Hardly any of us use cheques anymore. Throughout my youth, this was a way of transferring money that was convenient and simple – but very analog! And the origin of the cheque has always been alleged to lie with the Knights Templar – those intrepid early bankers. But is this really true?
Maybe Templars didn’t invent cheques after all
I noticed a new post today on the history of cheques which re-hashed the Wikipedia entry on the subject. Essentially, the Templars were beaten to the first cheque by the Roman ‘praescriptione’ and possibly even the Mauryan empire ‘adesha’ three hundred years before in what is now India.
The Sassanids, the late Roman empire’s Persian foes, are also said to have used a form of cheque as are Muslim traders as early as the ninth century AD. All of which pre-dates the Templar period from 1118.
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The beauty of the Templar cheque
As we know, the Templars issued paper bills that could be exchanged for money at preceptories from England to the Holy Land. This prevented having to carry your wealth around with you in boxes and caskets – making you a very attractive target to robbers. For crusaders and pilgrims, this was a welcome development.
It seems entirely plausible to me that the Templars picked up the idea of cheques from the Muslim caliphate. They had been in use from the time of Harun al-Rashid, the fifth of the Abbasid caliphs, and issued in Baghdad, they could be used all over the Islamic world and beyond.
The Templars seem to have had the attitude that in order to defeat the enemy, there was nothing in wrong in stealing their best ideas. They were Islam’s hardiest foe and most ardent imitator – something misinterpreted as fraternising with the enemy by the Templar Order’s enemies.
Cheques originating in Troyes merchant fairs and not the Templars
Another possibility is that the Templars got the idea from the huge fairs held at Troyes in Champagne – where many of the original Templar knights came from. Merchants moved money from fair to fair using forms of cheques. Possibly this is where the knights got the idea and developed it.
Cheques are one of those ideas that are instantly attractive and simple leaving you wondering why nobody thought of it before. I’m sure once the Templars observed muslim merchants exchanging these bills, they adopted the practice themselves.
Anybody who knows better – please tell me.