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Old 05-09-2016, 08:21 PM
Sleel Sleel is offline
Join Date: Mar 2004
Location: Japan
Posts: 2,809
Originally Posted by msmith537 View Post
Specifically, say I'm a wealthy lord traveling with my lady and a small entourage to some other country for an indefinite stay. What do I do for cash while travelling? Do I bring a big chest full of gold coins or whatever to use for purchasing stuff? What happens when I run out of local cash or am robbed? Did they have "credit" until I can send for another shipment of gold? Where do I store my gold securely?
The concepts of banking, loans, debts, reparations, etc. goes back to literally the oldest writing we have. There were Sumerian accounting tablets that look a lot like a cuneiform version of a spreadsheet. There were laws that we know of governing debts, interest limits, and punishments for non-payment. In fact, the oldest written laws we know of explicitly set rates of exchange and reparations for various crimes. Coinage obviously goes back even farther than formal accounting.

I don't know a lot about details for specific places, but with those ancient city-states (Sumer up to pre-Roman Greece) banking was usually tied up with the temples, as was literacy and numeracy to some extent. Within the territory, instruments that functioned a lot like letters of credit or bills of exchange were honored. Often you would have to become a citizen of the city-state to be able to use any of the banking/temple services, though. Extra-territorial travel was typically via caravan, with strongboxes, guards, etc. There was trade between city-states, so it wasn't impossible to have financial instruments in lieu of cash or goods in other places, but just like now, you'd have to make an initial deposit.

Transactions along the way from one city to another would probably be cash, trade, or barter. You might be able to convince some people to take the equivalent of an IOU, but I'm pretty sure you'd have to have recognizable status to make that work. Coinage had variable rates of exchange based on lots of different factors, including of course the person's faith in the legitimacy of the coin. State debasement could destroy that faith. Like with any medium of exchange that has inherent value, there were also unofficial methods of tampering with coins.

Commodities were the basis for the majority of the pre-modern banking systems. You deposited grain, you got cash or financial instruments in exchange. This had the benefit for the state of concentrating food within cities, under the control and protection of the ruler and military in fortified buildings with big-assed walls around it. It's a good bet that the relationship between the banks and farmers were every bit as contentious then as they are now.

For example, in most of the pre-Meiji history of Japan, income from territory was measured in koku 石 (about 150kg of rice) which was supposed to be a year's supply for one person. The money was basically a token for how much rice was on deposit. Retainers (samurai 侍) were either paid directly in rice or received a salary which could in theory be exchanged for the rice if needed. While the coins themselves were made of the typical metals (copper or tin alloys, silver, gold) they were actually backed by the commodities they represented and so functioned more as tokens in some ways rather than having intrinsic value. Historical gold coins (ryō 両) were considered equal in value to 1 koku, though the actual value might fluctuate a bit according to crop yeilds.

What's kind of interesting is how little banking has changed from ancient times to now. US Silver Certificates were honored until the 1960s; you could exchange paper for coins or bullion (looked the actual date up: 1968!) There might even be other financial instruments I'm unfamiliar with that can be directly exchanged for the actual goods they represent.

While there were fairly strong guest customs in many places, it was very culturally-dependent, and so not something I think anyone would have actually counted on in traveling. In the ancient world in particular, you could encounter several different cultures in a trip from one city-state to another, and some of them might be hostile to your own. The biblical good Samaritan parable was a parable about how you should help even your enemies, but it was a pretty provocative story. Samaritans and Jews despised each other, and Jesus was shown as relating it to a group of Jews. Couching it in more modern terms, you could re-cast it as the story of how a former slave helped a Klansman he found beaten and lying in a ditch, as told to a group of white people; that's how anti-establishment this dude was.

Within more inter-connected medieval societies, monetary systems were already well established and had been for hundreds or thousands of years, depending on when and where you're talking about. There was little to no need to rely on guest rights or customs.