The Mounts of Piety

           Many understand that banking activity was stifled in Europe during the Late Middle Ages by religious prohibitions on usury, which then referred to lending at any interest rate at all. However, this view is somewhat anachronistic, at least when applied to the end of the Middle Ages. By the time history arrived at the era

Germany’s Gargantuan Small Banks

           Many countries have state-run banks but few date back two centuries. Today, Germany has several hundred of these loosely affiliated public banks, comprising a major leg of a financial system older than the country itself. They are distinct from the larger banks both in their history and their objectives and, together, these small lenders are

The Financiers of Medieval Florence

           Banking as we know it today was hardly in existence before the 17th century. However, there was something of a financial revolution in late medieval Italy and it saw a new type of firm offer financial services, and indeed banking services, taking deposits and lending money, even across national borders. These firms were principally interested

Bismarck’s Banker

           In the history of Germany, few men are as significant as Otto von Bismarck, who unified the country in the mid-19th century. It is perhaps not because of Bismarck that Germany unified, but Bismarck more than anyone else elected the manner in which it would be done. Through the entire saga, he had a financier

Victorian Banking, Through the Ledger

           The value banks add to industry is well known, the value of banking to commerce is no less uncertain. By contrast, it can be easier to lose sight of the value banks provide to ordinary people, especially in a historical setting. Indeed, for the first couple centuries of modern banking, common folk hardly interacted with

John Law, the Outlaw Banker

           At the start of the 18th century, a stock market boom was underway in several European countries simultaneously. Today, this episode is best remembered for the spectacular boom and bust of the South Sea Company in Britain. However, it was just one of the companies involved in a larger mania. In France, a bubble in

The Soviet Union’s Global Bank

           Despite the confrontation between the West and East during the Cold War, there was plenty of peaceful economic interaction between the two sides. During the roughly 75-year existence of the Soviet Union, it interacted across numerous different fronts with the capitalist world. One of the most notable of these channels was trade. Many banks financed

Medieval Europe’s Monastic Bankers

           When it came to most arts and sciences, the state of Medieval European civilization left a lot to be desired. However, behind the shroud of brutishness and simplicity, it was a society steadily developing financial complexity. It was a unique development as well. The continent’s organization into numerous small states, in contrast to the Caliphates

The Fuggers, Bankers to Emperors

           In the 16th century, European finance was dominated by a banking family whose wealth was far greater than their amusing name would let on. From their adopted home of Augsburg in Bavaria, they were creditors to emperors. These were not just any emperors too, but the Habsburgs, a dynasty that ruled much of Central Europe,

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