Monti di Pietà

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MONTI DI PIETÀ (Montes pietatis ), savings and loan agencies originally formed in Italian cities in the mid-15th century; considered as the predecessors of the modern credit union. Historically, the word mons was used during the Middle Ages to designate funds collected for a specific purpose, pietatis being added to identify them as nonspeculative. The initial object of the monti was to provide loans at a relatively low rate of interest (4–15%) to small artisans and dealers and to the poor in general, on the pledge of various goods. The interest was used to defray administrative expenses and salaries of employees. The formation of the monti was the result of a combination of factors, both economic and theological. It arose from the decline of handicrafts and the ensuing impoverishment of the masses, and a scarcity of money; and from the desire to oust the Jews from the business of *moneylending, which they had successfully practiced as their principal profession. The growing prosperity of Jewish bankers aroused the wrath of the *Franciscans who, as some historians have pointed out, themselves often came from the ranks of the "new aristocracy," the merchant class.

Previously the progressive monopolization of moneylending by Jewish bankers had been justified both morally and theologically; on the one hand, it helped the poor, and on the other hand, it saved Christians from committing the sin of usury; but the founders of the monti advanced the argument that it was necessary to protect Christians from the voracity of Jewish usurers. The establishment of the first monti in *Perugia in 1462, after an earlier experiment eight years before at Ancona, came at the climax of a campaign against Jewish moneylenders waged by the Observant friars, the radical wing of the Franciscans. Its primary sponsor was Fra Michele da Milano, who protested vigorously against the arrangements then existing between the Jewish loan bankers and the city of Perugia. In subsequent years the Franciscans sought support for the expansion of the institution, preaching on its behalf throughout Italy, in opposition to the *Dominicans and the Augustinians, who condemned what they called the "montes impietatis" is a breach of the prohibition on usury proclaimed by Jesus (Luke 6:33). Foremost among those in favor of the institution was Bernardino of *Feltre, who bent all his charismatic talent for rabble-rousing to denouncing the Jewish moneylender. His sermons led to the establishment of the monti in many cities and were instrumental in the widespread persecution of Jews during the blood libel in *Trent in 1475 as well as in many other parts of the country. Pope Paul ii approved (1467) the establishment of a monte in Perugia, despite theological opposition, and successive popes sanctioned monti in other Italian cities. By 1494 there were 30 monti in central and northern Italy. The controversy was finally settled by the papal bull, Inter multiplicis (May 1515), issued by Leo *X at the Fourth Lateran *Council, which declared the monti neither sinful nor illicit but, on the contrary, meritorious.

The institution of the monti did not, in itself, arouse the fears of the Jews. In some cases Jewish loan bankers, recognizing the charitable nature of the monti, actually gave them support. One such loan banker, Manuele da Camerino, bequeathed a considerable sum to the monte of Florence which had been set up by Girolamo Savonarola. At times Jewish loan bankers utilized the monti for their own purposes, depositing in it a pledge left with them, thereby raising capital for further operations. The monti were not in a position to meet the growing need for capital, and, as a result, there were times when Jewish loan bankers were allowed to reopen their condotte in the Italian cities, as occurred in Florence after the return of the Medici in 1512. Eventually, both monti and Jewish loan bankers found it possible to coexist and the first decades of the 16th century proved to be among the most prosperous for the Italian Jewish banker. By the mid-16th century, it was common practice for many monti to make loans to businessmen (at an interest rate of from 8 to 10%) as well as to the poor. The Montidi Piet remained an essentially urban feature, an outgrowth of conditions specific to Italy. The decision of the Lateran Council of 1515 to allow urbi et orbi the establishment of monti was the signal for setting up official lending institutions sponsored by governments in the Catholic countries of Europe.


L. Poliakov, Les Banquiers juifs et le Saint-Sige du xiiiue au xviiue sicle (1965), 169–98, passim; M. Weber, Origines des Monts-de-Piet (1920); A. Sapori, History of the Principal Public Banks (1934), 373–8; G. Fabiani, Gli Ebrei e il Monte di Piet in Ascoli (1942), 169–72; M. Ciardini, I banchieri ebrei in Firenze nel secolo xv e il monte di piet fondato da Girolamo Savonarola (1907); N. Mengozzi, Il Monte dei Paschi e le sue azende (1913); U. Cassuto, Gli Ebrei a Firenze (1918), 51–82; Roth, Italy, 166–77; S. Simonsohn, Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Dukkasut Mantovah (1963), 7–16; D. Carpi, Ha-Yehudim be-Padovah bi-Tekufat ha-Renaissance (1967), unpublished thesis Hebr. Univ., Jerusalem.

[Emmanuel Beeri]