A Bank for the People: Monti di Pietà and Civil Resistance in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, 1400-1700s
Sama Mammadova is a PhD student in History at Harvard University. She is interested in the economic, religious, and visual history of moneylending in late medieval and early modern Italy. Her dissertation focuses on the establishment of Christian public banks known as monti di pietà in Central Italy in the 1400s and their spread across Europe and the Atlantic in 1500s-1700s. She had spent the academic year 2022-2023 conducting archival research in Italy as a Fulbright grantee.
In 1462, in a small Central Italian town of Perugia, Europe’s first public bank, called a monte di pietà, was established to offer low-interest loans to the poor. Among the founders were a handful of radical Franciscans, who presented the bank as a replacement for Jewish moneylending and a solution to urban poverty. Through incendiary sermons against usury, they promoted a system of popular credit grounded in the Observant Franciscan ideals of moral economy and crowd-sourced funds for the banks to be established by the people and for the people. To a provincial city subject to the Papal States and dependent on the pope’s Jewish agents for petty loans, the monte di pietà offered an alternative source of credit and a way to assert its autonomy. Between the fifteenth and the eighteenth centuries, the monti grew in numbers and spread to Southern Italy and, from there, to Spain, Spanish-controlled territories in Northern Europe, and the New World, as well as the Papal outpost in Avignon and Venice’s Adriatic colonies. By using an array of Franciscan sermons, Papal bulls, letters, and, of course, administrative documents of the monti di pietà from European and Latin American archives, this work aims to study the development of the monti as instruments of local resistance against major financial centers such as Spain, Venice, and the Papal States.