Anonymous asked in Arts & HumanitiesHistory · 8 years ago

Jews as moneylenders in middle age Europe?

Is there any hard evidence that jewish people actually made their money through money lending during the middle ages in Europe? Historians point out that jews were money lenders but historians do not provide proof that jews actually made any money off of usury. Most Europeans who took loans would not have been able to pay them back including the noble and royal families who took loans. Whenever the kings of Europe went deep into debt to the jews they just expelled the jews from their country.

So how did jews actually make money in Europe during the middle ages?


Jonathan:"You can easily go into the court rolls of any medieval kingdom and find plenty of cases of Jews suing successfully to enforce collection of loans or to hold onto collateral in default situations."

Where do I find the court rolls of any medieval kingdom?

5 Answers

  • 8 years ago
    Favorite Answer

    Where in the world do you claim evidence that "most Europeans who took loans would not have been able to pay them back?" If you want to be hyper-skeptical about the evidence for any given assertion, you need to be consistent about it. Loans in the Middle Ages were normally paid back on a set date, not in installments - after a year, or when the next harvest came in, or when a particular trade venture was complete that the loan was financing. It wasn't like trying to make your mortgage payments over thirty years.

    The Jews were not expelled from every kingdom every single year by Christians who couldn't pay off their loans. If they were, they would have given up on the money lending business after being burned two or three years in a row. Expulsions were relatively rare events that might take place once in a generation or so. In France, for example, the expulsions of Jews only took place in 1182 (recalled in 1198), 1306 (recalled in 1315), and 1394 (Jews began to return to France in the 16th century). So your impression that the Christians just expelled Jews all the time rather than paying their loans is false; Jewish moneylending proceeded normally up to 1182, from 1198 to 1306 (108 years), and from 1315 to 1394 (79 years). By 1400 anti-usury laws had been relaxed and there were more Christian moneylenders and bankers. The expulsions occurred, not because Christians couldn't pay their debts, but because there were reasons of political expedience and ideology to do so.

    Although there was periodic squawking about it, Christian kings routinely and explicitly upheld the rights of the Jews to collect on loans and enforced it at law. You can easily go into the court rolls of any medieval kingdom and find plenty of cases of Jews suing successfully to enforce collection of loans or to hold onto collateral in default situations. This was in the kings' own self-interest; they could tax the Jews more heavily than they could the Christian majorities of their kingdoms, so profitable Jewish moneylending meant richer royal treasuries.

    It wasn't the only source of their income, though. All Jews were not moneylenders. They were only banned from landholding and agriculture. Many were merchants, trading in luxury goods and other items with their relations in the Middle East; others were doctors and artisans.

    EDIT: to correct false information in other answers: usury was only a sin (not necessarily a crime) when practiced against members of your own religion. Christian canon law forbade Christians to practice usury on loans to other Christians; Jewish law forbade Jews to charge interest on loans to other Jews, and Islamic Shari'a made the same prohibition among Muslims. But none of the Abrahamic religions forbade usury toward members of OTHER religions. This was what made the Jews convenient for the developing medieval economy; their presence made it possible to lay the foundations for a system of finance in emerging trade and commerce.

    EDIT 2: well, maybe i shouldn't necessarily have said "easily": how easy it will be depends on who you are, your language skills and the libraries and archives you have access to. Those kinds of sources aren't generally on the internet and they aren't generally translated from the original Latin (not enough consumer demand for medieval court records to warrant publishers paying for translations). Some are unpublished and must be studied in manuscript. Later medieval law is not my field and I don't have references off the top of my head, but check the bibliographies in the New Cambridge Medieval History volumes (for whatever period you're interested in), and in individual studies such as David Nirenberg's "Communities of Violence." You can also check Lopez and Raymond's "Medieval Trade in the Mediterranean World" (and its bibliographies). A couple of texts that are online: , , .

  • 8 years ago

    That was the primary reason why King Edward I exiled them from his lands.

    I'm sorry, but I don't specialize in Middle-Aged History, but I know many Monarchs expelled them or passed laws against them in more recent century's for the very same thing. (Napoleon Bonaparte, Nicholas Romanov etc)


    Many crimes that were forbidden for Christians to practice; Usury, Gambling and even Pimping etc.

    Were almost exclusively Jewish controlled businesses during the Middle-Ages and even for a long time afterwards as well. (With the exception of a few Christians, but from what I hear over 85% of its Beneficiary's were Jews)

    Gambling and Pimping the Monarchs could over-look. But Usury always became a serious problem.

    If Interested:

    Here is a video quoting famous/influential people through our the 20th century and what they said about the Jews concerning Usury.

    Youtube thumbnail

    Ignore the man giving his opinion at the beginning, I was just interested in hearing the quotes.

  • Kevin7
    Lv 7
    8 years ago

    Many historical records testify to the fact in the Middle Ages (and even in later times in some regions)Jews were forced to be moneylenders as their ONLY LEGAL profession as both the Church and Islam had rules against usury (charging interest on a loan)

  • Anonymous
    5 years ago

    Same as the rest of the world - daily grind, risk of hunger, disease, old early - only difference was they had a different religion and were mildly persecuted for it (a few rapes and a few murders each year in any region) - so it goes - humans were cruel then and we live in better days now.

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  • Anonymous
    8 years ago

    Usury was a major crime in the middle ages, that is why the jews were exiled in many countries and kingdoms.

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