14 de August de 1321 - Decapitación para los banqueros insolventes (785)

Banking in Catalonia in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries: The Taula de Canvi

The emergence of private banks in Barcelona coincided with the development of private banking in large Italian business centers. During the reign of Jaime I, the Conqueror, (1213-1276), the Gothic and Roman laws governing business were repealed and replaced by the Usos de Barcelona. In addition, a thorough, detailed set of regulations to control banking was established by the Cortes of 1300-1301. It set down the powers, rights, and responsibilities of bankers, and stipulated requirements with respect to guarantors. Some of the rules adopted are quite relevant to our topic.

For example, on February 13, 1300 it was established that any banker who went bankrupt would be vilified throughout Barcelona by a public spokesman and forced to live on a strict diet of bread and water until he returned to his creditors the full amount of their deposits. [Usher, The Early History of Deposit Banking in Mediterranean Europe, p. 239.] Furthermore, on May 16, 1301, one year later, it was decided that bankers would be obliged to obtain collateral or guarantees from third parties in order to operate, and those who did not would not be allowed to spread a tablecloth over their work counter. The purpose was to make clear to everyone that these bankers were not as solvent as those using tablecloths, who were backed by collateral. Any banker who broke this rule (i.e., operated with a tablecloth but without collateral) would be found guilty of fraud. [Ibid., p. 239.] In view of these regulations, Barcelona’s banking system must initially have been quite solvent and banks must have largely respected the essential legal principles governing the monetary bank deposit.

Nevertheless, there are indications to show that, in spite of everything, private bankers soon began to deceive their clients, and on August 14, 1321 the regulations pertaining to bank failures were modified. It was established that those bankers who did not immediately fulfill their commitments would be declared bankrupt, and if they did not pay their debts within one year, they would fall into public disgrace, which would be proclaimed throughout Catalonia by a town crier. Immediately afterward, the banker would be beheaded directly in front of his counter, and his property sold locally to pay his creditors. In fact, this is one of the few historical instances in which public authorities have bothered to effectively defend the general principles of property rights with respect to the monetary bank-deposit contract. While it is likely that most Catalonian bankers who went bankrupt tried to escape or pay their debts within a year, documentary evidence shows that at least one banker, a certain Francesch Castello, was beheaded directly in front of his counter in 1360, in strict accordance with the law. [65 Ibid., pp. 240 and 242. In light of recent scandals and bank crises in Spain, one could jokingly wonder if it might not be a good idea to again punish fraudulent bankers as severely as in fourteenth-century Catalonia. A student of ours, Elena Sousmatzian, says that in the recent bank crisis that devastated Venezuela, a senator from the Social-Christian Party Copei even “seriously” suggested such measures in a statement to the press. Incidentally, her remarks were quite well-received among depositors affected by the crisis.]

Despite these sanctions, banks’ liquid funds did not match the amount received on demand deposit. As a result, they eventually failed en masse in the fourteenth century, during the same economic and credit recession that ravaged the Italian financial world and was studied by Carlo M. Cipolla. Though there are signs that Catalonian banks held out a bit longer than Italian ones (the terrible penalties for fraud undoubtedly raised reserve ratios), documents show that in the end, Catalonian banks also generally failed to meet their obligations. In March 1397, further regulations were introduced when the public began to complain that bankers were reluctant to return money deposited, offered their clients all sorts of excuses, told them to “come back later” and would pay them (in the end, if the clients were lucky) only in small coins of little value and never in the gold which had originally been deposited. [Ibid., p. 244.]

The bank crisis of the fourteenth century did not lead to increased monitoring and protection of the property rights of depositors. Instead, it resulted in the creation of a municipal government bank, the Taula de Canvi, Barcelona’s Bank of Deposit. This bank was formed with the purpose of taking in deposits and using them to finance city expenditures and the issuance of government bond certificates for the city of Barcelona. Hence, the Taula de Canvi fits the traditional model of a bank created by public authorities to take direct advantage of the dishonest profits of banking.

, Money, Bank Credit, and Economic Cycles (1986). Read on

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Tags y explicaciónes

  • Banco (4)
  • Barcelona (1603)
  • Crisis de la Edad Media en España (193) La Baja Edad Media es el último período de la Edad Media.
  • Jaime I de Aragón (16) Jaime I de Aragón el Conquistador (Montpellier, 2 de febrero de 1208-Alcira, 27 de julio de 1276) fue rey de Aragón (1213-1276), de Valencia (1238-76) y de Mallorca (1229-1276), conde de Barcelona (1213-1276), conde de Urgel, señor de Montpellier (1219-1276) y de otros feudos en Occitania.
  • Taula de canvi (2) La Taula de canvi (en catalán) tabla o mesa de cambio, es decir, de cambio de monedas y divisas), o simplemente Taula, fue una institución financiera (el precedente más directo de los bancos públicos, pues complementaba a la banca privada) que apareció en distintas ciudades de la Corona de Aragón (Valencia, Barcelona, Gerona) en el siglo XV, en respuesta a la necesidades generadas por el aumento del comercio y los viajes a larga distancia producido desde la Baja Edad Media; tanto las terrestres como sobre todo las marítimas que unían los puertos mediterráneos (Marsella, Génova, Venecia, Valencia) y los atlánticos del Sur y Norte de Europa (Sevilla, Lisboa, Francia, Inglaterra, Flandes y la Hansa).
  • Usatges de Barcelona (4) Los Usatges (que podría traducirse al castellano como usos o mejor usanzas) son los usos y costumbres que forman la base de las constituciones catalanas.

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