History of banking From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


History of banking

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The history of banking refers to the development of banks and banking throughout history, with banking defined by contemporary sources as an organization which provides facilities for acceptance of deposits and provision of loans.[1]

The history begins with the first prototype banks of merchants of 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.

Many histories position the crucial historical development of a banking system to medieval and Renaissance Italy and particularly the affluent cities of Florence, Venice and Genoa. The Bardi and Peruzzi families dominated banking in 14th century Florence, establishing branches in many other parts of Europe.[2] The most famous Italian bank was the Medicibank, established by Giovanni Medici in 1397.[3] The oldest bank still in existence is Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, headquartered in Siena, Italy, which has been operating continuously since 1472.[4]

The development of banking spread from northern Italy throughout the Holy Roman Empire, and in the 15th and 16th century to northern Europe. This was followed by a number of important innovations that took place in Amsterdam during the Dutch Republic in the 17th century, and in London in the 18th century. 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.

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Ancient precedents[edit]

More stable economic relations were brought about with a change in socio-economic conditions from a reliance on hunting and gathering of foods to agricultural practice, during periods 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 United States.[5][6][7]


The history of banking is intertwined with the history of money. Ancient types of money known as grain-money and food cattle-money were used from a time of around at least 9000 BC, as two of the earliest things understood as things to be made use of for the purposes of barter (Davies).[8][9]

Anatolian obsidian as a raw material for Stone Age tools was being distributed from as early as about 12,500 B.C., the occurrence of an organized trade was current during the 9th millennium (Cauvin;Chataigner 1989). Within Sardinia, which was the location of one of the four main sites for sourcing the material deposits of obsidian within the Mediterranean, trade using obsidian was replaced during the 3rd millennia by trade instead of copper and silver.[10][11][12][13][14][15]


Detailed account of raw materials and workdays for a basketry workshop. Clay, ca. 2040 BC (Ur III)

History of accounting

Objects used for record keeping, “bulla” and tokens, have been recovered from within Near East excavations, dated to a period beginning 8000 B.C.E and ending 1500 B.C.E., as records of the counting of agricultural produce. Commencing in the late fourth millennia mnemonic symbols were in use by members of temples and palaces to serve to record stocks of produce. Types of records accounting for trade exchanges of payments were being made firstly about 3200. A very early writing on clay tablet called the Code of Hammurabi, refers to the regulation of a banking activity of sorts within the civilization (Armstrong) of an era which dates to ca. 1700 BCE, banking was well enough developed to justify laws governing banking operations.[nb 1] Later during the Achaemenid Empire (after 646 BC.[16]), further evidence is found of banking practices in the Mesopotamia region.[17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26]


By the 5th 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.[20][27][28][29][30]

Earliest forms of banking[edit]

The earliest banks were used exclusively by rulers to fund the more important and larger festivals and for building expenses.[31][32][33]


Economy and agriculture

Banking as an archaic activity (or quasi-banking[34][35]) is thought to have begun at various times, during a period as early as the latter part of the 4th millennia B.C.,[36] to within the 4th to 3rd millennia B.C.[37]

Among many other things, the Code of Hammurabi recorded interest-bearing loans.

Prior to the reign of Sargon I of Akkad (2335–2280 B.C.[38]) 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.[27][39][40]

In Babylonia of 2000 B.C., people depositing gold were required to pay amounts as much as one sixtieth 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.[41][42][43][44][45][46][47][48]

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 entrepreneurship rather than banking (Wunsch 2007). The provision of credit is apparently also something the Murashu family participated in (Moshenskyi 2008).[49][50][51][52][53][54][55][56][57][58]


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 Revenueswritten circa 353 B.C.[9][59][60][61]

The city-states of Greece after the Persian Wars 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.[62][63]

According to one source (Dandamaev et al), trapezites were the first to trade using money, during the 5th century B.C, as opposed to earlier trade which occurred using forms of pre-money.[64]

Specific locus of funds[edit]

The earliest forms of storage utilized were the rudimentary money-boxes (θΗΣΑΥΡΌΣ[65]) which were made similar in form to the construction of a bee-hive, and were found for example in the Mycenae tombs of 1550–1500 BC.[66][67][68][69][70][71][72]

Private and civic entities within ancient Grecian society, especially Greek temples, performed financial transactions. (Gilbart p. 3) 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. These consisted of deposits, currency exchange, validation of coinage, and loans.[9][9][60][73][74]

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.[75][76][77]

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.[78]

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).[79][80][81][82]

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).[83]

Geographical loci of banking activities[edit]

Athens received the Delian leagues‘ treasury during 454.[84]

During the late 3rd and 2nd century BC, the Aegean island of Delos, became a prominent banking center.[85] During the 2nd century, there were for certain three banks and one temple depository within the city.[32]

Thirty five Hellenistic cities included private banks during the 2nd century (Roberts – p. 130).[32]

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.[86][87][88][89][90]


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).[59][91][92]

Banks sometimes made loans available confidentially, which is, they provided funds without being publicly and openly known to have done so, in addition also, to act as intermediaries for persons to loan their own monies without this being known to others. This intermediation per se was known as dia tes trapazēs.[73]

A loan was made by a Temple of Athens to the state during 433–427 BCE.[93]


Government and economy

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.[94]

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 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),[95][96] functioning as a trade credit system that transferred payments between accounts without passing money.

According to Muir (2008) there were two types of banks operating within Egypt, royal and private.[97] During the Ptolemaic period, basilikḕ trápeza was the term used when referring to royal bank.[98]

More generally during the whole Graeco-Roman period (332 B.C. – 642 A.D.[99]), banks were of three types, either privately run, leased, or owned by government, of which included within this last group were some organisations having dual roles including being additionally treasury departments.[100]

Documents made to show the banking of taxes were known as peptoken-records.[101]

The recording of the gathering of money to buy grain in a pharaoh’s kingdom as ordered by the Biblical Joseph, is written within the book Genesis of the Bible, and this money was placed within the house of the pharaoh.[102] Joseph bought with the money of the pharaoh a large amount of corn, having this then laid in the public granaries.[103]


Gold coin produced by the Roman Imperial Mint

Roman banking activities were an economic situation which had a crucial presence within temples, for instance the minting of coins occurred within temples, most importantly the Juno Moneta temple, though during the time of the Empire, public deposits gradually ceased to be held in temples, and instead were held in private depositories. Still, the Roman Empire inherited the spirit of capitalismfrom Greece (Parker).[62][79][104]

During 352 B.C. a rudimentary public bank (known as dēmosía trápeza [98]) was formed, with the passing of consul directive to form a commission of mensarii to deal with debt in the impoverished lower classes. Another source shows banking practices during 325 BC when, on account of being in debt, the Plebeians were required to borrow money, so newly appointed quinqueviri mensarii were commissioned to provide services to those who had security to provide, in exchange for money from the public treasury. Another source (J.Andreau) has the shops of banking of Ancient Rome firstly opening in the public forums during the period 318 to 310 BC.[105][106][107]

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. 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.[107][106][60][108]

Operations of banking within Roman society were known as officium argentarii. 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. A law, receptum argentarii, obliged a bank to pay its’ clients debts under guarantee.[109][110][111][112]

Cassius Dio advocated the establishment of a