BMCR 2010.05.02

Pistoi dia tèn technèn: Bankers, Loans, and Archives in the Ancient World: Studies in Honour of Raymond Bogaert. Studia Hellenistica 44

, , , Pistoi dia tèn technèn: Bankers, Loans, and Archives in the Ancient World: Studies in Honour of Raymond Bogaert. Studia Hellenistica 44. Leuven: Peeters, 2008. xlviii, 482. ISBN 9789042919969. €84.00.

[Table of Contents is given at the end of the review.]

These studies in honour of Raymond Bogaert are divided into four sections: the ancient Near East, the Greek world, Greco-Roman Egypt, and the Roman world, reflecting the range of Bogaert’s work on banking matters in Babylonian as well as Classical society. The papers are in English, French, German and Italian.

The ancient Near East is represented by two papers. De Graef writes on lending and borrowing in Mesopotamia in the first half of the second millennium BCE, that is, up to about 2,500 BCE, by which time interest-bearing loans were in use. Stories of cities receiving remission of debts (12) have a peculiar resonance in the current economic climate. Joannès writes on private and commercial credit in Babylonia in the sixth-fourth centuries BCE, that is, the Neo-Babylonian and Achaemenid periods, and how private and institutional funds were interconnected.

The Greek world is the locus of five papers. Faraguna writes on accounting, challenging some of De Ste Croix’s influential conclusions on the topic, specifically, those on book-keeping techniques, calculation, and the economic rationality of the ancient Greeks. Migeotte, also focussing on accounting, writes on the possible existence of ledgers in the Greek world, that is, records that classified day-to-day financial data in a systematic way. Chankowski writes on the development of accounting practices on Delos over nearly three centuries, as revealed in the surviving inscriptions. Shipton writes on the role of banks as providers of loans and takers of deposits for foreigners in classical Athens. Gabrielsen writes on the creation and role of public banks in the Hellenistic period, formally starting in Miletos in c. 230 BCE, but having antecedents from the fourth century BCE.

Greco-Roman Egypt has three papers. Geens writes on bankers’ archives dating from the third century BCE to the third CE. Four archives relate to private banks and five to the Royal Bank. Vandorpe and Clarysse write on demotic and bilingual bank receipts, which appear until 43 CE, and suggest that some of the relevant bankers may have been Hellenized Egyptians rather than immigrant Greeks. Lerouxel compares the activities of private banks in Roman Egypt and Italy, as attested in the Murecine archive and Roman papyri.

The Roman world is very well represented with nine papers. Andreau writes on the four different words by which the notion of interest is expressed in Latin texts of Republic to early Empire date. No negative connotations are carried by any of them. Verboven writes on a range of financial activities other than deposit-taking carried out by late republican and early imperial period banks. Liu writes on the role of endowments, in cash and in property, in the structure and function of Roman collegia. This could have made credit available to productive people for productive purposes. This is important. García Morcillo writes on public intervention in private auctions, particularly on the workings of the auction tax and the bankers’ role with respect to that. This is followed by a closely related chapter by Petrucci, who writes on bankers’ interventions in private auctions, and particularly the legal issues surrounding the provision of credit at auction. Gröschler writes on various types of security attested in the Murecine archive, including a weak and ancient form that did not allow the creditor to dispose of the material pledged. Jakab writes on TPSulp. 48 (and 49), which is a highly complex document attempting to limit to one party all financial liabilities arising from another party’s actions. She argues that, contrary to the face value of the document and previous interpretations, this is not a legal mandate; the only legal contract properly put in 48 is a stipulatio. The rest is badly chosen legalistic window-dressing. [One of the editors has an alternative interpretation, xlii-iii.] Terpstra writes on transaction costs and the role of Roman law in reducing these, particularly information, negotiation, and enforcement costs, citing examples from the Murecine archive in support. Rathbone and Temin compare financial intermediation in first-century Rome and eighteenth-century London in an attempt to discover if, and if so to what extent, better banking services help to explain why the Industrial Revolution happened when it did. They conclude that banking was in many respects better in Rome than in London, so the answer is: to a small extent, if at all. En route Rathbone emphasizes the huge sums that must have been out on loan in the early empire—and how large we must make the error margins in our attempts to estimate figures (see esp. 374-5).

One of the striking features of most of the chapters in the book is their dependence on a different set of evidence from that which commonly dominates and underwrites books on ancient history. Inscriptions and papyri loom large in most contributions and are often at the core of the argument. These archives are the fossils of ancient banking, and the difficulties they present to readers and interpreters (on which see e.g. Verboven’s and Jakab’s papers) can be equalled by the insights they can offer into the day-to-day or end-of-year activities of ancient financial organisations (on which see e.g. Chankowski’s paper). Even their survival may be an issue (e.g. in Graef’s paper). Some archives have yet to be edited or recovered (see Vandorpe and Clarysse’s paper, e.g. 158). Much the same may be said of the legal sources that Petrucci’s and Terpstra’s papers deploy. Banking is, of course, a highly technical subject, and what emerges clearly from this volume is that ancient banking practices—and the people performing financial services—were very various, and they could be very sophisticated (see e.g. Rathbone on societates, 384-6). One’s view of the society in which these transactions were taking place of course fundamentally influences one’s reading of the evidence, and the background that appears between the lines of a paper is sometimes contested or a bit dated. For example, in Terpstra’s chapter a very primitivist view of transportation appears to be an unexamined legacy in an otherwise overwhelmingly ‘unprimitivist’ tome. It is a terrific challenge for any scholar to master all the necessary skills to succeed here: linguistic, numerical, and historical, and this brings us back to the man whose name appears on the cover.

The papers were originally given at a conference in Belgium in 2006 to celebrate Bogaert’s contribution to ancient history, and many of them engage directly with the work of this outstanding scholar, sometimes to update it, sometimes to extend it, sometimes to revise it. A tribute to the honorand and a bibliography of Bogaert’s works fittingly precede the papers.

There is in addition a section introducing the papers, in which each editor takes responsibility for a different period, which serves its purpose well (especially Verboven’s introduction which, while focused on the Roman papers, identifies a number of common threads and gaps in the volume as a whole). There is one obvious shortcoming of the volume. The aim of the conference was to ‘transcend the boundaries between disciplines’, but the sense of fragmentation that prompted it lingers. However, when one considers that the recent Cambridge Economic History of the Ancient World indexes only 9 of its more than 900 pages under the heading ‘banks’, it is hardly surprising that the contents of this volume are challenging to assimilate into our picture of the ancient economy. We can expect future work to synthesise some of the many and varied items of evidence and arguments discussed in these papers.

There is an excellent bibliography. Presentation matters are generally good; some chapters have more typographic errors and slips than others, but most are easily spotted and corrected.

Table of contents Preface vii
Raymond Bogaert: Life and work xi
List of participants xxv
Reflections on the papers xxix
I The Ancient Near East 1
Katrien De Graef, Giving a loan is like making love 3
Francis Joannès, Les activités bancaires en Babylonie 17
II The Greek world 31
Michele Faraguna, Calcolo economico, archivi finanziari e credito nel mondo greco tra VI e IV sec. a.C. 33
Léopold Migeotte, La comptabilité publique dans les cités grecques: l’exemple de Délos 59
Véronique Chanokowski, Banquiers, caissiers, comptables. À propos des méthodes financières dans les comptes de Délos 77
Kirsty Shipton, Bankers as money lenders: the banks of classical Athens 93
Vincent Gabrielsen, The public banks of Hellenistic cities 115
III Graeco-Roman Egypt 131
Karolien Geens, Financial archives of Graeco-Roman Egypt 133
Katelijn Vandorpe and Willy Clarysse, Egyptian bankers and bank receipts in Hellenistic and early Roman Egypt 153
Franc,ois Lerouxel, La banquet privée romaine et le marché du crédit dans les tablettes de Murecine et les papyrus d’Égypte romaine 169
IV The Roman world 199
Jean Andreau, Le vocabulaire de l’intérêt à la fin de la république 201
Koenraad Verboven, Faeneratores, negotiatores and financial intermediation in the Roman world (late Republic and early Empire) 211
Jinyu Liu, The economy of endowments: the case of the Roman collegia 231
Marta García Morcillo, Auctions, bankers and public finances in the Roman world 257
Aldo Petrucci, Riesame del ruolo dei banchieri nelle auctiones private nel diritto classico romano 277
Peter Gröschler, Die Mittel der Kreditsicherung in den tabulae ceratae 301
Éva Jakab, Vertragspraxis und Bankgeschäfte im antiken Puteoli: TPSulp. 48 neu interpretiert 321
Taco Terpstra, Roman law, transaction costs and the Roman economy: evidence from the Sulpicii archive 345
Dominic Rathbone and Peter Temin, Financial intermediation in first-century AD Rome and eighteenth-century England 371
Bibliography 421
Indexes 465
Index locorum 465
Index nominum antiquorum 478
Schediel, W., Morris, I., and Saller, R., The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman world Cambridge, 2007.