1 Mitford's History of Greece, vol, i. page 193.
"The lender has his security, either on the merchandise or the goods of the borrower; but. as the dangers of the sea are in part risked by the former, and the profit of the latter may be very considerable, the interest of money thus lent may rise as high as thirty per cent., more or less, according to the length and hazards of the voyage.
"The usury of which I have spoken is known by the name of maritime; that called landed is more oppressive, and no less variable.
"Those who, without risking the dangers of the sea, wish to derive profit from their money, lend it to bankers at the rate of twelve per cent. per annum, or rather one per cent. for every new moon. But as the laws of Solon do not prohibit those who have money from demanding the most extravagant interest for it, some persons receive more than sixteen per cent., and others, especially among the lower classes of people, exact every day the quarter of the principal. These extortions are not concealed, and cannot be punished, except by the public opinion, which condemns, but does not sufficiently despise those who are guilty of them.
"Commerce increases the circulation of wealth, and this circulation has given birth to the occupation of bankers, which facilitates it still more. A person who is about to make a voyage, or who fears to keep by him too great a sum of money, lodges it in the hands of these bankers, sometimes only as a trust, and without requiring any interest, and sometimes on condition of sharing with them the profit it shall produce. They advance money to generals who go to take on them the command of armies, or other individuals who stand in need of their assistance.
"In the greater part of bargains made by them, no witness is required; they content themselves with entering in a register that such a person has deposited in their hands such a sum, which they must repay to such another, if the former should happen to die. It would sometimes be very difficult to prove that they have received a sum of money, were they to deny it; but if they should expose themselves to such a charge more than once, they would lose the confidence of the public, on which depends their success in the business in which they are engaged.
"By employing the money deposited in their hands, and lending it at a greater interest than they are to pay for it, they amass riches which gain them friends, whose protection they purchase by assiduous services. But all is lost when, unable to call in their money, they are incapable of fulfilling their engagements. They are then obliged to conceal themselves, and can only escape the severity of justice by surrendering all their remaining property to their creditors.
"Those who wish to exchange foreign moneys apply to the bankers, who by different means, as the touchstone and the balance, examine whether they are not adulterated or deficient in weight." 1
"A very remarkable project, which seems to have been original with Xenophon, next occurs - the establishment of a bank by subscription, open to all the Athenian people. The interest of money, it appears, was enormous at Athens, an unavoidable consequence of the wretched insecurity of person and property. Throughout modern Europe, land is, of all property, esteemed the safest source of income; but in Greece it was held that the surest return was from money lent at interest. For in the multiplied division of Greece into small republics with very narrow territories, the produce of land was continually liable to be carried off or destroyed by an invading enemy, but a moneyed fortune, according to Xenophon's observation, was safe within the city walls. In proportion, then, to the interest of money, and the insecurity of all things, the profits of trade will always be high, and thus numbers would be induced to borrow, even at a high interest. Xenophon therefore proposed, by lending from the public stock, and encouraging commercial adventure by just regulations, to raise a great revenue, and, by the same means, instead of oppressing to enrich individuals. As a corollary, then, to his project, when the amount of the subscription or its profits might allow, he proposed to improve the ports of Athens, to form wharves and docks, to erect halls, exchanges, warehouses, market-houses, and inns, for all which tolls and rents should be paid; and to build ships to be let to merchants. Thus, while numbers of individuals were encouraged and enabled to employ themselves for their private benefits, the whole Athenian people would become one great banking company, from whose profits every member, it was expected, would derive at least an easy livelihood."
1 See Travels of Anacharsis in Greece, by the Abbe Barthelemy, and the authorities there referred to.
At Rome, the bankers were called Argentarii, Mensarii, Numularii, or Collybistce. The banking-houses or banks were called Tabernce Argentarice, or Mensce Numularice. Some of these bankers were appointed by the government to receive the taxes, others carried on business on their own account. Their mode of transacting business was somewhat similar to that which is in use in modern times
1 Mitfords History of Greece, vol. iv. page 22.
Into these houses the State, or men of wealth, caused their revenues to be paid, and they settled their accounts with their creditors by giving a draft or cheque on the bank. If the creditor also had an account at the same bank, the account was settled by an order to make the transfer of so much money from one name to another. To assign over money or to pay money by a draft, was called perscribere, and rescribere; the assignment or draft was called attri-butio. These bankers, too, were money-changers. They also lent money on interest, and allowed a lower rate of interest on money deposited in their hands. In a country where commerce was looked upon with contempt, banking could not be deemed very respectable. Among; most of the ancient agricultural nations there was a prejudice against the taking of interest for the loan of money. Hence the private bankers at Rome were sometimes held in disrepute, though those whom the government had established as public cashiers, or receivers-general, as we may term them, held so exalted a rank that some of them became consuls.1 The Romans had also loan banks, from which the poor citizens received loans without paying interest. We are told that the confiscated property of criminals was converted into a fund by Augustus Caesar, and that from this fund sums of money were lent without interest to those citizens who could pledge value to double the amount. The same system was pursued by Tiberius. He advanced a large capital, which was lent for a term of two or three years to those who could give landed security to double the value of the loan. Alexander Severus reduced the market-rate of interest by lending sums of money at a low rate, and by advancing money to poor citizens to purchase lands, and agreeing to receive payment from the produce.