David Astle
The Babylonian Woe

PHRYGIA, FINANCE, AND FRONT MAN

 

The Assyrian conquests must have released a very flood of bullion on to the markets of the Middle East.  Steeply rising prices that would have followed must have made it more profitable for bankers and money lenders and manufacturers from this most ancient area to look further afield for lands where money as denoted by treasure was not so plentiful, and therefore wherein such treasure might serve them best.  The gold, silver, and electrum bullion with which, after 671 B.C. and the Assyrian thrust into Egypt during the second phase of Assyrian conquest, their store houses and strong rooms were overflowing, could be put to better use than lying inactive in these same store houses or strong rooms, at Nineveh, Babylon, Lagash, or Ur or wherever they were situated.

The privately issued electrum staters of Lydia of the seventh and sixth century B.C. denoted a highly significant possibility...  Lydia was the source of something Assyria badly needed.  The first thing such military organization such as existed in Assyria would need, would be financial organization, and secondly, stemming from its financial organization, organization above all towards the purpose of the purchase of the best of arms...  Phrygia was famous throughout the ancient world for its arms.(1)  Lydia bordered on and indeed may very well have been part of Phrygia in earlier times.  Hence the secret of the electrum staters.  Assyria needed Phrygian arms and at the same time had to accept such financial terns as the suppliers of such arms decreed, and it may safely be assured that such terms stipulated payment was to be made in gold, silver, or electrum.

The extraordinary treasure of such as Sadyattes, latter dispossessed and executed by Croesus, cannot be explained any other way.  It had to derive from the plunder gathered up by Assyria from all its conquests, as much as from the river washings of Lydia.  The evidence of the gold artifacts, of the ancient civilizations of Anatolia of thousands of years previous to this time, such as Hacilar, Catal Huyuk, Dorak,(2) would indicate that the Anatolian rivers had been well washed for gold many ages before(3)...  Although according to the Guide to the principal coins of the Greeks published by the British Museum, pages 12-13, electrum for the Lydian coinages came from the Pactolus river, the question still stands:  “what happened to the enormous gold, silver, and electrum plunder, of Assyria;  that had been taken from Aram, Israel, Arabia, and above all from Egypt?”

The great temple cities such as Karnak must have literally gleamed with gold and silver monuments and finishing.  According to Diodorus in 57 B.C.:  “So that there was no city under the sun so adorned with so many and stately monuments of gold, silver, and ivory, and multitudes of colossi and obelisks, each cut out of an entire stone...

...The decorations of these buildings were as magnificent as their design.  The walls and pylons were covered with paintings and sculpture, the gates and pillars were overlaid with gold and the floors with silver, which, to the Egyptians was a metal hardly less precious than gold itself.”(4)

The electrum obelisks of Hatsepsut(5) as removed by Ashurbanipal from before the Temple of Amon at Karnak in 661 B.C., contained, according to Breasted 2500 talents of electrum,(6) and according to other writers as much as 2900 talent;  not to speak of other more massive plunder stripped from temple and tomb.  The electrum from the obelisks alone, assuming the correctness of the percentages of gold, silver, and copper given on the cylinder reported by Desroches-Noblecourt to be in the Louvre, as being 75%, 22%, 3%, respectively,(7) would value at $186,648,000 (166,650 lbs. at approximately $70.00 to the fine ounce), having a buying power infinitely greater than in today.  Skilfully used as the basis of a pyramid of ledger credit page entry money, it would be sufficient to maintain the finances of great enterprise, if not of kingdoms.  Lydia, peasant kingdom that had emerged from the ruins of Phrygia after the Cimmerian invasion,(8) could very well have functioned in its institution in a similar manner to Switzerland during the last few hundred years;  somewhat in the nature of a bullion broker’s or international banker’s refuge.(9)  Which might account, perhaps, for the ferocity of the destruction by Cyrus of the hapless Croesus, who was said to have been flayed alive;  as example no doubt to other kings, and to remind them that while their power was national, there was another power which was international;  above and beyond the power of petty kings...

Similarly, the other metals, copper, bronze, and iron, no longer deemed precious, and which therefore were often left on the battlefield, would fall into the hands of members of those semi-criminal castes such as Sadyattes, previously mentioned, who would control the camp followers that stripped the dead and thus garnered this scrap metal.  These metals offered considerable profit by way of manufacturing counterfeits of the currencies of those states wherein base metal currencies were used...

Many Northern states and cities to which considerable industry was being transferred, used copper or iron fiduciary currencies in earlier times.  Such was the iron currency of Clazomenae mentioned by Aristotle(10) and the iron spits of Pre-Pheidon Argos, examples of which were dedicated to the Goddess in the Temple of Hera at Argos at the commencement of silver coinage by Pheidon, and were actually exhumed from the place of their dedication by the archaeologists who explored that site.(11)  Herein would have been fertile field for profit for those that dealt in money in Greece or elsewhere, for that matter.

Though the Greek himself obviously must have been the foundation of Greek industry, the Aramean or the Phoenician, bringing the ways of money and banking and who brought an alphabet and writing to Greece, became the cornerstone of that industry.  He also brought agencies from the great banking houses of Babylonia such as that firm mentioned by Professor Sayce in Babylonian Literature, which flourished from the reign of Nabopolassar, the father of Nebuchadnezzar, to the reign of Darius Hystaspes;  approximately one hundred years;  and of which evidence remains in the clay cheques and deeds found by some Arabs in a great earthen jar.(12)  Since the time of Professor Sayce, which is nearly a hundred years ago, much more evidence of the existence of powerful banking and merchant institutions has come to light;  outstandingly those of the Egibi Sons, and the Murassu, who, according to Professor Humphrey Michell in his work, The Economics of Ancient Greece (P. 334), carried on very large and complicated business;  even by modern standards.

Just as Babylonian business and banking houses maintained extensive branches in the Sumerian cities, such as at Lagash where their records were found to exceed the records of the king,(13) so it may safely be assumed that they maintained branches within any state within the limits of the communications of the day, and where profit was to be made.

The sturdy intelligent people of Greece were a fertile field for the renewal of industry and trade after the disturbance that must have followed the rise in prices deriving from the augmentation of precious metal reserves resulting from the flow of Assyrian plunder on to the bullion markets, and later, with Babylonia once again supreme following the victories of Nabopolassar in 605 B.C., from the similar flow of Babylonian plunder.  At the same time Greece was a place of refuge from the war clouds drifting over all that Near East world, and the stench of slaughter that followed the warring hosts...

It would not be long before the skill of the Aramean at letters, money, counterfeit or otherwise, and in organization of industry, stirred the peasant kingdoms of Greece.  Industries rose under the guidance of these refugees similar to those of their homelands, to be later followed by a money economy as to the silver standards of Babylonia, and by the systematic spreading of money madness amongst the landed aristocracy of Greece, thus separating them from their peoples for whom they had been the hereditary guides.  For their peoples and their labours had now become but cyphers;  desirable wealth assessed as according to the figures in the banker’s book.

The people who drifted into the cities as slave or freeman, and found employment in the organized manufacturies of these strangers who by now were calling themselves Greeks, and were by now bearing Greek names, not unnaturally gave their allegiance to that new hand that seemed to feed them.  Eagerly, just as in today, they drank at the fountain of hatred of their former masters, who through their sanction of the activities of these “New Greeks”, and connivance with them in respect to the new money system they set up, betrayed both their people and themselves...

Among the first steps towards the total monetization of the wealth and labour of the Greek peoples to a precious metal standard controllable by the great banking houses of Babylonia, was the permitting of the striking of a silver coinage on the island of Aegina by Pheidon,(14) “progressive” King of Argos in 680 B.C., similar to the private coinage that was issued in Lydia prior to Croesus.  “Progressive” King of Argos meant in this case a king ready to listen to the blandishments of money power, luring him into that trap which was the use of precious metal currency, over which he could have relatively little control;  since silver as its base was to be obtained only at great expense by slave labour at localities too often far distant, and, relative to localities yielding iron or copper, few and far between.  True, the silver used by the moneyers of Aegina probably came from Laureion, in sight across the sea.  But even though the source of supply was so close at hand, a coinage of which so small a unit represented so much value, placed the economy, through the practices of banking, in the hands of the international bullion controllers.

That the bankers, known as trapezitae, conducted almost the same business as bankers today is clearly indicated by the article in Seffert’s Classical Dictionary, even if, as the word trapezitae indicates, they but sat at a bench in the market place, instead of sitting in gilded halls surmounted by sixty story buildings, as indeed they do today.  Within the limits of clay tablet and stylus, the same confidence game was operated, though probably there were few who understood it as being such; ... yesterday it was a conspiracy against the men of a city, or a relatively small state;  today a conspiracy against the whole world.  Those that have their hands on the throttle of this all embracing evil do not however bear the faintest resemblance to whole hearted demons in hell, or gods who in their mountain halls contemptuously plan the total eradication of man who may be their complete failure. ...  They are but pudgy and sly little men as much overwhelmed by the monster they have raised, as are the foolish nations that permitted them so to do.

Of Ancient Greek banking Seffert says :  “...Bankers were called by the Greeks trapezitae because they sat at tables in the market places, the centre of all business transactions.  They acted as money changers exchanging for a commission heavy money or gold into smaller coin, and the moneys of different systems with each other.  In commercial cities they would do a considerable trade in this way, the different standards and the uncertainty of the stamping of the coins in Greece creating a great demand for their assistance.  They also acted as money lenders both on a small and a large scale.  Finally they received money on deposit.  People placed their money with them for safe custody, partly to facilitate the management of it.  The depositors, according to their convenience, either drew out sums of money themselves, or commissioned their banker to make payment to a third person.  In this line the business of the banks was considerable.  If a citizen had a large sum of money circulating in business, he probably preferred to put it in a bank and to hand over to the banker the business of making his payments.  Strangers too found that the banks offered them such facilities that they were glad to make considerable use of them.(15)  The bankers kept strict account of all monies in their charge.  If a person were making a payment to another who was a depositor at the same bank, the banker would simply transfer the requisite sum from one account to another.  The bankers were generally well known from the public character of their occupation, and they naturally gained great experience in business.  Consequently their advice and assistance were often asked for in the ordinary affairs of life.  They would be called in to attest the conclusion of contracts, and would take charge of sums of money, the title to which was disputed, and of important documents.  Business of this kind was generally in the hands of resident aliens.”(16)

The above quotation from the great German scholar, Oskar Seffert, leaves those of us who understand the origins and meaning of today’s banking, little doubt, as previously pointed out, that within the limits of clay tablet and stylus, every fraudulent practice known to banking would have been practised.  Also the commonly accepted idea that instruments used in foreign trade, such as Letters of Credit, Bills of Exchange, etc. were a discovery of the 12th Century A.D., is further clearly proved erroneous by the sentence:  “Strangers too found that the banks offered them such facilities that they were glad to make considerable use of them.”(17)

Therefore behind the monetary reforms of King Pheidon of Argos we must see not the wonder of what so many so-called scholars would call the arrival of the “Invention” of coinage in Greece, but the comings and goings of strange aliens with letters from mysterious “Important” men who dwelt in Tyre, or Sidon, or Sardis, or who dwelt in Babylonia itself;  everything to be in the name of “progress”, everything to be joy and light! ...  The only thing our poor peasant king had to ask himself was... “Joy and light for whom...  Us or these panders, pornographers, and luxury pedlars who now flock to our shores?”

Very soon, no doubt, the answer became apparent.  Behind the Aramaic speaking banker came the slave trader, and it was not long before the poor people found that the king’s law was no longer for them, and was but a measure behind which these glib and double talking “Bankers” operated...  “We must protect the people’s savings!” ...no doubt was their cry, yesterday, as in today.

Such silver coinage as was produced at Aegina or Argos would have been no more than a few seen symbols, the apex of an inverted pyramid of unseen or abstract symbols of which only the money master really understood the meaning and purpose, and only he knew how to manipulate.  Through manipulation of these “Credits” in relation to the silver that people now thought was their money, King Pheidon himself could have been tricked into believing himself a slave because he could not repay his so-called “debt”.  However the banker needed the king as such, for a while yet no doubt.

In the meantime peasantry and lesser nobility were drawn into this trap of irredeemable debt, and, as the king’s law had to be upheld, they and their families would be sold into that cruel slave system that was growing up all over the Mediterranean world and through which, money economy, now grown into a very monster, could find docile labour for the dreary grind of the new methods of semi-mass production in manufacture, such as it had brought into being, and against which the reforms of Solon as described in the previous chapter, were directed.

History should not be misled by the Greek names of those significant figures and families concerned with money and money power at that time, whether in Lydia or in Greece... Oskar Seffert states quite clearly that the bankers or trapezitae were resident aliens.(18) Controlling the undercurrents of city life as undoubtedly they would have so done, in those days it would have been no more difficult than it is in these days to secure the services of a front man to promote their interests, and secure them citizenship if necessary. Just as aliens who seek trade and power amongst whatever people they maybe, so often change their names to suit the circumstances while retaining allegiance to that group into which they were born, so it was in that day, nearly three thousand years ago.  In the early days of the Greek cities, citizenship was easy to obtain and persons with pretence at power, influence and money, in a society where worship of money had replaced worship of the gods, in truth, would have no great difficulty in that direction.

Out of the weakening of what was left of the true power of kingly rule at Athens, such as descended from Mycenaean Greece, and consequent growth of “Aristocratic” democracy, doubtless deriving from concession to international money power for its assistance against the Dorian previous to 1100 B.C., and before whom it appears the city of Athens never fell, came the replacement of the title Wanax indicating god-king reigning in earthly splendour, for that of Archon-Basileus of lesser degree.(19)  Out of the further weakening of such aristocracy of the Greeks as later existed, whether Achaean, Ionian, or Dorian, and the soul destruction sown amongst them as consequence of their betrayal into slavery and abuse of their followers who had so trusted them and looked to them for guidance, derived those conditions out of which the so-called tyrant rose to power.  Out of the involvement of the natural leaders of the people(20) with things ignoble and inimical to their own kind, such as trade and “Money-making”, and with strange luxuries and vices, rose those men, often traitors to their own class, who fronted for the conspiratorial money power of the age ... Such men steered the restless aspirations of the wage slaves of the cities;  those dispossessed masses so easily stirred to active resentment against their former leaders deriving from the ancient nobility;  and who, of course, had no more understanding than themselves of that force by which they were both being manipulated...

 

 

1. “ But I perhaps, owing to the number of advocates may be classed in the common body;  the battle of Cannae has made you a sufficiently respectable accuser.  We have seen many men slain, not at Trasimene but at Servilius.  Who was not wounded there with Phrygian steel ?...” Cicero:  Orationes, “Pro S. Roscius” (Vol. I, P. 65; C.D. Yonge; London, 1883.).

2. Kenneth Pearson:  The Dorak Affair, London, 1967.

3. Strabo, XIII, iv, 5.  (Del Mar:  History of the Precious Metals, P. 51.)

4. Christopher Dawson:  Age of the Gods, P. 295.

5. James H. Breasted:  History of Egypt, P. 281.

6. Ibid. P. 559.

7. Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt:  Tutankhamen, P. 33.  New York, 1963.

8. Encyclopaedia of World History, P. 37, Boston, 1948.

9. The fact that after the destruction of Croesus by Cyrus, 547 B.C., Sardis remained the principal mint for the whole Persian Empire, and for which it turned out Sigloi as to the Babylonian standard, gives further strength to the idea.

10. Frederick William Madden, M.R.A.S.:  Coins of the Jews, P.29; London; 1881.

11. Charles Seltsman:  Greek Coins, pp. 34-35.

12. Frederick William Madden, M.R.A.S.:  Coins of the Jews, P. 6. (footnote).

13. Cambridge Ancient History, P. 392, Vol. 1.

14. According to the table on P. 35, “Greek Coins” by C. Seltsman, the Aeginetan drachma was established without any doubt at its given standard, because in the time of Pheidon, the ratio of silver to iron was 400:1.  He clearly had been advised to establish the new silver drachmas and obolos so that they would have the same purchasing power as the now discarded iron obolos and “Drax”...... according to their valuation in an International market where money was metal by weight.

15. Obviously for discounting Bills of Exchange, raising money against Bills of Lading, Warehouse Receipts, and the realization into that which circulated as money of the promissory note issued as between friends or otherwise.

16. Oskar Seffert:  Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, P. 91.

17. Visiting Merchants and Ships’ Captains.

18. Oskar Seffert:  Dictionary of Classical Antiquities, P. 91.

19. Jacquetta Hawkes:  Dawn of the Gods, P. 262; New York; 1968.

20. Referring to the Hellenic terminology in connection with banking transactions and professions etc.  Professor Heichelheim of vast scholarship recorded “That the banking transactions of the individual bankers, money lenders, and debtors influenced the whole economic life and even, to a certain degree, the intellectual development in Attica, the territories of the Delian League and in many other polis territories of our period, since the fifth, if not occasionally sixth centuries B.C. will be obvious from the above list which has a surprising number of specializations...” Fritz Heichelheim:  An Ancient Economic History, Vol. II, pp. 196-197; Leyden; 1958-1970.