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provincials were forbidden to borrow money in Rome. In 63 B.C. the state forbade the export of gold and silver from Italy. When Caesar and Pompey brought in new supplies, the scarcity of money was turned into an abundance. By 54 B.C. safe loans in Rome were available at far below the legal limit, but the rate would rise during political campaigns. (95) Only risky loans brought the legal limit. Soon after this interval of monetary ease, the civil wars of 49 31 B.C. again bankrupted Rome and led to ruinous confiscations and a return of high interest rates. Caesar removed the knights from tax collecting and from moneylending in Asia and ended their abuses. He attempted to restore credit by permitting bankruptcies at prewar prices. He introduced an issue of gold coin. Caesar personally was a daring borrower and financed an important part of his political rise on credit. Financial stability, however, was not restored until the battle of Actium, 31 B.C., and the beginning of the reign of Augustus. BACKGROUND: THE EMPIRE The civil wars destroyed faith in property rights and brought on financial stagnation. Money was hoarded and was scarce and expensive. Confiscation made real estate dangerous to own. Augustus changed all this. He respected property and restored peace and good faith. Hoarded money returned to circulation. The treasures of Egypt were coined and put in circulation. Public building activity was resumed and real estate prices rose. (96) As debts were liquidated interest rates again fell to very low levels. (97) Augustus followed Caesar s policy of expanding the volume of coin. After Augustus death in 14 A.D., Tiberius reduced coinage to a trickle, cut expenses, and hoarded metal in his treasury. At the same time money was moving east to pay for imports. Interest rates rose to the legal limit and beyond. A crisis occurred in 33 A.D., due largely to credit disturbances. It began with the prosecution of bankers for overcharging. As a result more loans were called, and the crisis was intensified. The crisis was resolved when finally large sums were withdrawn from the treasury and loaned out for a three-year term without interest. (98) Succeeding emperors coined much more freely than Tiberius, and Nero even lightened the coins moderately. After Nero s death in 68 A.D., renewed civil wars brought devastation, but the Emperor Vespasian, 69 79 A.D., restored order and economy. Rome never again saw the wasteful luxury of the Claudians. High living made men marked characters; it went out of style, and cultural pursuits became popular. (99) During the first century A.D. the metal content of Roman coins was
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reduced about 25%, and during the second century A.D. it was reduced substantially more. Silver coins were reduced to the status of token coins. In the third century A.D. monetary inflation on a grand scale accompanied a succession of revolutions and civil wars. These later centuries have left us little information on credit and finance. The chaotic fifty years before Diocletian, 284 305 A.D., were, in the opinion of Tenney Frank, the period when Rome fell. There was anarchy and looting. Provincials lost faith in Rome. Industry and trade disintegrated, and even the Latin speech decayed. (100) Under the Roman Empire banking, manufacture, and shipping were more than ever tabooed to wealthy Romans. The aristocracy was still largely agrarian. Articles were made and sold in small shops. Large factories were few and were worked generally by slaves and financed by individuals. There was a rich mercantile class, but it consisted largely of foreigners. Imports were far larger than exports. Italian industry and agriculture could not stand the competition of the provinces. Large fortunes under the Empire, as under the Republic, came not from commerce or industry or banking, but from military rewards and land investment. History tells of no bankers of importance. Industrial loans are not mentioned, but there are reports of sea loans. On these there were no legal interest rate limits; rates of 20% per voyage were reported. Personal loans were common. There was no organized investment in production and few private joint-stock companies. However, individual negotiators were common moneylenders, investors in the provinces, importers, traveling salesmen and merchants, agents of wealthy Romans. Auction rooms enjoyed a great vogue. Finance, with the exception of real estate loans, was still probably surreptitious. During the reign of Augustus the rate of interest on best credits fell far below the legal limit. It later rose again under Tiberius. Thereafter it fell. Nerva 96 98 and Trajan 98 117 advanced public money in loans secured by land and used the annual interest to support the children of the poor, the alimenta. These land loans were at 5%, which was considered a moderate rate. There was no revision of the 12% legal maximum rate of interest over the centuries of the Western Empire: it was still in force or was renewed in the fourth century under Constantine. (101 and 102) Later in the fourth century the legal limit was increased to 121 2%. (103) Lower legal limits were established in sixth-century Byzantium. (134, 135) THE ROMAN PROVINCES Egypt. Ancient Egypt has provided almost no record of interest rates. The state controlled the principal resources of the country most of the
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