David Astle
The Babylonian Woe

BABYLON, BANKING, AND BULLION

 

Without a doubt, the ramifications of Babylonian banking as operated from Nineveh during the eighth and seventh centuries B.C., extended in more or less degree over that total area from Tartessus to India,(1) and from the gold washings of that great bend in the Nile in Nubia known as the Bisharee, to the mines of Cornwall ;  and of all such area it was the focus of land and sea routes .  In absolute degree during the first millennium, it extended as far afield as there is evidence of Aramaic as language of official and merchant classes ;  that is to say from Peshawar to Greece.(2)  In Greece the evidence however is not so much from Aramaic as language, as from the fact that the Greek alphabet derives from Aramaic,(3) and therefore may be assumed to be the design of refugee Arameans of the period after 933 B.C., when Assyrian policy after forty years of unremitting pressure from the Arameans, became the extirpation of the Aramean, achievable from much strengthened military resources.

Accolytes of the bankers of Babylonia, whether from Nineveh, Carchemish, or the Babylonian cities themselves, who sought their own fields abroad, or prominent but unsuspecting natives of the area chosen for penetration, were selected as "suitable" to open the trade in a given area ;  "suitability", as in today, being advanced training in money worship, basic lack of integrity, and preferably some black mark in their secret past making them amenable to pressure and willing to grind down their own kind, or sell them to the slave trader without the gate, and without mercy and without compunction.

Those refugees skilled in money, from the cities of Aram in particular, though perhaps not qualifying in every specific trait detailed above, being dispossessed, and with therefore bitterness in their hearts, would have served best .  They would have considered that alignment with the Babylonian banking houses would be alignment with enemy and destroyer of that which had destroyed them .  Such silver money as they later minted and circulated from Aegina and Argos, appears, as is explained below, to have been of the same weight and fineness as the Babylonian shekel, being that it was eighty-five grains to the drachma .  Thus it is evident that the financial organization these Arameans created in Greece previous to Solon was outright extension of the Babylonian ;  in a way it might have been the instrument of Babylonian imperialism, just as was the entry on the tablet of the traveling agent of the Temple of Ur, recording loans made to enable purchase, instrument, two thousand years before, of that imperialism of Ur(4).. .  Thus the coinage as used at Athens at this time, wherever minted, could be exported and circulated in Babylonia or other cities of this common money market ;  and while it could be profitably used in settlement of unfavourable Indian trade balances, it could also be returned to Athens without loss or remitting.

In the so-called Solonian monetary reforms, according to Groseclose,(5) the Mina consisting of 73 drachmas was made legal tender to the value of 100 drachmas, though according to some scholars, there is no evidence of Athenian mintage at this time.(6)  Assuming Groseclose and his authorities to be correct, it follows that the real meaning of these currency reforms was the establishment of Athenian home mintage inaugurating a new coinage of a less weight, made legal tender for debts incurred in terms of the previous heavy weight coinage minted at Aegina or Argos .  However of this matter Seltsman in his Greek Coins writes, "...That was the change brought about by the Solonian currency reform, the purpose of which was not to relieve debtors by lowering the value of the standard coin, but rather to free Athenian trade from a weight system such as bound the merchants to a local Peloponnesian standard which did not extend beyond the Aegean sea.

Instead the Athenians now had a currency based on the old and famous bronze Age "Euboic talent and mina, and his standard coin was of the same weight of those of the Corinthians, Samians, and later of Cyrenaeans .  But he retained the Pheidonian system of dividing his stater into two drachmas and his drachma into six obols.. .  At Athens, too, the rival systems of currency met and merged for she began to coin on the Dorian system, whence she derived her obols, drachmas, and didrachmas, but under Solon's reforms she went over to the Ionian system and adjusted her money to the Ionic Euboic talent."(7)

The very fact of the stress on weight shows that such reforms were designed for, and perhaps only really understood by, a group that was only concerned with silver by weight ;  in other words, large scale movements of bullion ;  and who would be none other than our old friends the international bankers or bullion brokers ;  possibly even in some opposition to a situation in the Peloponnese and Aegina, such as may have been occasioned by the institution of the Laws of Lycurgus at Sparta,(8) when consequently, they and their agents had virtually been ejected from those areas controlled by Sparta or influenced by her policies.

Solon was more likely the front man they put up to put into effect a programme they had designed as a result of the conclusion reached amongst themselves that the notion of Greece as source of the slaves so desperately needed in a world which consumed so much labour, would have to be forgotten if their agents were to be able to continue operating in Greece, and if they themselves were to be able to maintain that confidence and respect of the Greek people so essential to their particular affair...

From henceforward it is clear, the issue was to be loans to industrial workers on the security of their wages .  No longer would the banks or money lenders lend to the peasantry being that now they were forbidden to bind their persons as collateral security, and sell them into slavery across the seas, in the event of non-payment ;  or to alienate their lands .  To get such loans, which the poor and trusting of the countryside were always craving for one special occasion or another it was necessary to go to Athens and work for a wage in some industry .  It may safely be said that the main industry was mining at Laureion, and possibly in Thrace, where "Free Men" for a trifling wage could join the gangs of slaves clawing their way into the hard rock, until further sources of cheap slave supply were found.

Although some modern numismatic scholars(9) disagree with the findings of the scholars of even thirty years ago, and with some reason, and certainly may be more accurate in their dates, in the case of Alexander Del Mar, who had both practical experience of mining and practical experience in the field of government finance, and who had made considerable study of the workings of money and finance in antiquity, his opinion is not to be so lightly brushed aside .  In his History of Monetary Systems in Various States on this subject he writes:(10)

"According to Boeckh, p. 28, one hundred of the new drachmas of Solon who was Archon of Athens B.C. 594, were equivalent to 72 or 73 more ancient drachmas .  If this were quite reliable, then to Solon belongs the merit or demerit of altering the ratio from 13:1 to 10:1 ;  because, as we have some of the drachmas of Solon and know their contents, the proportion given would make the more ancient drachmas contain about 85 grains fine silver, the weight of the shekel .  As twenty of these were commonly exchanged for a gold coin, which, whether a dharana of India, a medimni of Media, a daric of Persia, or a stater of the Levant, contained about 130 grains of fine metal, the Athenian ratio, previous to the lowering of the drachma, must have obeyed the ratio of Assyria, Media, and Persia, which was 13:1 .  But according to Quiepo, who is a more reliable authority on the weights of coins than Boeckh, although we have drachmas older than Solon, they do not contain more than 65 grains of fine silver ;  so that the change of ratio from 13:1 to 10:1, assumed to have occurred at Athens, must have taken place before Solon was Archon .  However, it is certain from the coins that the ratio under the administration of Solon was 10:1 and that it continued for nearly three centuries ;  for it is impliedly mentioned by Menander about B.C. 322, as being still in vogue at a recent period .  During this interval, the ratio in the Orient was 6¼ or 6½, and in Persia 13:1 or double the Indian ratio."

In other words, if these weights of drachma and of shekel as at that time are correct, just as the Roman denarius was later issued to practically the same weight as the post Solonian drachma which was in use in Sicily and Magna Graecia,(11) so was the early Greek drachma, whether Aeginetic or of Argos, I.E. Pheidonian, minted to the same standard as the shekel, the unit of exchange in Babylonia, Assyria, and Phoenicia, clearly creating extension of the Common Money Market of that area and its financial dependencies .  Thus the Greek coin could be exported, circulated at par with the shekel, and even returned to Greece without loss through remitting or smelting to bullion ;  and also more important still, could realize that sure profit that the international bullion traders had guaranteed themselves in the Indian trade, by prevailing on rulers to maintain the ratio of silver as to gold at 13:1 as opposed to 6½:1 in India.(12)  In other words the real significance of the monetary reforms of Solon was the separation of Athens from the financial hegemony of Babylonia and its nearer agencies in Lydia, Aegina, Argos etc. ;  which, as previously pointed out, may very well have been rendered ineffective by the Laws of Lycurgus,(13) considered now, a point of great significance, to have been enacted in the early sixth century.(14)  From now on it was going to be forbidden to Athenian merchants to settle unfavourable trade balances with slaves, and almost profitless to settle such balances with silver, either as coin or bullion. Henceforth the bankers would have to serve Athenian interests and would have to derive their profits from local business, I.E., there would be much more money circulating in Athens, and therefore a healthier industry ;  which history records as being exactly what transpired.

According to Grote, the banking system assumed after Solon a more beneficial character .  The old noxious contracts "mere snare for the liberty of a poor free man and his children," disappeared and loans of money "took their place founded on property and prospective earnings of the debtor which were in the main useful to both parties, and therefore maintained their place in the moral sentiment of the people..."(15)

Thus to such an extent did Athens abjure the international bankers who must be loosely described as centering in Babylonia, that, insignificant as she relatively was, through the seisachtheia ('shaking-off-of-burdens'), she in reality severed from Babylonian Imperialism and its financial hegemony world wide, and established herself as minor competitive force, as was shown by the Persian efforts at encirclement ;  towards which their seizure of control of the Thracian mines in the year 512 B.C. constituted the first clear step .  Even if the reforms of Solon were not so absolute as those of Lycurgus in Sparta, and still left silver as the material of the basic monetary unit, and therefore still left Athens at the mercy of those forces whose secret activities contributed towards the functioning of what is known as Gresham's Law, "Bad money drives out the good," the Persian move of 512 B.C., by no means took the strength out of Athens and her allies .  While securing ship timbers for the fleets they were planning, and also further silver supplies, Persia, wherein nested international money power at that time, thought that she would be cutting off from Athens these commodities so essential to the promotion of war industry....  Somehow Athens still continued to maintain itself free of this Babylonian Imperialism which now sheltered behind Persia, and despite the enormous resources of Persia, was able to defeat the "Great King", both on land at Marathon, 490 B.C.;  Platea and Mycale, 479 B.C. ;  and at sea at Salamis in the famous naval battle of 480 B.C. ... It may safely be assumed that the huge issues of the owl drachmas during the decade that followed the discovery of the 3rd level or contact at Laureion(16) and its fantastically rich ore, substantially contributed to this success .  Those designing international money power were just that :  international !  If the other fellow too, looked to be on to a good thing, and could offer what its controllers needed most of all, which was precious metals, then a way could always be found to do business !  Out of war could only come good to them and theirs. Whether the "Great King" remained great, or Athens took his place, was not of that much importance .  They would see to it that none who might be a real threat to them, would achieve a similar power to theirs ;  that is, from an international standpoint...

So to sum up the situation so far as pre-Solonian Athens was concerned, a simple unlettered people offered all the luxuries of another world as against the new money whose function is so little understood by lettered people even in this day, without going back 2500 years, had become swamped in debt .  The law in respect to this debt had been upheld by a corrupted nobility in favour of the bankers .  No doubt it had been represented to them by these same bankers that this pressure of debt on the growing population would keep the masses docile and tied to the land as was indicated by the prevalence of the mortgage tablets on the farms of Attica.(17)  This condition, favouring the corrupted nobility of Greece and the international money power, ignored the needs of the new-rich manufacturers of Athens, who were neither able to obtain sufficient supply of local free labour, nor to obtain slaves.

Where credit institutions had long since existed as in the Grecian ports,(18) in a land of relatively simple folk, where the ways of money were no more understood than they are today, by loans of ledger credit page entry money against collateral, demanding in repayment silver coinage, Money Power obviously had made a very good thing of it in Greece .  By the bankers of a given area using the same standard of weight in its precious metal coinage, calling loans in unison, the money supply could be shrunk to almost nothing ;  on which, their agents abroad could send ships, and buy crops and men and women and children for a song.

The Laws of the Archon Solon, by making no provision for employment for the freed debt slaves, nor providing for redistribution of the land, gave the Athenian manufacturer that labour, which he most of all needed .  The Solonian ordinance offering Athenian citizenship to any free man from the countryside who came to Athens and took up a trade, further improved the labour market....  The monetary reforms of Solon reducing the export of coin or bullion, gave the Athenian manufacturers the money they also needed, for they remained the only market for the "funds" of the bankers, native or Peloponnesian ;  the latter having had no option but to find new lands to "conquer", as it were, after their virtual ejection by the laws enacted under the patronage of Lycurgus of Sparta.(19)

Finally, it might be said that the laws of the Archon Solon were the manifestation of the growth of the Athenian principle and the rejection, compulsory or otherwise, by all classes, of the Babylonian Money Power ;  including that growing class, who for the time being, seeing which way the wind lay, might now be called National Money Power...

 

 

1. F.W. Madden :  Coins of the Jews, pp. 4-5 ;  London ;  1881.

2. Charles Seltsman :  Greek Coins ;  London ;  1933.

3. F.W. Madden :  Coins of the Jews, page 29 ...  According to Herodotus "the Phoenician letters were adopted but with some variation in the shape of a few," but according to Professor Sayce of much more convincing opinion, "since the names of the letters of the Greek alphabet nearly all end in 'a', it would appear that it must have been brought into Greece, not by the Phoenicians of Tyre and Sidon, but by the Arameans of the gulf of Antioch since the emphatic Aleph is a characteristic of Aramaic, not Phoenician .  Even the names of the letters in the Hebrew alphabet disclose their Aramaic origin"...  Which conclusions were further verified by the Ras Shamra tablets discovered some fifty years later, mentioned on page 80 of this work .  (See chart on pp. 75-76.)

4. Sir Charles L. Woolley :  Abraham, pp. 124-125, p. 16.

5. Elgin Groseclose :  Money, the Human Conflict ;  P. 16. University of Oklahoma ;  1934.

6. W.P. Wallace :  The Early Coinages of Athens and Euboia, P. 23, Numismatic Chronicle, 1962, and reply by Colin M. Kraay on P. 417.

7. Charles Seltsman :  Greek Coins, London, 1933.

8. Plutarch :  The Lives, "Lucurgus".

9. W.P. Wallace :  The Early Coinages of Athens and Euboia, P. 23, Numismatic Chronicle ;  and the reply by Colin M. Kraay, P. 417.

10. A. Del Mar :  History of Monetary Systems in Various States ;  P. 47 ;  reprint, New York ;  1969.

11. " Mais lorsque, par la guerre de Tarente, l'Italie eut été soumise ...., alors se fit sentir, en premier lieu, la nécessité de plus en plus vive d'un système général de bonnes monnaies;... .  On fit choix, dans ce but, d'un pied monétaire, qui déjà avait été généralement accepté, et on frappa le Denier, de valeur de la Drachme Attique, qui était en usage non seulement dans les monarchies de l'Orient mais encore en Sicile .  Assurément le Drachme de l'Attique pesait 4 gr. 37, tandis que le plus ancien Denier, quelque peu plus lourd, était taillé sur un poids moyen de 4 gr. 55 puisqu'il valait quatre Scrupules, c'est-a-dire 1/72 de livre ou 1/6 d'once .  Mais cette différence fut supprimée, a la suite d'une réduction qui eut lieu vraisemblablement pendant la première guerre punique, et porta le denier à 1/84 de livre ou 1/7 de l'once c'est-à-dire 3 gr. 90 ;  de sorte que les derniers de ce poids devaient en général être accepté sur le même pied que les Drachmes qui étaient en circulation et n'avaient pas tout à fait le poids légal..." :  Théodore Mommsen & Joachim Marquardt :  Manuel des Antiquités Romaines, P. 14, Tome X, "De l'Organisation Financière Chez les Romaines."

12. Alexander del Mar :  History of Monetary Systems in Various States, P. 29, pp. 35-53.

13. Formerly, as according to Mythology, considered to have been enacted in the 9th Century B.C.

14. Humphrey Michell :  Sparta, P. 27.

15. G. Grote :  History of Greece, Ch. 9 ;  (Elgin Groseclose :  Money, the Human Conflict, P. 18.):

16. W.P Wallace :  The Early Coinages of Athens and Euboia, P. 35, The Numismatic Chronicle, 1962.

17. Elgin Groseclose :  Money, the Human Conflict, P. 16 ;  University of Oklahoma, 1934.

18. Paul Einzig :  Primitive Money, P. 225 ;  London, 1949.

19. According to Gertrude Coogan, the first act of Solon after having had the Dictatorship urged on him by a powerful sector of the Athenian population, was abrogation of the privilege of silver mining, and, as a consequence, the privilege of money issuance by the nobility .  I am, however, of the opinion that Miss Coogan missed the point here .  What actually happened, it is true, would have been abrogation of the privilege of money issue by the nobility, but not as directly exercised by such nobility, but as through it being farmed out by them to the Arameo-Phoenician traders, i.e., the Babylonian Money Power.