Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Sacred Loans, Sacred Interest(s): An Economic Analysis of Temple Loans from Independent Delos (314-167 BCE)
by McGlin, Michael James, Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo, 2019, 298; 13811947
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation analyzes a body of over 800 loans originating from the temple of Apollo on the sanctuary at Delos during the island’s independence (314–167 BCE). This work asks two questions of these loans: What role did they play in the finances of the sanctuary of Apollo? What roles did these loans play in the relationship between the sanctuary and the community on Delos?

A combination of epigraphy, prosopography, and the theory of New Institutional Economics is used to answer these questions. Delian officials, hieropoioi, recorded temple loans as part of their larger responsibility in conducting an annual audit of the sanctuary’s property and dedicatory holdings and financial transactions. They inscribed the results of their audit on stone stelai and erected them in the sanctuary. A diachronic analysis of the sanctuary’s finances conducted using these inscribed records shows that temple loans became the sanctuary’s most important financial asset. The structure and content of the loan agreements is argued to have been responsible for their importance. Loan agreements offered strong economic incentives such as a negotiable principal, standard interest rate, and a lack of financial penalty for non-repayment to a diverse clientele of citizens, women, and foreigners. Most importantly, the temple presented borrowing as an economic manifestation of religious behavior. The loan interest rate (epidekaton tokon) reinvents a specific type of religious dedication, the dekatē, which individuals performed after experiencing a financial windfall. These loans converted the relationship clients had with the temple into one of annual, contractual obligation, yet it also presented clients’ interest payments as serial patronage.

Temple loans performed vastly different functions for its clients. An analysis of loans to the city-state of Delos reveals that it borrowed in order to ensure the independence of the island from reliance on and influence of wealthy individuals and foreign potentates. Delos provided services (i.e. security and grain purchases) to its citizens through temple loans so that it would not need to ask for help from elsewhere. Individuals, however, borrowed as a means of socio-economic advancement. Loans provided bare economic assistance to many borrowers while others probably used them as an investment in their own property. Borrowing became a widespread phenomenon on Delos because it allowed those who did not have the financial resources to hold office or to make a dedication in the sanctuary to present themselves as patrons through the inscription of their annual interest payments. Temple loans from Delos firmly place religion as a motivation for economic behavior. The traditional sources for borrowing money such as family, banks, friends, and city-states need to be considered alongside religious institutions.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Higbie, Carolyn
Commitee: Ault, Bradley, Woodard, Roger
School: State University of New York at Buffalo
Department: Classics
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 80/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Classical Studies, Economic history, Ancient history
Keywords: Ancient economy, Delos, Epigraphy, Finance, Religion, Temple
Publication Number: 13811947
ISBN: 978-1-392-26865-0
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