We ended our adventure along the time line during the Hellenic period, which – in terms of thinking about banks – was also inspired by the Romans. Today we will deal with the Roman Empire.
And to the initial surprise. The activity of Roman banks is not as well documented as is the case with their Greek colleagues. Why? There are no words that would describe this system, as was the case in the case of Isocrates or Demosthenes quoted by us. Nevertheless, from the very analysis of the law of that period, we know that banking and deposit systems were strongly developed in the Roman Empire.
The depositor could authorize banks to, for example, make payments on their behalf (something like a transfer order). In addition, term deposits were popular, ie loans granted to the bank. These agreements provided interest and gave the bankers the right to trade the funds entrusted to them. As we would say today – the practice entered the pop culture of ancient Rome, because the motive of this type of practice appeared in such comedies as “Prisoners”, “Comedy…” and “Fears” Plauts. We find in them funny dialogues regarding the settlement of banks with clients or descriptions of financial operations. The creators of “Big Short” had their protoplasts already in the 4th century BC.
And what about honesty?
It is difficult to carefully investigate the integrity of bankers from this period. We can assume that there have been unfair and irresponsible people. Historians know the letter of the Emperor Hadrian to merchants from Pergamum, who complained to the ruler earlier of bankruptcy or the general dishonesty of the bankers. On the other hand, the community of the city of Mylasa, writing to Caesar Septimus Severa, asked to regulate the bankers’ services market because they did not sin too much.
The collapse of a bank
There were also bank failures. And the most interesting example is the bank Kaliksta, who later became … Pope, and then even the saint! Initially, our hero ran the business “on the pole.” Or more clearly – he was a “pole” of a certain Karpoforus himself.
Kalikst I could be the patron of bankers today. However, there is one problem. Spectacularly bankrupt …
The collapse of his bank occurred after the inflation jump and during the general economic collapse during the reign of Emperor Commodus (yes, the same as you know from the movie “Gladiator”). However, the bad macroeconomic situation was not the only reason for its problems. He mainly received deposits from Christians and widows. Especially the first group in this period was already large and influential. Kaliks gained the trust of this “target”, collected money for his bank and … betrayed it. When the bankruptcy came to light, he tried to escape and even commit suicide. The final was caught and sentenced to hard work in the Sardinian mines. At the end of all this, however, he was released after the intervention of Marcia – the concubine of Commodus. The poor banker rescued the fact that the Emperor’s lover was also a Christian. Thirty years later he was proclaimed … 17. Pope in the history of the Church. Like a typical adventurer, he could not die in his bed. 222 was thrown into the well by the pagans and drowned …
To be continued…