Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Money makes the world go round, or is it the root of all evil?

During medieval times, money was a very important part of society. Commerce in the early part of the middle ages was split into many forms; these forms were dictated by the people who participated in them.

First, there was an exchange of goods or services between people called the barter system. This is a common form of an economic system, if you needed someone else’s services or goods; you obtained it with an exchange of yours. The concept of exchanging goods was probably the first form of an economy in the world. Many people in rural areas or small villages in the middle ages participated in this good exchange system.

The barter system cannot be applied to all people, so money was invented. Money can be in many forms of currency; the most popular in olden times were coins made of valuable materials such as gold and silver because these metals had value in themselves. The collection of coins and money soon developed into wealth. The more money someone had, the more power they had in society.

Merchants became important during the middle ages. Their ability to obtain and then sell goods from different areas helped them gain more money than those who were farmers or simple trade’s people.

With their wealth, merchants could have a greater influence on the political decisions of their times. Merchants used their influence to help countries develop trade routes and currency exchanges among countries. The increase in trade routes and currency exchanges in return enlarged the merchant’s wealth and then their influence.

Royalty, religion and money all were interconnected during the middle ages. The royalty believed they ruled by the will of God, that God granted them this right to rule over others. The Royals needed the church to propagate this concept of divine providence, while the church needed the protection of the Royals military. The Royals needed the church, and the church needed the royalty; each had an influence over the other, and feared the other at the same time.

A king or queen could not maintain a kingdom on their own. They developed a bureaucracy where barons (or lords), would maintain a smaller section of the kingdom, and others below them. To maintain this bureaucracy, taxes needed to be gathered from its citizens.

Tax revenues were paid to the barons by serfs and others who lived or worked within the baron’s territories. This money was then passed upward to the king or queen. Each person in the chain would then take their share of the revenue from the taxes.

The barons were not always required to pay taxes to the king, sometimes they needed to maintain an army and send them to serve the king or queen upon their request.

Those without money would pay their taxes with goods or services instead of money. If the goods paid were agricultural products, the barons would use these to feed his troops, and thus meet his requirement to maintain an army for the use of his king or queen.

The church received money from you from birth to the grave, if your children were to be baptized, you paid for that service. To be married the ceremony must be officiated by the church. According to the church if you were to go to heaven you must be buried in consecrated land, (a cemetery maintained by the church) this also would cost you money (actually your families’ money to bury you).

The church also needed money to maintain its influence over the royalty. Church property was exempt from taxes; this was very beneficial to the church, for the less the church became dependent on the Royals, the more influential it could become over them.

The church dominated everyone’s lives during the middle ages. The church made sure that everyone paid a tithe or 10% of their income to the church. If a farmer had no money, then he had an option to work the church land for free in lieu of the financial tithe.

The church figured out numerous ways to obtain money. It finally reached its highest level when the church began collecting indulgences. Indulgences were money you paid to forgive your sins, or sins of someone else, such as a relative who died.

As I stated earlier, much of the money used were in the form of coins. In Europe, there were many different countries and kingdoms, each minting their own coin. Inns and taverns that welcomed travelers from abroad needed a way to determine if the coins used by these travelers were authentic.

In my upcoming novel, a group of knights enter an inn. A bouncer greeted them at the door. The origin of the term bouncer is contested by many.

One story is that it is an American term, popularized by the Horatio Alger Novels of the 1870’s -90’s. The simple definition is it is someone who “bounces” you out of the bar or tavern.

The origin of the name I use in my novel refers to the gold or silver coin. Bouncers were responsible to ensure that people who enter the tavern or inn had money to pay for the food or a room. Since there a large amount of counterfeit coins made, the bouncer would bounce the coin off a wet block of wood, if it bounced correctly, the coin was good.

I am unaware which story is true; I liked the second version, so I went with that. Sometimes history deals more with perception then it does with accuracy.

Money helped move Europe out of the dark and middle ages. The need to gather more wealth pushed trade, and with the trade came more ideas and concepts from other parts of the world. The greed for wealth helped the renaissance to appear.

Thank you for visiting my blog, and as always, I would love to hear comments from you.


  1. Not surprising how nothing changes much through history when it comes to wealth and power :) I think the second version of the term Bouncer is plausible, it just makes sense :)

  2. Thanks Frozen Canuck. I think it makes sense too, but who knows? It does sound better though.

  3. I had always assumed a bouncer was someone who bounced you out of the bar but I agree with you, whatever the correct version, the second one has more substance. As for your comments about religion and royalty; very interesting.

  4. Hi; this was an engrossing post. I like the second version of the bouncer story better too. and you know that line never let the facts get in the way of a good story. In this case the facts are in question, so you are perfectly within your rights to use the better explanation. best of luck with the book, max

  5. I enjoyed this article - you really put a lot of research into it and brought out information I would never have thought about but which makes a lot of sense - like the mutual dependence/control of royalty and church. Very interesting. Good luck with your book - hope it sells millions.(For that I will be looking for a signed copy LOL)

  6. I enjoyed your history of money and about bouncers. I like the second version of the origin of "bouncer" which I had not heard of before. I really like the background of your site.

  7. Thanks everyone for your comments, I appreciate them very much. I must say I also enjoyed visiting your blogs and sites too.

  8. Hi William,
    Does money make the world go round? I suppose not if you believe the world is flat ;) I've always heard time is money, but I've yet to see it minted. Time is spiritual currency. I just think how we spend it, that's the warp and weft of life.

    Personally, I prefer the second definition of bouncer as you've related it.

    Kind Regards,

  9. Hi William. Great topic and best of luck with the book. I flatly reject the idea of money as the root of all evil since 1/ People invented money and 2/ evil has been around a lot longer than money or barter. That being said, the pursuit of it frequently brings out the worst in people. Gotta Bounce !

  10. Thank you for your comment Paul. I used "the root of all evil" along with "makes the world go round' just to show the dual nature money has. Like everything, it depends on our motivation and what we do with it.

  11. Hello William
    Bouncer ... I never thought it is also related to money.
    You have done a lot of research about the topic and I have learned a lot about systems and money in old ages.
    I have also heard that trade was done on wheat or grains then came the gold but about detail I came to know from your Post.
    It was need of time as no one can carry that much gold or silver so someone came up with currency notes that we use now. Time is still changing and there is development as we are into using bank cards now more than paper notes or coins.
    I believe that money is not only root of all evils. There are many more root causes as well.
    Thank you.

  12. As for trade, I was trying to make the point that merchants influenced the decisions for trade policies. I agree wealth is not only money. paper notes was a foreign concept to Europeans in the middle ages, while the Chinese had promissory notes about 100 BC and paper money around the 7th century. Marco Polo was one of the first Europeans to actually see paper money. Thank you for leaving a comment.