The Birth of Western Economy: Economic Aspects of the Dark Ages

By Robert Latouche | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
Trade and Barter under the Early Carolingians

C HRISTIAN AND EVEN CLERICAL inspiration are plainly discernible in the rigorous measures taken by Charlemagne and his successors to forbid the lending of money at interest. It had been practised in the Merovingian period. Gregory of Tours tells how the Bishop of Verdun, having begged from Theodebert, King of Austrasia, a loan of 7,000 gold solidi on behalf of the inhabitants of his town, promised him, if he agreed, to repay the sum borrowed with the legal interest (cum usuris legitimis).1 This bishop regarded the payment of interest as the natural accompaniment of the loan, and as an ordinary transaction which was obviously fair and aboveboard. This practice was, however, contrary to the doctrine of the Church, which forbade clerics to engage in it. Yielding to the admonitions of his clerical advisers, Charlemagne was the first ruler to extend the ban to laymen and to give to this prohibition, now made binding on all alike, the sanction of civil legislation.2 Such a ban, the serious consequences of which he most certainly foresaw, could be imposed only by degrees. The Admonitio Generalis of 789 was the first Capitulary to contain provisions affecting lending at interest. In it Charlemagne refers to decisions of the Council of Nicea and of Pope Leo the Great in support of his ruling that the ban should apply to everyone (omnibus) and not only to the clergy.3 No legal punishment was laid down for offenders.

____________________
1
Hist. Franc., III, 34.
2
Inama-Sternegg, Deutsche Wirtschaftsgeschichte, 2nd ed., Leipzig, 1909, p. 670.
3
Capitul., I, p. 54.

-155-

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