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HOW INTEREST RATES WERE SET, 2500 BC-1000 AD: Máš, tokos and foenus as Metaphors for Interest Accruals

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The earliest interest rates in Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome were set not "economically" to reflect profit or productivity rates, but by the dictates of mathematical simplicity of calculation. The interest that was "born" calendrically did not take the form of young animals, but rather of the "unit fraction," the smallest unit fraction in each of the above fractional systems: 1/60th in the Mesopotamia, 1/10th in Greece, and 1/12th in Rome. The "birth" or "calf/kid" metaphor for interest thus referred to "baby fractions", not literally baby animals.

Affiliations: 1: Peabody Museum, Harvard


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