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Breaking the piggy bank: What can historical and archaeological sources tell us about late-medieval saving behaviour?

Jaco Zuijderduijn () and Roos van Oosten

No 65, Working Papers from Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History

Abstract: Using historical and archeological sources, we study saving behaviour in late-medieval Holland. Historical sources show that well before the Reformation – and the alleged emergence of a ‘Protestant ethic’ – many households from middling groups in society reported savings worth at least several months’ wages of a skilled worker. That these findings must be interpreted as an exponent of saving behaviour – as an economic strategy – is confirmed by an analysis of finds of money boxes: 14th and 15th-century cesspits used by middling-group and elite households usually contain pieces of money boxes. We argue this is particularly strong evidence of late-medieval saving strategies, as money boxes must be considered as ‘self-disciplining’ objects: breaking the piggy bank involved expenses and put a penalty on spending. We also show that the use of money boxes declined over time: they are no longer found in early-modern cesspits. We formulate two hypotheses to explain long-term shifts in saving behavior: 1) late-medieval socioeconomic conditions were more conducive for small-time saving than those of the early-modern period, 2) in the early-modern Dutch Republic small-time saving was substituted by craft guild insurance schemes.

Keywords: medieval history; early-modern history; archaeology; saving; economic strategies; financial history. (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Pages: 46 pages
Date: 2015-06
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-his
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