November 28, 2008
Politicians searching for historical precedents for the current financial turmoil should start looking a bit further back after an Oxford University historian discovered what he believes is the world’s first credit crunch in 88BC.
The good news is that Philip Kay knows how the Romans got themselves into financial bother. The bad news is no one knows how they got themselves out of it.
“The essential similarity between what happened 21 centuries ago and what is happening in today’s UK economy is that a massive increase in monetary liquidity culminated with problems in another country causing a credit crisis at home. In both cases distance and over-optimism obscured the risk,” said Kay, a supernumerary fellow at Wolfson College.
The monetary historian is giving a lecture today in which he will reveal how Cicero, the Roman orator, gave a speech in 66BC in which he alluded to the credit crunch. Cicero was arguing that Pompey the Great should be given military command against Mithridates VI, king of Pontus on the Black sea coast of what is now Turkey. He reminded his audience of events in 88BC, when the same Mithridates invaded the Roman province of Asia, on the western coast of Turkey. Cicero claimed the invasion caused the loss of so much Roman money that credit was destroyed in Rome itself.