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date: 09 December 2022



  • Paul C. Millett


  • Ancient Economy

Credit, the temporary transfer of property rights over money or goods, was central to the functioning of ancient society. The great majority of credit operations would have been informal transactions between relations, neighbours, and friends, marked by the absence of interest, security, or written agreement. Although under-represented in our sources, these day-to-day transactions, with their basis in reciprocity, created and strengthened bonds between individuals. Hence the hostility felt by Plato (1) (Leg. 742c) towards formal credit agreements, implying as they did a lack of trust. In Athens (where a detailed construction is possible), the range of possible sources of credit extended beyond family and friends to include professional moneylenders, bankers, and usurers. In these latter cases, relationships between the parties would be more impersonal, justifying interest and formal precautions. From the Roman world, detailed testimony from the republic focuses on credit transactions between members of the élite, juggling their resources with an eye towards political advantage. Cicero writes of the obligation to take over the debts of an amicus (Off. 2. 56; see amicitia). Those thrown back on formal sources of credit could turn to a range of specialist lenders: argentarii, coactores argentarii, and nummularii. See banks.


  • J. Korver, De terminologie van het crediet-wezen en het Grieksch (1934, repr. 1979).
  • P. C. Millett, Lending and Borrowing in Ancient Athens (1991).
  • E. Cohen, Athenian Economy and Society (1992).
  • C. T. Barlow, Bankers, Moneylenders and Interest Rates in the Roman Republic (1978).
  • M. W. Frederiksen, Journal of Roman Studies 1966, 80 ff.
  • J. Andreau, in E. Frézouls (ed.), Le Dernier siècle de la république romaine et l'époque augustéenne (1978), 47 ff.
  • J. Andreau, La Vie financière dans le monde romain (1987).
  • D. Rathbone, Economic Rationalism and Rural Society in Third-century AD Egypt (1991).