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Weighed bronze bullion and debt in Archaic Rome (VI-IV c. BCE)
François Lerouxel  1@  
1 : Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique  (CNRS UMR 8546-AOROC)  -  Site web
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
45 rue d'Ulm, 75005 Paris -  France

There is a broad consensus between economic historians of archaic Rome on the nature of loans conceded by aristocrats to peasants at the origin of debt-slavery (nexum): they could only be loans in kind because at that time the Roman economy was very archaic and un-monetized. A close examination of evidence shows that those loans were in fact loans in money, more precisely loans in weighed bronze bullion, which deserves to be fully recognised as real money, as much as coinage, as J. H. Kroll or R. Descat showed it for Ancient Greece. In Italy from the 7th c., weighed bronze bullion was used as a mean of payment in long-distance exchanges and this new mean of payment quickly became lent and borrowed by individuals in order to create a situation of dependence and to obtain labour from defaulting debtors. The very notions of debt, obligation and interest probably appeared in Rome only with those loans in weighed bronze bullion and were probably inexistent before, when loans were in kind. The history of money began with weighed bullion in Ancient Rome and it is probably easier to acknowledge the full monetary nature of weighed bullion by focusing on debt rather than on exchange.


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