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Report No. 63

2.7. Hammurabi Code and Roman law.-

The Hammurabi Code of ancient Babylon1 contained a law limiting interest on loans of corn or silver.2

Usury was an offence in Roman law, and, according to the 12 Tables,3 "The Interest on money is 81/2 per cent. per annum. A Usurer who lends at a higher rate of interest, is punishable." The maximum rate of interest under the late Republic and early Roman Empire was set at twelve per cent.4 A lender who exacted a higher interest rate could be sued for four times the amount exceeding the legal rate. Justinian later reduced the rate to 6% generally, but permitted merchants to collect 8 per cent. and persons of higher social position only 4 per cent. He also abolished the fourfold penalty. The Code of Jewish law5 contained extensive provisions outlawing any interest, which apparently carried over into early Christian Europe.

1. Driver & Mills The Babylonian Laws: Legal Commentary (1956, p. 173, cited in Note on Usury, in 18 Standford Law Review, p. 1381).

2. For the text of the Babylonian law, see Driver & Mills, The Babylonian Laws: Text and Translation (1955), p. 39.

3. 8th Table, item 18; Stephen History of Criminal Law, Vol. 1, p. 10.

4. Berger, Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Roman Law (1953), pp. 469, 954, cited in note on 'Usury' in 18 Standford Law Review, p. 1381.

5. Canafried & Goldin Code of Jewish Law, (1963), Vol. 2, Ch. 65, p. 41, cited in the Note on "Usury" 18 Stanford Law Review, p. 301.

Interest Act, 1839 Back

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