Front Page Titles (by Subject) XXIII: LOANS AND DEPOSITS - Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters
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XXIII: LOANS AND DEPOSITS - Rev. Claude Hermann Walter Johns, Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters 
Babylonian and Assyrian Laws, Contracts and Letters (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1904).
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LOANS AND DEPOSITS
Records of loans of an early periodIn the first epoch there are many examples of loans. The characteristic word šu-ba-ti, or šu-ba-an-ti, which means “he has borrowed,” has been used as a title and they are often called šubati tablets. They are the receipts given for the loans by the borrowers. Here is an example:
“Sixty gur of corn, royal quality, from L have been received by B.” Date. Seal of borrower.
In place of corn we may have money, dates, wool, or almost anything. Sometimes a date for repayment is given. In the examples there are usually no references to the interest to be paid for the loan. They may be regarded as advances made to temple tenants, or serfs, to be repaid at harvest from crops.
Their value for chronologyThe greatest value of these tablets lies in their dates. The dates are usually events. Many of these have already been collected and registered, especially by Dr. H. Radau.1 But there is even more to be done, when further examples are published. Many tablets contain two dates referring to loans contracted at different times. By this means the sequence can gradually be determined. The seals are also of great interest and often of value, as may be seen from Dr. Radau’s work.
Advances of all sorts were freely made both with and without interest.Second Epoch. Repayments in kind or its stated equivalent For convenience we may separate money from corn loans and advances of all kinds of commodities; but we must not forget that corn, at any rate, was legal tender; and silver loans might be repaid in corn. This, however, was early recognized as an inconvenience and it is quite common to find a direct stipulation that what was lent shall be repaid in kind. It soon became usual to state that if the loan was repaid otherwise, it must be according to a fixed ratio between silver and corn.
Promissory notesA very large number of loans take the form of Abstract schuldscheine, loans without statement of any cause for the debt. They are merely promises to pay, that is, acknowledgments of indebtedness. Thus we read: “Five shekels of silver which A has given to B. On such a date shall pay five shekels of silver to A.” A penalty may be added for not paying on the fixed date. Usually this takes the form of interest. The rate is one shekel per mina each month, or twelve shekels per mina yearly, that is, twenty per cent. There is no clear case of money lent as an investment to bear interest. That was done in quite another way. The lender entered into relationship with an agent, to whom he furnished capital and who traded with the money and repaid it with interest.
Temporary loans at harvest-timeMost of the loans were evidently contracted to meet temporary embarrassment. Usually it was in connection with the need of cash to pay the expenses at harvest-time. The loan was then repaid at harvest. It might be repaid in corn.1 The time was usually short—fifteen days is named.2 The lender had his reward in obtaining his money’s worth in corn, when its price was cheapest. But he was evidently not expected to charge interest. A similar kind of loan is half a mina of silver to pay the price of a piece of land. Here the money was lent until the land was bought, and was to be repaid with interest of three gur of corn.1 So half a mina for certain land to be paid, when the land was cultivated.2
Loans for the payment of taxesAnother reason for borrowing was the need of money to pay taxes, ana ilkim suddanim.3 In one of these cases the stipulation is added that the borrower shall bring the receipt of the tax-collector and then may take back his bonds.4 Here the “sealed tablet” is in one case the receipt for the tax, in the other the receipt which the borrower gave for his loan. But there is no mention of his repayment. Perhaps the lender owed the tax, half a mina, and as it was a considerable sum, sent it by a third party, but made him give a receipt for it. But such a receipt would differ in no respect from the sort of bond mentioned above, and would render the messenger liable to repay the money; so he was to have his receipt back, on handing over the tax-collector’s receipt showing that he had paid the tax.
The temple as places of temporary loansIn several cases the god is represented as lending the money. It is obvious that such advances were made from the temple treasury.5 It is usual from such instances to expatiate on the temple, or the priests, as the great moneylenders. This is a view easily misunderstood. It is quite true that the temples were great landowners, and had steady incomes, and possessed treasuries; but there is no evidence that they lent on usury. It seems rather that these loans without interest (except as a fine for undue retention of the loan) were a kindly accommodation. We know that under certain circumstances a man might appeal to the temple treasury to ransom him from the enemy. He might also borrow in case of necessity without interest. Moneylending proper existed, but was kept in narrow bounds by the temple itself.
Current coinIn view of the many questions that arise as to the nature of the money at this period, it should be noted that the silver is often said to be kanku; literally “sealed.” Whether this means that the silver bars, or ingots, were sealed while the metal was soft enough to receive a mark which would authenticate its weight and purity, or whether it means that the money was enclosed in sealed sacks, is hard to say. Against the latter may be urged that such a small sum as one and two-thirds shekels would not be sealed up.1 But it may be that kanku means “sealed for,” that is, acknowledged by the receipt.
Loans of cornEven more common than money loans are the corn loans. Here the loans were generally for a short time just before harvest, when the repayment was expected. The period is usually short, five days,2 or a month.3 Interest is sometimes demanded, at the rate of one hundred a per gur, or one-third, that is, thirty-three and a third per cent. This was probably the rate per mensem, four hundred per cent. per annum. But in one case the interest is one hundred a per gur per annum,4 once it is expressly said to be nothing,5 usually it is not referred to at all. Sometimes a loan was partly in money, partly in corn.6
Other loans of produceOther things were lent, as sesame, skins, bricks, and the like, but these loans exhibit no peculiarity. They are merely letting the borrower have goods on credit, to be paid for, or returned, after a time.
We may take, as an example of this kind of transaction, a rather more complicated case:7
Record of a loanTwo and seven-thirtieths of a gur of corn, Shamash standard measure, which Ilu-kasha, son of Sharru-Shamash, gave to Belshunu, Ilushu-abushu, and Ikash-Ninsa. Ilu-kasha brought the corn and returned one gur and one-tenth and took for himself two hundred and twenty a. Later he paid one-tenth of a gur to Ilushu-bânî, Ikash-Ninsa, and Shumma-Shamash, and they remitted in all three gur, the former and later debt.
In the second case only one of the former debtors is left. The loan was partly repaid, a fresh loan contracted, and then partly repaid. It is not clear whether the arrears were remitted or extracted by distraint. Nor is it clear whether Ilukasha was debtor or creditor. As a rule such points are clear. It is only the conciseness of the formula which here causes the obscurity.
Loans or allowances in seriesAnother fairly common type of document contains a number of sections, each containing the record of one sum. But it is not clear that these were loans. They may be allowances for food or salary. Thus in 247 we have so much corn for the women weavers, so much more for the votaries, so much for other officials, from the first of one month to the thirtieth, so much for the Sutî who was watching the field, so much for a boatman, and so on. These are perhaps a temple steward’s accounts. Their interest lies only in the incidental notices. We also note that here a month had thirty days. It is interesting to find that the celebrated Sutî nomads who later gave so much trouble, were already in the country and were employed to watch the fields. Was this watching done on the principle of “setting a thief to catch a thief”? Perhaps it was necessary to employ a Sutî as custodian, of course at a salary, if one was to preserve the crop from the depredations of his fellowtribesmen.
Some of these tablets expressly state the amount of corn loaned, giving the date for repayment.1 Hence we see what a narrow margin divides the proper bond from the mere receipt, or even the memorandum of the loan.
Formal advances of working materialsA number of tablets deal with advances of wool or woollen yarn made by temple officials to weavers and dyers to work up. As a rule they contain a number of words connected doubtless with the weaver’s craft which are not yet made out. The following is a fairly simple example:1
One talent of wool belonging to the palace, price ten shekels of silver, property of Utul-Ishtar the abi ṣâbê, which Ishme-Sin, son of Sin-bêl-aplim, Marduk-mushallim, son of Sin-idinnam, Ilushu-ibni and Bêlshunu, sons of Sin-eribam have borrowed. The day that the tax-collector of the palace demands it they shall pay the money of the palace.
Elsewhere the time of loan may be stated, two months for example.2 The price is always reckoned at six minas of wool for a shekel. It seems that the borrowers were not obliged to repay until a certain date, or until a demand was made for certain taxes. They then must pay in silver.
Assyrian loans ana pûhiIn the Assyrian examples of money-loans the same general features constantly recur. The most common are loans ana pûi, which may be taken to mean “for consideration,” as the word pûu means an “exchange.” But there is never any statement of what the consideration was. Some have thought, that as the bond was invariably given to the creditor to be broken up on the repayment of the loan, the exchange referred to was a restoration of the bond in return for the money. But the consideration, which is a legal presumption, may have lain in the fact that the borrowers were tenants on the metayer system and had a right to borrow of their landlord, free of interest, at seed-time and harvest. On such loans interest is only demanded when the debtor fails to repay at the fixed date.
Usual rate of interestThe rate of interest charged as a penalty for non-payment or late payment was twenty-five per cent. per mensem, three hundred per cent. per annum. This interest was intended to secure prompt payment, but was not unfair in view of the increase of value obtained by investing it in corn and then sowing that. Other rates were one-third and one-eighth, but there is no fixed rate of interest for the loan of money, except when it was ana pûi.
For the use of cornThe interest on corn was thirty a per homer. Some think the homer had sixty a, which would make the interest fifty per cent. But no case has yet been found which gives the number of a in a homer.
The coinageThe money lent is often said to belong to a god. Ashur, Ishtar of Arbela, or Ishtar of Nineveh, are the most common. Sometimes it is said to be in “Ishtar heads,” which has been taken to mean ingots stamped with a head of Ishtar. The frequent reference to the mina of Carchemish alongside the king’s mina is eloquent as to the commercial eminence of the old Hittite capital.
An example is the following:1
Sixteen shekels of silver, from A to , ana pûi, he has taken. On the first day of Tammuz he shall pay the money. If not, it shall increase by a quarter. Dated the eleventh of Nisan, in the Eponymy of Bêl-ludâri. Three witnesses.
Loans on property often mere advances of materialLoans or advances were also made of various kinds of property. Thus we have an advance of ten minas of silver, Carchemish standard, seventy-five sheep, one cow, made by Ashurbânipal’s chief steward to four men, ana pûi. The sheep and cow they are to return in Adar. If they do not return the sheep, they must breed them. The interest on the money is to be one-third. Dated the twenty-fifth of Tebet, bc 664. Thirteen witnesses. Such a loan seems to be on the metayer system.2
Property on approvalHere again we have an exceptional case:3
L lends two dromedaries, “which they called double-humped,” to three men, who shall return them on the first of the month, or pay six minas of silver. If they do not pay the money, interest shall accrue at the rate of five shekels per mina. Dated the fourteenth of Tishri, bc 674.
These animals were rare and evidently highly valued. What could the three borrowers want with a pair of such animals? Were they for exhibition in a menagerie? Perhaps they were for breeding. We may have here a case of goods taken on approval, for a fortnight or so, perhaps for sale to another party.
The same lender lent to the same three men, two hundred sheep, one hundred and fifty goats, two hundred and thirty yearling lambs, in all five hundred and eighty small cattle. They were to return the animals by a fixed date, or pay. Dated the seventh of Iyyar, bc 673. The same lender had lent seventy-two sheep to two other men, in Sivan, bc 680. They had to return the sheep in Ab, or pay for them at the market-rate in Nineveh. Bêl-êresh acted as agent for the borrowers.1
A loan of wineOther goods, such as wine, or oil, were advanced. Here we probably have to do with the transactions of the royal chief steward and the king’s agents. For example:2
L intrusts five homers of wine, according to the royal measure, to D. On the first of Nisan he shall return the wine, otherwise he shall pay for the wine according to the market-rate in Nineveh. Dated fifth of Adar, bc 674. Five witnesses.
Of oilL advances six homers of pure oil, price ten a of bronze per homer, to D, the major-domo at Carchemish. He shall repay the oil in Sebat; if not, it shall be doubled. Dated twenty-first of Ab, bc 681. Six witnesses.
We may deduce the interesting fact that Esarhaddon was at Carchemish in Ab, bc 681. The advance was made for the use of the royal household there.
Of cornAdvances of corn were made exactly as in the earlier times. Thus:1
L advances thirty homers of corn to D, the messenger from the city of Maganiṣi, by the hands of E, a colonel in the army. He shall pay the corn in Marchesvan, in the city of Maganiṣi, or pay the full value of it in Nineveh. Dated the seventeenth of Sebat, bc 665. Eight witnesses.
The peculiar shape of the tablets recording loans of cornOne peculiarity of the corn loans is that they are chiefly recorded upon what have been called heart-shaped tablets. These were lumps of clay through which a string passed and came out at the upper shoulders. The string was probably tied around the neck of a sack containing the corn. They thus served both as labels, seals, and as bonds. Many of them have Aramaic dockets, which have been collected and edited by Dr. J. H. Stevenson, in his Assyrian and Babylonian Contracts, with Aramaic reference-notes.
These loans made by the kingThus the above example bears the words in Aramaic, “barley, assignment, which is from Nabû-dûri.” These Aramaic legends, in the case of such labels, may have served as addresses. But the general purpose is obscure. All the corn advances seem to have been made by officials of the royal household to inferior officers, in charge of farms or otherwise dependent for supplies.
Often made just before harvestThey show by their dates that the corn was usually advanced just before harvest, when corn was dearest. Some of them name the reapers; others give the number of them. We conclude that these advances were made as food for the harvesters, or as wages for their labor. Occasionally, however,Sometimes at seed-time the loan was made at seed-time. Most of the loans are ana pûi,2 which supports the view that the meaning of this phrase is really “for management expenses” and presupposes the metayer system.
Receipts for payment of a loan of moneyClosely connected with money or other loans are receipts for payment. These are somewhat rare. The more usual practice was to break the tablet, or promise to pay, which was returned to the debtor. But we have two good examples, thus:1
The four minas of silver, interest, belonging to C, which were due from D, D has paid and given to C. One with the other, neither shall litigate. Dated seventh of Sivan, bc 683. Three witnesses.
Here we are not aware of the circumstances which lead to the loan. But, in one case, we have records both of the loan and its repayment, thus:2
Of a loan of cornBaiânu advanced two homers of corn, for food, to Nabû-nûr-nammir; and one homer each to Latubashâni-ilu and Ṣabutânu, ana pûi. Dated the twenty-ninth of Elul, bc 686.
And we find also:3
Ṣabutânu and Latubashâni-ilu repay each one homer. Nabû-nûr-nammir does not repay. Dated Iyyar, bc 685.
Whether or not the defaulter paid later is not known; but we probably owe our knowledge of the repayment to the fact that all three did not pay together. We note that each paid exactly what he borrowed. No interest was charged.
Of a fineIn one case we have a receipt for a fine, or damages, imposed by a law-court. Thus:4
Forty minas of bronze, without rebate, which the sukallu imposed as a fine. Paid to the šakintu. Dated the tenth of Adar, bc 693. Four witnesses.
There is no statement who owed, or paid, the fine. But the lady governor who received the money gave this receipt for it.
Explicitness of the Code regarding legal responsibilityThe Code makes very clear the legal aspect of this transaction. A minor or a slave could only deposit under power of attorney.1 A deposit was not recoverable unless made by a deed, or delivered in presence of witnesses and duly acknowledged by a receipt.2 The receiver was liable for all loss occurring to the goods in his possession on deposit, even when the loss was such as involved the loss of his own goods as well.3 For corn, the Code fixed a yearly fee for warehousing of one-sixtieth the amount deposited.4
The bond destroyed on paymentAs we learn from the few actual cases which occur, the receipt given for the goods was returned to the recipient on the return of the goods and the tablet broken as cancelling the responsibility. One form which it might take is illustrated by the following:5
Ten shekels of silver, which according to a sealed receipt was deposited for the share of Ṣili-Shamash, he has taken from Ṣili-Ishtar and Amêl-ili, his brothers. His heart is contented; he will not dispute. Oath by ammurabi, the king. Seven witnesses. Fourth year of ammurabi.
Here apparently three brothers share, but one being absent the two hold their brother’s share for him, giving a sealed receipt for it. This the judge delivered to him and he claimed and received his share.
Examples of deposit rareActual examples of deposit are rare; probably because our collections refer to temple transactions, rather than to private family deeds. We have a deposit of lead,6 from which we learn that silver was worth twice as much as lead. It was to be sent from Ashnunna, on demand. Here is another:7
“Concerning the silver which Zikrum and Ṣabitum gave to Ṣili-Ishtar on deposit. They have received it; their hearts are content.Receipts They gave up their bond and it was broken.”
Instead of a receipt by the recipient there is often found a list concluding with the word apkida, “I have intrusted.” Then comes the date and the names of witnesses. It is not clear, however, that these things were meant to be returned. They may only be memoranda of allowances given out. They chiefly occur in Scheil’s Saison de fouilles à Sippar.1
No examples in later literatureIn Assyrian documents no examples of this kind of transaction are found. Nor are any very clear examples producible from later Babylonian times. But it must not be overlocked that some cases, where a receipt is given for a sum or quantity of goods, without mention of interest to be paid, may very well be acknowledgments of a deposit; they have usually been taken to be loans.
[1 ] , pp. 254 ff., etc.
[1 ] 2524.
[2 ] M. A. P., 15.
[1 ] 2519.
[2 ] M. A. P., 19.
[3 ] 218.
[4 ]Kanik mušaddinim utbalunimma kanikšu illikû, 754.
[5 ]M. A. P., 8, 9.
[1 ] 218.
[2 ] 771.
[3 ] 642.
[4 ] 655.
[5 ]M. A. P., 24.
[6 ] 1182, S. 76.
[7 ] 869.
[1 ] 687.
[1 ] 684.
[2 ] 701.
[1 ] , No. 1.
[2 ] , No. 115.
[3 ] , No. 117.
[1 ] , Nos. 118, 119.
[2 ] , No. 124.
[3 ] , No. 127.
[1 ] , No. 128.
[2 ] P. 256.
[1 ] , No. 155.
[2 ] , No. 134.
[3 ] , No. 135.
[4 ] , No. 162.
[1 ] § .
[2 ] § .
[3 ] § .
[4 ] § .
[5 ] M. A. P., p. 27.
[6 ] 1058.
[7 ] M. A. P., p. 28.
[1 ] S. 62, 69, 73, etc.