Evolution of Banking

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Evolution of Banking

Banking activities were sufficiently important in Babylonia in the second millennium B.C. that written standards of practice were considered necessary. These standards were part of the Code of Hammurabi – the earliest known formal laws. Obviously, these primitive banking transactions were very different in many ways to their modern-day counterparts. Deposits were not of money but of cattle, grain or other crops and eventually precious metals. Nevertheless, some of the basic concepts underlying today’s banking system were present in these ancient arrangements. A wide range of deposits was accepted, loans were made, and borrowers paid interest to lenders

Similar banking type arrangements could also be found in ancient Egypt. These arrangements stemmed from the requirement that grain harvests be stored in centralized state warehouses. Depositors could use written orders for the withdrawal of a certain quantity of grain as a means of payment. This system worked so well that it continued to exist even after private banks dealing in coinage and precious metals were established. We can trace modern-day banking to practices in the Medieval Italian cities of Florence, Venice, and Genoa. The Italian bankers made loans to princes, both to finance wars and their lavish lifestyles, and to merchants engaged in international trade. In fact, these early banks tended to be set up by trading families as a part of their more general business activities. The Bardi and Peruzzi families were dominant in Florence in the 14th century and established branches in other parts of Europe to facilitate their trading activities3. Both these banks extended substantial loans to Edward III of England to finance the 100 years war against France. But Edward defaulted, and the banks failed.

Perhaps the most famous of the medieval Italian banks was the Medici bank, set up by…...

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