Banking in the Roman Empire

The Roman Empire was a period of unprecedented growth and prosperity. The empire was so vast that it had its banking system to manage all the funds. Banks in the Roman Empire had to keep track of everyone’s money under lock and key. They issued receipts for people’s deposits called codices (or “books”) as a way to verify how much money they had at any given time. These banks were known as “arcade foedericae,” or “covenants of the alliance,” because they were funded by the profits from an earlier venture: The Roman mint. Mints produced gold coins bearing the image of the emperor and silver denarii with images of his family members. These coins were then used to pay soldiers and suppliers as well as further fund various projects throughout the empire such as aqueducts, roads, temples, and other public works projects.

How Roman banks stored and secured money

The Roman banks kept their customers’ gold, silver, and bronze coins in strongboxes with an inventory of each customer’s account. They also kept important documents such as promissory notes and letters of credit for travel and trade. Banks also held deposits for people who wanted to save money for a rainy day. There were also accounts for Roman interest-bearing loans. The vault’s name, “arca,” is where the word “bank” comes from. Locking the money away in a secure place was important so that the banks’ employees wouldn’t steal it. To prevent theft, the banks were built like forts with thick walls and barred windows. Banks also had their security force to defend the money. The guards were usually recruited from retired Roman soldiers.

Rome’s banking infrastructure

The Roman Empire was known for having excellent infrastructure. Roads (via), aqueducts (aqua), and even indoor plumbing (for the rich) were all built during this period. Roman banks also benefitted from this infrastructure: The roads allowed the banks to transport goods and money quickly. The aqueducts brought water to the Empire’s cities, which kept the banks’ employees from having to haul buckets of water up to the third-story windows. And the indoor plumbing kept the bankers from having to don thick, wool coats in the winter to keep warm while standing in the snow outside the bank. These Roman amenities helped the banking system to efficiently manage funds across the empire. This allowed people to buy and sell goods with relative ease. The banks also enabled the Roman government to collect taxes and pay its employees.

Roman banks' role in the Empire

The banks allowed Rome to keep track of all goods and money across the empire. As a result of the banking system, goods were easier to trade and goods flowed more freely within the empire. The banks also allowed Rome to collect taxes from people all over the world. The widespread use of coins such as the denarius with the emperor's portrait and the frequent exchange of coinage between countries helped to promote economic and cultural exchange between peoples and states throughout the empire. The abundance of goods and money within the empire also made the empire a magnet for people who wanted to settle there. People from all over the world migrated to Rome because there was plenty of work for them to do. The banking system also gave Rome the ability to reward people who contributed to the greater good of the Empire. This included artists, architects, and engineers who worked on public projects.

The Bank of Trajan and Emperor Nero

The Bank of Trajan, which was established in 110 AD, was the first bank in the Empire. It was located in Rome’s Forum. The Bank of Trajan, which was built by Emperor Trajan, was the first commercial bank in the Roman Empire. By the fifth century, most of the Roman banks had shifted their focus from the emperor to wealthy landholders and merchants. This shift was partially due to Emperor Nero’s short-lived reign. Emperor Nero had a keen interest in singing and acting. To fund his passions, he began taking money from the banks. As a result, many Roman banks went bankrupt and closed. The surviving banks transformed from focusing on the Roman state and its officials to wealthy individuals. They were called the Argentario, which means “silver dealers” since they were in charge of the silver in the bank.

The rise of Roman banks

The decline of the Roman Empire was also accompanied by a decline in the banking system. The fall of Rome was caused by plagues, political instability, and barbarian invasions. The barbarians were groups of tribes that lived north of the Roman Empire. The most prominent of these groups were the Goths and the Vandals. The fall of the Western Roman Empire was in 476 AD when the last emperor, Romulus Augustus, was deposed by Odoacer, a Germanic chieftain. The Eastern Roman Empire, also known as the Byzantine Empire, lasted until 1453 AD when Constantinople was conquered by the Ottoman Turks. The decline of the Roman banking system was caused by the decline in the Roman Empire. The barbarian invasions led to political instability and a decline in trade, which hurt the banking system.


The Roman Empire was an economic powerhouse. The Roman economy was fueled by a strong agricultural sector, sustained by the application of a mix of urban and technological innovations. Additionally, the Roman economy was extremely diverse, with agriculture, construction, and mining representing significant portions of the Empire's economic output. The banking system in the Roman Empire was responsible for managing the Empire's vast funds. The Roman banks kept their customers' gold, silver, and bronze coins in strongboxes with an inventory of each customer's account. They also kept important documents such as promissory notes and letters of credit for travel and trade. The Roman banks also allowed the Roman government to collect taxes from people all over the world.