements began administrative activities.

The temple of Artemis at Ephesus was the largest depository of Asia. A pot-hoard dated to 600 B.C. was found in excavations by the British Museum during the year after 1904. During the time at the cessation of the first Mithridatic war the entire debt record at the time being held, was annulled by the council. Mark Anthony is recorded to have stolen from the deposits on an occasion. The temple served as a depository for Aristotle, Caesar, Dio Chrysostomus,Plautus,Plutarch,Strabo and Xenophon.

The temple to Apollo in Didyma was constructed sometime in the 6th century. A large sum of gold was deposited within the treasury at the time by king Croesus.


Gold coin produced by the Roman Imperial Mint

The Roman Empire inherited the spirit of capitalism from Greece (Parker). During the time of the Empire, public deposits gradually ceased to be held in temples, and instead were held in private depositories.

The earliest recorded evidence showing banking practices is given by one source as during 325 BC. On account of being in debt, the Plebians were required to borrow money. At that time newly appointed quinqueviri mensarii were commissioned to provide services to those that had security to provide in exchange for money from the public treasury. Another source has the shops of banking of Ancient Rome firstly opening in the public forums during the period 318 to 310 BC.

In early Ancient Rome deposit bankers were known as argentarius and at a later time (from the 2nd century anno domini onward) as nummularius (Andreau 1999 p. 2) or mensarii. The banking-houses were known as Taberae Argentarioe and Mensoe Numularioe.

Bankers operated from either appointment by the government therefore tasked with collecting taxes, or were instead independent and practicing banking for individual ends. Statutes (AD 125/126) of the Empire described "letter from Caesar to Quietus" show rental monies to be collected from persons using land belonging to a temple and given to the temple treasurer, as decreed by Mettius Modestus governor of Lycia and Pamphylia.

Money-lenders would set up their stalls in the middle of enclosed courtyards called macella on a long bench called a bancu, from which the words banco and bank are derived. As a moneychanger, the merchant at the bancu did not so much invest money as merely convert the foreign currency into the only legal tender in Rome – that of the Imperial Mint.

The Roman empire at some time formalized the administrative aspect of banking and instituted greater regulation of financial institutions and financial practices. Charging interest on loans and paying interest on deposits became more highly developed and competitive. The development of Roman banks was limited, however, by the Roman preference for cash transactions. During the reign of the Roman emperor Gallienus (AD 260–268), there was a temporary breakdown of the Roman banking system after the banks rejected the flakes of copper produced by his mints. With the ascent of Christianity, banking became subject to additional restrictions, as the charging of interest was seen as immoral. After the fall of Rome, banking temporarily ended in Europe and was not revived until the time of the crusades.


In the 4th century monopolies existed in Byzantium and in the city of Olbia in Sardinia.

Religious restrictions on interest

Most early religious systems in the ancient Near East, and the secular codes arising from them, did not forbid usury. These societies regarded inanimate matter as alive, like plants, animals and people, and capable of reproducing itself. Hence if you lent 'food money', or monetary tokens of any kind, it was legitimate to charge interest. Food money in the shape of olives, dates, seeds or animals was lent out as early as c. 5000 BCE, if not earlier. Among the Mesopotamians, Hittites, Phoenicians and Egyptians, interest was legal and often fixed by the state.


Main articles: Loans and interest in Judaism and Jewish views of poverty, wealth and charity

The Torah and later sections of the Hebrew Bible criticize interest-taking, but interpretations of the Biblical prohibition vary. One common understanding is that Jews are forbidden to charge interest upon loans made to other Jews, but obliged to charge interest on transactions with non-Jews, or Gentiles. However, the Hebrew Bible itself gives numerous examples where this provision was evaded.

    Deuteronomy 23:19 Thou shalt not lend upon interest to thy brother: interest of money, interest of victuals, interest of any thing that is lent upon interest. Deuteronomy 23:20 Unto a foreigner thou mayest lend upon interest; but unto thy brother thou shalt not lend upon interest; that the LORD thy God may bless thee in all that thou puttest thy hand unto, in the land whither thou goest in to possess it.

Christ drives the Usurers out of the Temple, a woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder in Passionary of Christ and Antichrist.

Israelites were forbidden to charge interest on loans made to other Israelites, but allowed to charge interest on transactions with non-Israelites, as the latter were often amongst the Israelites for the purpose of business anyway, but in general, it was seen as advantageous to avoid debt at all, to avoid being bound to someone else. Debt was to be avoided and not used to finance consumption, but only when in need. However, laws against usury were among many the prophets condemn the people for breaking.

It was the interpretation that interest could be charged to non-Israelites that would be used in the 14th century for Jews living within Christian societies in Europe to justify lending money for profit. As this conveniently side stepped the rules against usury in both Judaism and Christianity as the Jews could lend to the Christians as they are not Israelites and the Christians were not involved in the lending but were still free to take the loans.


Main article: Usury

Originally, the charging of interest known as usury was banned by Christian churches meaning the charging of interest at any rate was banned. This included charging a fee for the use of money, such as at a bureau de change. However over time the charging of interest became acceptable, the term came to be used for interest above the rate allowed by law.

The rise of Protestantism in the 18th century weakened Romes dictates against usury that would free up the development of banking in Northern Europe.


Main article: Riba

In Islam, it is strictly prohibited to take interest; the Quran strictly prohibits lending money on Interest. "O you who have believed, do not consume usury, doubled and multiplied, but fear Allah that you may be successful" (3:130) "and Allah has permitted trade and has forbidden interest" (2:275).

Riba is forbidden in Islamic economic jurisprudence (fiqh). Islamic jurists discuss two types of riba: an increase in capital with no services provided, which the Qur'an prohibits—and commodity exchanges in unequal quantities, which the Sunnah prohibits; trade in promissory notes (e.g. fiat money and derivatives) is forbidden.

Despite the prohibition of charging interest, during the 20th century a number of developments took place that would lead to an islamic banking model where no interest is charged but banks would still operate for profit. This would be done through charging for loans in different ways such as through fees and using method of risk sharing and different ownership models such as leasing.

Medieval Europe

Banking, in the modern sense of the word, is traceable to medieval and early Renaissance Italy, to rich cities in the centre-north such as Florence, Venice, and Genoa.

Emergence of merchant banks

Main article: Merchant bank


Map showing silk routes

The original banks were "merchant banks" that Italian grain merchants first invented in the Middle Ages. As Lombardy merchants and bankers grew in stature based on the strength of the Lombard plains cereal crops, many displaced Jews fleeing Spanish persecution were attracted to the trade. They brought with them ancient practices from the Middle and Far East silk routes. Originally intended to finance long trading journeys, they applied these methods to finance grain production and trading.

Jews could not hold land in Italy, so they entered the great trading piazzas and halls of Lombardy, alongside local traders, and set up their benches to trade in crops. They had one great advantage over the locals. Christians were strictly forbidden the sin of usury, defined as lending at interest (Islam makes similar condemnations of usury). The Jewish newcomers, on the other hand, could lend to farmers against crops in the field, a high-risk loan at what would have been considered usurious rates by the Church; but the Jews were not subject to the Church's dictates. In this way they could secure the grain-sale rights against the eventual harvest. They then began to advance payment against the future delivery of grain shipped to distant ports. In both cases they made their profit from the present discount against the future price. This two-handed trade was time-consuming and soon there arose a class of merchants who were trading grain debt instead of grain.

The Jewish trader performed both financing (credit) and underwriting (insurance) functions. Financing took the form of a crop loan at the beginning of the growing season, which allowed a farmer to develop and manufacture (through seeding, growing, weeding, and harvesting) his annual crop. Underwriting in the form of a crop, or commodity, insurance guaranteed the delivery of the crop to its buyer, typically a merchant wholesaler. In addition, traders performed the merchant function by making arrangements to supply the buyer of the crop through alternative sources—grain stores or alternate markets, for instance—in the event of crop failure. He could also keep the farmer (or other commodity producer) in business during a drought or other crop failure, through the issuance of a crop (or commodity) insurance against the hazard of failure of his crop.

Merchant banking progressed from financing trade on one's own behalf to settling trades for others and then to holding deposits for settlement of "billette" or notes written by the people who were still brokering the actual grain. And so the merchant's "benches" (bank is derived from the Italian for bench, banca, as in a counter) in the great grain markets became centers for holding money against a bill (billette, a note, a letter of formal exchange, later a bill of exchange and later still a cheque).

These deposited funds were intended to be held for the settlement of grain trades, but often were used for the bench's own trades in the meantime. The term bankrupt is a corruption of the Italian banca rotta, or broken bench, which is what happened when someone lost his traders' deposits. Being "broke" has the same connotation.


Adhemar de Monteil in chain mail carrying the Holy Lance in one of the battles of the First Crusade

In the 12th century, the need to transfer large sums of money to finance the Crusades stimulated the re-emergence of banking in western Europe. In 1162, Henry II of England levied a tax to support the crusades—the first of a series of taxes levied by Henry over the years with the same objective. The Templars and Hospitallers acted as Henry's bankers in the Holy Land. The Templars' wide flung, large land holdings across Europe also emerged in the 1100–1300 time frame as the beginning of Europe-wide banking, as their practice was to take in local currency, for which a demand note would be given that would be good at any of their castles across Europe, allowing movement of money without the usual risk of robbery while traveling.

Discounting of interest

A sensible manner of discounting interest to the depositors against what could be earned by employing their money in the trade of the bench soon developed; in short, selling an "interest" to them in a specific trade, thus overcoming the usury objection. Once again this merely developed what was an ancient method of financing long-distance transport of goods. Medieval trade fairs, such as the one in Hamburg, contributed to the growth of banking in a curious way: moneychangers issued documents redeemable at other fairs, in exchange for hard currency. These documents could be cashed at another fair in a different country or at a future fair in the same location. If redeemable at a future date, they would often be discounted by an amount comparable to a rate of interest. Eventually, these documents evolved into bills of exchange, which could be redeemed at any office of the issuing banker. These bills made it possible to transfer large sums of money without the complications of hauling large chests of gold and hiring armed guards to protect the gold from thieves.

Foreign exchange contracts

In 1156, in Genoa, occurred the earliest known foreign exchange contract. Two brothers borrowed 115 Genoese pounds and agreed to reimburse the bank's agents in Constantinople the sum of 460 bezants one month after their arrival in that city. In the following century the use of such contracts grew rapidly, particularly since profits from time differences were seen as not infringing canon laws against usury.

Italian bankers

The first bank to be established was established in Venice with guarantee from the State in 1157. According to Macardy this was due to the commercial agency of the Venetians, acting in the interest of the Crusaders of Pope Urban the Second. The reason is given elsewhere as due to costs of the expansion of the empire of Duke Vital Mitchel II, and to relieve the subsequent financial burden on the republic "a forced loan" was made necessary. To this end the Chamber of Loans, was created to manage the affairs of the forced loan, as to the loans repayment at four percent interest. Changes in the enterprises of the Chamber, firstly by the commencing of use of discounting exchanges and later by the receipt of deposits, there developed the functioning of the organisation into The Bank of Venice, with an initial capital of 5,000,000 ducats. In any case, banking practice proper began in the mid-parts of the 12th century, and continued until the bank was caused to cease to operate during the French invasion of 1797. The bank was the first national bank to have been established within the boundaries of Europe.

There were banking failures from 1255-62.

In the middle of the 13th century, groups of Italian Christians, particularly the Cahorsins and Lombards, invented legal fictions to get around the ban on Christian usury; for example, one method of effecting a loan with interest was to offer money without interest, but also require that the loan is insured against possible loss or injury, and/or delays in repayment (see contractum trinius). The Christians effecting these legal fictions became known as the pope's usurers, and reduced the importance of the Jews to European monarchs; later, in the Middle Ages, a distinction evolved between things that were consumable (such as food and fuel) and those that were not, with usury permitted on loans that involved the latter.

Coat of arms for the Medici family

Florence inhabited the most powerful of families engaged in banking. Amongst all of these including the Acciaiuoli and Mozzi, the Bardi and Peruzzi families perhaps dominated, establishing branches in many other parts of Europe. Probably the most famous Italian bank was the Medici bank, set up by Giovanni di Bicci de' Medici in 1397 and continuing until 1494. (Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena SPA (MPS) Italy, is in fact the oldest banking organisation to have surviving banking-operations, or services).

It was the Italian bankers that would take their place and by 1327, Avignon had 43 branches of Italian banking houses. In 1347, Edward III of England defaulted on loans. Later there was the bankruptcy of the Bardi (1343) and Peruzzi (1346). The accompanying growth of Italian banking in France was the start of the Lombard moneychangers in Europe, who moved from city to city along the busy pilgrim routes important for trade. Key cities in this period were Cahors, the birthplace of Pope John XXII, and Figeac.

Of Usury, from Brant's Stultifera Navis (the Ship of Fools); woodcut attributed to Albrecht Dürer

By the later Middle Ages, Christian Merchants who lent money with interest were without opposition, and the Jews lost their privileged position as money-lenders;

After 1400, political forces did, in fact, somewhat turn against the methods of the Italian free enterprise bankers, In 1401 King Martin I of Aragon had some of these bankers expelled. In 1403, Henry IV of England prohibited them from taking profits in any way in his kingdom. In 1409, Flanders imprisoned and then expelled Genoese bankers. In 1410, all Italian merchants were expelled from Paris. In 1407, the Bank of Saint George, the first state-bank of deposit, was founded in Genoa and was to dominate business in the Mediterranean.

Silver crisis

By the 1390s silver was in short supply all over Europe, except in Venice. The silver mines at Kutná Hora had begun to decline in the 1370s, and finally closed down after being sacked by King Sigismund in 1422. By 1450 almost all of the mints of northwest Europe had closed down for lack of silver. The last money-changer in the major French port of Dieppe went out of business in 1446. In 1455 the Turks overran the Serbian silver mines, and in 1460 captured the last Bosnian mine. As currency became scarce, several Venetian banks failed as did the Strozzi bank of Florence, the second largest in the city.


During this time Geneva is (according to one source) the most important and active in banking within the central Europe region.


In the times between 1527 - 1572 the Genoese people produced a number of important banking family groups, the Grimaldi, Spinola and Pallavicino families were especially influential and wealthy, also the Doria, although perhaps less influential, and the Pinelli and the Lomellini.

Spain and the Ottoman Empire

In 1401 the magistrates of Barcelona established in the city the first replication of the Venetian model of exchange and deposit, Taula de Canvi - the Table of Exchange.

Halil İnalcik suggests that, in the 16th century, Marrano Jews (Doña Gracia from House of Mendes) fleeing from Iberia introduced the techniques of European capitalism, banking and even the mercantilist concept of state economy to the Ottoman empire. In the 16th century, the leading financiers in Istanbul were Greeks and Jews. Many of the Jewish financiers were Marranos who had fled from Iberia during the period leading up to the expulsion of Jews from Spain. Some of these families brought great fortunes with them. The most notable of the Jewish banking families in the 16th-century Ottoman Empire was the Marrano banking house of Mendes, which moved to Istanbul in 1552, under the protection of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent. When Alvaro Mendes arrived in Istanbul in 1588, he is reported to have brought with him 85,000 gold ducats. The Mendès family soon acquired a dominating position in the state finances of the Ottoman Empire and in commerce with Europe.

They thrived in Baghdad during the 18th and 19th centuries under Ottoman rule, performing critical commercial functions such as moneylending and banking. Like the Armenians, the Jews could engage in necessary commercial activities, such as moneylending and banking, that were proscribed for Moslems under Islamic law.

Emergence of the Court Jew

Main article: Court Jew

Court Jews were Jewish bankers or businessmen who lent money and handled the finances of some of the Christian European noble houses, primarily in the 17th and 18th centuries. Court Jews were precursors to the modern financier or Secretary of the Treasury. Their jobs included raising revenues by tax farming, negotiating loans, master of the mint, creating new sources for revenue,floating debentures, devising new taxes. and supplying the military. In addition, the Court Jew acted as personal bankers for nobility: he raised money to cover the noble's personal diplomacy and his extravagances.

Court Jews were skilled administrators and businessmen who received privileges in return for their services. They were most commonly found in Germany, Holland, and Austria, but also in Denmark, England, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Lithuania, Portugal, and Spain. According to Dimont, virtually every duchy, principality, and palatinate in the Holy Roman Empire had a Court Jew.

Johann Berenberg of the Berenberg banking dynasty

To Germany and Poland

In the southern German realm, two great banking families emerged in the 15th century, the Fuggers and the Welsers. They came to control much of the European economy and to dominate international high finance in the 16th century.

Dutch bankers played a central role in establishing banking in the Northern German city states. Berenberg Bank is the oldest private bank in Germany, established in 1590 by Dutch brothers, Hans and Paul Berenberg in Hamburg. The bank is still owned by the Berenberg dynasty.


Further information: Financial history of the Dutch Republic

A painting of the old town hall in Amsterdam where the bank was founded in 1609.

Throughout 17th century, precious metals from the New World, Japan and other locales have been channeled into Europe, with corresponding price increases. Thanks to the free coinage, the Bank of Amsterdam, and the heightened trade and commerce, Netherlands attracted even more coin and bullion. These concepts of Fractional-reserve banking and payment systems went on and spread to England and elsewhere.


Further information: Banking in the United Kingdom

In the City of London there weren't any banking houses operating in a manner recognized as so today until the 17th century, although the London Royal Exchange was established in 1565.

The 17th and 18th centuries

By the end of the 16th century and during the 17th, the traditional banking functions of accepting deposits, moneylending, money changing, and transferring funds were combined with the issuance of bank debt that served as a substitute for gold and silver coins.

New banking practices promoted commercial and industrial growth by providing a safe and convenient means of payment and a money supply more responsive to commercial needs, as well as by "discounting" business debt. By the end of the 17th century, banking was also becoming important for the funding requirements of the relatively new and combative European states. This would lead on to government regulations and the first central banks. The success of the new banking techniques and practices in Amsterdam and also the thriving trade city of Antwerp help spread the concepts and ideas to London and helped the developments elsewhere in Europe.

Goldsmiths of London

See also: History of Goldsmiths University, London and Goldsmith

The main developers of banking in London were the goldsmiths, who transformed from simple artisans to becoming depositories of gold and silver holdings. Events such at the appropriation of £200,000 of private money by King Charles I from the royal mint, in 1640 caused merchants to lose trust in the existing institutions and drive them to find more trusted alternatives such as the goldsmiths.

Goldsmiths soon found themselves with money they had no immediate use for, and they began to lend it out at interest to merchants and the government. Finding substantial profit in this business, they began to solicit deposits and pay interest on them. The goldsmiths eventually discovered that the deposit receipts they provided were passing from person to person in lieu of payment in coin. This prompted them to begin lending paper receipts rather than coins. By promoting acceptance of the receipts as a means of payment, the goldsmiths discovered they could lend more than the gold and silver coin they had on hand, a practice that became known as fractional-reserve banking.

Debt as a new kind of money

These practices created a new kind of "money" that was actually debt, that is, goldsmiths' debt rather than silver or gold coin, a commodity that had been regulated and controlled by the monarchy. This development required the acceptance in trade of the goldsmiths' promissory notes, payable on demand. Acceptance in turn required a general belief that coin would be available; and a fractional reserve normally served this purpose. Acceptance also required that the holders of debt be able legally to enforce an unconditional right to payment; it required that the notes (as well as drafts) be negotiable instruments. The concept of negotiability had emerged in fits and starts in European money markets, but it was well developed by the 17th century. Nevertheless, an act of Parliament was required in the early 18th century (1704) to overrule court decisions holding that the gold smiths notes, despite the "customs of merchants", were not negotiable.

The sealing of the Bank of England Charter (1694)

Meanwhile, the credit of the British Crown had been diminished by default in 1672. The monarchy's urgent need for funds at rates lower than those charged by the goldsmiths, and the example of the public Bank of Amsterdam, which had been able to make an ample supply of credit available at low interest rates, led in 1694 to the establishment of the Bank of England. The Bank of England succeeded in raising money for the government at relatively low rates.

Development of central banking

Further information: Central bank

The Bank of Amsterdam became a model for the functioning of a bank in the capacity of monetary exchange and started the development of central banks. The first such bank was the Sveriges Riksbank, established in 1668. This was followed by the Bank of England which was established in 1694 and was initially founded specifically to assist the English government in funding the continued war against France.

However it was during the 18th century that important developments occurred that led to development in the role of central banks. In London the Bank of England had a monopoly over corporate banking, and even large partnerships were prohibited. But private banks, though relatively small, personal enterprises, continued to find profitable business in discounting merchants' bills. In the latter half of the century small banks in country towns grew rapidly in number and needed "correspondent" banks in London with which they could deposit and invest funds. The London banks in turn settled accounts in Bank of England notes, and by the end of the century many kept their own deposit accounts with the Bank of England.

Central banking in North America

Main article: History of central banking in the United States

The administration of the government of the State of Massachusetts issued the first bill of credit in the history of America in 1690. In 1784 John Colman proposed the idea of bank that would issue paper but this is as far as the "Colman bank" concept went. The Bank of North America was established in 1784 and started developments that led to a national banking system.

There was opposition to the creation of a central bank in the United States when the United States was first founded. But the First Bank of the United States was founded in 1791, however its charter was left to expire in 1811 because of the on-going disagreements. A second attempt was made with the establishment of Second Bank of the United States in 1816, again its charter was not renewed in 1836. It was only in 1913 with the creation of the Federal Reserve System that a de facto central bank was created in the United States.

Royal banking

During the 13th century and early 14th both the French and English monarchies were still using temple banking. Early in the reign of King George III, sometime in the 18th century, the English monarchy began to bank with a private bank known as Coutts. The French kings were using banking houses of Geneva sometime after the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789, a process of transition with a footing sometime during 1713.

Removal of religious restrictions on earning interest

Map showing the Louisiana Purchase of 1803

The rise of Protestantism freed many European Christians from Rome's dictates against usury. In the late 18th century, Protestant merchant families began to move into banking, especially in trading countries such as the United Kingdom (Barings), Germany (Schroders) and the Netherlands (Hope & Co.) At the same time, new types of financial activities broadened the scope of banking far beyond its origins. The merchant-banking families dealt in everything from underwriting bonds to originating foreign loans. For instance, bullion trading and bond issuance were two of the specialties of the Rothschilds. In 1803, Barings teamed with Hope & Co. to facilitate the Louisiana Purchase.


Rothschild family banking businesses pioneered international high finance during the industrialisation of Europe and were instrumental in supporting railway systems across the world and in complex government financing for projects such as the Suez Canal. The family bought up a large proportion of the property in Mayfair, London. Major businesses directly founded by Rothschild family capital include Alliance Assurance (1824) (now Royal & SunAlliance); Chemin de Fer du Nord (1845); Rio Tinto Group (1873); Société Le Nickel (1880) (now Eramet); and Imétal (1962) (now Imerys). The Rothschilds financed the founding of De Beers, as well as Cecil Rhodes on his expeditions in Africa and the creation of the colony of Rhodesia. From the late 1880s onwards, the family controlled the Rio Tinto mining company.

J.P. Morgan established J.P. Morgan & Co. as one of the worlds major banks by the end of the 19th century

The Japanese government approached the London and Paris families for funding during the Russo-Japanese War. The London consortium's issue of Japanese war bonds would total £11.5 million (at 1907 currency rates).

People's banks

In the 1850s a number of social reformers starting looking at needs of poor and rural communities for credit and banking facilities. The traditional banks viewed these communities as unbankable because of very small, seasonal flows of cash and very limited human resources. In Germany Franz Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch and Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen developed cooperative banking models that led on to the credit union movement. In the history of credit unions the concepts of cooperative banking spread through northern Europe and onto the US at the turn of the 20th century under a wide range of different names.

20th century

The first decade of the 20th century saw the Panic of 1907 in the US, which led to numerous runs on banks and became known as the bankers panic.
1930s Great Depression

Crowd at New York's American Union Bank during a bank run early in the Great Depression.

During the Crash of 1929 preceding the Great Depression, margin requirements were only 10%. Brokerage firms, in other words, would lend $9 for every $1 an investor had deposited. When the market fell, brokers called in these loans, which could not be paid back. Banks began to fail as debtors defaulted on debt and depositors attempted to withdraw their deposits en masse, triggering multiple bank runs. Government guarantees and Federal Reserve banking regulations to prevent such panics were ineffective or not used. Bank failures led to the loss of billions of dollars in assets. Outstanding debts became heavier, because prices and incomes fell by 20–50% but the debts remained at the same dollar amount. After the panic of 1929, and during the first 10 months of 1930, 744 US banks failed. By April 1933, around $7 billion in deposits had been frozen in failed banks or those left unlicensed after the March Bank Holiday.

Senator Carter Glass and Henry B. Steagall (1933)

Bank failures snowballed as desperate bankers called in loans that borrowers did not have time or money to repay. With future profits looking poor, capital investment and construction slowed or completely ceased. In the face of bad loans and worsening future prospects, the surviving banks became even more conservative in their lending. Banks built up their capital reserves and made fewer loans, which intensified deflationary pressures. A vicious cycle developed and the downward spiral accelerated. In all, over 9,000 banks failed during the 1930s.

In response, many countries significantly increased financial regulation. The U.S. established the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1933, and passed the Glass–Steagall Act, which separated investment banking and commercial banking. This was to avoid more risky investment banking activities from ever again causing commercial bank failures.

Late-2000s financial crisis

2007 bank run on Northern Rock, a UK bank

The Late-2000s financial crisis caused significant stress on banks around the world. The failure of a large number of major banks resulted in government bail-outs. The collapse and fire sale of Bear Stearns to JP Morgan Chase in March 2008 and the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September that same year led to a credit crunch and global banking crises. In response governments around the world bailed-out, nationalised or arranged fire sales for a large number of major banks. Starting with the Irish government on 29 September 2008, governments around the world provided wholesale guarantees to underwriting banks to avoid panic of systemic failure to the whole banking system. These events spawned the term 'too big to fail' and resulted in a lot of discussion about the moral hazard of these actions.

Major events in banking history

  •     1100–1300 – The Knights Templar ran the earliest Euro-wide/Mideast banking.
  •     1397-1494 - The Medici Bank of Florence, Italy.
  •     1542–1551 – The Great Debasement refers to the reigns of English kings Henry VIII and Edward VI.
  •     1553 – The first joint-stock company, the Company of Merchant Adventurers to New Lands was chartered in London.
  •     1602 – The Amsterdam Stock Exchange was established by the Dutch East India Company for dealings in its printed stocks and bonds.
  •     1609 – The Amsterdamsche Wisselbank (Amsterdam Exchange Bank) was founded.
  •     1656 - The first European bank to use banknotes opened in Sweden for private clientele; in 1668 the institution converted to a public bank.
  •     1690s – The Massachusetts Bay Colony was the first of the Thirteen Colonies to issue permanently circulating banknotes.
  •     1694 – The Bank of England founded to supply money to the crown.
  •     1695 – The Parliament of Scotland created the Bank of Scotland.
  •     1716 – John Law opened the Banque Générale
  •     1717 – Master of the Royal Mint Sir Isaac Newton established a new mint ratio between silver and gold that had the effect of driving silver out of circulation (bimetalism)and putting Britain on a gold standard.
  •     1720 – The South Sea Bubble and John Law's Mississippi Scheme, which caused a European financial crisis and forced many bankers out of business.
  •     1775 – The first building society, Ketley's Building Society was established in Birmingham, England.
  •     1782 – The Bank of North America opened.
  •     1791 – The First Bank of the United States was chartered by the United States Congress for 20 years.
  •     1800 – The Jewish Rothschild family establishes Euro-wide banking.
  •     1800 - On January 18 Napoleon Bonaparte founded the Bank of France.
  •     1816 – The Second Bank of the United States was chartered five years after the First Bank of the United States lost its charter, also for 20 years; the bank was created to finance the country in the aftermath of the War of 1812.
  •     1817 - The New York Stock and Exchange Board was established.
  •     1818 - The first savings bank of Paris.[199]
  •     1862 – To finance the American Civil War, the federal government under U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued a legal tender paper money called "greenbacks".
  •     1870 - The Deutsche Bank was founded.[199]
  •     1874 – The Specie Payment Resumption Act provided for the redemption of United States paper currency ("greenbacks"), in gold beginning in 1879.
  •     1913 – The Federal Reserve Act created the Federal Reserve System, the central banking system of the United States, and granted it the legal authority to issue legal tender.
  •     1930–33 – In the wake of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, 9,000 banks close, wiping out a third of the money supply in the United States.
  •     1933 – Executive Order 6102 signed by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt forbade ownership of gold coin, gold bullion, and gold certificates by U.S. citizens beyond a certain amount, effectively ending the convertibility of US dollars into gold.
  •     1971 – The Nixon Shock was a series of economic measures taken by U.S. President Richard Nixon which canceled the direct convertibility of the United States dollar to gold by foreign nations. This essentially ended the existing Bretton Woods system of international financial exchange.
  •     1986 – The "Big Bang" (deregulation of London financial markets) served as a catalyst to reaffirm London's position as a global centre of world banking.
  •     2007 – Start of the Late-2000s financial crisis that saw the a credit crunch that led to the failure and bail-out of a large number of the worlds biggest banks.
  •     2008 – Washington Mutual collapses, the largest bank failure in history.


Last modified onWednesday, 24 July 2013 07:58
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